Thanks to its appearance in numerous influential films over the years, Monument Valley has become synonymous with the American West. Officially known as Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, it’s not a national park, as it’s managed by the Navajo Nation. And unlike public parks, non-locals are prohibited from accessing most of the area without signing up for a private tour. One major exception, however, is the Monument Valley Scenic Drive.

And thankfully, the loop road is also home to many of the area’s most iconic landmarks. In the following guide, we’ll be covering everything you need to know to prepare for your trip, as well as what to expect at each of the Monument Valley Scenic Drive’s eleven viewpoints.

Monument Valley Scenic Drive
The famous viewpoint from Forrest Gump which you can stop at when approaching the region from Utah

The Monument Valley Scenic Drive

Visiting Tips

The 17-mile Monument Valley scenic drive consists of eleven main stops. Along the journey, you’ll find plenty of places to park your car and enjoy the views.

While none of it is paved, the dirt road is well-maintained and you shouldn’t have a problem doing it in a sedan, as long as you drive carefully. But if you’re doing more traveling throughout the Four Corners region, you’ll encounter a lot of rough roads in general and will thank yourself for renting a 4×4 or high-clearance SUV.

If you’re not comfortable driving on rough terrain, you could also take a tour of the Scenic Drive, like this one or this one.


Expect to spend at least a few hours doing the Monument Valley Scenic Drive, though a lot will depend on how long you stop at each viewpoint. And as we’ll cover shortly, you may want to visit more than once under different lighting conditions.


Prior to my visit, I’d read on multiple websites that Monument Valley is best photographed in the morning. But during a sunrise tour I took earlier that day, my guide informed me that many of the landmarks are actually best seen in late afternoon.

And so I made an impromptu decision to visit both during the morning and evening, filling in the downtime in between with a trip to Utah’s Valley of the Gods.

If you’re a photographer, I’d recommend doing it this way to capture each section of the park under ideal lighting. In the guide below, you’ll learn the best times to visit each individual landmark.

But if you can only do the Monument Valley scenic drive once, late afternoon is probably the prettier time overall. After that, you can also catch the sunset over the viewpoint outside the Visitor Center.


If you do choose to drive the loop in the afternoon, be sure to check the current hours. They seem to change frequently and even some of the local guides get confused.

At the time of writing, the loop road is open from 8:00-17:00 in summer and 8:00-16:00 in winter. This is important to keep in mind if you want to have enough time to photograph the landmarks in late afternoon while also sticking around for sunset.

Also remember that unlike the rest of Arizona, the Navajo Nation observes daylight savings, so be sure to confirm the current Navajo Nation time before your visit

It currently costs $8 per vehicle to enter the scenic drive area (a National Park pass is not valid here). If you want to visit twice on the same day, you shouldn’t have a problem presenting your ticket again at the entrance gate.


For more details on reaching the Monument Valley area and the best places to stay, learn more at the very end of the guide.

Monument ValleyScenic Drive Map
*The numbers mark the approximate location of the viewpoints rather than the landmarks themselves

1. The Mittens & Merrick Butte

Before even starting the Monument Valley Scenic Drive, be sure to briefly park your car outside the Visitor Center. From the parking lot, it’s just a short walk to Monument Valley’s most famous viewpoint, from which you can see Merrick Butte, West Mitten Butte and East Mitten Butte lined up in perfect harmony.

It’s unclear if the viewpoint from above technically counts as the first stop of the Scenic Drive. In any case, shortly into the journey, you’ll have a chance to stop and appreciate the views of the buttes from closer up.

Note that there’s quite a distance between the Monument Valley Scenic Drive entrance and the start of the main loop, which is something to consider if you plan on visiting twice on the same day. The driving time, however, will largely depend on whether or not you’re stuck behind other cars.

Monument Valley Scenic Drive
Monument Valley Scenic Drive
Monument Valley Scenic Drive

It’s also worth mentioning that near the scenic drive’s first viewpoint, you’ll encounter a small parking area for something called the Wildcat Trail. This flat 3.2-mile loop trail is actually the only independent hiking trail in all of Monument Valley.

It offers additional views of Mericke Butte and the Mittens, and while I would’ve loved to do it, I simply didn’t have enough time.

BEST SEEN: While Merrick Butte and the Mittens are impressive at any time of day, the lighting is best in the late afternoon.

2. Elephant Butte

Monument Valley Scenic Drive

The next landmark is Elephant Butte, which, well, doesn’t look quite like an elephant to most people. But perhaps you have to be standing in the right place.

As we’ll cover below, you’ll be able to get closer to this butte at stop 10 (North Window), from where you can see it from the other side.

BEST SEEN: Both morning and afternoon, depending on which side

Monument Valley Scenic Drive

3. The Three Sisters

The Three Sisters, which are three tall sandstone spires next to a large mesa, are one of Monument Valley’s most recognizable landmarks. As you drive along, you’ll encounter a few different areas to enjoy the view.

BEST SEEN: The Three Sisters are best seen in the morning when the sun is shining directly on them.

Monument Valley Scenic Drive
Monument Valley Scenic Drive
Monument Valley Scenic Drive
The Three Sisters in late afternoon

4. John Ford's Point

John Ford’s Point is one of the most crowded parts of the Monument Valley Scenic Drive, as it was here that film director John Ford shot scenes for many of his Western films. 

As most of these films came out in the 1940s and 1950s, however, few younger visitors are likely to have seen them (including myself). Nevertheless, it’s easy to see why a film director would be attracted to this particular spot. 

Monument Valley Scenic Drive
Tour groups posing for photos

There are two ways to appreciate John Ford’s Point. You can walk onto the plateau itself and take in the views of the surrounding buttes, or you can take in the wider view of the plateau itself from a distance, as it’s appeared in many films.

A popular thing to do here is to pay a local man to let you pose for photos on his horse. You’ll also find some gift shops and a few small restaurants near the parking lot as well.

Monument Valley Scenic Drive
An empty John Ford's Point just several minutes later

If you encounter large crowds when you first arrive, don’t feel too discouraged. In my case, I waited about fifteen minutes and eventually managed to get a shot with nobody in it.

BEST SEEN: Morning

*Note: If you’ll be visiting the area twice on the same day, during your morning visit, it’s best to head from John Ford’s Point directly to North Window (Stop 10). Following the landmarks mentioned above, stops 10 and 11 are the only others that look best in morning.

To save time, it’s best to ignore the loop for now and simply head east from John Ford’s Point. While you will actually be driving the wrong way down a one-way portion of the loop, I did this at the suggestion of a local guide. The road was wide enough and nobody seemed to notice or care.

5. Camel Butte

While not the most interesting landmark at Monument Valley, Camel Butte does indeed resemble a camel from a certain angle and under the right lighting conditions. Sort of.

BEST SEEN: Late afternoon

Monument Valley Scenic Drive

6. The Hub

The Hub is one of the more confusing stops at Monument Valley. While you will find a sign indicating where the viewpoint is, it’s not entirely clear which formation around you is actually the Hub.

Monument Valley Scenic Drive
The Hub?
Monument Valley Scenic Drive
Or is The Hub somewhere in the distance?

The first picture above is the closest formation to the sign, while other websites I’ve encountered show an entirely different landmark – a standalone butte – that I seem to have missed. 

It’s possibly something far in the distance that can only be admired with binoculars or a zoom lens.

Monument Valley Scenic Drive
Monument Valley Scenic Drive
Thunderbird Mesa

In any case, this general area has a lot of other landmarks on either side of the road as you make your way east. These include the Rain God Mesa to your left (north) and Thunderbird Mesa to your right (south).

BEST SEEN: Late afternoon

Monument Valley Scenic Drive
Rain God Mesa

7. Totem Pole & Yei Bei Chei

Monument Valley Scenic Drive
Monument Valley Scenic Drive

Reaching the eastern edge of the loop road, you’ll see the impressive Totem Pole – which reaches up to 450 ft high – from a distance near the intersection.

While quite far away, its unique shape makes it easy to spot. Just behind it, meanwhile, is another formation known as Yei Bei Chei.

As visitors cannot get very close to the formations, this is a good time to take out your zoom lens if you have one.

BEST SEEN: Late afternoon

8. Sand Springs (& Totem Pole)

Monument Valley Scenic Drive
Monument Valley Scenic Drive
Monument Valley Scenic Drive

Confusingly, this next viewpoint is not so different from the previous one, as you are basically just looking at the Totem Pole from a slightly different angle.

The Sand Springs, however, is the large sandy area you’ll see in the foreground, and that’s supposed to be the main highlight of the loop’s eighth stop.

BEST SEENLate afternoon

Monument Valley Scenic Drive

9. Artist's Point

Monument Valley Scenic Drive

Next, it’s time to start heading north toward Artist’s Point. Over to your right on the journey over, you’ll see the massive Spearhead Mesa. While not one of the official eleven stops, you will indeed encounter a sign and a small parking area from which to view it up close.

Moving on, the road will briefly take you north of the main loop.

Arriving at Artist’s Point, you’ll encounter a large parking area and viewing platform from where you can take in the scenery. This is easily one of the top highlights of Monument Valley, and it’s one of the places I spent the most time.

Monument Valley Scenic Drive
Spearhead Mesa

With the sun gradually getting lower in the sky, and the clouds constantly moving overhead, the scenery in front of me was in constant flux. I stood here for a while with a tripod, waiting for some sun to finally shine on the buttes in the distance. 

These are the same buttes you’ll have already seen before (Merrick Butte and the Mittens), albeit from a different angle.

While it was nice to be out of the car for a bit, this area can get crowded.

BEST SEENLate afternoon

10. North Window

Returning to the main loop, make a right turn and head east toward North Window. Again, there’s a large parking lot here.

As the name suggests, a gap between two near buttes (Elephant Butte and Cly Butte) reveals views of East Mitten Butte and other buttes in the distance (that’s a lot of buttes!).


As mentioned above, if you’re doing the Monument Valley Scenic Drive twice, come straight here from John Ford’s Point in the morning before doing the rest of the loop later on in the afternoon.

Monument Valley Scenic Drive

11. The Thumb

Just next to the North Window is the Thumb. Unlike some other landmarks which don’t always appear as described, this formation does indeed resemble a giant thumb and is hard to miss.

It stands next to the other side of Camel Butte, one of the earlier landmarks on this list.

BEST SEEN: Morning

Heading further west, you’ll soon reach the intersection, after which it’s time to drive back north towards the Visitor Center.

Monument Valley Scenic Drive


If you’re doing the Monument Valley Scenic Drive in the afternoon, be sure to return to the viewpoint of the buttes outside the Visitor Center when finished.

As the viewpoint faces east, you won’t actually see the sun setting behind the buttes. But the setting sun will illuminate the formations and the colors will gradually change over time, which is well worth seeing if you’re not in a rush.

Monument Valley Scenic Drive
Monument Valley Scenic Drive

Completely coincidentally, I happened to visit Monument Valley during a special phenomenon which occurs just twice a year (mid-September and late March).

For a couple of nights during these times, the sun will set at such an angle that the West Mitten Butte will cast a shadow directly onto the East Mitten Butte. It’s an incredible spectacle, albeit just one of many breathtaking scenes one can witness throughout the area.

Monument Valley Scenic Drive

Additional Info

As beautiful as Monument Valley is, it can be difficult to plan a trip here due to how expensive it is. The prices of staying within Monument Valley itself are astronomical. 

And given its remote location, when it comes to towns outside of Monument Valley, there are only a couple of options: Kayenta, Arizona and Mexican Hat, Utah.


First, let’s cover some of the popular options in Monument Valley itself for those who aren’t on a tight budget. The most iconic hotel in the area is Goulding’s Lodge, founded by Harry Goulding, the man who helped turn Monument Valley into a tourist destination in the 1920s.

The View is another popular option, and as its name suggests, guests can enjoy a stunning view of Monument Valley’s buttes from the hotel itself. As such, it’s more expensive than Goulding’s Lodge.

The cheapest option within Monument Valley is to camp or stay in your own RV. Some of these campgrounds are managed by The View and Goulding’s, so it’s best to contact the hotels directly about your reservation.

Monument Valley KOA is another camping option.

If you’re looking to rent an RV for your trip, consider using a site like Outdoorsy.


I stayed in the oddly-named town of Mexican Hat, Utah to the north of Monument Valley. The drive from town to the Monument Valley Visitor Center takes about thirty minutes.

Mexican Hat is named after its rock formation that resembles a Mexican sombrero, while the area is also home to Valley of the Gods, a scenic drive which many dub ‘Mini Monument Valley.’

I spent a single night at San Juan Inn. While it was double the price of almost everywhere else I stayed on my Southwest trip, it was still cheaper than anything else I could find. Conveniently, the hotel also has an attached restaurant.

For whatever reason, San Juan Inn is not on Booking, but you can find it on Hotels or book with them directly.


Kayenta is about thirty minutes south of Monument Valley, and the town only has a few options: Hampton Inn KayentaWetherill Inn and Kayenta Monument Valley Inn.

Monument Valley is quite remote and the only way to reach it is to drive. There are no major airports nearby, with the closest being Phoenix or Albequerque – both about five hours away by car.

As such, most people visit Monument Valley as one stop of a longer Southwest itinerary. Many visitors come from places like Moab or southwest Colorado, home to Mesa Verde National Park. Page, Arizona (home to Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend and other sites) is also just a couple of hours away.

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