Mexican Hat: Valley of the Gods, Goosenecks State Park & More

Last Updated on: 9th January 2024, 10:27 am

There are few towns with names as unusual as Mexican Hat, Utah – a town of a few dozen people about 25 miles north of Monument Valley. But there’s much more to Mexican Hat than a silly name, such as its namesake rock formation, Goosenecks State Park and Valley of the Gods, which many call a ‘mini Monument Valley.’

Mexican Hat, situated along the San Juan River, is also one of the best places to stay for those who don’t want to shell out the money for a hotel within Monument Valley. Be sure to check the end of this guide for more info on transport and accommodation.

Mexican Hat Rock

As mentioned, Mexican Hat, Utah is named after a local rock. It’s a large hoodoo that’s topped with a formation that does indeed resemble a Mexican sombrero.

The hoodoo can be found down a dirt road to the northeast of town, just off Highway 163.

Mexican Hat Valley of the Gods
Mexican Hat Valley of the Gods

Apparently, you can even climb up the formation, though I didn’t see anyone doing this during my visit. If you’re merely stopping for a look, several minutes spent here should be enough.

Goosenecks State Park

The incredible Goosenecks State Park, located northwest of Mexican Hat, was formed by the San Juan River, a tributary of the Colorado River that ultimately flows into Lake Powell. Think of it like a smaller version of Horseshoe Bend in nearby Page, Arizona.

Millions of years ago, the river began meandering. But as the land gradually increased its elevation, what formed were these large U-shaped canyons.

So while each ‘bend’ may be smaller than Horseshoe, here you can actually see two bends right next to one another! But if you’re a photographer, you’ll definitely need a wide-angle lens to get them both in the same shot.

Mexican Hat Valley of the Gods

At the time of writing, entry to Goosenecks State Park costs $5 per vehicle, while you can also camp here for $10 a night.

The main thing to do here is to just enjoy the overlook right by the main parking area. But if you have more time, you can also try the ‘Goosenecks Viewpoint Trail’, an out-and-back hike that should take around half an hour.

Based on reviews, however, the trail doesn’t offer any new views that are as impressive as the main overlook.

Mexican Hat Valley of the Gods

Valley of the Gods

Touring Valley of the Gods consists of driving down a 17-mile road, much like the Monument Valley Scenic Drive. But frankly speaking, the formations here aren’t quite as impressive as those further south. So why come?

Mexican Hat Valley of the Gods

Since Valley of the Gods is not part of the Monument Valley Tribal Park, you don’t have to worry about hiring a sanctioned guide. 

In fact, it lies just outside of the Navajo Nation and is managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which means it’s completely free to enter. And you can even camp here for free as well.

Despite this, Valley of the Gods doesn’t attract nearly as many people as Monument Valley. The lack of traffic allows you to make more stops for photos along the road, and not just at the designated gravel lots.

Another difference is that this isn’t quite a loop, and you don’t end up back where you started. You can either begin from the entrance on Highway 163 or the one on Highway 261 near the Moki Dugway.

Accordingly, unlike Monument Valley, the road at Valley of the Gods is two-way. So even with fewer vehicles, you do need to be mindful of oncoming traffic, especially around curves or hills.

Mexican Hat Valley of the Gods
Mexican Hat Valley of the Gods

Like the Monument Valley Scenic Drive, Valley of the Gods is also unpaved, but I found it to be a lot rougher. But perhaps that was because it had been raining in the region before my arrival.

Normally, a sedan should be fine here, but it would be wise to rent a 4×4 anyway for your Four Corners trip, as there are many amazing sites in the Southwest which require them.

Mexican Hat Valley of the Gods
Mexican Hat Valley of the Gods
Mexican Hat Valley of the Gods

As with the Monument Valley Scenic Drive, the various formations here are named. But there aren’t any numbered viewpoints here and you won’t find signs labeling what you’re looking at (they are, however, named and marked on Google Maps).

In contrast to Monument Valley, where I wanted to make sure I stopped and photographed each individual highlight, I took a more relaxed approach at Valley of the Gods, simply enjoying the views and photographing whatever looked interesting.

Mexican Hat Valley of the Gods

While also sandstone like Monument Valley, the buttes and hoodoos here take on a slightly different look and feel. The formations appear a bit rougher, while they also don’t seem quite as large. 

With that being said, you will indeed encounter several imposing buttes throughout the journey.

Mexican Hat Valley of the Gods
Mexican Hat Valley of the Gods

Believe it or not, this area, located at the base of Cedar Mesa, was once a sea millions of years ago. And the sandstone was gradually deposited here by that sea. 

But the sea eventually disappeared, and the formations left behind were exposed to wind and rain for millions of years, eventually resulting in the shapes we see today.

Mexican Hat Valley of the Gods
Mexican Hat Valley of the Gods

All in all, it took me around an hour and twenty minutes to complete the loop, though I would’ve taken things more slowly if time wasn’t a factor. Right after Valley of the Gods, I returned to Monument Valley to do the Scenic Drive for a second time, as many of the formations there look best in the late afternoon.

This also means that I had to skip a few other landmarks around Mexican Hat that I’d been hoping to see.

Mexican Hat Valley of the Gods
Mexican Hat Valley of the Gods
Mexican Hat Valley of the Gods

Even More

There’s still even more to do and see around Mexican Hat, Utah. Exiting Valley of the Gods and ending up on Highway 261, I was right near the bottom of Moki Dugway, a scenic road comprised of a long series of switchbacks.

While I’d originally planned to see it, as mentioned, I didn’t end up having enough time. But if you do try it , you should be greeted with tremendous views of the surrounding area, while the top of the road culminates in a viewpoint that overlooks Valley of the Gods.

About six miles southwest of Moki Dugway, meanwhile, is Muley Point, which is said to offer views of the landmarks mentioned above in addition to Monument Valley.

When it comes to food in Mexican Hat, the only decent option is the restaurant at the San Juan Inn, which is also where I stayed (more below). I did attempt to have a meal at a local place called River Rat Pizza, where I had two separate bizarre interactions both outside and inside the ‘restaurant’ (the owner oddly claims it’s not a restaurant).

My gut instinct told me to get out of there, and I left without ordering anything. Later on, I got some good laughs out of reading previous Google reviews, seeing that my experience was far from unique. Maybe give the place a try if you want to feel like you’ve stepped into a David Lynch film!

Mexican Hat Valley of the Gods
Monument Valley Scenic Drive

While not right in Mexican Hat, when driving from town toward Monument Valley, you’ll pass the iconic vantage point that was made famous in the Forrest Gump movie (it looks best in the morning and mid-day).

Just don’t expect to be the only one stopping. As one might expect in the social media era, plenty of people try to pose for photos right in the middle of the road. But as large trucks frequently drive up and down this highway, it’s not exactly the smartest idea.

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.


As mentioned above, Mexican Hat is also a great place to stay. The drive from town to the Monument Valley Visitor Center takes about thirty minutes.

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.

As mentioned above, you can also camp at Valley of the Gods (free) and at Goosenecks State Park, but be sure to check ahead for info on restrictions.


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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