Date of Trip: November 11th – 12th
How to do it like we did:
First of all, make sure to snag your iconic Forest Gump shot on your way into Monument Valley. As you drive south on US – 163 it will suddenly become apparent what shot I am talking about. You will see people darting into the street and darting back to their vehicles in between traffic clearance. This is the spot where Forest says, “I’m pretty tired… I think I’ll go home now.” Here’s ours:
We entered Monument Valley with no idea where to go. We were looking for our campground but were not quite certain how to find it. We first drove in from US – 163 South then turned West onto Welcome Center Dr. At this corner is the Monument Valley Navajo Market and Welcome Center. While this is a nice market for buying handcrafted Navajo goods it does not provide information about camping or hiking. Our confusion was caused by the fact that a Welcome Center should give this kind of park information – so where should we go?
We returned to US – 163 N and turned West onto Main Monument Valley Road, following it for about 3 miles. Now we had found the main visitor’s center! This road will also take you to The View Hotel and The View Campground. We were staying at The View Campground so we continued to follow Main Monument Valley Road a little further to the check-in station that sits at the beginning of the campground.
It does cost to get into the park and National Park passes are not accepted. There is a $20 fee for a vehicle of up to four people, plus $6 for every additional person. Camping is $20.95 per night for wilderness site and $41.95 for an RV site.
We already had reservations so we checked in, received our parking permits and bathroom code, and were told to go choose a campsite. This is where we hit a little more confusion. The View Campground has three camping options: RV, cabin, and wilderness. We reserved a wilderness campsite but all we were seeing were the cabins and RV sites. We drove up and down the RV sites trying to figure out where we were supposed to be until we finally saw somebody else setting up a tent. The wilderness sites are located just east of the RV sites. Scroll down to Tip #1 to learn how the wilderness sites are set up and how to prepare. Reservations for any of the lodging options can be made at this site.
We planned to set up camp and then do the 15-mile Valley Drive. The Valley Drive is a loop that takes you pass the most iconic views and monuments. Plan on 2 – 4 hours for the drive, depending on how busy it is. The sun was setting just as we were finishing setting up our tent so we decided to save it for the morning. We spent the night hanging out at camp and visiting with our neighbors.
In the winter, when the sun sets in the desert, the temperature drops dramatically. The temps were toeing the line of freezing as we crawled into bed. For tips on how to make the cold camp nights more comfortable visit this post.
Waking up in the morning we were met with the most brilliant sunrise. This is the best part about choosing the wilderness campground. The sun does not just rise over the valley. The sun blends with the red rock and red sand, illuminating every crack and grain, causing the entire landscape to rise with the sun. The hot rays cut through the frozen air, wrapping sightseers in serene comfort.
Our other plan was to get up just before sunrise and hike Wildcat Trail. Wildcat Trail is a 3.2-mile loop moderate hike that starts near the View Hotel and Campground. It is the only self-guided hike in the park. The trail meanders right past the campground so we could quickly step out of our tent and jump on the trail. We were feeling so cozy at our campsite, and we already planned on the Valley Drive for the day, so we decided to skip the hike. Instead, we sipped tea, made breakfast nice and slow, and relaxed for a few hours before packing up.
We started the Valley Drive around 8:00 am. There were not a lot of people on the loop yet so we were able to get through it in under 2 hours. The views are incredible and we pulled off a few times to take pictures. The road itself is horrendous. We have a little Hyundai Ioniq hybrid with very little clearance. We bumped all over that road. But Kenon’s driving skills got the car through it without any damage.
After the drive, we stopped at the visitor’s center. Inside is a museum celebrating the history of the Navajo people. There is also a gift shop and many tributes to John Wayne’s work in Monument Valley. You can visit many film sites of John Wayne’s films along with other movies. The Welcome Center also has clean bathrooms and drinking fountains.
We then headed off to Gooseneck State Park to complete our weekend sightseeing adventure. To find out how we spent the entire weekend visit this post.
Want more out of your Monument Valley Trip? This website details the guided tours and excursions available.
1. The View Campground: The campsites are located on a sandy, sloping patch of land. You cannot park a vehicle by your campsite. You must park your vehicle in the parking lot which is 20 feet from the nearest campsite, increasing in distance if you choose a site further out. There are no picnic tables and fires are prohibited. It is JUST a tent site. We loved this because it was so mellow! However, to get to the best sites – the ones with unobstructed views of the valley – you do have to walk downhill on sand. This means that when it is time to pack up you are dragging all of your gear back up a sandy hill to get it back in the car. Let’s just say I had ALL my workout goals met on my Apple Watch between the time breakfast ended and the time the car was fully packed. If you are going to choose this lodging option make sure everyone in your group can handle the walk.
2. The bathrooms at the campground are very nice! There are two stalls with flush toilets and two showers with hot water. The lights stay on all night. The bathroom requires a code to unlock the door. This code will be given to you when you check in to your campsite.
3. Bring a vehicle with some clearance. The Valley Drive road is dirt and gravel. It is groomed on occasion but more likely than not you will hit some rough patches. I tried to capture what the road looks like so you can get a feel of it.
Gear of the Trip:
Black Diamond Storm Headlamp and Bell Howell Portable Lantern.
Get yours on Amazon by clicking the photo:
Campfires are prohibited at The View Campground and the sun sets pretty quickly in November. The stars are wonderfully bright but everything near the ground is shrouded in darkness. We did not start cooking dinner until after the sun went down. Then you have to clean up, wash dishes, and walk to the bathroom all in the dark.
The headlamp allows us to be hands-free and have a light shine on whatever our hands are working on. The headlamp is Kenon’s favorite. This particular one is durable and waterproof so he takes it everywhere! The lantern is my personal favorite because of how bright it is. It is also durable and waterproof. I can set it on a picnic table, pop it open, and it lights up the whole cooking space. I also hang it in the tent which is especially great when we get up for an early morning hike. It creates an even and steady light, unlike the concentrated and limited radius of a flashlight. This is my must-pack for camping!
Monument Valley is protected Native American land. Most of it cannot be touched. As rock climbers, we look out at all these buttes and see untouched lines asking to be explored. We see secluded hikes that few feet have touched. Our spirits desire to go, feel, and do. Most of the places we visit are experienced in this manner.
Monument Valley is a contrary experience. It forces silent reflection at a slow pace. Much like a museum surrounded by concrete walls, this museum inspires thoughtfulness. If you need a little renewal in your life spend a few hours or days with this land.