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Although just five-square miles, Monument Valley is arguably the most important, influential and iconic landscape of the American West. Since director John Ford shot his first Western there in the 1930s, this dreamy valley and its famous three red buttes have defined what decades of moviegoers, TV watchers, cartoon fans and video game players imagine when they think of the Wild West. On top of that, its remoteness only adds to its legendary status. Here’s what you need to know before planning a visit.

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Monument Valley

When to go

To avoid unbearable heat and heavy crowds, Monument Valley is best visited during the shoulder months of April, May, September or October. In late April, for example, visitors can enjoy the outdoors in shorts and T-shirts without ever sweating. That said, winter can also work well for even fewer crowds and still surreal views. In July and August, temperatures swell to the 90s.

Getting there

Monument Valley is located in northeastern Arizona at the Utah border. Unless you live in one of the “Four Corners” states (Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona), flying to either Las Vegas or Salt Lake City international airports will be your ideal starting point. From there you’ll need to travel around 400 miles and just under seven hours by car or coach bus through either Page, Arizona, if you’re coming from Las Vegas, or via Moab, Utah if traveling from Salt Lake City. Both routes are incredibly scenic and surrounded by an impressive number of other outdoor attractions. Page, for example, is home to Insta-famous Horseshoe Bend.

Where to stay

There’s really only two options in the immediate vicinity, but both are worth checking out. For better conveniences and history, stay at Goulding’s Lodge, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and whose founder, Harry Goulding, ultimately convinced Hollywood to shoot well over 35 movies and countless TV shows at the property. For stunning views right from your room, stay at the Navajo-owned View Hotel, in either a proper room or your own rudimentary lodge. Kayenta, Arizona and Mexican Hat, Utah also offer a couple of lodging options within a half-hour drive.

What to do

Take a photo from Forrest Gump Point just north of Mexican Hat. Hike the four-mile Wildcat Trail between the famous red buttes. Drive the car-accessible 17-mile dirt loop road with several lookouts along the way, including the famous John Ford Point. Take in one of the magical overlooks from the Visitors Center. Or hire a horse, truck or hiking tour with a native guide to access off-limits areas. In addition to taking in the majestic views, you’ll want to eat as many Navajo Tacos and Fry Breads as your stomach will allow.

Before you go

Because of its remote location, Monument Valley is best combined with other Southwestern outdoor adventures. For example, if coming from Las Vegas, many visitors stop at Zion and Bryce National Parks in Utah and Antelope Canyon and Grand Canyon in Arizona before making their way to the sacred Navajo site. If coming from Salt Lake City, others often see Arches and Canyonlands National Parks or Bears Ears National Monument before continuing south to the valley. Either way, there are dozens of points of interests worth researching before finalizing your itinerary.

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