Welcome to Exit 5 of our Great American Road Trip with Kids (and on a budget)!
Exit 5 takes us to majestic Monument Valley Tribal Park. Words, and pictures can’t express the experience of Monument Valley. I will not attempt to do it justice, but just so you know it’s a can’t miss.
If you’ve been following along with us, much appreciated!
We know traveling is hard to do these days (Monument Valley Tribal Park is currently closed), but we hope that times to travel will return soon, and that you can use these recaps of our 2019 Great American Road Trip to help plan your next stop to Monument Valley Tribal Park.
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As a reminder, we’re giving you our recommendations and non-recommendations (or highlights and lowlight), for a Great American Road Trip with kids (and on a budget). This will include tips and tricks, what there is to do, how kid friendly each place is, how you can do it on a family-friendly budget, and what you’ll need for that portion of the trip.
Great American Road Trip: Exit 5 – Monument Valley Tribal Park
As mentioned briefly above, there are no words or photos that can truly do a place like Monument Valley justice.
On our trip to nine parks and two old west towns, there were four places that left me in awe, but just two that left me nearly breathless. Monument Valley was one of those places.
I had wanted to visit this place for decades now. I’m a fan of the old west, and Monument Valley has been prominently portrayed in plenty of those films. In fact, there’s a lookout area called John Ford’s Point that commemorates the director after he shot nine of his westerns at the beautiful park.
Wish I could say those westerns were my inspiration to visit the park but … Forrest Gump ended his run outside the park, Westworld shot numerous scenes in the park, and Clark Griswold jumped the Wagon Queen Family Truckster 50 yards into the park. (The kids and I probably mentioned “50 yards” fifty times while trying to track down the exact spot my pop-culture-dad inspiration jumped the car.)
We actually started this portion of our trip the same day we visited Hovenweep National Monument. Again, you can read about that here.
We had a pit stop at Forrest Gump Point. It’s not as peaceful as the movie made it look. It is listed on Google maps, so you’ll be able to find it on your device, but you’ll also notice it by the swarms of people in the middle of the highway as you come over the hill. The best picture will need to be taken quickly, and in the middle of the highway that 18-wheelers and tourists are bombing through. (Worry less about the trucks and more about the people that don’t travel this road on a regular basis.)
We didn’t have the kids take a picture in the highway. Having to play Frogger with the vehicles, waiting for tourists to leave the road, and organize the kids to smile at the same time was a little too much for us to deal with. I, however, wasn’t going to miss this opportunity.
In the evening we stayed at Goulding’s Campground, just across the highway from the entrance to Monument Valley. Not that we don’t recommend it, after all if you’re doing this on a budget then you’ll likely be camping, but just know that the red dirt will make a mess of your site, shoes, tent and vehicle. However, the indoor pool feels great and the scenery, and hiking right outside the campground makes up for the red dirt mess.
There is a gas station, convenience store and small grocery store down the road from the campgrounds. Just note, that if it’s summer time there will be no ice. There was no ice.
We did, however, have some of the best pizza we’ve ever eaten. It’ll forever be known by the Johnson Five as Gas Station Pizza. It was greasy, it was straight from the oven, it was something different after three days of sandwiches and hot dogs! The thought of Gas Station Pizza still makes me salivate.
If you read about our frigid Mesa Verde nights, I will tell you that Monument Valley does not get as cool. Awesome! Also, since we only were staying one night, and we knew we had a couple more nights of camping, the red dirt swayed us into sleeping in the minivan.
Lots of up shorts, and shirtless Dad photos so I’m not sharing, but what we did was drop all the seats in the back, blow up one air mattress, and the boys and I slept in the back while the ladies took the front seats. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds.
Here are some photos of our time at Goulding’s Campground.
The following day we headed to Monument Valley Tribal Park. This is not a U.S. National Park so the Every Kid Outdoors pass will not work here. This park is run by the Navajo Nation. I don’t need to run through a history of the park. Y’all know about it!
I will say that it was incredible to see that the natives still live off this land. We met a little girl, the same age as my daughter (10), selling Native American jewelry that her aunt made. Her house was just outside John Ford’s Point. After having social media bombard us with horrible news and opinions the last few weeks, living off the land, waking up and seeing the majesty of the park every morning sounds pretty amazing, though I’m sure, like anyone else would, they take it for granted.
Though you don’t need a 4-wheel drive vehicle to get you through the park, it’d be a lot smoother drive than cruising it in a 2013 Town & Country minivan. Don’t let that sway you from not visiting though.
The tour is self-guided and there will be lots of stops that might drive your little ones crazy, but Dad wasn’t skipping them because you were tired. No way!
Again, words can’t explain this park. I’m going to stop trying.
Monument Valley Tribal Park (4 out of 5):
Mom and Dad gave it a perfect five-out-of-five. The two younger ones tried to bring it down with a three. If you’re anywhere near this park it’s a must-see. Am I repeating myself by saying, words, pictures, videos and/or movies cannot do this park justice?!
Age: All ages. As mentioned it’s a drive-thru tour. If you have little ones they can stay in the car, but there are plenty of spots made perfectly for popping in and out of for picture taking.
Cost: $20 up to four people. We have five so it’s an additional $6. However, my charm, and awkward jokes about having a third kid, resonated with the gatekeeper, and she let us slide with paying just the $20. Tell her Kevin with Life With Three Kids sent you.
Badges Earned: Junior Ranger Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. (Though not part of the U.S. National Park Service, the Navajo Tribal Park still plays along and the kids secured a badge after a scavenger hunt.)
Word of the Day: Majestic (adjective) – having or showing impressive beauty or dignity. Monument Valley Tribal Park is majestic
The Johnson Five Recommends: Artist’s Point. The second I walked up the slight grade and overlooked the landscape of the park I was in complete awe. It looked like a painting, like a backdrop to your desktop, it wasn’t real, but it was very real. Not made by man, but by God’s hands himself, this view was breathtaking. As mentioned above, there were two places that left me in awe, this and the Grand Canyon. Absolutely stunning!
The Johnson Five Doesn’t Recommend: Driving past the park.
What You’ll Need – Get Them Here!
We’re not big campers, so if you’re looking for more in-depth knowledge on camping and camping materials, check out my buddy at We Live A Lot. These are some of items we used and recommend while visiting Monument Valley.