— Las Vegas: 5-Day Monument Valley Loop —
The iconic Monument Valley landscape
One of the views of Monument Valley from the road within the park
Just north of Monument Valley there's a sign where Forrest Gump stopped running
A well-preserved dinosaur footprint at Dinosaur Tracks just west of Tuba City, Arizona
The Dinosaur Tracks trackway just west of Tuba City, Arizona doesn't disappoint
An ancient Native American dwelling at Wupatki National Monument
An ancient Native American dwelling at Wupatki National Monument north of Flagstaff
Lava Flow Trail at Sunset Crater National Monument outside Flagstaff, Arizona
A few trees already growing out of the Sunset Crater Volcano cinder cone
Neon green lichen growing on the lava at Sunset Crater Volcano just outside Flagstaff
Sunset Crater Volcano just north of Flagstaff, Arizona
Hoover Dam just outside Boulder City, Nevada
The Hoover Dam turbines
Looking Down the Hoover Dam
Some of the Hoover Dam intakes
Lake Mead view from the Hoover Dam—the white is Lake Mead's "bathtub ring"
A dramatic statue at the Hoover Dam
Bighorn Sheep hanging out in a Boulder City, Nevada park
It's amazing how wood-like agatized petrified wood looks
A petrified log on the Long Logs hike in Petrified Forest National Park
Tree hugging a giant petrified tree on the Long Logs hike in Petrified Forest National Park
A collared lizard hanging out on some petrified wood at Petrified Forest National Park
Petrified wood is everywhere on the Long Logs hike at Petrified Forest National Park
The White House in Canyon de Chelly National Monument
The White House in Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Arizona's mile-long Meteor Crater
One of the many rock houses at Walnut Creek National Monument
Newspaper Rock in Petrified Forest National Park
5 days, 1200 miles, 22 hours of driving Best Time to Go: early spring - late fall
Day 1: Arrive in Las Vegas & drive 5 hours to South Rim of Grand Canyon, see Dinosaur Tracks on Navajo land, and drive to Tuba City or Kayenta and spend the night.
Day 2: Drive to Monument Valley, have lunch there, then drive to Chinle, explore Canyon de Chelly, and spend night.
Day 3: Drive to Petrified Forest National Park, go on the Long Logs hike, get tour of Meteor Crater, spend night in Winslow or Flagstaff.
Day 4: Drive to Walnut Creek, Wupatki, & Sunset Crater Volcano National Monuments to see ancient Native American dwellings and hike among lava flows. Have dinner and see some music in Flagstaff.
Day 5: Drive back to Las Vegas (4-1/2 hours), check out the Hoover Dam, look for bighorn sheep in Boulder City, and head home.
— Trip Details by Day —
Get up early and head north from Kayenta on Route 163 to Monument Valley. Drive into The View and takes some pictures overlooking Monument Valley. Then pay your fee and drive down into the valley on the dirt roads.
Note: Do not drive on the dirt/sand roads if the gate is closed or if the roads are wet. The roads are impassable when wet.
When you're done exploring Monument Valley, take the time to drive north on Route 163 just a few miles into Utah. Stop at the sign on the left side of the road indicating where Forrest Gump stopped running. The view from there looking back at Monument Valley is spectacular.
Turn around and head back south to Kayenta. Take a left on Route 160 and then head south on Route 191 to the town of Chinle, Arizona in the Navajo Nation Indian Reservation. It's the gateway to Canyon de Chelly National Monument (pronounced "Canyon de Shay"). You've probably never heard of it, but you should have. It's gorgeous! Follow the signs to Canyon de Chelly, stop at the visitor center, pay your fee, then drive on the southwest side of the canyon to the White House ruins and Spider Rock Overlook. If you have enough daylight, also see the Antelope House ruins and Mummy Cave ruins on the northwest side of the park.
If you want to extend the trip by a day, get a guide and go horseback riding in the bottom of Canyon de Chelly and get to see the ruins up close. Some friends of ours did that for their honeymoon and raved about the experience.
Lodging: Lodging can be found in the town of Chinle.
Camping: There are 3 campgrounds at Canyon de Chelly. Take your pick!
Food: There are only a couple fast food joints and a couple real restaurants in Chinle. If you go to Junction Restaurant, try the Navajo traditional fry bread for dessert. Because the town is on the Navajo Nation Indian Reservation, no alcohol can be served at any of the restaurants here.
Head south on Route 191 out of Chinle all the way to Interstate 40. Head west on I-40 for about 25 miles and follow signs to Petrified Forest National Park. The park has 2 main sections—the painted desert and the grasslands where the petrified logs can be found. Get out of the car and take some short hikes. We particularly recommend the Long Logs hike near the visitor center near the south end of the park—the size and amount of agatized (changed to colorful stone) petrified trees is truly amazing! Also be sure to take the short walk outside the back of the visitor center.
Note: Don't steal any petrified wood—it's a Federal offense—leave it for future generations. To ensure this, the Park Service can and will search your vehicle. So just don't do it.
Drive to Holbrook and Interstate 40 from the southern park entrance. Then head west towards Flagstaff but exit at Exit 230 to see the huge Meteor Crater that stands out prominently against the flat plains. You need to go on a guided tour to see the Meteor Crater—it's privately owned and is a research facility to this day. The meteor crater has some weird and interesting history which includes it being used by NASA to train astronauts! So let out your inner nerd, and go take a look.
The jump back on Interstate 40 heading west and stop at Walnut Creek National Monument about 15 miles before reaching Flagstaff, Arizona. Walnut Creek is a canyon filled with ancient Native American rock house dwellings. Take the hike down into the canyon to get a closer look. Then head to Flagstaff for food and lodging.
Lodging: There is lodging Holbrook and Winslow along Interstate 40, but Flagstaff has better hotel brands (and better food!) so we recommend staying in Flagstaff for the night.
Camping: Bonito Campground at Sunset Crater National Monument is great. It's civilized (aka flush toilets), RV friendly, and rarely full. We also get a kick out of setting our tent up on a bed of naturally-formed cinders among large ponderosa pines with a huge lava flow behind the campsites. It's a unique experience.
Food: You'll probably get stuck having lunch in Holbrook. It's not going to be great, but that can't be helped. Make up for it by treating yourself in Flagstaff for dinner—it has some wonderful food and can easily accommodate any eating restrictions (vegan, gluten-free). Some of our favorites restaurants in Flagstaff are Diablo Burger and Lumberyard Brewing Company.
Take Route 40 to Walnut Creek National Monument to see some Native American dwellings set into the cliff rock houses. We recommend hiking down into the canyon. You really can't see that much from the visitor center.
Then head north on Route 89 out of Flagstaff and turn into Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument to hike among some geologically-recent lava flows. We recommend the Lava Flow trail. Be sure to stop at Sunset Crater's Visitor Center—it's small but very informative. The corn cob imprint made in lava by Native Americans is hilarious. Come on, you know you'd do the same if given a chance! Then follow the road through Sunset Crater to Wupatki National Monument to see the ancient Native American dwellings there. Stay on the same road and turn left (south) back to Flagstaff when you get to Route 89.
Head to Flagstaff for dinner and lodging. Flagstaff is a weird, but cool combination between hipsters and cowboys. (We once saw a man wearing a top hat and handlebar mustache cleaning windows of a local business next to the old stockyards). The music scene is also surprisingly good—check out The Flagstaff Green Room and the Orpheum Theater to see if anything's in town when you are.
Lodging: Flagstaff has all the chain hotels, but it is a college town, so beware of travelling there on the start of college weekend, homecoming weekends, graduation weekends, etc.
Camping: We also recommend camping just outside Flagstaff at the Sunset Crater National Monument campground—civilized, good for RVs and tents.
Food: The food in Flagstaff is amazing! Some of our favorites are Diablo Burger and Lumberyard Brewing Company. If you have food restrictions (vegan, gluten, etc.), Flagstaff can easily accommodate you.
— Recommended Trip Variations —
Extend the trip by a day or two and drive through the spectacular Zion National Park on your way to the north rim of the Grand Canyon and spend the night in Springdale, Mt. Carmel Junction (perhaps at the quirky Best Western East Zion Thunderbird Lodge) or drive a little farther to Kanab, Utah. There's lots to see around Kanab: slot canyons, dinosaur tracks, petroglyphs, and pictographs. If you're lucky enough to get a permit, take some photos at the famous The Wave rock feature or take a tour of the equally famous Antelope Canyon. I guarantee you've seen the picture of light filtering down into its red, narrow, ribbon-like, smooth shaped slot canyon.