Which Is Better, Canyon De Chelly Or Monument Valley?

If you can only visit one, should you pick Canyon De Chelly or Monument Valley? These parks are national wonders you should visit at least once. 

Navajo Reservation, where Monument Valley and Canyon De Chelly are situated, is magical. A place where otherworldly geography and rich anthropological history meet.

There’s something unique about each destination, so deciding between Monument Valley and Canyon De Chelly can be daunting. Consider each location’s highlight, tours, and accommodation options, and decide what resonates with you the most.

For reference, each is about a five-hour drive from Phoenix, Arizona.

Which Is Better, Canyon De Chelly Or Monument Valley?

If you love exploring archeological sites and ruins of ancient dwellings, few places are more magical than Canyon De Chelly. The canyon is a sacred Navajo site, home to Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings with great anthropological significance. Monument Valley is one of the most globally-recognized landscapes in North America. However, Monument Valley is a better option if you are fascinated by geography and the wonders of nature. 

Highlights Of Canyon De Chelly

Canyon De Chelly contains several archeological sites and gorgeous scenery. In addition, the area is an incredibly spiritual place.

Some of the ruins you find here are believed to be over 5,000 years old, giving us a glimpse into the past of indigenous people. 

Ancient Ancestral Puebloan were cliff dwellers. Within these ancient ruins are rock art and rock carvings (petroglyphs).

The magnificence of these ruins will astonish you. The must-see ruins include:

  • White House Ruin
  • Mummy Cave
  • Antelope House

Along with a deep history of early humans, the canyon is full of natural wonders. Spider Rock is an awe-inspiring geologic rock formed by millennia of water flow and erosion. This sandstone structure towers over 700 feet. A must-see. 

Highlights Of Monument Valley

The topography of Monument Valley is, without a doubt, the highlight of any visit to this landscape. It is mind-boggling to think that the monuments used to be a basin millennia before humans existed.

As the basin shifted above sea level during the Permian period, it formed a plateau. After thousands of years of erosion from wind and water, the plateau deteriorated, leaving only the monumental rock monoliths you see today.

Being this close to a geological wonder like Monument Valley reminds you of the small footprint of humankind.

Sunsets and sunrises in Monument Valley are spectacular. Book a tour during dusk or dawn if you want an immersive experience and feel like you are in a Western film. 

Another highlight of Monument Valley is the Trading post outside the visitors’ center. What better way to remember your visit than with a piece of Navajo memorabilia? You will find an impressive collection of indigenous craftwork, art, and souvenirs. 

Tours In Canyon De Chelly

There are three ways to explore Canyon De Chelly. Regardless of your decision, all tours must be accompanied by a Navajo guide. 

The first and best way to see the canyon is via a Jeep tour. Contact Antelope House Tours for one of the best tour guides in the area.

A half-day tour will take you along the North and South rims of the Canyon, or you can do a half-day inner canyon tour.

A full-day tour can include either the two rims and a half-day inner canyon tour or a full-day inner canyon tour. Of course, you want to see the canyon from both perspectives, so the former is recommended.

The second way to tour the canyon is on horseback. Enjoy breathtaking views from the overlooks along the canyon’s rim while listening to captivating stories of the Navajo people.

Lastly, you can explore Canyon De Chelly on foot. Hiking is a beautiful way to get up close and personal with the magnificent National monument and truly feel the grandiosity of the canyon.

Tours In Monument Valley

Although the scenic highway 163 is free, the best parts of the valley can only be seen by going off the beaten path. 

You can explore Monument Valley by jeep or on horseback. The Loop Drives bring you close to the majestic geological landmarks. Noteworthy landmarks include:

  • The Mitten and Merrick buttes
  • North Window Overlook
  • The Three Sisters
  • Elephant Butte
  • Totem Pole and Yei Bei Chei

Monument Valley is smaller, so you don’t need as much time as in Canyon De Chelly. While slower than jeeps, backcountry horseback riding tours are the best way to experience Monument Valley. 

The Wildcat Trail is a moderately challenging hike looping around West and East Mitten Buttes. The trail is just under 4 miles long, taking between an hour and a half and three hours to complete.

Places To Stay In Near Canyon De Chelly

Accommodation is limited around Canyon de Chelly. You won’t find luxury hotels here. However, the limited choices and rustic atmosphere is part of the experience. 

Thunderbird Lodge is the only accommodation in Canyon De Chelly and the one that will give you an authentic experience. 

While the stay is rustic, the beds are super comfy, and the rooms are clean. Pet owners are welcome to bring their furry friends for an additional fee. 

There’s a cafeteria at the lodge, and you can book tours at the front desk, which is convenient.

The Holiday Inn is the closest hotel outside Canyon De Chelly, just outside Chinle. The hotel is newer and fancier than Thunderbird, though no more than 3-star accommodation. 

The other option is the Best Western Chinle. Although this 3-star hotel is the furthest from Canyon De Chelly’s entrance, it is the closest accommodation to the highway. So if you are tired after traveling from far, the Best Western may be perfect.

You can book tours at the front desk, like Thunderbird and the Holiday Inn. The hotel is about 2.5 miles from the Canyon De Chelly visitor center, and the tour guides can arrange pickup at the hotel.

Places To Stay In Near Monument Valley

When visiting monument valley, you can stay at The View or Goulding’s. 

The View Hotel is located within the Monument Valley. A stay at The View is pricey but well worth it. As the name suggests, the view from this hotel is out of this world. All the rooms face East, giving you an unobstructed view of sunrise over the valley.

Goulding’s Lodge is the most popular accommodation in the valley, mostly due to the lower price. Although it is located about five and a half miles from the visitor center, the 3-star lodge also boasts spectacular views of the valley.

The highlight of Goulding’s is the museum. Learn about the interesting start of the now-iconic Western film landscape, the Navajo tribe, and the late actor John Wayne. 

Monument Valley is one of North America’s most visited parks, and accommodations go fast. So it’s sensible to book your stay well in advance. 

Verdict: Canyon De Chelly Vs. Monument Valley

Anyone who has watched a Western film knows the prominent Monument Valley. Traversing this iconic on horseback, like in the movies, is truly a bucket-list experience, especially at sunrise or sunset.

Monument Valley’s landscape is unlike any other. Yet, at the same time, Canyon De Chelly may feel similar to the Grand Canyon and other historic sites like Mesa Verda. 

On the other hand, Canyon De Chelly has a rich history. If you are interested in anthropology and archeology, visit Canyon De Chelly. 

While a half-day to a day is enough time to see Monument Valley, you will need more time at Canyon De Chelly as there’s more to see. So, if you are short on time and it’s your only deciding factor, go to Monument Valley. 

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About the author
Steve Morrow
Steve Morrow owns Paddle About, an outdoor recreation and travel blog. Steve loves to travel, kayak, paddle board, camp, hike, and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.