The allure of the American West has long captivated our imaginations. Through books, films, and beyond, its landscapes have symbolized adventure, freedom, and the untamed spirit of nature.

Among these iconic vistas, Monument Valley is an instantly recognizable emblem of the West’s enduring appeal. With its enormous sandstone buttes reaching skyward from the desert floor, this region is sacred, ancient, and awe-inspiring.

If the desert is calling to you, one of the very best ways to explore it is through horseback riding. From short trips out and back, to day-long, immersive experiences, there is something terribly romantic about riding a horse through the desert wilderness.

Let’s take a look at what you can expect from a horseback riding tour of Monument Valley!

About Monument Valley

Located on the border between Utah and Arizona, Monument Valley is a part of the Colorado Plateau—characterized by groups of mesas within a vast basin surrounded by highlands—and is within the territory of the Navajo Nation. For centuries, it has been home to the Navajo people, who know this place as Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii, meaning valley of the rocks.

The otherworldly geological features of Monument Valley, including its sandstone buttes, mesas, and spires, were formed over millions of years through processes of erosion. These formations stand up to 1,000 feet above the valley floor, created by the gradual wearing away of the softer rock layers.

Historically, the Navajo people used this area for grazing livestock and as a seasonal residence. The valley’s geography provided natural defenses, and its wide, open spaces allowed for effective herding of sheep and other animals. Over time, the Navajo developed a deep connection to the land, which is considered sacred.

Monument Valley has gained a fair amount of recognition through film, particularly those directed by John Ford, like Stagecoach, The Searchers, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and many more. These films introduced audiences worldwide to the dramatic landscapes of the American Southwest—though they did not accurately represent the Navajo people or their culture. Despite this, Monument Valley is a symbol of the American West, attracting visitors with its incredible scenery and the opportunity to learn about Navajo heritage from the people themselves.

Horseback Riding Opportunities in Monument Valley

If you have the opportunity to visit Monument Valley, then taking a horseback riding tour is an unmatched experience—it’s a fantastic way to explore this gorgeous place in a way that’s both traditional and immersive.

There are a number of horseback riding tour operators in the area, all of whom are through Navajo guides and services. Tours can range from short rides lasting a couple of hours, to full-day excursions, and you can find organizers accommodating both beginner and experienced riders. The routes you’ll take are carefully chosen to showcase the valley’s most iconic landscapes. You’ll traverse a variety of terrains, from open plains to narrow trails winding between the towering buttes and mesas.

Safety is a priority of course, and your tour group will provide the equipment, like helmets. Riders are matched with horses based on their riding experience, and you’ll get detailed instructions before the tour to ensure a comfortable ride. The tours operate under guidelines that respect the environment and the cultural significance of the land.

A few tour operators with horseback riding opportunities in Monument Valley:

What to Expect on a Horseback Riding Tour of Monument Valley

While on a horseback riding tour through Monument Valley, you can expect a thorough immersion into the landscape’s distinct features. Tours will start at a designated meeting point, where your guide will give an overview of the day’s route and safety instructions—they’ll also answer questions you may have before heading out.

Your journey will take you through Monument Valley’s iconic scenery, including close views of its massive sandstone buttes, wide mesas, and detailed rock formations. These landmarks serve as both waypoints and subjects of discussion, as your guide will explain their geological and historical significance. Key sights often included in these tours are the East and West Mittens and Merrick Butte, among others. The terrain you might encounter on the tours can vary from flat and open plains, to narrow paths that meander around natural obstacles. Your pace will be set to accommodate the group’s overall comfort and ability, making for a safe, fun experience for all riders.

Throughout the tour, you’ll have the opportunity to learn about the area and its history, as well as some basic insights into Navajo culture and the valley’s role in it.

A few pointers: 

  • Spring and fall are the best times to visit, with the most temperate conditions.
  • You’ll want to wear comfortable clothing suitable for horseback riding and for the weather—long pants, closed toed shoes, etc.
  • You don’t necessarily need horseback riding experience to take one of these tours, though it can be helpful to familiarize yourself with basic riding techniques and safety practices if you’re a beginner.
  • Be aware and respectful—Monument Valley doesn’t exist for tourists, and the desert is an unforgiving place. Listen to your guide (and ask questions if you have them!), especially when it comes to safety; and be respectful of guidelines about where you can go and what you can photograph.

About the Author

As the editor-in-chief of Frayed Passport, my goal is to help you build a lifestyle that lets you travel the world whenever you want and however long you want, and not worry about where your next paycheck will come from. I've been to 20+ countries and five continents, lived for years as a full-time digital nomad, and have worked completely remotely since 2015. If you would like to share your story with our community, or partner with Frayed Passport, get in touch with me at!

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