Want a camping option during your Four Corners road trip? Check out this itinerary
One of the significant advantages of starting road trips at the Four Corners National Monument is the variety of road trip themes available.
If national monuments are your thing, there are plenty to choose from. If you want to see magnificent cliff dwellings, that can be arranged. If you want to experience a variety of climates and natural beauty, it’s all around you.
And if your goal is to add stamps from every National Parks visitor center in the Southwestern United States, well… okay. Not all these locations have them, but you’ll get to see some colorful rock formations along the way, and maybe even learn a little about Navajo culture.
For this Four Corners road trip itinerary, we will map out a three-day round trip excursion in the Spring, taking in some natural wonders, with a mix of hotels and camping (if you choose).
On this road trip, you’ll see the rock formations of Monument Valley, the curved rock walls of Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, and finally, the hidden gem of Canyon De Chelly.
So, from our starting point at the Four Corners Monument at the junction of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah, let’s get on the road!
Day 1: Four Corners National Monument to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
Leaving the Four Corners region, you’ll have three options for getting to Monument Valley on the Arizona/Utah border. Each takes about an hour and 45 minutes.
Along the way, you’ll probably start recognizing landscapes from movies you’ve seen. Depending on your pop culture preferences and personal demographics, you may feel compelled to quote John Wayne in The Searchers, Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis in Thelma & Louise, or Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider, all of which were filmed at least partially in the area.
Monument Valley is under the jurisdiction of the Navajo Nation, and you have the option to enlist one of their guides when you visit if you want to get a better understanding of the rich history and cultural significance of the formations you’ll be seeing (beyond their use in TV and films).
Granted, you don’t have to spring for a ranger-led tour, but doing so also gives you access to areas like Mystery Valley and Hunts Mesa, which are off-limits to those on a self-guided tour.
So what are you going to see? In the simplest terms, you’ll be winding your way through the 17-mile Valley Loop Drive, featuring 11 sandstone rock formations towering 400 – 1000 feet above the desert floor, with names like East and West Mittens, Merrick Butte, Three Sisters, and John Ford’s Point.
The high season for Monument Valley is during the warmer months, from Spring to early Fall. Summer can get incredibly crowded, and the lines for taking photos in front of the more famous and picturesque rock formations get a bit long.
But this should be fine in the early Spring, and booking one of the guided tours will help you avoid the crowds.
How can a great day in Monument Valley get even better? By sleeping there. Accommodations in the Valley include hotel rooms with a view or campsites (RV and wilderness) with an even better view. Be sure to book well in advance, as spots fill up quickly.
After a night of stargazing from your room or campsite, imagine enjoying your morning cup of coffee while experiencing the sunrise over the beautiful landscape of the valley, watching the sky change color while shadows enhance the natural features of the rock formations. Bring a camera, or simply enjoy the moment as it unfolds.
Day 2: Monument Valley to Antelope Canyon
After you’ve finished your coffee, it’s time to head south towards Page, Arizona, and Antelope Canyon.
Like Monument Valley, this slot canyon is also under the purview of the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation, and a tour guide is required. There are no self-guided tours. This policy helps preserve the canyon’s delicate structure and environment for future generations, as well as educates explorers of the Four Corners region about the area’s significance to the Navajo culture.
Still have your camera handy? You’ll probably want it for this tour. The Upper Canyon, known as ‘Tsé bighánílíní’ in Navajo, meaning ‘the place where water runs through rocks,’ is famous for its light beams and water-sculpted rock walls. The Lower Canyon, called ‘Hazdistazí,’ or ‘spiral rock arches,’ is more challenging but rewards visitors with its intricate, narrow passageways.
The interplay of light and shadow and the canyon’s flowing shapes and rich colors create a surreal environment for photographers and nature lovers.
You’ll want to book your guide in advance and also be mindful of changing weather conditions. Weather in the desert in the Spring can change quickly and can get a little dangerous, which is another good reason to have a knowledgeable guide with you.
The final stop on today’s geological tour is Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado River. It’s only about a ten-minute drive from Antelope Canyon and is not to be missed if you’re in the area.
Horseshoe Bend is a section of the Colorado River that twists around 270 degrees and offers spectacular views, as shown in the picture above.
Access is free, and getting to the viewing area is straightforward. It’s about a 3/4 mile walk to the overlook, about 1,000 feet above the river.
Then, you can spend the night in or near the city of Page, where your choices for accommodations will range from outdoor camping sites to 5-star resorts.
Day 3: Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona
For today’s natural wonders, you’ll head east towards Canyon de Chelly. Depending on your route, the trip should take about 2.5 – 3 hours. Aim for Chinle, Arizona, and you’ll be headed in the right direction.
Canyon de Chelly is the oldest continuously inhabited canyon on the Colorado Plateau and is part of the Navajo Nation. Its gorgeous natural beauty and secluded location offer an alternative to a certain, much-more-popular canyon to the west. (Some might even refer to that one as a Grand Canyon.)
There are many ways to enjoy Canyon de Chelly. If you arrive early enough in the morning, head to the North Rim to explore the overlooks along the North Rim Drive. If it’s later, you’ll want to include the South Rim Drive in your afternoon wandering, as those overlooks are better for photography at that time of day. Each drive will take about 2 hours, depending on how long you linger at each overlook.
Guided tours are also available from a ranger or a local Navajo guide. You’ll get to see ancient ruins from the ancestral Pueblo people, cliff dwellings, and Spider Rock, an 800-foot spire jutting up from the canyon floor. At the time of this writing, no self-guided tours are available other than the South and North Rim Drives.
For overnight accommodations, there are camping sites within Canyon de Chelly or hotels in Chinle.
There are still plenty of other sites to see in the Four Corners region. If you have the time, you may want to continue exploring the Colorado Plateau, check out a National Scenic Byway, more spectacular cliff dwellings and wildlife watching, or various archaeological sites and hiking trails. There’s so much to choose from!