If you’re just looking for a place to hang your hat overnight, this may just be a bit more epic than you bargained for. Needless to say, this is a place to experience!
Formally part of Bears Ears National Monument, Valley of the Gods is a minimally trafficked scenic backcountry road off the beaten path in San Juan County nearest to the small and remote town of Mexican Hat in Utah. This 17-mile road is nestled remotely within a sandstone valley, with breathtaking views of isolated buttes and deep reddish brown mesas mixed with imposing towering pinnacles as far as the eye can see. Even with these unique formations much of the landscape is wide open, with views of nearby Monument Valley on a clear day. All free to you, unlike it’s surrounding area.
What makes this place any better than another, you might ask? I can say for certain that it’s the unique and enchanting experience you receive in parking yourself overnight in a truly fascinating landscape located on accessible BLM land. As with many scenic drives, it is typically pull off to partake in the views alone. This place however has this and more, all easily obtainable to almost any RV’er, Vanlifer and traveler.
WHAT IS THERE TO DO IN VALLEY OF THE GODS?
Valley of the Gods offers flat and level dispersed dry camping on BLM land, in designated large dirt pull-offs. Some are closer to the road than others, though all are spread out with significant space between you and any potential neighbors.
There are no designated trails within Valley of the Gods, however, an open hike policy allows for you to explore anywhere you’d like allowing for up close and personal exploration of a breathtaking landscape reminiscent to what ancient explorers experienced. You are allowed to hike or backpack within the boundaries without needing to obtain permits.
If hiking isn’t your thing, you can simply drive the entire 17-mile grated dirt road. Plan to take your time and get out often to take in the beauty of this spectacular landscape.
There are no fees or permits needed to access such remote beauty.
WHAT MAKES VALLEY OF THE GODS A BETTER CAMPING OPTION THAN OTHER BLM LAND NEARBY?
We knew of this place, in doing quick research in the area though with everything else to explore we were going to ditch it as an option due to limited time and closer camping options. Though after speaking to a local, we were surprised when she continued to encourage us to keep it on our agenda and so we did. If the locals are this enthralled with a place to call their own, it’s a must do for us!
Despite it’s remoteness, it is surprisingly accessible to access in route to or from Bluff or nearby Monument Valley and the state line of Arizona. It is far less populated than it’s surrounding towns and not many venture through here. Those that do explore it’s astonishing terrain, pass on through briefly having you feeling as though you have the entire landscape all to yourself overnight.
Unlike other more trafficked BLM roads, you won’t get much noise in in Valley of the Gods as people pass through quickly and you have ample space from your neighbor. As the sun sets, the light illuminates against the towering red rock pinnacles with such vibrancy, you feel you are part of the landscape. Of course due to it’s remoteness and lack of light pollution nearby, the skies are as dark as you could imagine offering unlimited beauty above. A place worth experiencing one or more nights as you pass through!
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Valley of the Gods is accessible to almost any type of traveler. While the entire length of the road is more favorable for Vanlifer’s, smaller vehicles and small rigs, it is still very doable for a larger rig as long as you enter and exit from Highway 163.
If you have a Class A, Fifth Wheel, Travel Trailer longer than 13ft or have a low rider, you will need to be sure to take the road leading in from Highway 163 and plan to turn around back out the other way. There are a few large level areas to turn around prior to passing what’s known as The Battleship Formation. It is not advisable to go past mile 6, where there is a large pull out of the left. You can identify this last available turn around on the left as it is in front of a notable wash with several out of place trees – the first isolated tower is directly in front of you. Note, there are no mile marker posts, so it’s advisable to reset your odometer upon entering Valley of the Gods.
If you have anything smaller, you can enter from either side and complete the entire loop through to Utah State Road 261. As always, scout ahead if in doubt.
You should plan to be self-sufficient due to Valley of the Gods isolated location. There are no services nearby.
Additionally, as with most places in the Utah desert there is absolutely no water. You will need to bring in all your own water. Do not underestimate how much you will need.
Let’s keep these places accessible to us all by leaving it in better condition than when you found it. Pack all trash and waste out with you.
GETTING HERE + ROAD CONDITIONS
Valley of the Gods is nestled between Highways 163 and 261, making access to this magical terrain a loop. The Valley of the Gods Road (San Juan County Road 242) is a 17-mile grated dirt road. 4X4 vehicle is not necessary and is reachable by most any vehicle however a higher clearance vehicle may make things a bit easier if planning to drive the entire stretch. Be advised that if the road is wet, a 4×4 may be needed to get through.
If coming from Bluff Utah, you will most easily access Valley of the Gods from Hwy 163. The turn takes a sharp right into Valley of the Gods going downhill, so you’ll want to slow down before approaching it, 15 miles west of Bluff. This side of the 17-mile road is in excellent condition, well grated with very few ruts. If you are pulling a trailer or have much length to your vehicle, this is the access point you will want to take. As the road continues from this point (or from entry on State Road 261) the road has a few deeper ruts and becomes uneven in several spots that will make towing or having length to your rig much more challenging to navigate. It is not advisable to continue the road or enter from this side if you cannot detach.
Access from State Route 261 or the western end of Valley of the Gods is a bit more off the beaten path and must be approached cautiously in wet conditions or length of rig. Shortly after this entrance the road connects with the Mogi Dugway, ascending steeply 1,200ft up through tight switchbacks to the top of Cedar Mesa.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Spring or Fall, as most places in this southern region of the desert in general when temps offer much cooler days and chillier evenings. This terrain may not be tolerable during the Summer months, though may we suggest spending the day in the nearby San Juan River during the day before settling in for the night.
During any month however, if your agenda can support it we’d suggest you getting there no earlier than 3p as the heat of the day can be too much to wait out just for a camping spot.
OTHER ATTRACTIONS NEARBY
Valley of the Gods can be a suitable dry camping destination for one or two nights, though we suggest moving on from here. There is ample located around the nearby area to explore. Here are our favorite must-see sights in route.
Monument Valley and Forest Gump Hill. Continuing South on Hwy 163, you will pass mile marker 13 with Monument Valley in the distance. This is the iconic view in the movie Forest Gump, where he turns around from his cross-country run to go home. Monument Valley was closed when we passed through, though a must-do if open. Monument Valley requires an entrance fee. The notorious Mexican Hat rock pinnacle is along this route on your left.
Gooseneck State Park. Not much of a State Park aside from a vault toilet restroom, but more an epic overlook just feet away from an entrance fee booth. Entrance fee is only $5 and entirely worth it. Though you will want to time your visit for either strictly sunrise or sunset only due to the sun being a deterrent any other time during the day.
The Mogi Dugway, Cedar Mesa and nearby attractions. If you dare to drive up the Mogi Dugway, you have endless exploration and vast ever-changing views at your disposal. If exploring in this area, be sure to look up the multitude of petroglyphs and cliff dwelling ruins. Some are 4×4 accessible only.