Travel Tips 

12 of the Best National Monuments in the Western US

The national monuments in the West help preserve Indigenous heritage, coastal ecosystems, the prehistoric past, and other sites of historical and cultural significance. From fossils and fjords to craters and cliff dwellings, you can see many beautiful places and learn incredible history at the national monuments in the western United States!

Prepared By:

Danella Myers

Road Trip Enthusiast

If you’ve already visited most of the iconic national parks in the West, you might be looking to add some national monuments to your travel bucket list. We’ve chosen some of the best national monuments in the western United States for this list—some you’ve probably heard of and maybe even visited, along with a few lesser-known ones!

Misty Fjords National Monument

Alaska

Experience true serenity in this piece of Alaskan wilderness, located within Tongass National Forest. Several thousand years ago, glaciers carved these stunning landscapes that captivate visitors—steep cliffs jutting up from blue waters, creating some of the most picturesque glacial valleys.

The best ways to see and experience Misty Fjords are by plane, flightseeing tours, and cruises. If you want to immerse yourself in the landscape even more, consider a kayaking trip.

What’s Nearby

The closest town to Misty Fjords is Ketchikan, which about 40 miles west of the national monument. Other nearby parks and attractions include Totem Bight State Historical Park and Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary.

Navajo National Monument

Arizona

See the dwellings of Ancestral Puebloans, including Hopi, Navajo, San Juan Southern Paiute, and Zuno. The remains of three pueblos dating back to the 13th century—Keet Seel, Betatakin, and Inscription House—are protected by Navajo National Monument.

To tour the cliff dwellings, you’ll need to join one of the ranger-led hikes to Betatakin or Keet Seel. The guided hikes are usually offered during the summer, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Availability for these ranger-led hikes varies, so if you’re considering visiting, it’s best to call ahead of time and get the most up-to-date information.

In addition to the ranger-led hikes, visitors can also explore the self-guided trails at the national monument. The Sandal Trail provides a view of the cliff dwellings, but you may want to bring binoculars to get a closer look!

What’s Nearby

Multiple attractions, including Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Canyon De Chelly National Monument, and Mesa Verde National Park, are within a half-day drive from Navajo National Monument.

Take in several unique archaeological sites in this area with our Four Corners itinerary!

Navajo National Monument

Arizona

See the dwellings of Ancestral Puebloans, including Hopi, Navajo, San Juan Southern Paiute, and Zuno. The remains of three pueblos dating back to the 13th century—Keet Seel, Betatakin, and Inscription House—are protected by Navajo National Monument.

To tour the cliff dwellings, you’ll need to join one of the ranger-led hikes to Betatakin or Keet Seel. The guided hikes are usually offered during the summer, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Availability for these ranger-led hikes varies, so if you’re considering visiting, it’s best to call ahead of time and get the most up-to-date information.

In addition to the ranger-led hikes, visitors can also explore the self-guided trails at the national monument. The Sandal Trail provides a view of the cliff dwellings, but you may want to bring binoculars to get a closer look!

What’s Nearby

Multiple attractions, including Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Canyon De Chelly National Monument, and Mesa Verde National Park, are within a half-day drive from Navajo National Monument.

Take in several unique archaeological sites in this area with our Four Corners itinerary!

Mojave National Preserve

California

At one time inhabited by the Mojave and Chemehuevi tribes, Mojave National Preserve keeps a piece of the area’s unique history alive. In addition to the Indigenous peoples, miners, ranchers, and homesteaders also occupied the region at one time or another. In the 1940s, a doctor even broadcasted a syndicated radio show from the area of the preserve known as Zzyzx.

The scenery at Mojave National Preserve also makes it worth the trip! It’s home to Kelso Dunes, which are among the largest sand dunes in the country. You can also explore an underground lava tube or hike Rings Loop Trail and see ancient petroglyphs.

What’s Nearby

Mojave National Preserve is only about an hour south of Las Vegas on I-15. And, about an hour in the other direction is Barstow, CA which is home to significant Route 66 history and is also only a few miles from Rainbow Basin Natural Area. Joshua Tree National Park is located a little over an hour away from Mojave National Preserve as well.

Colorado National Monument

Colorado

At Colorado National Monument, you can take in stunning views of the Colorado Plateau, but with fewer crowds than you may encounter at national parks with similar landscapes. Within the national monument, you’ll find several overlooks and scenic viewpoints just off Rim Rock Drive. Colorado National Monument is also a fantastic destination for day hikes, with multiple trails that are under five miles roundtrip.

What’s Nearby

Colorado National Monument is a convenient stop on a national parks road trip—all five of Utah’s national parks are within a half-day drive, as are Mesa Verde and Black Canyon of the Gunnison national parks. Dinosaur National Monument is also just a couple of hours away. The nearest towns are Grand Junction and Fruita, Colorado.

Colorado National Monument

Colorado

At Colorado National Monument, you can take in stunning views of the Colorado Plateau, but with fewer crowds than you may encounter at national parks with similar landscapes. Within the national monument, you’ll find several overlooks and scenic viewpoints just off Rim Rock Drive. Colorado National Monument is also a fantastic destination for day hikes, with multiple trails that are under five miles roundtrip.

What’s Nearby

Colorado National Monument is a convenient stop on a national parks road trip—all five of Utah’s national parks are within a half-day drive, as are Mesa Verde and Black Canyon of the Gunnison national parks. Dinosaur National Monument is also just a couple of hours away. The nearest towns are Grand Junction and Fruita, Colorado.

Craters of the Moon National Monument

Idaho

“Otherworldly” is sometimes used to describe Craters of the Moon National Monument. Maybe that’s because its name has the word “moon” in it. But, more than likely, it’s due to the bizarrely beautiful landscape.

Multiple hiking trails at Craters of the Moon give you the opportunity to feel the volcanic rock beneath your feet and see fascinating volcanic features like spatter cones. Want to go a little deeper with your exploration? Hike through the lava tube caves!

What’s Nearby

The small town of Arco, ID is about 20 minutes away from Craters of the Moon. Mackay, ID is just under an hour away and has some very interesting mining history. Other popular destinations nearby in Idaho are Southeast Idaho High Country, Sun Valley, and Redfish Lake in Sawtooth National Forest.

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

Montana

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument sheds light on a dark but important piece of American history. It’s the site of a significant battle, the Battle of Little Bighorn (known to Plains Indians as the Battle of Greasy Grass) between United States Cavalry soldiers and Northern Plains Indian tribes.

Today, you can explore the battlefield and learn more about the Battle of Little Bighorn. The national monument also has memorials for both the United States Cavalrymen and the Indian tribes. 

What’s Nearby

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is just off I-90 in southern Montana, about an hour from Billings, MT, and four hours from Yellowstone National Park. The Black Hills and several well-known South Dakota destinations are within five hours. Devils Tower National Monument is under four hours away, and you can access the Bighorn Scenic Byway can be accessed about an hour south of Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

Montana

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument sheds light on a dark but important piece of American history. It’s the site of a significant battle, the Battle of Little Bighorn (known to Plains Indians as the Battle of Greasy Grass) between United States Cavalry soldiers and Northern Plains Indian tribes.

Today, you can explore the battlefield and learn more about the Battle of Little Bighorn. The national monument also has memorials for both the United States Cavalrymen and the Indian tribes. 

What’s Nearby

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is just off I-90 in southern Montana, about an hour from Billings, MT, and four hours from Yellowstone National Park. The Black Hills and several well-known South Dakota destinations are within five hours. Devils Tower National Monument is under four hours away, and you can access the Bighorn Scenic Byway can be accessed about an hour south of Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.

Gold Butte National Monument

Nevada

If you’re willing to go the extra mile(s) to appreciate a secluded and beautiful place, Gold Butte National Monument should be on your travel bucket list! Located in a remote area of Nevada, this site preserves incredible geological features and rock art dating back thousands of years. Points of interest within Gold Butte include Whitney Pocket, Little Finland, Devil’s Throat, and Gold Butte Townsite.

Those interested in visiting should be aware that a four-wheel drive vehicle with high clearance is highly recommended due to the condition of the roads in most areas. Also, keep in mind that visitors must be prepared due to the remote location and inconsistent cell phone service.

What’s Nearby

Although remote, Gold Butte National Monument is less than three hours away from Las Vegas. The closest town is Mesquite, NV. Other notable destinations within a few hours are Valley of Fire State Park, Grand Canyon National Park, and Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

El Malpais National Monument

New Mexico

El Malpais National Monument is home to diverse landscapes including lava flows, cinder cones, and sandstone bluffs. Almost as diverse as the landscape are the people who have inhabited and explored the area and utilized its resources. Before it was established as a national monument, Ancient Puebloans, Spanish explorers, Navajo people, railroad workers, homesteaders, and uranium mine workers all spent time in the area. For a period of time in the 1940s, a portion of the lava flows was even used for aerial bombing target practice!

You can appreciate the scenery from towering mesas along hiking trails or scenic drives in El Malpais National Monument. Or, take a look at what’s below the surface of these landscapes by going caving.

What’s Nearby

El Malpais National Monument is about a half hour south of Grants, New Mexico. In this area, you’ll find Route 66 history and other attractions including El Morro National Monument, Ice Cave & Bandera Volcano, and Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary. Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde National Park, and Monument Valley are also within a few hours.

El Malpais National Monument

New Mexico

El Malpais National Monument is home to diverse landscapes including lava flows, cinder cones, and sandstone bluffs. Almost as diverse as the landscape are the people who have inhabited and explored the area and utilized its resources. Before it was established as a national monument, Ancient Puebloans, Spanish explorers, Navajo people, railroad workers, homesteaders, and uranium mine workers all spent time in the area. For a period of time in the 1940s, a portion of the lava flows was even used for aerial bombing target practice!

You can appreciate the scenery from towering mesas along hiking trails or scenic drives in El Malpais National Monument. Or, take a look at what’s below the surface of these landscapes by going caving.

What’s Nearby

El Malpais National Monument is about a half hour south of Grants, New Mexico. In this area, you’ll find Route 66 history and other attractions including El Morro National Monument, Ice Cave & Bandera Volcano, and Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary. Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde National Park, and Monument Valley are also within a few hours.

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

New Mexico

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument preserves the dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloans that made their homes in the area during the late 1200s. Walking through the cliff dwellings, you’ll get a sense of what life was like hundreds of years ago.

Tucked into the Gila Wilderness, this national monument also has several hiking trails for day hikes and backpacking. You can even access a couple natural hot springs via trails in Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.

What’s Nearby

The town closest to Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is Silver City, NM, about two hours away. It’s a town with a unique mining history and lies along the Trail of the Mountain Spirits Scenic Byway. Two national parks—White Sands National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park—are both within about five hours.

Want to explore more in New Mexico? Take a look at our New Mexico itinerary.

Oregon Caves National Monument

Oregon

This geological wonder really started gaining attention in 1874 when a man, Elijah Davidson, stumbled upon it while searching for his lost dog. Established in 1909, Oregon Caves National Monument is now sometimes referred to as the “Marble Halls of Oregon.” Visitors can experience the twists and turns and admire the magnificent stalagmites and stalactites during a cave tour.

Above ground, explore the hiking trails and enjoy spectacular views of the Siskyou Mountains, streams, mountains, and dense forests.

Although closed for rehabilitation at the time of this article’s publishing (October 2022), there’s also a historic chateau at Oregon Caves National Monument that has unique lodging and dining options.

What’s Nearby

Redwood National and State Parks are just a little over an hour away across the border in California. About three hours northeast of Oregon Caves is Crater Lake National Park. The largest town within about an hour’s drive of Oregon Caves is Grants Pass, OR.

Oregon Caves National Monument

Oregon

This geological wonder really started gaining attention in 1874 when a man, Elijah Davidson, stumbled upon it while searching for his lost dog. Established in 1909, Oregon Caves National Monument is now sometimes referred to as the “Marble Halls of Oregon.” Visitors can experience the twists and turns and admire the magnificent stalagmites and stalactites during a cave tour.

Above ground, explore the hiking trails and enjoy spectacular views of the Siskyou Mountains, streams, mountains, and dense forests.

Although closed for rehabilitation at the time of this article’s publishing (October 2022), there’s also a historic chateau at Oregon Caves National Monument that has unique lodging and dining options.

What’s Nearby

Redwood National and State Parks are just a little over an hour away across the border in California. About three hours northeast of Oregon Caves is Crater Lake National Park. The largest town within about an hour’s drive of Oregon Caves is Grants Pass, OR.

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Washington

The eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 went down in history as the United States’ most destructive volcanic event on record. Although there’s been significant regrowth and new life in the decades since, the eruption’s effects are evident over 40 years later. The area was designated Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument about two years after the eruption, preserving it for research, education, and recreation.

The national monument encompasses over 100,000 acres within Gifford Pinchot National Forest. To get the lay of the land and learn about the history, visit the Johnston Ridge Observatory. Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument also offers an abundance of recreational opportunities. You can explore the area in a variety of ways including hiking & biking, fishing, paddling, snowshoeing & XC skiing, camping, and more.

What’s Nearby

Mount St. Helens is situated between two well-known landmarks, each about two hours away—Mount Rainier National Park to the north and Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area to the south. The city of Portland, OR is also about two hours away. And, if you have some spare time, you could visit Mount St. Helens on an Oregon Coast adventure. Astoria, OR is just a little over two hours to the west.

Fossil Butte National Monument

Wyoming

Millions of years ago, an area of what is now southwest Wyoming was a lake. Today, you’ll discover a high desert landscape in this region. But, evidence of the ancient subtropical lake is still there. Known as “the fossil fish capital of the world,” this area has produced many rare and spectacular specimens. You can see several of them at Fossil Butte National Monument. This national monument helps preserve the rich paleontologic history of the Green River Formation.

At Fossil Butte National Monument, stop inside the Visitor Center and see the exhibits, where more than 400 fossils are on display. Afterward, stretch your legs on the hiking trails at Fossil Butte and enjoy the views along the Scenic Drive.

What’s Nearby

If you’re visiting Fossil Basin, you can’t miss the opportunity to dig for fossils! Try “fossil fishing” at one of the area’s dig-your-own fossil quarries. Yellowstone and Grand Teton are only a couple of hours from Fossil Butte National Monument, making it a convenient stop along a Wyoming national parks road trip. You can also visit multiple other dinosaur and fossil sites within a half-day drive.

Fossil Butte National Monument

Wyoming

Millions of years ago, an area of what is now southwest Wyoming was a lake. Today, you’ll discover a high desert landscape in this region. But, evidence of the ancient subtropical lake is still there. Known as “the fossil fish capital of the world,” this area has produced many rare and spectacular specimens. You can see several of them at Fossil Butte National Monument. This national monument helps preserve the rich paleontologic history of the Green River Formation.

At Fossil Butte National Monument, stop inside the Visitor Center and see the exhibits, where more than 400 fossils are on display. Afterward, stretch your legs on the hiking trails at Fossil Butte and enjoy the views along the Scenic Drive.

What’s Nearby

If you’re visiting Fossil Basin, you can’t miss the opportunity to dig for fossils! Try “fossil fishing” at one of the area’s dig-your-own fossil quarries. Yellowstone and Grand Teton are only a couple of hours from Fossil Butte National Monument, making it a convenient stop along a Wyoming national parks road trip. You can also visit multiple other dinosaur and fossil sites within a half-day drive.

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