Trailhead: Wildcat Trailhead - The View Campground
Distance: 3.2 miles (easy, and then moderate)
Wildcat Trail is the only hiking trail in Monument Valley that you can walk without a guide. Because Monument Valley is on Navajo Nation land, guides are required to go beyond the public access locations. This trail is a must-do, though, if you're in the Valley for more than a few hours. It takes you down to the Valley floor and around West Mitten Butte. Being that close really gives you a sense of perspective for just how big the "monuments" actually are. We started this hike around 9 am and only saw 4 other people the entire time (we saw half as many free-range horses, but more on that later).
I love looking at trails themselves - the way the dirt has shifted under boots and when it zig zags and curves and bends back on itself. The Wildcat Trail is one of the most beautiful trails I have ever walked. I don't know if it's because it is so different from anything else I have ever done (not even the trails in Arches/Canyonlands look like this) or because the desert was so beautiful this day, but this trail has gone down as one of my absolute favorites.
You start out working your way through deep sand and dirt until you reach the valley floor. About 1.5 km into the trail, you're all the way at the bottom and can start comprehending the colossal buttes before you.
We rounded a corner on the trail and all the sudden there were two horses in front of us! The trailhead signs did warn us about livestock on the trail, but that seemed more like a formality, something they have to tell you, and not something that would actually happen. There are 13 Navajo families that live in the valley, so we assumed the horses belonged to one of those families. Logan and I are both afraid of horses, so having to walk within 4 feet of basically WILD horses was slightly terrifying. But we made it through, and just added the horses to the list of why this is one of the best trails I have ever hiked.
We crossed over several dry washes, and could easily see how this trail would become impassable if there was significant rain. This particular wash doubled as a private driveway for one of the families.
Towards the end of the hike, we reached a sandy hill with a sign that simply read "most difficult." We laughed, fairly hard, because there had been no markers like this until this point ...and then we started walking up the hill. It was "most difficult" indeed. The sand was so deep and the hill was just steep enough that you felt like you weren't making any progress and that the hill would last forever. We have since adopted "most difficult" into our vocabulary and use it whenever we have an uphill climb to do.
Don't be fooled, "extreme difficulty" is still not as hard as "most difficult." This hill was way less steep, it just lasted longer. This is the last uphill stretch before the trail ends, and both of these hills combined are the reason this trail is rated as "easy, then moderate."
If I rated trails out of 5 stars, this one would get 6. I can't remember a recent time when I was so inspired just walking around. Places like this are so important, and if you ever get the chance to explore them, take it.