The minute I saw pictures of Goblin Valley State Park, my jaw dropped.
I showed the kids the pictures and we all agreed this Utah state park had to get added to our spring break road trip. It wasn’t on our original route but it’s pretty close to Capitol Reef National Park and I figured we could adjust the route and stop there on the way to Capitol Reef. Brian had to change up plans for the first part of the drive and wasn’t too thrilled about it, but once we got to the park and he saw what we were going to hike into, he agreed the stop was totally worth the detour!
We arrived at Goblin Valley State Park just before lunchtime and parked at the Valley of Goblins Observation Point and covered picnic area for a picnic lunch and an unbelievable view. Looking out over Valley of Goblins, the land stretches into a vast panorama of alien landscape that looks like the surface of another planet or something from Star Trek or Lost In Space — the movie, Galaxy Quest, was actually filmed at Goblin Valley State Park.
All of us were anxious to go exploring but knew that we needed to eat first, so we basically inhaled our lunches as quickly as possible. We seriously couldn’t wait to descend into the maze of enormous hoodoos!
Located in the San Rafael Desert on the southeastern edge of the San Rafael Swell, Goblin Valley State Park protects thousands of mushroom-shaped rock pinnacles called hoodoos or goblins and several walls of petroglyphs and pictographs spread across 3,654 acres of red rock and sandstone.
Established as a state park in 1964, Goblin Valley and nearby Bryce Canyon contain some of the largest occurrences of hoodoos in the world. With no rules to “stay on the trail,” visitors are allowed to walk, hike, climb, and play freely among the mushroom rocks and tall spires.
Exploring Valley Of Goblins
Valley of Goblins spans nearly three square miles that can be explored at your leisure. Giant hoodoos, rock spires, and mushrooms rocks tower above you — some rock formations stand alone, some are grouped together, some stand in rows. Some hoodoos connect to form windows and arches. Others create perfect seats and places to climb. It’s a perfect natural maze for the whole family to play in.
A steep but short staircase and gravel path leads down the hill from the observation point and picnic area, into Valley of Goblins, the parks main attraction. It is made up of three distinct areas: First Valley, Second Valley, and Third Valley.
- First Valley: After descending the path from the picnic area, you enter the First Valley, a mostly flat area containing several dozen clusters of hoodoos.
- Second Valley: Tucked behind a low ridge, about 0.5 mile from the observation point, is the Second Valley of Goblins where the goblins grow much taller as they line the walls of a narrow canyon.
- Third Valley: Close to the size of the first two valleys combined, Third Valley consists of several side canyons and washes that branch off from the central Red Canyon drainage about 1.0 mile south of the observation point. This is the most remote area of the park.
If you’re interested in doing more hiking, there are trails that lead to overlooks, offer views of the surrounding desert, and travel deep within the maze of sandstone formations.
Goblin Valley State Park Hiking Trails
Beyond the Valley of Goblins, this Utah state park has six miles of hiking trails. We spent hours in Valley of Goblins alone, which was plenty for our family. And, because we also wanted to get to Capitol Reef National Park at a decent time, we didn’t feel the need to work extra hikes into our visit.
If you do want to go hiking, however, here are your options:
- Three Sisters Trail is an easy, 500 yard, round-trip hike. The Three Sisters is the most iconic goblin formation within the park and is found on many of the souvenir items available in the visitor center. (We enjoyed the view of Three Sisters from the road to the observation point!)
- Curtis Bench Trail is an easy, 1.5 mile, out-and-back trail that totals 3.0 miles. Named for the grey-green Curtis layer of sand and silt stone that covers many of the upland regions of the park, it is accessed alongside the Entrada Canyon Trail and runs parallel to it, but at a higher elevation. From this trail you can enjoy sweeping vistas of the Henry Mountains to the south and Valley of Goblins to the east.
- Entrada Canyon Trail is a moderate, 1.5 mile, out-and-back trail, that totals 3.0 miles. Named for the same layer of sand and silt stone that makes up the Valley of Goblins, it begins at the group campsite and ends at the Valley of Goblins observation point parking lot.
- Goblin’s Lair Trail is a strenuous, 1.5 mile, out-and-back trail, that totals 3.0 miles. Hidden on the park’s eastern boundary, beyond the far wall of Valley of Goblins, is The Goblin’s Lair, a beautiful slot canyon whose entrance has been sealed by rock fall. Depending on time of day, light may pour in through ceiling vents more than 100 feet above the chamber floor.
- Carmel Canyon Loop Trail is a moderate 1.5 mile, round trip hike. It grants sweeping vistas of the Carmel goblin formation, the Molly’s Castle outcrop, the Three Sisters, and on clear days, even the La Sal Mountains far to the east.
The Formation Of Goblin Valley State Park
Goblin Valley was originally discovered by cowboys searching for cattle but it’s most significant discovery occurred when Arthur Chaffin found it in the late 1920s and called it Mushroom Valley. Later, in 1949, Chaffin returned to explore the valley and photograph it’s strange formations.
Publicity of the discovery attracted scores of visitors and in 1954 efforts were underway to protect Goblin Valley. Eventually the state of Utah acquired the property and founded Goblin Valley State Reserve. It became a state park in 1964.
Know Before You Go
- Goblin Valley State Park is located near the town of Hanksville one hour north of Capitol Reef National Park. From I-70, take exit 149 for HWY 24. Drive south for 24 miles to Temple Mountain Road. Turn right onto Template Mountain Road and follow it a little over 5.0 miles to Goblin Valley Road. Turn left on Goblin Valley Road and follow signs to the park.
- Admission fees are $10.00/vehicle and $5.00/vehicle for Utah seniors. Annual passes are available for $75.00 and $35.00 for seniors.
- The park is open year round with no holiday closures. The Visitor Center is open daily from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, but in winter months it may close periodically during staff breaks or if no staff is available.
- The park has a small Visitor’s Center with a gift shop, a campground, three hiking trails through the goblins, and a covered picnic area that overlooks the main area of Goblin Valley.
- Spring and fall are ideal times to visit this park. Summer days in Goblin Valley are very hot — plan to explore in the early morning and late evening hours. Winter days are often mild but nights can be very cold.
- There is a fairly large parking lot, but it fills up fast on weekends and during school breaks.
- The only bathrooms in the Goblin Valley day use area are near the picnic area.
- Goblin Valley State Park has a campground suitable for tents and RVs and has restrooms, water, and showers. There are also two heated/cooled yurts that are reservable year-round.
- As one of Utah’s most popular parks, this International Dark Sky Park lives up to the billing.
- Plan to spend at least half the day hiking through Valley of Goblins and enjoying a picnic.