Amid the solitude of the vast Colorado Plateau is Goblin Valley State Park. It might not be as famous as Utah’s other iconic national parks, but its surreal sandstone formations are every bit as extraordinary — though on a much smaller scale.
The 3,654-acre park derives its peculiar name from thousands of tall, thin spires of sandstone — called “hoodoos” or “goblins” — of various shapes and sizes that haunt the long and narrow Valley of Goblins.
Along with Bryce Canyon National Park some 190 miles to the southwest, Goblin Valley is home to one of the highest collections of hoodoos in the world. Encircled by badland buttes and a wall of eroded cliffs, the valley’s bizarre orange-brown craggy columns vary in height from a few feet up to 50 feet. Carved by wind and water, the mushroom-shaped goblins suggest mischievous phantasmagoric creatures from an alternate universe.
The park is easy to explore. With Wild Horse Butte towering behind, leave the picnic area/observation point parking lot and descend a steep but short bluff into an alien landscape. At that point, you’re free to roam the terrain that includes skull-like rocks, eerie nooks, narrow side canyons and an array of sandstone hoodoos. The park also offers 6 miles of hiking trails, each leading to different areas of topography and geology. The shortest trail, only 250 yards from the park road, brings you to the most notable rock sculptures in Goblin Valley: the Three Sisters, which bear a striking likeness to giant chess pieces perched on an uplifted game board.
You Won’t Forget
Sequestered away on the park’s eastern boundary, beyond the cliffs that form the far wall of the Valley of Goblins, is a massive cavernous formation called The Goblin’s Lair. Entering this hideaway requires canyoneering skills, including a 90-foot rappel into a spectacular chamber resembling a gothic cathedral. Permits for rappelling into the Goblin’s Lair are available at the visitor center desk.
The campground at Goblin Valley State Park consists of 25 sites and two luxury yurts (circular domed tents), with a centrally located restroom, hot showers and drinking water. The campsites are divided into 10 walk-in tent pads, 14 RV spaces and one group site able to accommodate up to 35 people. Reservations are not required but are recommended.
Goblin Valley State Park has one of the darkest night skies on Earth. A variety of ranger-led events, including moonlit hikes and telescope tours, are conducted every month. The park also features the Wild Horse Mountain Biking Trail System of five connected loops totaling 7 miles.
For fantastic photos, make it a priority to hit the valley early in the morning or late in the day when the sun is low. Points from many of the barren upland ridges grant panoramic views of the Valley of Goblins, the Henry Mountains to the south and, on clear days, the La Sal Mountains far to the east.
When to Go
Spring and fall are the best times to visit; days are often sunny and warm, and nights are clear and cool. Summer temperatures can rise quickly in the desert, with average daytime highs between 90 and 105 degrees. Winters see occasional snow, with temperatures dropping as low as 10 degrees at night.
Did You Know?
Goblin Valley was prominently featured as an alien planet in the 1999 sci-fi movie Galaxy Quest.
Larry Rice is an avid canoeist, backpacker, bicyclist and world traveler who resides in Buena Vista, Colo.