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Camping:  Goblin Valley

Goblin Valley is located at the Southern edge of the San Rafael Swell.  There are several different ways to arrive at the park.  Most people coming in from Salt Lake City will travel down highway 24 to reach the park.  I’ve found a more scenic way into the park is to take I-70 West until you arrive at exit 129.  This is a ranch exit and has no services.  Dirt roads will direct you to Goblin Valley, along the way you will be greeted with awe-inspiring scenery.  This area is a high desert wilderness, sage and twisted junipers dominate the landscape.  The road meanders around the South side of Temple Mountain, this close up view is worth the extra time.  As you get closer to Goblin Valley the elevation decreases, typically you will gain three or four degrees of warmth. 

goblinvalley001.jpg (66433 bytes)Either way you arrive at the park be sure and stop at the BLM trailer at the road junction.  The ranger stationed there knows this area like the back of his hand and is an invaluable source of information.  

The best time to visit this area is in the springtime.  The desert comes alive in the spring, flowers of all varieties contrast with the red rock in a vivid splash of color.  As the spring gives way to the summertime the scenery loses itsgoblinvalley002.jpg (85301 bytes) brightness and becomes more the recognizable hostile desert. 

The Park Itself  

Goblin Valley is a unique park.  This is not a large park, the main attraction is an area which could be covered in a day.  But…this attraction is pretty damn neat.  Valley of the Goblins is the draw of the park.  This small area is one of the most amazing places I’ve seen on the Colorado Plateau.  This is a small canyon full of hoodoos and spires.  The sandstone has eroded and left a virtual playground of rock formations.  Our almost four year old loved frolicking amongst these formations, hollering out “find me Dad!”  He now refers to this park as the “place of the statues.”        

The goblinvalley003.jpg (56926 bytes) valley floor is rather flat, making access to the formations easy for all ages and abilities.  Children and adults alike will have fun scurrying amongst the numerous sandstone towers.  For the less ambitious there is an overlook platform, a nice place to gaze at the wonders of nature under the shade. 


The Park Campground 

This is the part of the park I was a bit disappointed with.  The campsites are absurdly close together.  There are 21 campsites, the only one I even considered camping at was number 21.  If you are determined to camp at the park grounds be sure and get site 21.  Camping at 1-20 you will definitely get to know your neighbors.  I must give kudos to the park rangers, every one we encountered were friendly and knowledgeable. 

Camping outside the park 

The best camping is to be had outside of the park boundaries.  Goblin Valley is surrounded by BLM land, this area has a much greater chance for solitude. 

Before I tell you my secret spots please promise to leave the area as you found it.  Before you leave your campsite look around and take not only any trash you have created, but the trash of others.  Please don’t create another fire ring, if anything camp fire-less.  We all wake up in the morning wanting to do the usual constitutional.  Please carry a self-contained toilet, if you cannot do that at least keep your waste out of any washes.  Make a trowel part of your camping supplies.  Carry out all toilet paper, there is nothing worse than viewing the remains of foolish campers. 

Ok, now that you have listened to my lecture here’s where to camp… 

The fewest crowds can be found out on “Behind the reef road.”  You can access this area by driving out Temple Mountain Road then head south at the first significant road you encounter.  Many campsites will be found along this road. 

The next best place to camp is out Wild Horse Road.  Make the left at the BLM trailer (ie. southwest), follow the road until the sign indicating Wild Horse Canyon.  Make a right at the obvious signs.  Follow this road till it leaves the park, about 3 miles from the pavement will be a couple dirt roads leadinggoblinvalley006.jpg (72417 bytes) towards the obvious cliffs.  Either of these roads will lead out into some nice well spaced campsites.  Camping here will reward you with the ability to observe the hoo-doo’s with the changing light.  The sandstone towers take on differing looks and shapes with the changing light. 


Although there is a bit of hiking in the park, the best hiking is found outside of its boundaries.  Follow “Wild Horse Road” out about 5 miles, at this point the parking lot for the trailhead will become evident.  Find yourself a parking space among the many vehicles you’re sure to find here.  You’ll surely notice that there’s a quite a few cars here, pay no mind.  Yes, you’ll see a lot of cars in the parking lot, but the trail will dissipate the crowds nicely.  Get out and strap on your boots, fill your pack with water. 

This trail can be done as a loop or a one way journey into one of two canyons.  The trail begins down a wash, the split into the two canyons is rather hidden.  After about a half mile the trail passes through two spots where some route finding or climbing ability come into play.  Just after the second “difficulty” the Y will become evident.  The left fork leads into Bell Canyon, the right fork leads into Little Wild Horse Canyon.  I’d recommend hiking the trail as a loop.  

Continue hiking the trail taking the left fork, Bell Canyon narrows down in a few spots and is a nice precursor to thegoblinvalley004.jpg (77732 bytes) sights ahead.  After hiking Bell Canyon for about 2 ½ miles you will spill out onto “Behind the Reef Road.”  Hiking down this road you will encounter the only elevation gain of the hike.  Expect to gain about 3 or 4 hundred feet in a couple miles.  The entrance to  Little Wild Horse Canyon is a bit hidden.  Watch to see two “Wilderness Study Area” signs about 50 yards apart.  In between these two signs is a non-descript wash leading into an obvious canyon.  After hiking for a bit down this trail the beauty of the canyon will become apparent.  

goblinvalley005.jpg (42254 bytes)Have you ever been into a slot canyon?  The water and wind have created something unimaginable.  The hike winds its way deeper and deeper into the jaws of rock walls.  The trail becomes a bit cooler and a bit darker.  The walls infringe upon the ability to walk a straight line.  Eventually the trail narrows to the point of walking sideways.  This trail is a fine example of a “slot canyon.”  

The Bell Canyon/Behind the Reef Road/Little Wild Horse Canyon loop is 8 miles long.  The trailhead sign claims the hike should take you about 6 hours.  I’ve found this time frame to be a bit generous.  We did the loop in 3 hours while dawdling a bit. 

Goblin Valley is a worthwhile destination in Southern Utah.  The park will infatuate the younger kids while the hiking will entrance the older kids, (ie. kids like me)  

Plenty of camping and fantastic scenery will keep the attention of the whole family.  Hanksville is the closest town to the park, this town is located about 25 miles away.  Don’t expect to find everything you need, but you should be able to find the staples. A bag of potatoes, hotdogs, buns, can of beans, all can be found here.

Hope you enjoy your trip to Southern Utah.



San Rafael Swell Trail Map

San Rafael Swell Trail Map

More than just a map - National Geographic Trails Illustrated topographic maps are designed to take you into the wilderness and back. Printed on durable tear-resistant waterproof material this map can go anywhere you do! Each map is based on exact reproductions of USGS topographic map information updated customized and enhanced to meet the unique features of each area. Folded and printed on plastic for durability.

Campground Reservations

Goblin Valley Group Area

Goblin Valley State Park



cover   Utah Atlas and Gazetteer
by DeLorme (Editor)

Book Description
Rely on the Utah Atlas & Gazetteer for the utmost in trip planning and 
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do. Scale equals 1:250,000 or 1"=4 miles. Contour Interval is 300'. 
Each page  covers 37 miles... Read more


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