Goblin Valley State Park: A Hidden Gem in Utah
Goblin Valley State Park is a little-known gem in the state of Utah. Goblin Valley is a wilderness area about 12 miles north of Hanksville, Utah (34-minute drive) as the crow flies and about 222 miles from Salt Lake City (3.5-hour drive). Two National parks are nearby, Bryce Canyon is about 3.5 hour drive and Capitol Reef is about 1 hr and 15 minutes.
Goblin Valley State Park is also called mushroom valley is located in southeast Utah. This park is known for its strange and Goblin-like rock formations, which have given it the nickname “The Land of Goblins.” Goblin Valley is a great place to visit if you’re looking for some peace and quiet, as it’s usually not very crowded. Visitors come to this section of the San Rafael Desert to explore the thousands of mushroom-shaped pillars resembling stone “goblins”. These tall, Entrada Sandstone pillars have been eroded over millions of years to create an array of peculiar formations that scatter this desert valley.
You can bring your dirt bike or ride miles of OHV trails in the rugged San Rafael Swell. There are mountain biking trails too. I would recommend going to Little Wildhorse Canyon just before you enter the park.
Due to the extremely low levels of light pollution in the area, visitors can look up and see incredibly clear views of the stars of the Milky Way. It’s hard to really appreciate what a completely clear view of the night sky looks like until you see it in person.
Kids can explore the magical world and find hidden places. Pets are welcome too, on leash of course. The scenery is also quite beautiful, and there are plenty of hiking trails to explore. Goblin Valley is very compact so a couple of hours should suffice.
Goblin Valley State Park is a showcase of geologic history. From the deposits laid 170 million years ago by a vast inland sea, Goblin Valley was sculpted by forces of nature. Today, thousands of otherworldly stone gnomes inhabit the valley. Cowboys searching for cattle first discovered secluded Goblin Valley.
Then in the late 1920s, Arthur Chaffin, owner/operator of the Hite ferry, and two companions were searching for an alternative route between Green River and Caineville. They came to a vantage point about a mile west of Goblin Valley and were awed by what they saw, five buttes and a valley of strange, goblin-shaped rock formations surrounded by a wall of eroded cliffs. He spent several days exploring the mysterious valley and photographing its scores of intricately eroded rocks. In 1954, it was proposed that Goblin Valley be protected from vandalism. The state of Utah later acquired the property and established Goblin Valley State Reserve.
Park Entrance Fees & Hours
You drive by the visitor center and pay the day fee to enter the Goblin Valley State Park.
Hours: 6 a.m. – 10 p.m. Open year round.
Day-use fees (valid for two days):
$20 private vehicle entrance fee
$10 motorcycle, bicycle, or pedestrian
Yurts: $150 + tax
Camping fees: Main Campground (no electrical hookups): $35 ($20 extra vehicle fee). Disc Golf Campers at the main campground will find a 9-hole disc golf course that’s free to play. Bring your own discs, or rent them for $1.00 each from the visitor center.
The main campground is not located right in the center of the “Valley of the Goblins”, but is located just outside, surrounded by beautiful views and other rock formations. Park amenities include showers and flushing toilets, as well as a free station for water and sewage disposal station (dump station). Each campsite includes a small shelter, fire-ring and picnic table. Camping in Goblin Valley State Park is a great way to experience the rugged beauty of this unique place.
Hiking Trails and Designated Trails
Once you park your car by the picnic area, descent down the staircase from the picnic pavilion, hikers will enter what is usually referred to as the First Valley: a mostly flat area with numerous clusters of twisted, stunted hoodoos locally known as “goblins.” No matter which hiking trails you take, you’re bound to discover something fascinating.
The Goblin’s Lair
Distance: 1.5 miles one way. Optional additional .25 miles to the Goblin’s Lair
Hidden 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 known as The Goblin’s Lair. Not truly a cavern, the “lair” is actually a beautiful slot canyon, the entrance of which has been sealed by rockfall. Depending on the time of day, light may pour in through ceiling vents more than 100 feet above the chamber floor.
Once a secret gem known only to a few, a marked trail now guides visitors to the “hiker’s entrance” of the lair. The trail begins at the observation point and follows the Carmel Canyon loop before splitting off after 1/2 mile. Some moderate scrambling up scree slopes and over boulders is required.
The Carmel Canyon Loop
Distance: 1.5 miles round trip
While most visitors venture down the Carmel Canyon Loop only to access the Goblin’s Lair Trail, it is a beautiful hike in its own right. Especially scenic in the evening hours, this trail 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. For those who lack the time to explore Little Wild Horse Canyon, Bell Canyon, Carmel Canyon does contain a short section of colorful narrows.
Distance: 1.5 miles one way
The Entrada Canyon Trail begins at the group campsite and ends at the Valley of Goblins observation point parking lot. The canyon is named for the same layer of sand and siltstone that makes up the Valley of Goblins. For those spending the night in the park, it serves as a scenic alternative to driving. Along the way, hikers will pass by a number of interesting goblin formations that cannot be easily seen from any other vantage point.
The Curtis Bench Trail
Distance: 1.5 miles one way
The Curtis Bench Trail is accessed alongside the Entrada Canyon Trail and runs parallel to it but at a higher elevation. It is named for the grey-green Curtis layer of sand and siltstone that covers many of the upland regions of the park. From this vantage point, hikers are awarded sweeping vistas of the Henry Mountains to the south, as well as the Valley of Goblins to the east. A marked cutoff trail leads down into the First Valley, allowing for a potential loop hike with the Entrada Canyon Trail. Doing so would amount to a trek of approximately four miles.
The Three Sisters
Distance: 250 yards, one way
The Three Sisters is the most iconic of all goblin formations within the park and is found on many of the souvenir items available in the visitor center. Most visitors snap a photograph of it as they drive toward the observation point. For those wishing for a closer look, a short, marked trail leads to the formation from the observation point road. Beyond the Three Sisters, the trail drops into the Carmel Canyon trail system, allowing for a number of loop hikes or an alternative means of reaching the Goblin’s Lair.
Can you drive through Goblin Valley?
Yes. A paved road leads through the heart of the valley and provides access to a picnic area, group pavilion, restrooms, and an overlook above the Entrance Valley. The paved road is suitable for vehicles of all sizes; however, trailers are not recommended because of the tight turns. RVs can be parked in the main campground.
Where in Goblin Valley State Park was Galaxy Quest filmed?
The movie Galaxy Quest was filmed in Goblin Valley. The filmmakers took advantage of the unusual landscape to create an alien world. Some of the rock formations were painted or enhanced with special effects to make them look even more otherworldly.
Where to Stay When Visiting Goblin Valley?
If you are not camping in the park, the closest city to the park is Hanksville, Utah. Hanksville has some nice hotel and lodging options to choose from. We dry camped in Green River and drove in for the day.
We recommend that you visit Goblin Valley State Park, it’s a must see! It is one of the most beautiful and unique state parks. You can bring the kids and dogs too. If you have the chance, go explore it for yourself! You won’t be disappointed. Thanks for reading.
You may also enjoy reading: 17 Awesome Things To Do In Moab Utah.