Goblin Valley: Walk On The Alien’s Land Of Utah

Goblin Valley State Park is a famous and unusual tourist destination in Utah, with its bizarre shapes, structures that make it look like an alien's land, attracting the most adventurous tourists.

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Goblin Valley State Park is a state park of Utah, in the United States. The park features thousands of hoodoos, referred to locally as goblins, which are formations of mushroom-shaped rock pinnacles, some as tall as several yards (meters). The distinct shapes of these rocks result from an erosion-resistant layer of rock atop relatively softer sandstone. Goblin Valley State Park and Bryce Canyon National Park, also in Utah about 190 miles (310 km) to the southwest, contain some of the largest occurrences of hoodoos in the world.

The park lies within the San Rafael Desert on the southeastern edge of the San Rafael Swell, north of the Henry Mountains. Utah State Route 24 passes about four miles (6.4 km) east of the park. Hanksville lies 12 miles (19 km) to the south.

History of Goblin Valley State Park

Photo: Travel In USA
Photo: Travel In USA

Evidence of Native American cultures, including the Fremont, Paiute, and Ute, is common throughout the San Rafael Swell in the form of pictograph and petroglyph panels. Goblin Valley is noted for several rock art panels, as well as the rock formations. The secluded Goblin Valley was then found by cowboys searching for cattle. Then, in the late 1920s, Arthur Chaffin, later owner/operator of the Hite Ferry, and two companions, were searching for an alternate route between Green River and Caineville. They came to a vantage point about 1 mile (1.6 km) 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. In 1949, Chaffin returned to the area he called Mushroom Valley. He spent several days exploring the mysterious valley and photographing its scores of intricately eroded rocks.

Publicity attracted visitors to the valley despite its remoteness. 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. It was officially designated a state park on August 24, 1964. In 2019, the state park was expanded by adding 6,261 acres of federal land.

Photo:  The Billings Gazette
Photo: The Billings Gazette

Things to Do in Goblin Valley State Park

You like hiking? You’re gonna love Goblin Valley. Besides hoodoos, you’re looking at pictographs and petroglyphs, kit foxes, and pronghorn antelope. Keep an eye out for rattlesnakes and scorpions.

The park’s coup de grace is the 3-square-mile Valley of Goblins, where hoodoos are piled to the horizon in every direction. There’s about six miles of marked hiking trails around the park, but for the most part the trail is wherever you make it. Goblin Valley is yours to find.

Those of you skilled in canyoneering (and in possession of a backcountry permit; $2 per person) can rappel into a natural sandstone cave known as Goblin’s Lair. More into mountain biking? Lucky for you, Goblin Valley now features the five-loop Wild Horse Mountain Biking Trail System. There’s also a disc golf course on the campground; you can rent discs from the visitor center for $1. And after the day is finally done, there’s the stargazing — you’re in a certified International Dark Sky Park, according to Thrillist.

Photo:  y Travel Blog
Photo: y Travel Blog

The night sky above Goblin Valley State Park is one of the darkest you’ll find anywhere on the planet! 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. Depending on when you visit Goblin Valley, you may be able to participate in one of the various nighttime activities led by Utah park rangers.

If you have kids, plan your trip during the winter holidays — between the choose-your-own-adventure climbable terrain and the “goblins” at every turn, Goblin Valley is a great trip to make as a family. There’s a Junior Ranger program, too.

Goblin Valley is open to the public year round, but you’d do well to plan your trip for the spring or fall. While the park itself doesn’t see the foot traffic of its more famous neighbors, the parking lot can get packed on holiday weekends and during the summer/winter school vacations. It’s also, quite simply, too hot to hang out in the desert during the summertime.

Directions to Goblin Valley

Photo:  Get In The Wild Adventures
Photo: Get In The Wild Adventures

The main landmark for those who want to visit Goblin Valley is the town of Green River, located 50 miles north of the park entrance. From here, you must continue on I-70 westward for about 6 miles, then turn on UT-24 (Scenic Byway 24) and drive south for 15 miles. Turn onto Temple Mt Road and then onto Goblin Valley Road.

If you’re coming from the south, you’ll find Goblin Valley 30 miles north of Hanksville: also in this case, along a truly surreal stretch of the beautiful Scenic Byway 24. This route could be interesting for those coming from Capitol Reef, which is 109 miles away, since it could be a chance to see two landscapes that are very close but completely different.

Different trails in Goblin Valley State Park

Entrada Canyon Trail

This itinerary is perhaps the easiest alternative to visit the goblins. It will take you from the campsite (located just below the imposing Wild Horse Butte) to the goblins along a fascinating trail through the meanders of the canyon, in search of the most unusual rocks that may appear behind a bend in the canyon or above every ridge.

Carmel Canyon Trail

Photo:  Colorado Guy
Photo: Colorado Guy

This relatively short and simple loop will give you the opportunity to observe one of the most famous natural monuments of the park, Molly’s Castle, a massif that resembles a mighty manor.

To get to this point, you will need to take a small detour from the main trail, but the way is well-marked. Most visitors walk along the main trail to the junction to Molly’s Castle and then back, without completing the loop. If you decide to continue, you will have the opportunity to enter one of the slot canyons that are typical of this area. If you get lost, look for the rocks marked with blue paint. The trailhead is located on the northeast side of the Goblin Valley parking lot, according to Travel In USA.

Curtis Bench Trail

In this area of the park, visitors can see the Curtis Formation, which is a geological formation that overlays the Entrada Sandstone. This trail, which is slightly more challenging than the previous one, will take you to some memorable points of view, from which you can contemplate not only the natural amphitheater where the goblins gather, but also Wild Horse Butte and the Henry Mountains. Before beginning the trail, you must pay an entrance fee. The trail is located at the fork between the Goblin Valley and the campsite.

Three Sisters Trail

Photo:  NowPlayingUtah
Photo: NowPlayingUtah

The iconic Three Sisters can be seen in the short stretch of road between the park entrance and the main parking lot. Most visitors prefer to see the Sisters from a distance, stopping at the side of the road to take a picture, but there are those who choose to park their car in the clearing closest to the Three Sisters and approach the rock formation on foot. There is no real trail, but the terrain is flat and as long as you watch your step, it is not complicated to get there, according to Travel In USA.

Charlotte Pho