Goblin Valley State Park

Written by on January 29, 2016 in UT Outdoor Adventures - 1 Comment

On the southeast corner of the marvelous San Rafael Swell in central Utah lies Goblin Valley State Park. Hidden here is an otherworldly valley and photographer’s paradise, filled with mushroom-shaped and goblin-topped hoodoos, sandstone boulders rounded and perched atop narrow pedestals.

Goblin Valley is located in a remote spot in the desert, tucked between the small towns of Green River and Hanksville, off of Utah Highway 24. It is an easy 30-minute drive south from Interstate 70. This strange collection of rock and hoodoo is a relatively recent discovery. Cowboys had likely seen the place for years, but it wasn’t until the 1920s when Arthur Chaffin (of the Hite Ferry) found it, christened it “Mushroom Valley,” and attracted some publicity to the area, helped in part by his many photographs. It was made a state park in 1964.

Goblin Valley’s spectacular rock shapes are formed from the same Entrada sandstone formation that created the world-renown arches in nearby Arches National Park. The difference is that while Arches was once located upon stretching sand dunes, Goblin Valley was a tidal flat area. The resultant sandstone minerals are different enough in hardness and composition to allow for wildly varying shapes within close proximity.

Be sure to make your way down among the hoodoos—hike through them, measure their size and grandness against your own. It’s tempting, but avoid scrambling on top of them, as they’re fragile and highly prone to erosion. From the observation point at the end of Goblin Valley Road, you can hike down through the goblins to one of the three “valleys,” or make your way along one of the three established hiking trails. If you get a chance, hike between Valley #1 and Valley #2—you’ll find some amazing 360-degree views, and witness up close and personal the erosional nature of the landscape. You also just might happen upon “Turtle Rock” and strike a semi-famous pose straddled atop it.

Goblin Valley is a perfect place to take the whole family. The park encourages visitors to explore among the goblins, offering no shortage of great hide-and-seek games. This is a desert, so make sure to stay properly hydrated and have food on hand, and do head counts to prevent someone from going cowboy and exploring too far on their own.

Nearby attractions:
San Rafael Swell
Little Wild Horse Canyon
Black Dragon pictograph panel
Rochester Creek petroglyph panel
Arches National Park

Recommended reading:
Hiking and Exploring Utah’s San Rafael Swell (3rd Edition) — Michael R. Kelsey
San Rafael Swell, Trails Illustrated Map #712
Goblin Valley State Park brochure [PDF, about 30 MB]
The Geology of Goblin Valley [PDF, about .5 MB]

About the Author

Currently living and wandering in the state of Utah.

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