Two hundred miles from Salt Lake City, Goblin Valley State Park lies within the remote San Rafael Desert. Named for its thousands of goblin-like hoodoos, this surreal and colorful valley is a fascinating playground for children of all ages.
In early October, we spent a week in Utah, and we reserved a campsite in Goblin Valley midway through our trip. While the magnificent formations in Arches National Park and Moab wowed us, our time in Goblin Valley State Park was our favorite part of the trip.
Packed with excellent amenities like covered picnic tables at each site and hot showers, the campground is great for families. Our daughters (5 & 8) loved climbing the hoodoos right behind our campsite, and they didn’t want to leave the main valley after more than two hours of hiking and exploring.
Families will find plenty to do on the trails within and around the park, including our three favorites:
A massive, cavernous formation, Goblin’s Lair is hidden on the park’s eastern boundary. Once a secret known only to canyoneers, a marked trail now leads to the hiker’s entrance of the lair.
Begin the 3-mile round trip hike at the observation point above Goblin’s Valley. Follow the Carmel Canyon loop until the trail splits at 1/2 mile. Moderate scrambling up scree slopes and over boulders is required to climb to the chamber floor. Look up more than 100 feet to see light pouring down from the ceiling vents.
Valley of Goblins
The Valley of Goblins spans nearly three square miles and encompasses thousands of hoodoos in all shapes and sizes. There are no marked trails in the valley, but you can easily spend hours exploring this magical expanse.
Sunset is a great time to play amongst the goblins. Temperatures are mild, and you’ll likely have the valley to yourself like we did. We played tag, scrambled over hoodoos, and watched the full moon rise over the valley. The next morning, we hiked around the valley for another two hours.
Park maps divide the valley into three separate areas. Descend the staircase from the picnic pavilion to enter the mostly flat First Valley and explore clusters of twisted, stunted goblins.
Approximately 1/2 mile from the observation point, the Second Valley is tucked behind a low ridge. It features taller goblins that line the walls of a narrow canyon. Canyoneers pass through the second valley to reach the rappelling route into the Goblin’s Lair.
The Third Canyon is bigger than the first and second valleys combined. Hike into side canyons and washes for even greater solitude.
Little Wild Horse Canyon
Just 5 miles from Goblin Valley, Little Wild Horse Canyon is a spectacular slot canyon in the San Rafael Reef. Ambitious hikers can complete an 8-mile loop by hiking up Little Wild Horse, crossing over and descending Bell Canyon. An easier option is to hike up Little Wild Horse Canyon, turn around, and return the same way. You’ll see the best parts of the narrow, sculpted rock walls within the first 1.5 miles.
The canyons are normally dry, but they hold pools of water after storms, especially in spring and fall. The rangers at the Goblin Valley visitor’s center warned us to expect deep pools and advised us to take layers for temperature regulation. Because the slots are so narrow, they’re shaded all day. Unprepared hikers are surprised at how cold it can be during the middle of the day.
We changed into Keens and headed up the canyon. With icy water lapping our chests in the narrowest sections, we carried the girls on our shoulders and forged on. A sunny spot in the canyon was a welcome place to warm up before we turned around.
IMPORTANT: Always check the weather before your hike!
Narrow slot canyons can quickly fill with fast-moving water and debris during and after storms, creating dangerous and potentially fatal situations for hikers. Always check the forecast before your hike; if there’s a thunderstorm or heavy rain in the forecast, come back another day.
How to Get There
Goblin Valley State Park is 216 miles southeast of Salt Lake City. From I-70, take the Highway 24 exit and drive south for approximately 24 miles to the signed park turnoff. From the turnoff, follow the paved road for about 12 miles. The $13 day use fee/$25 camping fee is worth every penny.