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Exploring Dead Horse Point and Goblin Valley State Parks in Utah

| Updated May 31, 2023

Where is Dead Horse Point? One of the most beautiful and one of the strangest state parks in the entire country!

Located right between Arches National Park and on the eastern boundary of Canyonlands National Park in Utah is what many say is the most beautiful state park in all of the United States, Dead Horse Point State Park.

Dead Horse Point has a strange name, but you find one of the strangest landscapes in the country at Goblin Valley State Park. The odd rock formations make it look like an alien land on a distant planet. 

Both Dead Horse Point and Goblin Valley State Parks are incredible destinations to add to your RVing bucket list.

dead horse and goblin valley state parks

Utah State Park Annual Pass

If you plan to go to more than one state park while visiting Utah, we recommend buying a Utah State Park Annual Pass.

The Utah State Park Annual Pass includes day-use access to all Utah State Parks except Jordan River OHV State Park and This is the Place Heritage Park. 

The pass covers the individual who purchased it plus seven other adventures in the same vehicle. 

If you do not have the Utah State Park Annual Pass then it is $20 to enter the park on a day-use pass.

Dead Horse Point State Park

Exploring Dead Horse Point and Goblin Valley State Parks in Utah 1

Due to its location among the many National Parks in Utah, I don’t think that it gets the recognition that it would if it was located elsewhere in the US. However, it is quite stunning.

The year we visited was early March and from Dead Horse Point, 2,000 feet above a gooseneck in the Colorado River, we could see for miles.

Immense vertical cliffs meet with canyons carved by ice, water, and wind creating a visual masterpiece. You just stand there, mouth open, blown away by the majesty.

The main benefit of stopping in Dead Horse for us is that dogs are allowed on hiking trails in Utah State Parks as long as they are leashed, whereas they aren’t allowed on hiking trails in the National Parks.

This meant we could take a few hikes with Bo while we were there instead of leaving him in the rig.

How Dead Horse Point State Park Got Its Name

mustangs corralled

The unusual name of the park goes back to the cowboy days of the late 1800s. Back then, mustang herds ran wild on the mesas of the area. The unique promontory that now is part of the park provided a natural corral into which the horses were driven by cowboys.

The only escape was through a narrow, 30-yard neck of land controlled by fencing. Mustangs were then roped and broken, with the better ones being kept for personal use or sold to eastern markets. Unwanted culls of “broomtails” were left behind to find their way off the Point.

According to one legend, a band of broomtails was left corralled on the Point. The gate was supposedly left open so the horses could return to the open range.

For some unknown reason, the mustangs remained on the Point. There, they died of thirst within sight of the Colorado River, 2,000 feet below.

Goblin Valley State Park

goblin valley

The story for Goblin Valley goes that it was first discovered by cowboys searching for cattle.

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-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 creatures.

The area was acquired by the state of Utah and in 1964 was officially designated a state park.

Goblin Valley State Park is a showcase of geologic history. Exposed cliffs reveal parallel layers of rock bared by erosion. Because of the uneven hardness of sandstone, softer parts of the rock eroded more quickly than harder layers.

This left behind the bizarre goblin shapes seen today. Water erosion and the smoothing action of windblown dust work together to shape the goblins.

(Speaking of places with weird names, you may be interested in another article I wrote several years back: What's in a Name and What to Do? It's a fun one!)

The Three Sisters

goblin valley three sisters

The Three Sisters are the most iconic of all goblin formations within the park. If you want a closer look, an unmarked but easy-to-follow trail exists. Just pull off into one of the nearby parking spots along the road and start walking.

The Valley of Goblins

valley of goblins

The Valley of Goblins is the 2nd most well-known attraction. It spans nearly three square miles and you can wander off-trail to explore the endless labyrinth of goblins at your leisure.

The map divides the Valley of Goblins into three separate areas.

Initially, you’ll descend into the First Valley, a mostly flat area containing several dozen clusters of the twisted, stunted hoodoos locally called “goblins.”

About a half-mile from the entrance, the Second Valley is much different in character from the first. Here, the goblins grow much taller as they line the walls of a narrow canyon.

Even further in you’ll hit the Third Valley. Its total expanse rivals that of the first and second valleys combined, and it shares aspects of both.

As well as exploring the Valley of Goblins, there are several hiking trails that lead out to lookout points to see the valley from different perspectives. They include Carmel Canyon, Curtis Bench, and Entrada Canyon.

The Goblin's Lair

If you’re interested in a little adventure, about a half-mile into the Carmel Canyon loop, the trail splits off into 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.

You can download the full Goblin Valley State Park brochure.

7-Day Adventure RV Travel Guide to Southern Utah

Exploring Dead Horse Point and Goblin Valley State Parks in Utah 2Dead Horse Point State Park and Goblin Valley State Park are just two of the incredible stops in our 7-day adventure guide.

Southern Utah has such a unique landscape that it's definitely worth adding to your To-Go list of destinations.

We've taken care of all the planning for you in this guide, from things to do to places to stay.

Save yourself the trouble of planning and download your complete guide today.

Get My Southern Utah RV Travel Guide

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Mike Wendland

Published on 2021-05-21

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

2 Responses to “Exploring Dead Horse Point and Goblin Valley State Parks in Utah”

May 21, 2021at8:31 am, Karen Hartley said:

Once again, you are highlighting two of our favorite “secret” places to go. Amid the grandeur of Utah, the lesser known state parks are just as spectacular. Have been to both of these places many times to avoid the crowds at the national parks. Love them in all seasons!

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