Hoodoos, hoodoos, & more hoodoos. There is a place where you can walk freely amongst thousands of towering rock pinnacles. You might think that I am writing about the hoodoo-laden Bryce Canyon and that would be a good guess, but not the subject of this post. While Bryce has thousands of hoodoos only a select few trails take you into their depths. Visiting Goblin Valley State Park in the central part of Utah allows you to walk amongst thousands of mushroom-like hoodoos. The variety of oddly shaped spires range from a few feet high to rising thirty or more feet into the air. It is a surreal otherworldly type landscape which is why Hollywood used it as a backdrop in one of my favorite Tim Allen movies—Galaxy Quest.
According to scientists the formation of the goblins started 180 million years ago in the Jurassic period. The area was a coastal region on an inland sea. This layer of sand was buried and compressed over time which created what scientists label as the Entrada Sandstone. As erosion has worked its way through the valley softer rock has been swept away by wind and water leaving the harder rock in place creating these unique-looking hoodoos.
Discovery of the Goblins
Much of Utah was the last part of the country to be explored. It is dry and because of a lack of vegetation a very difficult place to explore or live. For this reason, it wasn’t until the 1920s that Goblin Valley was discovered by the modern world. The area wasn’t even photographed until 1949 when Arthur Chaffin (one of the men who found the valley in the 1920s) returned to the valley and spent several days taking pictures of what he called mushroom rocks. These pictures went viral for their time. Five years later the state of Utah purchased the land and in 1964 they made it an official state park.
Visiting Goblin Valley
The paved road to Goblin Valley State Park comes in from the north. If you are visiting the park from the south be careful as Google Maps likes to try and send you across the Goblin Valley Cutoff Road which is a gated dirt and sand road that is not recommended to anyone without a high clearance 4×4.
Goblin Valley State Park has only four established hiking trails: the Entrada Canyon Trail, Curtis Bench Trail, Three Sisters Trail, and Carmel Canyon Trail. The park also has a permitted canyoneering trail known at The Goblin’s Lair. Altogether this amounts to less than 5 miles of established trails. The real hiking is done in the three valleys of the park.
Hiking the Valleys of the Goblins
Despite having few established trails this is a landscape that you could spend days exploring without ever stepping foot on the same area of terra ferma. The park allows visitors to explore the thousands of goblin hoodoos found in the three valleys. Each of the three valleys has no official trails, no marked boundaries, and are laden with thousands of uniquely eroded hoodoos. There are foot-worn paths that meander throughout the landscape and in several places, they lead to the top of the cliff that runs along the edge of the valleys. The hoodoos are found on both sides of the ridge although the ones on the east side do not spread out as far as those to the west. The valleys are glorious mazes of the natural world and the highlight of visiting Goblin Valley.
Don’t abuse our State or National Parks. The Utah parks service allows visitors to meander through the formations when visiting Goblin Valley State Park. Minimize your impact by following the natural washes within the valleys and refrain from climbing on the hoodoos. Under no circumstance should you intentionally topple a goblin as it is a federal offense. Why am I saying this? Because some idiots in 2013 toppled a goblin and were arrested and eventually fined for their action. I personally think they got off easy and do not wish to see a repeat of this type of heinous act.
Most people only ever see the first valley when visiting Goblin Valley State Park. The parking lot sits above this valley overlooking much of it and is aptly called Observation Point. The seemingly countless number of goblins spread out across the valley floor becoming denser as they reach and then climb up the cliffs on the opposite side of the valley floor. This area has thousands of unique hoodoos and this section holds more than enough for most explorers.
The second valley is found just to the southeast of the first valley. It is entered by rounding a section of the ridge that expands west splitting off the main area of the first valley. The first valley continues south encompassing the creek bed. The second valley spreads out to the east of the creek with two major runoffs coming down from the cliffs above. The hoodoos are very dense in the second valley making for some great exploration in the maze-like landscape. It is about a half-mile journey to the second valley from Observation Point in a southeasterly direction.
Getting to the third valley is a bit more of a commitment. To get there enter the creek bed (usually dry) that runs south along the western edge of the first valley. As you follow the curving flow of the creek as it meanders through the desert the density of the hoodoos will become less and the walls of the creek channel will rise. The creek bed will pass by a tall cliff on the eastern side and will meet the confluence of a second creek (usually dry) coming down from the area under the Curtis Bench. At this confluence, you will once again see hoodoos to your left. These are technically still a part of the first valley. This confluence is approximately 1.25-miles south of the parking lot when following the natural flow of the creek.
Continue past the confluence where the creek continues to cut its way in a southerly direction through the desert. You will feel as if you have left the goblins behind and meandered out of the park but stay the course for another 3/4 of a mile and the goblins will suddenly reappear on the eastern side of the creek bed. The third valley stretches out to the east and spans several washes. The area is larger than the first and second valleys combined. There are thousands of goblins across the washes that flow from the ridge about half a mile to the east. This valley is massive and it could easily be explored for an entire day.
Very few people visiting Goblin Valley venture beyond the first valley. It is easy to see the parking lot from the north part of the first valley but as you enter the creek bed and head south you will lose sight of the established landmarks. The second valley does get some traffic but very little in comparison to the first. I have spent a day exploring the third valley without ever seeing or hearing another human. Make sure you carry enough water if you intend to explore these valleys. Also, make sure that you have a compass or GPS and know how to use it. Even though most of the goblins tower overhead this is a desert and the exposure to the sun is relentless. Wear plenty of sunscreen and a hat.
There isn’t much in the way of civilization in this part of Utah. Thirty miles away in Hanksville there are a few hotels and motels. However, Goblin Valley State Park is found in one of the darkest sky regions in the world making it the perfect place to find your place amongst the stars. This is why we really only recommend camping.
There are two options for camping when visiting Goblin Valley State Park. You can stay at the official campground inside the park complete with hot showers or you can stay for free in the surrounding BLM land which there is no shortage of (reference the map above). If you intend to stay at the campground, make sure you get your camping reservation ahead of time. Reservations are on a 4-month rolling window meaning that 4 months to the day before your first night’s stay is when the sites will become available. The campground is open year-round but the water is usually shut off during the winter months.
During much of the year, a food truck sits at Observation Point. This is the only food available within the park. It is also the only food anywhere near the remote state park. The closest place to get any grub is Hanksville more than 30 miles from the park’s gate. If you are headed that way at some point we recommend Outlaw’s Roost which makes a tasty burrito.
Visiting Goblin Valley State Park
While exploring Utah’s unique landscapes set aside some time for visiting Goblin Valley State Park. There is no other place in the world where you can walk amongst such a diverse array of naturally sculptured hoodoos. These goblins were hidden from humanity for nearly the entirety of our history. We live in an amazing time where such wonders of the natural world can be so easily explored.