Editor’s note: like Sam, I have been to Utah’s Mighty Five. However, I haven’t had many opportunities to explore the rest of the natural beauty of the state. This is a place I’d never heard of, and am grateful to be able to add to a future itinerary. For more of Sam Spector’s writing, click here to visit his index page.

As I approach my 5th anniversary of living in Utah, I recently accomplished a milestone that nearly every Utahn I know has while living in the state; I completed the “Mighty Five.” In Utah, we have five national parks (only California with nine and Alaska with eight have more): Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef National Parks, collectively in our state known as the “Mighty Five.” Each one is unique and beautiful and has a strong argument for why it should be considered the best. The least famous might be Capitol Reef, which is often, as it was the case with me, the last one visited, but is still spectacular. However, despite us boasting five national parks, I, and many others, would argue that we have at least three or four other sites that would be worthy of National Park designation. One of those places is located only an hour northeast of Capitol Reef and is truly one of the coolest places on earth. It has become my wife’s favorite spot in Utah, and that is Goblin Valley State Park.

In central Utah, about 3.5 hours southeast of Salt Lake City, Goblin Valley is the most out of this world place that I have visited in the United States, if not the world. If you were to drop me off there among the bright red bizarre rocks and tell me that I was on Mars, I would absolutely believe it. The park is not huge by state park standards, slightly less than 10,000 acres. There are only a few hiking trails and there is a campground and a few short roads that you can drive on. While with many of Utah’s other parks you can spend at least a week just at one park, with Goblin Valley, you can explore pretty much the whole park in less than a day, and in our case, being with our dogs and two babies, we felt we hit the highlights in less than a couple of hours. A famous rock formation in southern Utah is what is called a hoodoo, a tall thin rock spire that formed in sedimentary or volcanic rock through erosion. In particular, Bryce Canyon National Park is the most famous spot in Utah to see these formations. In Goblin Valley, which is only a mile wide by two miles long, there are thousands of red-brown formations of hoodoos with mushroom tops that are, unlike their tall cousins at Bryce Canyon, only about three to five meters in height. During the Jurassic period, 170 million years ago, there was actually an inland sea at this location and as a result, there are tall Entrada Sandstone cliffs that surround the area, which were the coastline at that time. From these tall lookout points, staring down at the stout hoodoos of this area, they appeared to look like goblins, hence the name.

Goblins with Entrada Sandstone cliffs behind

Goblin Valley, not being one of the Mighty Five is not overcrowded; when we were there, there were perhaps a few dozen people we encountered at one of the only places you can go in the park. Right off the parking lot, there is a valley with short trails that lead you through countless goblins, which are fun to explore and that you can even climb on. However, please be careful when exploring Goblin Valley; in 2013, two scoutmasters (who were later dismissed from their positions and charged with felonies), uploaded a video of themselves rocking and tipping one of the mushroom tops of a goblin and purposefully breaking and destroying it, wrecking something that took 170 million years to form in a matter of minutes, so they are fairly delicate. How these particular hoodoos were formed was that as mentioned, this desert, called the San Rafael Desert, was once an inland sea, and the area that is today Goblin Valley was marshland where muddy mineral deposits were made. Over time, especially as the sea retreated, those deposits formed these unique structures. Aside from having prehistoric history, Goblin Valley is also an important place for the Utah indigenous community with well-preserved petroglyphs being found here that date back anywhere from 1500 to 4000 years.


We were fascinated by this place and plan to return. A couple of notes: being in the middle of the desert and without any real trees around, the heat in the summer is punishing and hard, so we will probably wait until fall or next spring; also we were surprised that the visitors’ station did not sell water (seemed like a missed opportunity). Yet, Goblin Valley is so beautiful, so unique, and has very easy hikes that are friendly for people of any age and skill level, as well as being dog friendly, which national parks are not. Finally, Goblin Valley is one of our dark sky parks, meaning that it is a park that does not contribute to light pollution, and at night, you will be able to see countless stars. Being there surrounded by the goblins during a meteor shower would have to be one of the most magical experiences on earth.

More goblins!

I love Utah and all it has to offer, and while it was in the past seen as a flyover state or as that place where all the “Mormons” (they now prefer the term “Latter-day Saints”) live, our state is being discovered for the gem it is and has become one of the hottest travel destinations in the country for lovers of the outdoors, be it hiking or skiing. And while many places like Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks have made it onto itineraries for travelers around the world, one of our greatest treasures is this little park in the center of our state; there is truly nowhere else like it.

A lone goblin

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