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Goblin Valley is my favorite state park. If you could do me a solid and stay away, I’d appreciate it. This incredible place makes you feel like a five-year-old again. Most folks drive past the turn-off on their way from Capitol Reef to Arches or on their way to Lake Powell. It’s well worth a a stop and a long weekend.
The Main Valley
I was eight the first time I visited this place. I had only one day there as we stopped on our way home from Lake Powell. I remember it being the most magical place on earth (sorry, Disney). The next time I visited, I was an adult with nephews. Would it be as remarkable and fun as I’d remembered? So many things on a second visit aren’t how you idolized them. I dropped my fears in the dirt as I ran full-out down the trail, outpacing my nephews. We scrambled over, under, and around the monster rock formations.
What’s makes this place so much fun for all ages is you don’t have to hike miles up a mountain to get to the fun part. It’s there at the edge of the parking lot.
Goblin Valley is actually separated into three valleys and now that I’m a little more experience, I head south until I hit the wall that marks the edge and then make my way west until the crowds start to thin out. Last time I visited, the kids were old enough to start scrambling up the walls, which is how we got the below panorama shot. Very rarely in life do we see something that stops us short and all we can say is, “Oh.” Topping out on this ridge did that to me.
The Goblin’s Lair
It’s easy to spend an entire day in the main park. On your second day, try out some of the many nearby trails.
There are few actual trails in the park, but one of which is the Goblin’s Lair. This trail is 3 miles round-trip without a lot of elevation gain. The hike itself is a bit boring but well worth the ending. The huge cavern can be accessed by one trail around the front of the valley, marked on the park maps or from the top, where people can repel down through a hole in the ceiling.
The last bit requires some scrambling into the cavern but nothing that requires ropes as long as you take the main trail. Once you hit the floor, turn left and you’ll find a hole in the rock with more cave to explore. This is much more what you expect a cave to be and requires flashlights to sufficiently explore because it goes about thirty yards back.
Little Wild Horse Canyon
While not in the state park, a few miles outside the park sits one of Utah’s most popular slot canyons, Little Wild Horse. The majesty and power of the water that formed these unique desert landscapes can be fully appreciated here (see safety note below). Check out a more detailed guide.
A note of safety. This area, especially the slots, can turn deadly in a second. A few years ago, a family lost two little girls in a flash flood on a day where thunderstorms weren’t predicted. Never go in if rain is in the vicinity and always check the weather at the ranger station the day of.
On one visit, I witnessed the absolute power of a flash flood in the area—from a safe distance. As we pulled into Goblin Valley parking lot, the rain fell so hard and fast we could see the rain drops before the storm hit us. We huddled in the truck to wait it out. Within ten minutes, rivers formed where there had been only dry sand before. The rain retreated but the flood remained a while longer to remind everyone the power of Mother Nature and to always be vigilant when in the back country.
Camping in the park itself is hard to come by during peak periods (March–May and September–November). The earliest you can reserve a spot is six months ahead of time. You have to be online making the reservation the second the spots open and not a second later. Luckily, there are miles of BLM land surrounding the park you can camp on, just be sure to bring the necessities.
After a long day of hiking, hit Stan’s Burger Shack in nearby Hanksville for a well-earned shake and burger. The local gas station is actually carved out of the red rock.
For an outdoor adventure without ever having to get outside, check out the Lost Gorge Mystery series!
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