Dead Horse Point State Park: Worth The Visit?

Last Updated on: 27th January 2024, 12:28 am

Dead Horse Point State Park is situated atop the same mesa as Canyonlands National Park’s Island in the Sky district. As such, it offers similar views. But as it’s outside the National Park system, you’ll need to pay a separate fee of $20 per vehicle.

With so much to see around the Moab area, you’re likely wondering whether or not Dead Horse Point State Park is worth the extra cash, let alone setting aside extra time for. 

While we’ll cover this question in more detail below, the short answer is yes – but only if you make time for Canyonlands and Arches first. For more information, along with the best way to fit Dead Horse Point into your Moab itinerary, be sure to check the end of the article.

Dead Horse Point State Park

There are a few ways to go about visiting Dead Horse Point State Park depending on how much time and energy you have. In any case, you’ll want to start at the Visitor Center, where you’ll pay the fee ($20 per vehicle) and where can pick up some paper maps.

The main overlook at the park is known as the Dead Horse Point Overlook, and it’s possible to drive directly there from the Visitor Center. That means you could theoretically avoid any hiking during your visit, but you’d still have to pay the entrance fee.

To get the most out of your visit, you should walk to the main overlook, and both the East Rim Trail and the West Rim Trail will take you there.

Of course, you will ultimately need to make it back to your car – whether you parked at the overlook or at the Visitor Center. As such, you might as well do the full loop and hike both the East and West Rim.

That’s what I did, and the full trail – minus extra detours – adds up to about 4.5 miles in total. It took me about 2.5 hours to complete, including stopping at various viewpoints along the way. But those with more time could easily add in several extra detours to additional overlooks.

If a member of your party would rather rest in the car, you could hike just one of the trails and then have someone pick you up at the Dead Horse Point Overlook. The East Rim Trail looks best in the afternoons while the West Rim is best in the morning.

If you’re especially tired, you could also mix things up by doing short walks to the overlooks near the Visitor Center, followed by a drive to the Dead Horse Point Overlook.

The Dead Horse Rim Loop Trail on AllTrails, which combines the East and West Rims

The East Rim Trail

It’s two miles (3.2 km) from the Visitor Center to the Dead Horse Point Overlook via the East Rim Trail. The trail is almost entirely flat, so this is an ideal walk for those who’ve just done more intensive hikes at Arches or Canyonlands.

As mentioned above, the lighting on this side is perfect in the afternoon.

Dead Horse Point State Park

As you walk along the East Rim Trail, one of the most interesting sights you’ll see in the distance is actually manmade. The colorful pools are owned by Intrepid Potash, Inc. and they function as evaporation mines.

Dead Horse Point State Park

Potash is comprised of potassium chloride which was originally deposited by ancient seas that once covered these lands.

The ponds take on their blue hue due to a special dye that’s been added to speed up the evaporation process. Once the water evaporates, the salt is then gathered by giant scrapers, and the potassium chloride is later turned into plant fertilizer.

Dead Horse Point State Park
Dead Horse Point State Park
Dead Horse Point State Park

Aside from the colorful pond, you’ll also spot various mesas, buttes and rocky spires in the distance. If it’s your first time here yet you find the scenery oddly familiar, it’s likely because you’ve seen it before in popular films.

Dead Horse Point State Park
Dead Horse Point State Park

Dead Horse Point State Park has long served as a stand-in for the Grand Canyon, at which filming is supposedly prohibitively expensive and hard to obtain permits for. And the scenery is indeed quite similar.

Famous movies shot here include Thelma & Louise and Mission: Impossible 2, in addition to various television series.

Dead Horse Point State Park

Before long, you’ll find yourself approaching the Dead Horse Point Overlook, where the views get even more impressive. This is also a good place to rest your legs for a bit.

Dead Horse Point Overlook

As mentioned, the park’s main viewpoint where the two rims meet is appropriately known as the Dead Horse Point Overlook. 

Confusingly, however, this is not where you can see the Dead Horse Point of legend after which the park was named. To see that landmark, you’ll have to walk along the West Rim Trail (more below).

Dead Horse Point State Park

From here, one can see geological layers dating to as far back as 275 million years ago. The ‘newest’ layer, meanwhile, which is comprised of Navajo Sandstone, was deposited some 175 million years ago. 

The multiple layers were then subject to millions of years of erosion – mostly by the Colorado River, which now lies 2,000 feet beneath the overlook. The river originates from snowmelt in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains and it ultimately flows into the Sea of Cortez.

You can also see the White Rim Road, a scenic road that’s part of Canyonlands National Park. Only those with special permits can drive it, however.

Dead Horse Point State Park
Dead Horse Point State Park

The West Rim Trail

If you’ve started with the East Rim Trail, it will be another 2.5 miles (4 km) along the West Rim Trail to make it back to the Visitor Center. And as we’ll cover shortly, you also have the option of taking detours to additional overlooks.

But as beautiful as the West Rim is, the lighting was far from ideal upon my arrival in the late afternoon.

Dead Horse Point State Park

One of the first landmarks you’ll encounter is known as The Neck, which is the actual Dead Horse Point after which the park takes its name. But what does it have to do with dead horses?

The narrow bottleneck was once used as a corral by local cowboys. They would round up wild horses and walk them across the narrow strip of land, keeping them at the cliff on the other side.

Supposedly, this went on for quite some time, but on one particular occasion, things were different. While the circumstances remain a mystery, according to legend, the cowboys once came to the corral and took only the horses that they wanted while leaving the rest.

Dead Horse Point State Park

With no food or water, the remaining horses inevitably perished. The corpses of these abandoned horses were later discovered which is how the area got its name.

Some sources, however, suggest that this was more of a regular occurrence, with horses at the corral frequently dying due to the harsh conditions.

Others, meanwhile, doubt the veracity of the legend altogether, claiming that the name was derived from people who saw the shape of a horse formed by rocks near the river.

Dead Horse Point State Park
Dead Horse Point State Park

In contrast to the East Rim, the West Rim has numerous level changes and you’ll sometimes have to walk over rocky terrain. You’ll also occasionally lose sight of the trial which can get confusing at points. But all in all, this is still an easy hike.

Moving on, I passed The Meander overlook. And after that came the Shafer Canyon Overlook which required a 0.5-mile roundtrip walk to reach. Having visited an overlook of the same name at Canyonlands’ Island in the Sky, I decided to skip this detour.

Dead Horse Point State Park

Another detour that I skipped was the Rim Overlook, which also would’ve been 0.5 miles roundtrip. As mentioned, the lighting was far from ideal, so I just headed east to complete the loop and return to the Visitor Center. Unfortunately, once you leave the edge of the rim, the scenery can get a bit bland.

For those with a lot more time, yet another detour can take you to the Bighorn Overlook, a trail that’s 1.25 miles each way.

'Intestine Man'

While not part of any park, on your way up to the top of the mesa from central Moab, you’ll pass by an interesting set of petroglyphs. 

While you’ll spot various carvings, such as bighorn sheep and a spiral, the most famous image here is a pictograph dubbed ‘Intestine Man.’ 

Dead Horse Point State Park
Dead Horse Point State Park

Looking closely, the central figure does indeed seem transparent with his intestines visible. To the right of the figures, meanwhile. is what appears to be a large set of claws!

Note that you can still stop here and see these even if you don’t end up visiting Dead Horse Point State Park, as they’ll be on your way to Island in the Sky as well.

These are far from the only petroglyphs and pictographs near Moab, as you can also see some along Potash Road, within the National Parks themselves, and at nearby Bears Ears National Monument.

Dead Horse Point State Park
Intestine Man

Additional Info

I enjoyed my time at Dead Horse Point State Park, though I did find the $20 entrance fee to be a bit much, especially considering how small the park is. Neighboring Canyonlands’s Island in the Sky district costs $30 while offering enough to do and see over the course of multiple days. And the views are quite similar.

So why visit Dead Horse Point State Park? As mentioned above, it depends on the rest of your Moab itinerary. In my case, I spent a day and a half at Arches National Park, so visiting Dead Horse Point was the perfect way to spend a few hours after my second day. The drive from the Arches Visitor Center to Dead Horse Point State Park is about 30 minutes.

The ride between Dead Horse Point and Island in the Sky, meanwhile, is just fifteen minutes. As mentioned above, they occupy the same mesa.

But with so much to do at Island in the Sky, you’ll want at least a full day there which won’t leave you any time to see Dead Horse Point on your way out. Then again, you could also spend a day and a half at Island in the Sky and visit Dead Horse Point State Park when finished.

After having visited Island in the Sky and Arches, the lack of crowds at Dead Horse Point State Park was a relief. And as mentioned above, the hikes are flat and easy. So this is also an ideal place to come if you’re looking for something more akin to a peaceful walk during your time in Moab.

As mentioned above, Dead Horse Point State Park is rather small and the trails are easy, so most people should be fine on their own.

But there are actually other exciting ways to experience the park for which a guide would be helpful.

This tour, for example, takes you on a boat ride along the Colorado River at the base of the park! It also allows you to get a closer look at the Thelma & Louise Point where the final scene of the movie was shot.

Mountain biking tours are another option, while this sunrise photography tour seems like a nice alternative to the crowded Mesa Arch as nearby Canyonlands.

Considering how Moab serves as the base for two National Parks, one State Park and plenty of other nearby attractions, you’ll likely be spending at least several nights here.

Moab is one of the most touristy towns you’ll encounter in the Southwest, so there’s no shortage of accommodation options to choose from.

I stayed at a centrally-located motel called the The Virginian Inn Moab Downtown. Overall, I had a comfortable stay and consider it a good value.

The most peculiar thing about this motel is that the receptionists are located in the Philippines! There is someone on-call 24 hours, and you can start chatting with them via a video conferencing machine as soon as you enter the lobby. It felt rather strange at first, but the system actually worked out pretty well.

Other highly-rated accommodations for a similar price range include the Expedition Lodge, the Bowen Motel and the Rustic Inn.

It’s also possible to camp at Dead Horse Point State Park, which has two main campgrounds in addition to yurts. Learn more here.

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