Goblin Valley State Park & Its Mysterious Hoodoos

Last Updated on: 1st January 2024, 08:53 pm

Located at the southern end of the San Rafael Swell, Goblin Valley State Park is known for its thousands of hoodoos which, with a bit of imagination, can make you feel as if you’re indeed being watched by goblins!

Goblin Valley State Park makes for a convenient stopover for those traveling between Capitol Reef National Park and Moab. And one can see a majority of the park in several hours. But with so many other attractions in the general area, not everyone might have that amount of time.

If you have limited time, focus on the Valley of the Goblins area – the section after which the park was named. And at the end of the article, you can learn more about other activities nearby, such as the Little Wild Horse Slot Canyon and Factory Butte.

For those wishing to spend a lot more time here, there are plenty of camping options available, which you can also learn more about below.

For this adventure, be sure to download an app like AllTrails or onX Backcountry. With a yearly subscription, you can save and download various trail maps to use offline, which is vital considering how much of Goblin Valley lacks reception.

Entering Goblin Valley State Park

Turning off of Utah State Route 24, it won’t be long before you see a sign for Goblin Valley State Park, and you’ll begin your visit at the Visitor Center.

At the time of writing, entry costs $20 per vehicle, or $10 per person for those arriving by motorcycle or bicycle.

Goblin Valley State Park Utah
Goblin Valley State Park Utah

When you first receive the map of the park, it can appear rather overwhelming if you haven’t done a ton of prior research. 

But visiting Goblin Valley State Park is a lot more straightforward than it first seems. There are hardly any roads that run through the park. And by following the main road, you’ll soon reach the main parking lot, which also serves as the central hub from which many of the major hikes begin.

But first, shortly past the Visitor Center, you’ll see some hoodoos alongside the road, along with a small parking area. I stopped here and explored the area for a bit. But as I’d later learn, this is a minor and insignificant area compared with the rest of the park.

On the other side of the road in the distance, you’ll notice an interesting formation known as the Three Sisters. And along the road, you’ll encounter a trailhead which can take you right to it.

But as we’ll cover below, I later found an alternate and more convenient way to view the Three Sisters, so I’d recommend driving to the main parking lot for now.

Hiking to the Goblin's Lair

As mentioned above, the main parking lot also serves as the central hub from which various trailheads begin. The lot directly overlooks Valley 1 of the Valley of the Goblins, and you can also enjoy a shaded viewing platform from which to take in the scenery.

In addition, you’ll find restrooms and a few picnic tables. If you’ll be doing a few different hikes, it makes sense to come back here to rest and refuel before starting your next one.

Goblin Valley State Park Utah
The view from the main parking lot

Those with very limited time should start with (and perhaps limit themselves to) the Valley of the Goblins area. But in my case, I decided to start by hiking to the Goblin’s Lair. Despite not quite knowing what to expect, the name intrigued me.

The route  there begins with the Caramel Canyon Loop Trail. I started with the more direct right-hand fork of the loop, and then returned via the northwestern half.

Goblin Valley State Park Utah

The full out-and-back hike to the Goblin’s Lair is about 2.5 miles (4 km), and the trail begins by taking you downhill into a wash. 

It was a sweltering day during my visit, and I was already feeling the extreme heat within minutes. Even though this isn’t a particularly long or difficult hike, always be sure to have plenty of water if you’re hiking in summer.

Before long, the Caramel Canyon Trail will transition to the Goblin’s Lair Trail, having you loop back around heading south. On one side of the trail, you’ll encounter various imposing sandstone formations, while the other side consists of vast open plains.

Goblin Valley State Park Utah
The steep climb up to the Goblin's Lair
Goblin Valley State Park Utah

Eventually, you’ll encounter signs for two different ‘lairs’: the Goblin’s Lair and the Goblette’s Lair. I started with the Goblin’s Lair, which involves a surprisingly steep and slippery climb that I wasn’t quite ready for.

While I managed to make it to the top without falling, I certainly wasn’t expecting such a challenge when setting out for this hike! And the reward?

Goblin Valley State Park Utah
Goblin Valley State Park Utah

A cool-looking cave that does indeed resemble how one might picture a goblin’s lair. I listened carefully, but it didn’t seem like anyone was home.

The lair also reminded me of some of the caves I’d encountered at Nevada’s Cathedral Gorge State Park.

After enjoying the shade and the views for a few moments, I had to carefully make my way down the steep hill, grabbing onto various rocks for leverage. But having been baking under the sun all morning, they were burning hot to the touch.

Goblin Valley State Park Utah

I next proceeded to the Goblette’s Lair. To my relief, the trek to this cave was a lot easier and gentler. The cave itself meanwhile, is equally as large and impressive. 

As such, I’d recommend most travelers to skip the Goblin’s Lair entirely and hike directly to the Goblette’s Lair. Unless you’re looking to challenge yourself, that is.

Goblin Valley State Park Utah
The Goblette’s Lair
Goblin Valley State Park Utah

Next, I proceeded back to the Caramel Canyon Loop and this time walked along the opposite side. As I proceeded through the wash, I spotted the massive Three Sisters formation up above and soon found a little uphill path to take me closer.

Goblin Valley State Park Utah

This fascinating formation looks like a miniature version of the more famous Three Sisters at Monument Valley. After admiring it from up close, my goal was to simply return to the main parking lot. But I ran into more trouble than expected.

Perhaps I made a wrong turn, but I ended up in a narrow slot canyon that grew thinner and thinner. And rather than a gradual ascent, I had to do quite a bit of scrambling to make my way up. 

It was quite tiring, but I suspect that there may have been an easier path that I likely missed.

Goblin Valley State Park Utah
Goblin Valley State Park Utah

I found myself along the main road and then returned to the parking lot by walking alongside it for several minutes. Tired and drenched in sweat, I needed a good rest in the car before setting out on my next hike.

Exploring The Valey of The Goblins

The Valley of the Goblins is where you’ll find the thousands of hoodoos after which the park was named. But it’s not the easiest place to navigate.

Overall, the Valley of the Goblins is huge and is divided into three main sections: Valleys 1, 2 and 3. But with no official trail connecting them, free exploration is a must.

If you’re short on time, just stick to Valleys 1 and 2. Valley 3 is surprisingly difficult to reach, yet it’s not any more impressive than the others.

Valley 1

Valley 1 is the area you’ll have seen from the parking lot overlooks. To get there, simply find a descending path (of which there are a couple). Once inside, it’s time to freely explore however you like.

If you’ve been to New Mexico’s Bisti Badlands or Valley of Dreams, the overall experience is quite similar.

Goblin Valley State Park Utah

The hoodoos here are comprised of Entrada Sandstone that was deposited about 170 million years ago during the Jurassic Period. At the time, this land was a tidal flat next to an ancient sea.

Following the disappearance of the sea and an uplift that occurred between 40-70 million years ago, the stone has been subject to weathering ever since.

Goblin Valley State Park Utah

In addition to sandstone, siltstone and shale were also deposited here, though their softer nature made them more susceptible to weathering. The sandstone largely survived, but has since been smoothed by erosion, resulting in the curved edges we see today. 

Goblin Valley State Park Utah

Wandering around this area really activates the imagination. I saw one particular formation that looked strikingly similar to a chac mool sculpture found at ancient ruins throughout Mexico.

These mysterious sculptures depict a figure lying on its back with its head rotated 90 degrees.

As you walk around, you’ll probably find plenty of other resemblances to monuments or sculptures you’ve seen in the past.

Goblin Valley State Park Utah
Goblin Valley State Park Utah

Valley 2

I continued walking south and before long, I encountered huge group of hoodoos to my left. I found a path taking me deeper into the area, as hoodoos of all shapes and sizes towered over me on either side.

Goblin Valley State Park Utah
Goblin Valley State Park Utah

Incredibly, there were countless hoodoos as far as the eye could see. And walking deeper into the area, it seemed to go on forever.

I happened to be the only person here, and I followed various paths to see where they would take me. I walked up and down hills, getting to appreciate various new vantage points. But many of the paths led to dead-ends.

Goblin Valley State Park Utah
Goblin Valley State Park Utah
Goblin Valley State Park Utah

I imagine that one could probably spend hours at Valley 2 alone. But knowing that there was still a lot more to explore, I decided to continue onward and see what lay in Valley 3.

Goblin Valley State Park Utah

Making my way further south, I soon encountered an obstacle – a deep wash. And walking around, there was no way to avoid it. And so I carefully made my way in it before climbing out the other side. 

But I soon came to the conclusion that I would have to walk within it if I was going to make any significant progress south.

The new and improved AllTrails map (don't follow it until after Valley 2)
Getting 'off-track' after following the older AllTrails map

Checking the AllTrails app I’d downloaded and saved earlier, I soon realized that the main ‘Goblin Valley Trail’ featured on the app was the wash. 

Previously, I’d assumed it was more of a suggested route, as there are no actual trails around here. But as I walked through the wash, I noticed that the route lined up perfectly.

Goblin Valley State Park Utah

And so I decided to simply follow it to the end, presuming it would take me directly to Valley 3. But this didn’t turn out to be the case – at least at the time of my visit.

Looking at the AllTrails map at the time of writing, I see that it’s been updated which is a great thing. The new map does indeed seem to take people directly to Valley 3.

But in my case, I only ended up at some large clay hills, and I climbed atop one of them to get a better view of the area. I then saw some hoodoos in the distance and went to check them out.

Goblin Valley State Park Utah
Goblin Valley State Park Utah

Valley 3

The first hoodoos I encountered past the wash weren’t quite yet Valley 3. Valley 3, as it turned out, was further north, yet it can seemingly only be entered from the south. And I only managed to find it by what seemed to be sheer luck.

Goblin Valley State Park Utah

As mentioned above, Valley 3 isn’t all that impressive compared with Valleys 1 and 2. For those who do lots of hiking, it’s common to assume that the further away and more difficult to reach something is, the more impressive it’s going to be. But Goblin Valley State Park’s Valley 3 is a rare exception.

Therefore, I’d only recommend it to the adventurous traveler who enjoys the sense of accomplishment that comes with seeing everything.

At the time of my arrival, dark clouds had formed overhead, and it seemed like there’d be a downpour at any moment. This was the last place I’d want to be stranded in case of a flash flood!

After some basic exploration, I decided to exit Valley 3 by heading north. But I soon encountered a large wall of sandstone with no apparent opening. I then decided to exit via the west but ran into the same problem.

Looking around me in this gloomy weather, the hoodoos did indeed start to resemble goblins. It was an odd and eerie feeling.

Goblin Valley State Park Utah
Goblin Valley State Park Utah
Goblin Valley State Park Utah

I eventually realized that I’d have no choice but to retrace my steps and exit via the south. I then managed to find the main wash I’d walked through to get to Valley 3, and simply followed it all the way back.

The journey back to the main parking lot was a long walk of at least 3 miles (5 km). But at least it never rained. And while the deep wash is far from the most scenic part of Goblin Valley State Park, following it does at least ensure you won’t get terribly lost.

Goblin Valley State Park Utah
The long walk back through the wash

It was already around 17:00 by the time I made it back to the parking lot. And after a quick rest, I proceeded onward toward Moab.

I’d previously been considering hiking the Little Wild Horse Slot Canyon as well, but I ended up spending a lot more time at Goblin Valley State Park than I ever anticipated. But now I have a good reason to revisit the area.

Additional Info

As mentioned above, Goblin Valley State Park is a great place to stop in between Capitol Reef National Park and Moab (home to both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks). But it’s far from the only attraction in the area.

Those coming from the Capitol Reef area can begin the day by visiting Factory Butte and the nearby Moonscape Overlook. From there, Goblin Valley State Park is an hour by car. While Goblin Valley is accessible in any type of vehicle, you should definitely consider renting a 4×4 to visit the other locations.

Just nearby Goblin Valley is the Little Wild Horse Slot Canyon which can be combined with Bell Canyon. Hiking both canyons as a loop is 8 miles (13 km) and can take up to four hours due to its difficulty. Apparently, some parts of the canyons can get extremely narrow, so it would be wise to do thorough research before your visit.

Unfortunately, I wouldn’t have time for the slot canyons after visiting Factory Butte and Goblin Valley on the same day. But it might be possible for those who start especially early and who also cut their Goblin Valley visit short.

There are still even more attractions in the area, such as Little Egypt and Wild Horse Window, known for its petroglyphs.

With so much to do, you might want to spend a night camping at Goblin Valley to spread things out over multiple days (more below).

At the time of writing, there only seems to be one tour to Goblin Valley State Park that’s bookable online. This 4-hour canyoneering tour actually takes you down inside the Goblin’s Lair (also known as Chamber of the Basilisk)!

With so much to do and see in the area, camping at Goblin Valley State Park would be a great option. The park consists of 25 campsites and even two yurts for those looking for more of a glamping experience.

The basic campsite are relatively pricey, costing $45 per night. But they seem to include all your basic amenities. Learn more here.

But what about those who’d prefer to stay in a town?

One of the closest towns to Goblin Valley is Hanksville, but there’s just one accommodation there at the time of writing.

Therefore, if you’ll be coming from the Capitol Reef area, it’s best to base yourself in the town of Torrey, about a 15-20 minute drive west of Capitol Reef National Park. Finished with your tour of Capitol Reef, you could then visit Factory Butte, the Moonscape Overlook and Goblin Valley on your way to Moab.

Despite being a small town, Torrey thrives on tourism, so there are plenty of options in the area.

While not exactly budget options, Capitol Reef Resort and The Noor Hotel are as close to the park as you can get. While I didn’t stay there, I did eat a few times at the Rim Rock restaurant across the street, at the views were fantastic.

Closer to the quaint and charming town center, meanwhile, are the Red Sands Hotel and the Broken Spur Inn, both of which are highly rated. Of course, there are a number of good Airbnb options to choose from as well.

Scroll to Top