Utah’s Spookiest Natural Wonder: Goblin Valley

Picture descending into a valley where thousands of stone creatures, some people-sized and others towering giants, rise to greet you. Almost forgotten amid Utah’s famous national parks, Goblin Valley State Park preserves natural stone wonders, called hoodoos, for their fantastic shapes. Your kids will love them.

These spooky hoodoos will fire kids’ imaginations as they play hide-and-seek among their science-fiction forms. In fact, you can depend on the kids remembering this geologic wonder longer than they will the soaring formations at The Arches and Utah’s other major parks.

Gobl_in Valley, Utah

© Stillman Rogers

Formed by millions of years of wind and rain eroding the uneven layers of sandstone, Goblin Valley lies hidden below the surrounding landscape. The huge freestanding bluffs that tower along the entry road to the park give no idea of what lies at their feet. Even when you arrive at the entrance and look into the valley below, all you’ll get is a tantalizing preview of the marvels below. Not until you walk down into the valley and wander among its inhabitants do you get a full sense of the magnitude and variety of the naturally formed stone figures that populate this place.

These fantastical forms — called hoodoos by the locals because they seem to be conjured from some fairyland — seem to sprout everywhere. Spread across 3,654 acres, they create an otherworldly landscape where it’s almost impossible not to let your imagination run wild. Challenge kids to find goblin mushrooms, elephants, hippos and even dragons among these stark and sinuous stone figures. So fantastic is this landscape it is used as the setting for fantasy and space adventure movies, such as Galaxy Quest. People from as far away as Salt Lake City bring their children to Goblin Valley on Halloween night for a fright-fest.

Beyond the strange forms of the park, high bluffs form a deeply eroded wall, giving some idea of what this place looked like in the beginning. On the far side of the park a huge overburden of green rock rises above the red sandstone and, walking toward it, you’ll discover another whole area to explore, with taller forms and a maze of passageways as paths narrow between newer (but still thousands of years old) eroded forms.

Goblin Valley, Utah bluff

© Stillman Rogers

It is easy to lose track of time while wandering in the hidden back alleys of this still-forming landscape. It’s also easy to lose track of where you are, especially in the alleys under the bluffs, so plan to get back to the more open spaces while there’s still plenty of daylight.

The best time to visit is in late winter, spring and in late fall when temperatures are cooler. This is a remote area, at least 10 miles from any civilization and in summer the temperatures can reach more than 100 degrees. With an altitude of 5,100 feet, the sun can be dangerous even in winter months. Park officials recommend each visitor have with them at least a half-gallon of water and adequate protection from the strong rays of the sun — both sun block and coverage.

A covered pavilion at the parking area above the valley makes a perfect place for a picnic and serves as a central meeting point. There are no food facilities at the park, but it does have paved camping spaces for about two dozen vehicles, each with a picnic table and barbecue grill.