Have you ever dreamed of visiting another planet? Goblin Valley, located in the San Rafael Swell area of central Utah, may be the closest thing you can get without leaving the comfort of our own atmosphere. In fact, Goblin Valley State Park served as the set for a scene in the Sci-Fi comedy Galaxy Quest, chosen for its other-worldly look. The valley is known for its “goblins”, which are mushroom-shaped rock formations. Like the other hoodoos you’ll find in Utah, the distinct shape of these rocks comes from an erosion-resistant layer of rock atop softer sandstone.
After hiking Crack Canyon in the morning, we made the short drive to Goblin Valley State Park. We had a beautiful blue sky, but the wind was blowing hard when we arrived. There are actual hiking trails around the park, but knowing that we may tire of the wind before too long, we opted to explore the valley closest to the trailhead parking area. Due to the size of the valley and randomness of route possibilities, it didn’t take long to leave the crowds behind.
Being able to wander around the rock formations is a real treat. It’s also great if you like to take photos, since there are infinite possibilities for unique shots. The blue sky of our mid-day visit provided nice contrast, but it would be fun to come here during low light times of the day as well. We continued to explore until we decided it was time to find cover from the wind.
The campground at Goblin Valley looked pretty nice when we drove through it on the way out. The only problem is that it’s fairly small, and sites can be reserved well in advance. Thankfully, there is legal dispersed camping on nearby public lands outside the park. The town of Green River is also nearby for those looking to get out of the weather or are looking for services.
If you’re traveling through San Rafael Swell area, you should definitely visit the state park. You’ll see rock formations that you probably won’t see anywhere else in Utah. The park has recently added mountain bike trails as well. And with so may other things to do in the Swell area, it can serve as a destination, rather than just a stop along the way to the more well known National Parks. Goblin Valley is also a safer place to visit if bad weather is threatening, since the roads are paved and you’d be mostly clear of flash flood danger when compared to the nearby slot canyons.
- National Geographic map of the San Rafael Swell
- Hiking & Exploring Utah’s San Rafael Swell guidebook