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Epic Off-Grid Adventures near Utah's Goblin Valley

Head deep into the Utah desert with this selection of fantastic adventures in Goblin Valley State Park and the San Rafael Swell.

Mountain Biking, Canyoning, Gravel Biking, Hiking Easy, Moderate, Difficult, Severe, Extreme

Valley of the Goblins: Long
Photo: Greg Heil


The desert landscape near Goblin Valley State Park is more reminiscent of Tatooine than of Planet Earth. This windswept high-desert plateau is almost entirely bereft of vegetation and is instead dominated by rock hoodoos (known as "goblins"), towering mountains, and deep slot canyons cutting through the rock.

The Valley of the Goblins is the most famous destination in the state park, and it is home to thousands of goblin formations rising from the flat landscape in intricate and intriguing shapes. These hoodoos were formed "because of the uneven hardness of sandstone," according to Utah State Parks. "Some patches resist erosion much better than others. The softer material is removed by wind and water, leaving thousands of unique, geologic goblins. Water erosion and the smoothing action of windblown dust work together to shape the goblins," they continue.

While the state park itself offers some fantastic adventures, Goblin Valley is located directly adjacent to the famous San Rafael Swell. This spot is a somewhat easily-accessible entry to some of the Swell's most famous adventures. "Easily accessible" is definitely a sliding scale in the Swell. Many of the roads heading deep into the Swell are rough 4x4 routes, but the road leading to Goblin Valley is paved the entire way, and some of the short dirt road connections near here are easily passable in 2WD vehicles. Thus, this area is one of the more accessible zones of the Swell and, consequently, one of the most traveled.

Even so, this region is still so far off the grid that you should be prepared to be entirely self-sufficient. Goblin Valley is about 50 miles from Green River, the closest "major" town... if a town with a population of less than 1,000 can be considered "major." You will find a small grocery store, a few gas stations, and a few restaurants in Green River, so be sure to stock up before you head into the Swell! While the state park offers potable water and bathrooms, if you're camping closer to the slot canyons, you won't have any amenities—or cell service—whatsoever.

Speaking of slot canyons, the canyons of the San Rafael Swell are easily its most famous attraction. But how did these slot canyons come to be? First, we need to understand what the Swell actually is. According to Wikipedia, "the San Rafael Swell, measuring approximately 75 by 40 miles (121 by 64 km), consists of a giant dome-shaped anticline of sandstone, shale, and limestone that was pushed up during the Paleocene Laramide Orogeny 60–40 million years ago." Over the eons, the erosive forces of wind and water have carved paths of least resistance through this uplifted rock layer. Some of these canyons are wide, and others are incredibly narrow—so narrow, in fact, that at times you need to turn sideways to slide through them! In this guidebook, you'll find a selection of the most famous slot canyon hikes near Goblin Valley to choose from.

Whether you're interested in a mellow hike, a technical slot canyon adventure, a scenic mountain bike ride, or a challenging bikepacking overnight trip, Goblin Valley and the San Rafael Swell offer all this and more!

Sources: StateParks.Utah.Gov Wikipedia.org

Routes included

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