The closest thing to exploring another planet you can get — outside of joining NASA — is located about 100 miles from Arches National Park. There lies Goblin Valley State Park in Green River, Utah. The United States is filled with impressive state parks, many of which can rival the National Parks.
This park may be located in Utah, but you’ll feel like you’re on another planet exploring this terrain.
The bright red and orange hues. The rock formation “goblins.” This park is everything you’d imagine a hike on Mars to look like. What’s interesting about it is rather than mountain trails that ascend, in Goblin Valley you hike down. Into the landscape. The set-up allows you to explore the maze of goblin-like formations. It also goes opposite most parks that require hikers to stay on trails. Most do this for safety reasons and to prevent damage to vegetation, soil, but not here. Goblin Valley is unique as it allows off-trail hiking. It makes for an adventure weaving through the rock formations and navigating this maze of an area.
For hikers who feel more comfortable with a trail to guide them, there are trails you can take as well.
Be sure to bring lots of water. This is not limited to the summer months. Hiking this area can feel like Mars with the extremely hot temperatures.
After a day of hiking, this area is a prime camping spot due to Goblin Valley State Park being named an International Dark Sky Park [IDSP]by the International Dark Sky Association [IDA]. According to the International Dark Sky Association, “[a]n IDA International Dark Sky Park…is a land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment.” This makes for one of the best places in the country to see the night sky filled with stars.
There is also campground within the park.
It will house all of the facilities including restrooms and showers, where campers can secure a campsite. However, if you’re looking for a more secluded experience—especially for the best view of the night sky—this area does offer dispersed BLM camping.
When leaving Goblin Valley State Park head west a few miles on Wild Horse Road (Country Rd. 1013) and there are spots to pull off and camp in the Wild Horse Road Dispersed Camping Area. This BLM camping is free and offers incredible views of the Mars-like terrain. The colors at sunrise and sunset are truly out of this world. The GPS coordinates to this area are approximately 38.579008, -110.797615, but you’re likely to find spots to pull off into before reaching these exact coordinates.
Some BLM-managed campgrounds require a fee, but many dispersed camping areas on public lands—including this area—allow you to camp at no charge. These campsites are available on a first come, first served basis. Like with all BLM-camping areas, if you plan on staying multiple nights, check to see what the limit is for how long you can stay within a specific period of time.
Cell service is practically non-existent in this area!
You will want to pre-download any maps or information you need before you leave Goblin Valley State Park.
If you want to get some more hiking in after leaving this BLM camping area, check out the nearby slot canyons Little Wild Horse Canyon and Bell Canyon.
As you continue down the road from the dispersed camping area, you’ll find the trailhead. It will take you to the incredible Little Wild Horse Canyon and Bell Canyon. Little Wild Horse Canyon is a spectacular slot canyon where you’ll have to squeeze through the narrow openings to make your way through the canyon walls. The breathtaking colors and patterns of the slot canyon’s sediment layers will leave you completely captivated. This hike can be a good option for families, as you can hike in as far as you’d like and then return the way you came. If you’re interested in extending this hike, after hiking through Little Wild Horse Canyon you can cross over and go down into Bell Canyon to complete an approximately eight-mile loop.
Like with any slot canyon, do not hike through if there is a chance of rain. Be sure to check the forecast in advance, as conditions can become dangerous very quickly in the canyon with even a little rain.
With its not-of this planet terrain and unbelievable night sky, staying a night at this BLM dispersed camping area is worth the drive in and of itself. However, Goblin Valley State Park and the nearby Little Wild Horse and Bell Canyons are not to be missed. While it may not be a national park, you’ll be glad you took the time to explore this out-of-this-world area.