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How to visit Mars without ever leaving Utah

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Goblin Valley — Take a Walk on Mars

It's spring, and you know what that means — spring fever! Are you looking to get out of installing that white picket fence? Or daydreaming of being an astronaut where there are no lawns to mow on the weekends? Check out Goblin Valley — maybe the closest you'll come to setting foot on an alien planet. This state park is remote, desolate, stark and unlike anything you've seen. The rocky landscape has eroded into fanciful shapes, locally referred to as hoodoos. These bizarre-looking mushroom-shaped rock pinnacles can reach several feet high.

The valley is also the perfect base camp from which to explore the surrounding San Rafael Swell, one of the best places to camp with kids.

Learn more about Goblin Valley.


The San Rafael Swell

Goblin Valley is located on the southeastern edge of the San Rafael Swell, which is literally a "swell" in the earth's surface that's been carved into narrow canyons, towering cliffs, and an array of multi-colored sandstone. It's a rugged and remote area offering beautiful scenery, amazing recreational opportunities and many of the same incredible sights found in Utah's national parks — without the crowds. Some of Utah's best canyoneering and hiking trails are found here, ranging from easy and kid-friendly to intense mega-adventures. For years, The Swell has been considered one of the undiscovered natural wonders of the American West.

Learn more about the San Rafael Swell.


Insider tip

One of the most unique (and lesser known) things you'll find in this area is the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, which contains the densest concentrations of Jurassic-aged dinosaur bones ever found. More than 12,000 bones, belonging to at least 74 dinosaurs, have been excavated here. Located just 30 miles south of Price, the quarry offers a visitor center, guided tours, hiking trails and a picnic area.

What to expect

Spring and fall are the best times to visit this area when daytime temperatures are mild and ideal for hiking, biking, and other outdoor activities. Nights are chilly, but not too cold. There are many camping areas available, and you can find other lodging info for the area here. This is true desert, meaning there is very little water. Always carry drinking water in your vehicle. And there are numerous roads that only four-wheel drive vehicles can negotiate. The area receives little rainfall/snowfall, but when it does get wet, the roads turn to sticky mud.

Top spots

The San Rafael area is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts with a ton of attractions to choose from. Here are our top five favorite spots:

  1. Little Wild Horse Slot Canyon Hike

Temple Mountain Area

The Wedge Overlook, Little Grand Canyon


Whitewater Rafting the Green River

Joe’s Valley

Did you know?Fittingly, the Mars Desert Research Station is just outside Goblin Valley, near Hanksville, and uses the stark desert environment to study what it may be like to live in a colony on Mars. Volunteers live for weeks or months at a time, wearing space suits. They carry out research tailored as closely as possible to the type of activity a Mars crew would face on the planet itself.