Southern Dinos and Goblins
Start: Salt Lake City
It's typically under 4 hours to the entrance to Arches National Park and the Moab area. By the time you land at Goblin Valley State Park on day 4, you'll be within 4 hours of Salt Lake again. If you can, consider planning a day at the beginning or end of your trip to explore Salt Lake, including a visit to the Natural History Museum of Utah to help you make sense of it all.
You could build a whole trip out of Utah's dinosaur and rock art sites. This time, we're sticking to Southern Utah. If you've spent a day exploring Salt Lake, day two drops you into the epicenter of adventure in Moab. Roar up steep slickrock to rarely seen overlooks on a Hummer tour. Just outside of town, scramble to the base of the behemoth Wilson Arch — the most accessible arch for small kids. Roam the dinosaur trail where life-size statues of massive Mesozoic monsters stand frozen in time for children to ogle.
Day three is for your history hounds. Visit Newspaper Rock in the Indian Creek unit of Bears Ears National Monument where hundreds of well-preserved petroglyphs share the 2,000-year-old news. Explore the artifacts of Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum in Blanding then live like the pioneers who settled this once-barren area at Bluff Fort. Wander through an eclectic mid-century home carved into the side of a cliff at Hole N” the Rock.
Day four takes you to another easily accessible panel of petroglyphs in Sand Island where you can also play on the sandy beaches of the San Juan River. Next, head for the entertaining Goulding's Lodge and sweeping panorama of Monument Valley. Jump in a Jeep with a Navajo tour guide at Monument Valley and learn about Navajo culture and the area's incredible history.
Your final day takes you to Natural Bridges National Monument, where stone bridges delicately hang between cliffs, or to Goblin Valley State Park, a magical place where kids and kids-at-heart can climb on and around goblin-like pillars of sandstone. Top it off with a scamper through Little Wild Horse Canyon, a playful, but not overly technical, slot canyon that can make everyone in the family feel like a kid again.
- SLC Family Activities
- An Afternoon at the Natural History Museum
- Shaping Temple Square
Below are a few stories and ideas to introduce you to Utah's capital city and flesh out your itinerary, whether you stay in the city or explore its backyard mountains. For this itinerary, a trip to the Natural History Museum of Utah is a must. There's a reason why it's known as the "trailhead to Utah." First-time visitors might include a trip to Temple Square. The spiritual center for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Temple Square offers free walking tours of the Temple grounds and frequent performances by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Oh, and here's a pro tip: As you're navigating the city (walking, bike share, taxi, Uber, Lyft, public transit or car), if you know that part of Temple Square is essentially (0,0) on the grid, each street heading north or south adds 100 and each street heading east or west adds 100. Thus, nine blocks south and nine blocks east you'll be at 900 South and 900 East, locally known as 9th and 9th. (Read about more Salt Lake City neighborhoods and browse accommodations here.)
It's about four hours to Moab, so an overnight in either Salt Lake City or Moab is appropriate, depending on your Salt Lake agenda.
Summer or winter, outdoors or in, Salt Lake has myriad activities right at its fingertips to keep everyone from the hiker in your family to the history buff or water lover entertained. Here is a list of 11 must-do family activities in the Salt Lake City area.
Spanning five floors and tucked along the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains, the museum is adjacent to Red Butte Garden, the Intermountain West’s largest botanical garden and part of the University of Utah campus. Follow the author on an afternoon at the Natural History Museum of Utah.
Temple Square in Salt Lake City is Utah's most popular tourist attraction. The 35-acre area contains more than 15 attractions related to Mormon heritage and beliefs. Whether it’s the rich history, the gorgeous gardens and architecture, or the vivid culture, you’ll be sure to have an unforgettable experience.
- Hummer Tour
- Moab Giants Dinosaur Museum
- Filmed in Utah: Dead Horse Point
Load ‘em up! Sure, the family wagon gets your vacation going, but it won't always take you where you want to go. To climb steep slickrock overlooking unbelievable natural places, leave the wagon for the day and choose from one of several Moab outfitters to ride to places only a Hummer should go. After, learn about prehistoric life at the Moab Giants PaleoSafari, where state-of-the-art indoor interactive exhibits meld with lands where dinosaurs once roamed. Dead Horse Point State Park is your evening stop, offering views that rival the Grand Canyon. Today is a good day to visit Arches National Park, too. Overnight in Moab or Monticello.
There are many ways to see Moab. Some take to their feet, others use two wheels, and others soar through the friendly skies. Outside of the military, there may be no better use for the Hummer than crawling the slickrock trails that made Moab famous.
Moab Giants Dinosaur Museum is a new breed of museum offering a unique interactive experience that blends science and adventure. The PaleoSafari reins in some of the region’s best dinosaur enthusiasm in a first-of-its-kind multimedia experience that spills out onto the actual trail where dinosaurs once roamed.
Many visitors find Dead Horse Point State Park to be even more captivating than the views at the Grand Canyon. A visitor center and art gallery provide a wonderful introduction to the park’s geology and key features visible from the overlooks. There are also mountain biking trails and reservable yurts.
- Newspaper Rock
- Edge of the Cedars
- Bluff Fort Historic Site
By outward appearance, Hole N’’ the Rock appears kitschy. The large block lettering on the massive sandstone wall will definitely catch your eye. But this is actually a pretty impressive place, blasted and hand-chiseled into a home-turned-gift shop and curio cabinet with guided tours. Kids under five are free. Marvel at the art and history behind Newspaper Rock on the Indian Creek Scenic Byway. With extra time, the Cave Spring hike in the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park is great for families. For more adventurous families, give yourself the day to hike around this rugged district. Otherwise, head to Blanding for Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum for an introduction to the heritage of the Bears Ears region. Fans of pioneer history will want to press on for Bluff Fort. Overnight in Bluff.
Native American Indians have been engraving and drawing on Newspaper Rock for more than 2,000 years. Their markings tell stories, hunting patterns, crop cycles, and the mythologies of their lives. It’s a great stop on its own or as part of the Indian Creek Scenic Byway to the Needles District of Canyonlands.
Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum is a beautiful repository for ancient artifacts in the Four Corners region and is an excellent companion destination to Bears Ears National Monument. The museum showcases Ancestral Puebloan culture along with contemporary Native American items and the largest display of artifacts in the area.
Bluff is the terminus of the well known Hole-in-the-Rock Trail on which Mormon pioneers traveled from Southwestern to Southeastern Utah over a daunting route in one of the most extraordinary wagon trips ever undertaken. Portions of the original fort are interpreted at the Bluff Fort Historic Site.
- Sand Island Petroglyphs
- Monument Valley Jeep Tour
- Goulding's Lodge
Start the day by touring easily accessible petroglyphs in the scenic landscape defined by the winding San Juan River. More adventurous families may spend today rafting the gentle rapids of the river. Otherwise, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park awaits. Book a Jeep tour in advance to get the best access to the park. There are tours of varying lengths depending on how much time you want to spend exploring the Navajo art, artifacts, Western memorabilia and Navajo tacos of Goulding’s Lodge. Overnight in Monument Valley or Mexican Hat.
The easily accessible rock art panel at Sand Island is extensive and represents images from 800 to 2,500 years old. It presents a good overview of the type of rock art that is found all along the San Juan River. Challenge your kids to find Kokopelli and the humpbacked flute player, among the many figures.
Book a tour of Valley Drive (which you can also drive on your own if you have the right vehicle) or a longer trek such as Mystery Valley, accessible only with a licensed guide. A Jeep tour visits the iconic sites, but is accompanied by a Navajo narrative.
Goulding’s features a lodge, campground, stores, a restaurant and a museum. It’s one part adventure base camp and one part fascinating destination. The large gift shop specializing in Navajo art, jewelry and pottery and there is a small, on-site movie theater, that plays historical features and classic Westerns nightly.
- Natural Bridges National Monument
- Goblin Valley State Park
- Little Wild Horse to Ding & Dang
Today, gauge the family’s energy level and make a choice: explore deep into Natural Bridges National Monument on moderately strenuous hikes or stick to the scenic drive with overlooks and save extra time for Goblin Valley. Goblin Valley’s whimsical geology charms kids of all ages — and that definitely includes adults. The Valley of Goblins, the park’s main attraction, is located at its heart. Here there are three established trails, which are suitable for most anyone. If you have daylight and stamina, further down Little Wild Horse Road is the excellent canyon of the same name, where kids will love squeezing through the narrow passage. Otherwise, give yourself around four hours for the return to Salt Lake City.
The amazing force of water has cut three spectacular natural bridges in White Canyon. Choose from the 9-mile scenic drive with overlooks to the bridges or moderate to difficult trails, some with metal stairs leading down to each bridge. A longer trail follows the stream bed beneath all three.
So far this trip we’ve stepped back in time, but now it’s time to set foot on an entirely different world. Goblin Valley is unlike any other place in the world, and it's a place that captures and stretches the imagination, challenging you with its geologic whimsy. Bring the family and experience this amazing place by hiking, camping, mountain biking, and exploring the surrounding canyons. "Galaxy Quest" fans may recognize the landscape too.
Little Wild Horse Canyon is a well-known classic and is a perfect intro to canyoneering for most ages and anyone in reasonable shape. Its trailhead is located 5 miles west of the Goblin Valley visitor center along an improved dirt road. Nearby Ding and Dang Canyons take it up a notch.