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Goblin Valley & San Rafael Swell Help

Salt Lake City, Utah
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Goblin Valley & San Rafael Swell Help

Hello!

My family has reservations inside the campground at Goblin Valley State Park for three nights the beginning of September. Our first visit. We are decent hikers, traveling with three children ages 7,6 and 1. I am looking forward to a slow paced vacation and relaxation while exploring the area with the time that we have there. Staying in the yurt and am excited that we won't be setting up our tent so hope for more downtime.

First Day:

Leave SLC, aim for arrival in Goblin Valley around 2pm.

Spend day exploring the park.

Do we take the time to stop off at Cleveland Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry on the way down? Will it have anything new that my boys haven't seen before? We've been to Vernal to the Dinosaur National Monument and new quarry and have often visited the museums at Thanksgiving Point and Natural History Museum at UofU. Is it worth the short detour?

Second Day:

Little Wild Horse Slot Canyon

Wild Horse Window or Ding Canyon.

Third Day:

Wild Horse Window or Ding Canyon. Whichever one we didn't do day before.

Is Crack Canyon doable with kids?

Fourth Day:

Home. But by which direction? And this is where I need some advice.

Trying to decide if in the morning we should head to Capitol Reef National Park and spend the day there until we need to hit the road home (ideally about 3pm).

OR do we explore the San Rafael Swell. We spent about half a day in Capitol Reef about 3 years ago and enjoyed it. It was short and again, would only have about a half day but I know it's nice. If we were to explore the San Rafael Swell, I believe we would make our way back to I-70 via Temple Mtn Road. Is this road easily passable and safe? What attractions would make good stops? . Once we hit I-70, thinking of taking the Moore Road cutoff to route 10 and then north back home. We could either take 10 to 6 or cut over the mountain on 31. Will make that call when we decide what we are doing in regards to the Capital Reef or San Rafael dilemma.

For some reason, I am fmiding it overwhelming to research the San Rafael Swell. I am finding some interesting canyons, pictographs, etc but am finding the directions confusing. Also unsure about what's safe for kids and what's not. I certainly don't want to get stuck anywhere in a remote area with three small kids in the car. The maps that I am looking at are so tiny online that I can hardly make anything out. Where can I call or go to get a good map of these backroads? We'll likely stop at the field office in Price on the way down but I'd like something in advance. Also concerned about the conditions of the roads. Any advice or where to point me to find detailed maps and attractions? Advice on the two options? Any "hidden secret" in the Goblin Valley area we should know about?

Thank you in advance for your time! It sure helps!

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Park City, Utah
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1. Re: Goblin Valley & San Rafael Swell Help

Any of the noted canyons are OK for the kids. The only thing you need to really watch is length of hike, but you can go in a certain distance then come out. Little Wild Horse is, by far, the most interesting. LWC, Bell, Crack, Chute, Ding, Dang, etc. all good. However, with the kids, I would stick with LWC as your primary. If you really want to do another do Crack. I would stay away from Ding/Dang given the ages. With the kids, you can pretty easily get in to the ampitheater, take a picnic break, then return. Do not attempt the Bell/LWC loop - way too long for the kids. I trust you're carrying the 1 year old? Do note that it's tough to get through the slots with a child backpack. You can figure it out, but you won't just walk through.

Yes, San Rafael is complex. I would skip Cleveland Lloyd if you have the previous dinosaur experience and just get down to Goblin Valley. Suggest taking Buckhorn Wash/Cottonwood Wash Roads through the swell on the way down, then coming back via Capitol Reef and Torrey on way home. What are you driving? If you have a decent car you should be fine. Also suggest doing one slot canyon hike day, then exploring Temple Mountain Road, Head of Sinbad, etc. Ancient art on Moore Cutoff Road is also quite fantastic.

Most all of the roads are gravel and reasonably improved. There definitely are some 4WD only areas but you'll notice that before you get into trouble.

It's quite an amazing area and doesn't get near the visits as Moab, etc. Do note that once you're down at Goblin Valley and in the swell, you're a LONG ways removed from services like food and fuel. Get a very full tank in Price or wherever you leave the highway. And make sure you're good on provisions.

Here's a few images:

http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=san%20rafael&w=34106201@N00

Have fun.

Edited: 07 July 2013, 13:00
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Moab
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2. Re: Goblin Valley & San Rafael Swell Help

Thank you for your advice particularly doing the wash roads on the way down thus freeing us up to hit Capitol Reef as well. We will plan on doing this. I just ordered the National Geographic trails map for the San Rafael area. So hopefully that will help me figure out the road system. I just can't make heads or tails of any maps online to aid us in the beginning stages of research. We will be in a Pilot.

Was not planning on doing the Bell loop. Just Little Wild Horse. Have read several reports of kids in Ding Canyon (we are avoiding Dang) so may still give it a go understanding that we will have a lot of scrambling and obstacles. We have found the kids hike better when there are obstacles to overcome. Keeps them entertained. If its too hard we can always turn around. Baby will be in a carrier.

Thank you.

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3. Re: Goblin Valley & San Rafael Swell Help

Capitol Reef is always great and is more straight forward in terms of trail markers and hikes, but would also be more driving time.

The Swell isn't marked very well in certain areas. But they do print a complete San Rafael Swell road and trail map from National Geographic available at REI. You can get from I-70 and cut through the nothern section of the Swell to Huntington and then onto Price. On route you could visit the Wedge Overlook/Little Grand Canyon. It's kind of like a Dead Horse Point type of area. There is a dinosaur footprint embedded into the rock, and the famous Buckhorn Wash Art Panel.

You also cross over the San Rafael River Swinging Bridge. The river is probably extremely low this year, and would make a great place to play in for a while. There are areas with lots of cottonwood trees right next to the river for shade that would make a good place to picnic.

As noted, make sure you have plenty of water and gas. The area wouldn't be fun to get stuck or break down in, but the roads don't require 4WD even if they aren't freeway quality either. Cell service comes and goes and depending on the day, you may not cross paths with many people for long stretches.

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4. Re: Goblin Valley & San Rafael Swell Help

Just saw you ordered the trail map. I have a copy and it's quite nice. One side is the complete northern section of the Swell and the other side has the complete south side, divided by I-70.

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5. Re: Goblin Valley & San Rafael Swell Help

As far as maps, the Nat'l Geo map you've ordered is great. I also strongly recommend the Benchmark Maps Utah atlas. It's phenomenal, a work of art.

http://www.benchmarkmaps.com/

I'd also look at guidebooks of the area...you could check them out of the SLC library. There's a Michael Kelsey guide to the Swell (just keep in mind the caveats with Kelsey's guidebooks) and the Steve Allen book "Canyoneering" covers the Swell.

Hard to help with planning a trip with a "slow pace" and "relaxation"...if I come back from a southern Utah trip and I'm not exhausted, I consider the trip a disappointment.

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Utah
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6. Re: Goblin Valley & San Rafael Swell Help

Thanks for the recommendations. I love reading travel guide books so I will go put those books on hold.

Traveling with three young kids, it doesn't matter what kind of vacation it is - just getting them dressed and fed every day is exhausting! Not to mention set up and take down from tent camping. I look forward to those small moments of downtime.

I suppose I meant slow paced in that we are concentrating four days on just one small geographic area and not running all over Southern Utah. We will certainly take advantage of the day in regards to hiking. We did take a ten day trip three years ago hitting Moab, Canyonlands, Dead Horse, Mesa Verde, Capitol Reef, Escalante, Kodachrome and Bryce. I now consider that our scouting trip as we are now trying to explore the area in more focused areas.

We have since returned to Moab every year. My boys call that their favorite place in the whole world. With all that sand and rocks to climb, of course it is! Hit Bryce for four days earlier this summer. Loved that we spent so much time there when earlier we had done a drive by. We've never been to Zion but have that trip planned in October. Looking forward to this Goblin Valley trip. It's been on my "Utah" bucket list for years. From the pictures alone I know my kids will get a kick out of it.

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Moab
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7. Re: Goblin Valley & San Rafael Swell Help

Prepare to be underwhelmed by Goblin Valley. However it is a decent place for a base camp. If time permits, take the road past Temple Mountain and drive the Hondoo Loop. It will take all day and you will see fantastic scenery.

I agree with the Buckhorn wash road and the Wedge overlook. It is worth the ride. If the poster means the Cottonwood Wash road that follows the old rail bed, it is very rough. You no longer drive over the swinging bridge over the San Rafael River. There is a new concrete bridge beside the old one. After spending time in the Swell, you'll throw rocks at Moab. We have been doing these routes twice a year for forty years. My now forty year old daughter took her first Utah hike as an 8 mo. old in a back carrier.

My favorite guide books are "Hiking Utah's San Rafael Swell" by Michael R. Kelsey (I am also unable to come anywhere near his hike times) and "Utah's Scenic San Rafael" by Owen McClenahan.

Cleveland Lloyd is definitely rated a must miss.

As others have stated, keep your gas tank full. You might not need it but it will give you great peace of mind.

You can't see it all, but you'll be back!

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Moab
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8. Re: Goblin Valley & San Rafael Swell Help

You personally might be underwhelmed with Goblin Valley, but with kids your age, Goblin Valley might be their favorite place to play, run around, explore, go through at night. You can also hike around the main southern vertical wall creating Goblin Valley and then hike east scrambling over some low points. From here, you are essentially behind Goblin Valley and it a very miniature Bryce Canyon to explore. Not sure if I'd want to do it with three small kids though.

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9. Re: Goblin Valley & San Rafael Swell Help

I'm hoping to not be underwhelmed. If it was a solo vacation perhaps so, but it is a family vacation with small kids. Of all the trip reports and blog postings that I read about Goblin Valley, parents always say that Goblin Valley is the highlight of a trip. On the other hand, those traveling without kids always say that it's worth just an hour stop. I have a neighbor who has been going to Goblin Valley every single spring break for years, her family loves it so much. My boys are super active and I am looking forward to playing down among the rocks. We'll bring toys, kites, and balls. I, personally, am most anticipating Little Wild Horse as it will be our significant first slot canyon hike. I'm crossing my finger for good weather as I'll be most disappointed to miss this one.

Thank you again for the recommendations regarding the area. As a note, I did go to http://www.castlecountry.com/San-Rafael-Swell and had them send me a visitors guide which I am thrilled to have in addition to the Nat Geo map. It's a great brochure with mile by mile attractions with a map. Just what I was looking for.

We have tightened up our itinerary.

Day 1 will be spent exploring the Swell through the Buckhorn Wash to the Wedge Overlook and Temple Road to Goblin Valley. Everybody has mentioned making sure we have gas and to fill up in Price. I understand that Castle Dale has services. Will fill up here. My kids really like to fish. Is the San Rafael river a good one to put a pole into? Or should we not bother? Will likely be middle of day anyways and may not want to pack the poles but am curious. Kids will need to get out of car for a bit of break. The only thing I am going to hear from the backseat on this day is "Are we almost to the cabin?!" and "How much further until we get there?!"

Day 2-3 will be spent at Goblin Valley, Little Wild Horse Canyon, Little Wild Horse Window, Ding Canyon and Crack Canyon.

Day 4 drive to Capitol Reef for the scenic drive and attempt Sulphur Creek. If we end up doing this hike and making it all the way through, how easy is it to hitch a ride from the visitors center back to the car (not all of us, just the husband)? And then home.

Thank you all for your thoughts. I wish I had known about these forums years ago. So much being added to my bucket lists.

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10. Re: Goblin Valley & San Rafael Swell Help

Believe me, I spent many nights in Goblin Valley as a young boy and it was one of my favorite places to go camping, along with Arches and Calf Creek Falls. Your boys will have a blast. Even the campground has fun little trails to explore and climb around, for a young mind.

About fishing in the Swell...I haven't fished there but the areas I have been would be too shallow. There's a section for kayaking that ends around the bridge, but I don't know where you would travel to find good fishing holes. There are sizable cottonwood groves down Mexican Mountain Road that you could probably find some good shade for lunch and getting the wiggles out. But there may be some even closer to the bridge as well. From the Swinging Bridge it's probably another 90 minutes or so to GV. You might find better fishing on the Freemont River closer to Capitol Reef than on the San Rafael, but again, I'm not a fisherman and don't really know of any specific spots.

I've picked up hitchhikers a couple of times in Capitol Reef. I imagine it would be easier from the visitor's center or another place where cars aren't traveling by at 55 MPH on highway 24. Wife and kids together might make it easier to flag a car down for your husband to get a ride. The Sulphur Creek hike is about 5-6 miles one way.

americansouthwest.net/slot_canyons/sulphur-c…

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