Southern Dinos and Goblins
From fossils and petroglyphs to slot canyons and goblins, you’ll have four days of “oohs” and “ahhs” for the whole adventuring family.
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. (Read: Why Your Kids Need a Utah Trip)
Welcome to Salt Lake City
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.
Moab to Dead Horse Point State Park
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. and if you have an extra day, a stop at the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park is a must if you enjoyed Dead Horse Point. Overnight in Moab or Monticello. (Read: "The Best Time to Visit Moab")
Moab to Bluff Fort
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.
Bluff to Monument Valley
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.
Monument Valley to Goblin Valley
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.
Searching for Dinosaur Bones in Capitol Reef Country
The Hanksville-Burpee Dinosaur Quarry dates back to the Jurassic Period and is approximately 150 feet wide by 600 feet long. Hundreds of dinosaur bones have been discovered here, including those of the Stegosaurus, Brontosaurus and Brachiosaurus.
Why a Visit to the Blanding Dinosaur Museum is a Must
The Blanding Dinosaur Museum, off U.S. 191 in Southeastern Utah, is a hidden gem: The artifact collection here includes bones, dinosaur eggs, and even fossilized skin! The museum also has three wonderfully preserved petrified trees and unique movie memorabilia.