Dead Horse Point State Park, UT: Tips, photo spots, and hiking trails
Spoiler alert: The view of the Dead Horse Point Overlook is unbeatable!
When visiting Moab, do not miss the chance to visit Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah, especially since it is so close. In addition to offering several hiking trails to choose from, the park provides amazing views of the surroundings. Located 2,000 feet directly above the Colorado River, Dead Horse Point State Park will give you the opportunity to enjoy beautiful vistas of Moab, La Sal mountains and the Colorado River below – all in one!
- Park elevation: 5,900 feet
- Driving distance from Moab: 32 miles
- Entrance fee: $20. Note that if you have the US National Park pass it won’t be valid since this is a state park.
- Opening hours: 6:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. daily
- When to visit: During spring and fall temperatures can range between 70 and 80 degrees which is an ideal temperature if you are planning to visit the park and do a few hikes. In summer however, temperatures can go up to over 100 degrees and dip into the 20s in winter. If you are planning to visit the park either in winter or summer, make sure you wear appropriate clothing. We recommend you get in early to see one of the most spectacular sunrises.
The legend of Dead Horse Point State Park
For several decades, there have been legends and myths surrounding the Dead Horse Point State Park, including tales of ghostly horses and cruel cowboys. There is one legend that stands out:
Wranglers would drive herds of wild horses across the points narrow bottleneck to corral them by the cliffside. For reasons we still don’t know, one day the wranglers decided to take the best horses and corral the others on the point – and closed the neck. Trapped and with no way out, the remaining horses starved to death. Later when their remains were found by others, this ghastly grave site was given the name Dead Horse Point.
There are several hiking trails to choose, ranging from short easy hikes to the longer hike around the park. We ended up doing the longer trail, as it provided amazing overlooks and took up the majority of the morning.
Visitor Center Trail: This is a really easy and short trail -only 1/8 of a mile round trip- located outside the park’s visitor center. It’s a paved road that offers fantastic views of the basin, La Sal Mountains along with Chimney Rock. Take a picture here with the sunrise as the mountains give a purple foreground to the orange sky.
Dead Horse Point Overlook: If you are pressed for time and you can do only one thing at the park, you should head to the Dead Horse Point Overlook which is by far the most photogenic spot of the entire park. You can access this overlook by driving the main road or by hiking from either the East Rim Trail or West Rim Trail. We started at the visitor center and walked the West Rim the entire time (it was the best view in our opinion). The overlook from Dead Horse Point looks down 2,000 feet to the Colorado River surrounded by the rusty sandstone of Canyonlands; depending on the time of day you’ll get different colors dancing across the canyon. Make sure to walk around here as you will encounter other viewpoints worth photographing – watch out for signs that point the way.
The West Rim Trail: The hike is 7 miles round trip so it will take you a few hours to complete. Christian and I decided to hike the West Rim Trail because it provides amazing views the entire way as you are walking along the edge of the canyon. This hike is not very hard, it is just quite long so make sure you are wearing the appropriate gear and stay hydrated. The trail is mainly flat but there is hardly any shade so protect yourself from the sun and heat.
Once you get to the visitor center, you may have to cross the road and start following the trail. Cairns will guide the way so keep an eye out for them to stay on the trails. Overall, it was easy to find them but a few times Christian and I were wondering if we were on the correct trail! Make sure you walk the additional 0.25 mile to the Meander, Shafer and Rim overlooks (1 mile in total) to get amazing views of the canyon.
Bighorn Overlook Trail: This is a 1.5-mile one-way trail marked as a moderate. This trail gets its name because of a fin that when looked in the distance resembles a pair of horns. This trail is the longest spur off the West Rim Trail; it is also relatively isolated from the remainder of the park so we decided to skip it. From what we have seen in pictures the view looks quite nice, so we definitely have something to do the next time we visit the park. Note that during the trail you will encounter sections where there is some cliff exposure so watch your step.
East Rim Trail: This trail is between 1.5-2 miles one way and rated as easy. If you want to reach the Basin Overlook add 0.25 additional miles. The East Rim Trail starts at the visitor center and follows the eastern side of the mesa top to Dead Horse Point. The trail is mainly flat aside from a hill of a quarter mile from the visitor center. If you’d like you can combine both the West and East Rim trails in one visit. We decided to stick to the West Rim Trail for the entire hike because we were blown away by the views.
What you should bring along
Sturdy footwear: Even though most of the trails mentioned above are flat, keep in mind that if it rains the terrain can get slippery so footwear with good traction is essential. We recommend The North Face Men’s Trail Escape Edge and the Oboz Sawtooth II Low B-Dry Hiking Shoe for women.
Sun protection: These include a hat and sunscreen both for your face and your body – especially if you are visiting the park during the summer months. I love Supergoop! for my face as it is scentless and you will not notice you have sunscreen on! For your body, get Coppertone.
Water: Hiking will make you thirsty. Bring water along to stay hydrated along the way. We recommend getting the Nomader Collapsible Water Bottle which rolls up for compact travel and can be attached to your bag for quick and easy access.
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