Park Chaser’s Guide to Dead Horse Point State Park

Among all the gateway towns we’ve stayed in during our national park travels, Moab, Utah has to be one of our favorites.  There’s so much to do in the area beyond visiting Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.  We were fortunate to have some extra time during our April 2021 Spring Break Road trip to visit Dead Horse Point State Park, another one of the top destinations in the Moab area.

 

While technically not a national park (Dead Horse is part of the Utah public lands system), we’d highly recommend spending 2-3 hours or more here as part of your #parkchasing through Utah’s other NPS destinations.

About Dead Horse Point State Park

Located between Moab, Utah and Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park covers around 5,300 acres (21 square kilometers) of the Colorado high desert Plateau. 

From Dead Horse Point State Park, visitors can see sections of the Colorado River and neighboring Canyonlands National Park. The views are so impressive here, a number of popular Hollywood films have been shot in the park.

Check out the park video to get a quick look at what a great spot this is:

Table of Contents

Map of Dead Horse Point State Park - Moab Utah

How to Get There

From downtown Moab, travel nine miles northwest on US 191.  Follow signs for the park, turning on Utah Highway 313.  Travel 23 miles southwest to the end of the highway where you’ll find the entrance station and main park road.

Operating Hours & Seasons

The park is open year-round from 6 AM to 10 PM.  Given the summer heat can be challenging, the most popular times to visit Dead Horse Point and Moab, Utah are in the shoulder seasons (March to May; September to November).  The park does receive snow in the winter months, but is popular for

Is there an entrance fee to Dead Horse State Park?

Utah State Parks charge an entrance fee for all visitors.  This is not covered by the America the Beautiful Pass for federal lands.  As of this writing, park entrance daily use fees were for two consecutive days starting on the date of purchase.
  • Regular: $20.00 (up to eight people)
  • Utah Senior (Utah residents 65 or older): $15.00
  • Motorcycles: $10.00 per motorcycle.
  • Bike-In/Walk In – $4.00 per person
    • Parking outside the park is limited and the road is very narrow into the park.  There are bike rental agencies that offer tours and rentals for Dead Horse Point biking trips.
Dead Horse Point State Park Sign

How did the park get its name?

During our Arches research and planning sessions, Greg was the first to run across Dead Horse and the legend of how the park got its name.

The most popular spot in the park is an area called Dead Horse Point Overlook.  It’s at the end of the main park road and something you definitely don’t want to miss.This area is actually a tiny peninsula connected to the surrounding mesa by a narrow strip of land called “the neck.” The Colorado River can be seen here some 2,000 feet below.

Legend says that the neck was used by early Cowboys in the area as a corral for wild mustangs roaming the mesa top. At only 30-yards-wide, it was an easy area to fence off as a natural corral, surrounding the horses with dangerous cliffs on all sides. 

As the legend goes, at one point, a group of “broomtails” – or mustangs not suited for the Cowboys– were corralled on the neck with the fence open so they could return to the open range.  By accident, the fence was left up and the horses corralled without water water out on the neck.  The animals died of thirst in the dangerous Moab heat, even though they were within view of the Colorado River below.

View from East Rim Trail at Dead Horse Pointe

Indigenous Roots at Dead Horse Point State Park

As part of our commitment to a more Diverse NPS, Park Chasers wants to acknowledge that the public lands we now enjoy were once the home of many different indigenous communities.

The lands around Dead Horse Point State Park, Arches National Park, and Moab, Utah, once belonged to members of the:

  • Pueblo of Zuni (or Ashiwi),
  • the Hopi Tribe,
  • the Southern Ute Indian Tribe,
  • Ute Indian Tribe-Uintah and Ouray,
  • the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, and
  • the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians.

To learn more about native communities in the area and how these lands were in some cases stolen from their inhabitants – visit Native Lands. 

To learn more about our commitment to greater diversity, inclusion, and access to public lands visit DiverseNPS.

Colorado River at Dead Horse
Colorado River at Dead Horse Point Overlook

What to See at Dead Horse Point State Park

During our trip, we departed Moab around 7 AM, to arrive at Dead Horse Point early in the morning.  Our goals were to check out the overlook, do some morning hike before the heat of the day, and check out the campground in the event we make a future visit to Moab.

Here’s our trip report on the must-see spots in the park:

Park Chasers at the Dead Horse Point Overlook

1. Check out Dead Horse Point Overlook

The first destination to stop in the park is Dead Horse Point Overlook.  It’s far and away some of the best views of the Colorado River and the surrounding badlands in the entire Moab area.  After spending two days viewing arches, we were treated to some gorgeous early morning scenery of the surrounding cliffs here.

If you arrive at the point and it seems familiar, chances are you’ve seen the car scene from Thelma and Louise.  It was filmed at the overlook (or scenes from Westworld and the Mission Impossible movies).

The overlook has restrooms, picnic areas, and plenty of room to enjoy the panoramic views. 

After checking out the overlook, plan to hike sections of the East and West Rim trails.  The trails depart from the overlook parking area.

2. Hike the East & West Rim Trails

There are about 7 miles of trails in the park, much of which is along the East and West Rim Trails.

From the overlook, it’s possible to hike along the Dead Horse Point peninsula along the rim.  As the trail names suggest, the East Rim trail travels along the eastern edge towards the visitor’s center, and the West Rim Trail travels on the other side. At about 2-3 miles each in an out and back or added together to complete a 5-mile loop hike, it’s the most popular hiking route in the park. Hiking is relatively flat and a great way to experience the top of the mesa. 

Dead Horse Hiking-Map-1

3. Stay for Sunset & Night Skies

Conduct a search for the best spots for sunset in Moab, and you’ll most definitely come up with Dead Horse Point Overlook.  Since the views here are 270+ degrees of panoramic scenery, it’s really not a bad spot for sunrise either if park opening hours allow.  

The state park is also one of the few in Utah with International Dark Sky designation, meaning that the night skies here are some of the best spots for star gazing in the area. Grab a blanket and a telescope for the awe inspiring views!

4. Stop at the Visitor's Center

There’s one visitor’s center in Dead Horse Point State Park. It’s open year-round, 9 AM-5 PM with exhibits and information about the park.  If you’re looking for a longer hiking route, park at the Visitor’s Center and hop on the East Rim Trailhead.  From here it’s possible to hike to the Overlook and back on the West Rim trail for a full loop.

5. Spend the Night.

There are two campgrounds in Dead Horse Point State Park – Kayenta and Wingate.  While we didn’t camp in the park, we did drive through to check out the sites.  Campgrounds here are reservable online and offer standard RV-style amenities including electrical and water hook up.  Sites fill up quickly here, so plan ahead.

As we were doing research on the Moab area, one of the most popular activities we spotted was to spend a night in a yurt in Dead Horse.  Our friends at the Dear Bob and Sue national park podcast shared their experience with spending a night in one of the yurts in an April 2021 episode:

Dead Horse Overlook

The Best Times to Visit

The park is open year-round here, so there’s really not a ‘bad time’ per say to visit. However during the busiest travel months of the summer, Arches National Park will often close due to reaching capacity limits.  That pushes many travelers into other parts of the Moab area, including Dead Horse.

Regardless of what time of year you visit, we recommend arriving early or later in the day to get the best sun angle on the cliffs below and to guard against the intense mid-day heat.

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Other Things to See In the Area

After visiting Dead Horse Point State Park, check out some of our other recommendations for hiking and scenic stops in the Moab, Utah Area: 

Camping in Devil's Garden Campground
Broken Arch
9 Things We Wish We Knew Before Visiting Arches National Park
Delicate Arch Header
Best Stargazing in Arches National Park
THE PARK CHASERS

THE PARK CHASERS

Greg & Amy
Chasing a visit to all 400+ units in the NPS
Current Count: 116/423
Next Stop: Patterson Great Falls NHP, New Jersey

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