Getting outside for Halloween, perhaps? Or just curious about some of the scarier outdoor place names in Utah? Here they are: the top five spookiest natural places in southern Utah, presented in ascending order of coolness. Now, take a hike…or even spend the night, if you dare.
5) Hell’s Backbone Road is so named for the very skinny spine it traverses at one point, featuring impressive drop-offs to either side. Starting about 30 miles east of Bryce Canyon National Park, the maintained dirt road was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Snaking up from Highway 12 onto Boulder Mountain and back down again, Hell’s Backbone Road covers 30 very pretty miles between the towns of Boulder and Escalante (or vice versa). When you come to Boulder, be sure to have a meal at the award-winning Hell’s Backbone Grill (open through Thanksgiving this year). The road is closed in winter due to snow.
4) While on Hell’s Backbone Road, you’ll wind your way right through the Box-Death Hollow Wilderness Area. It’s much prettier and less frightening than it sounds, I promise. Livestock grazing the area back in the day would often perish by tumbling over cliffs and such; hence “Death Hollow.” The “Box” part of the name comes from the canyon through which Pine Creek cuts, which is just about one of the loveliest and unexpected day hikes you’ll find in southern Utah. Summer is a perfect time to visit to escape the heat of the desert below, and fall offers spectacular color as the trails meander through forest land bursting with pockets of aspen and other deciduous trees.
3) Spooky Gulch. One of three popular “beginner” slot canyons in the Dry Fork of Coyote Gulch, this one is named because it gets pretty deep and dark in spots where the sun just can’t quite reach. Not dark as in pitch-black…just, you know, a little spooky. East of Escalante, head about 28 miles down the very jouncy, dirt Hole-in-the-Rock Road to the trailhead. (Do not do this if it’s raining.) This hike is pretty sweet whether you’re a slot canyon beginner or experienced buff. Want a bonus adventure? Head downcanyon to Brimstone Gulch. It’s longer, deeper (which means darker), and less visited. Did I mention it’s also named Brimstone?
2) Coming back out of Hole-in-the-Rock Road, make the short turnoff (1/8th of a mile) to play in the Devil’s Garden. Full of hoodoo delights and even a natural bridge, the area includes picnic tables, a pit toilet, and interpretive signs. (No camping here, though.) Hoodoos, natural rock spires that come in all shapes and sizes, are a heck of a lot of fun to explore for kids as well as the kid in you.
2.5) Tricked ya! There’s another fantastic Devil’s Garden–the Devil’s Garden Primitive Loop Hike in Arches National Park. Highlighting eight of the park’s 2,000+ natural arches, this Devil’s Garden trail is a robust seven miles roundtrip. Arches and fins (yes, picture the fin of an aquatic creature, but make it out of red sandstone and up to hundreds of feet in height) dot the landscape as the trail winds through breathtaking scenery. After world-famous Delicate Arch, this hike is the other must-see when you visit Arches.
And now for our last hauntingly-named outdoor Utah place. Drumroll, please…
1) Goblin Valley. Aptly named for its many hoodoos (again, those natural red sandstone formations that poke up into the sky and are shaped like…well…goblins), this state park is easily accessible off Highway 24 south of I-70, which is near the Maze section of Canyonlands National Park. Because Goblin Valley is a state park, which is less strictly monitored than national parks, you are allowed to play on the hoodoos themselves. No, they aren’t going to crumble beneath you. (But use your common sense.) For visual proof of how cool this place is, watch this well-made video.