Utah Highway 24: The Most Alien Road Trip in the USA
Updated December 2023, Utah Highway 24: The Most Alien Road Trip in the USA was originally published in August 2023.
Utah’s Highway 24 (UT-24) is my absolute favorite route in the entire state. I know that sounds crazy, having moved to Salt Lake City only a few months ago, but hear me out: I’ve spent a decent chunk of time in Utah over the years (my parents lived in St. George for a few years, so there were lots of visits).
One thing I think we can all agree on is that Utah is home to some of the most out-of-this-world landscapes in all of the United States.
Of course, if you ask me, this is all centered around Utah Highway 24, a route that gets some traffic but not as much compared to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Arches National Park, just to name a few.
This is just crazy to me after spending some time exploring the Utah Highway 24 area, particularly around Hanksville back in April and May (after a 10 year break as the last time I was messing around in the area was in 2013!)- the sceneries out here are absolutely epic.
So in this quick guide, you’ll find everything you need to know to plan your Utah road trip along Utah Highway 24, including the best things to do in and around Hanksville.
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- Where to Base Yourself for Exploring Utah Highway 24
- Things to note before exploring this area around Hanksville & Utah Highway 24
- Top Things to See Along Utah Highway 24
Where to Base Yourself for Exploring Utah Highway 24
Hanksville and Torrey are the largest towns along Utah Highway 24, though I would recommend camping your way down this route to get the most out of this wild west road trip.
If camping isn’t your thing, basing yourself out of Hanksville would be the next best option in my opinion as it puts you pretty central for exploring the best of what Utah Highway 24 has to offer.
If you’re looking for more upper-scale lodging options, then you may consider Torrey as it has the widest array of accommodation options. The only downside is that Torrey is just west of Capitol Reef National Park, which makes a lot of the highlights closer to the other end in Goblin Valley a bit far away.
Things to note before exploring this area around Hanksville & Utah Highway 24
- Much of this area is comprised of public land- BLM, state park, and national park so make sure to pack everything out with you.
- As with the above point, things take longer to degrade in the desert, even biodegradable things and organics, so even more of a reason to not leave anything behind.
- Most of the destinations listed here along Utah Highway 24 are on Nuwuvi (Southern Paiute) and Nuu-agha-tuvu-pu (Ute) lands.
- You will see signs all over the BLM lands saying if OHV (off-highway/road vehicles) is allowed or not. In areas they’re not allowed it’s most likely due to wanting to protect the fragile desert environment. There are heaps of places to go OHV around here though.
- This area is chock full of cryptobiotic soil, which is alive (I know, pretty alien, right?). Cryptobiotic soils are fragile so in areas where you see dark and crusty soil take caution to disturb it as little as possible as it probably is cryptobiotic and therefore alive. Stuck to already trodden paths, 4×4 tracks, and dirt roads.
Top Things to See Along Utah Highway 24
Here are my favorite stops along Highway 24 in Utah. Note that I have tried to list them in an east-to-west order but this can easily be reversed depending on your direction of travel.
Goblin Valley State Park
Goblin Valley State Park was a place I found out about from a born and raised Utahn (is anyone else upset they’re called Utahns and not Utanians, or is it just me?) back in 2013 when I made my first road trip to Utah Highway 24.
These goblin-like hoodoo rock stacks are a blast to meander between as you appreciate this wild red-orange scenery that looks straight out of a Mars movie scene, so much so, they did film scenes in Galaxy Quest here at Goblin Valley.
The Best Time to Visit Goblin Valey State Park
Goblin Valley is great any time of day though I supposed morning and late afternoon will give you the most vibrant colors.
There is a campground here for those wanting to spend the night and have more time to explore the funky Goblin Valley hoodoos.
How to Get to Goblin Valley
Goblin Valley is about 32 miles north of Hanksville on Utah Highway 24
The entrance to Goblin Valley State Park is a 35-minute drive (32 miles) from the town of Hanksville.
For those that will be coming from I-70, Goblin Valley State Park is almost equidistant from the start of UT-24 close to Green River at 35 miles away from the junction of I-70 and UT-24.
From Utah Highway 24, turn west onto Temple Mountain Road, and then from there, another left onto Goblin Valley Road which will bring you to the state park.
For a full rundown on visiting Goblin Valley, check out my post on Goblin Valley.
Hanksville sits at the junction of the UT-24 and Utah Highway 95 (UT-95) and serves as a great base for your further explorations along the scenic Utah Highway 24.
That said, Hanksville is a tiny town of just over 200 residents, though the town does feature a couple of fuel stations with convenience stores (the Sinclair has the Hollow Mountain store which is carved right into a rock).
Needless to say, there isn’t much to do in Hanksville itself, but you will find yourself passing through as you road trip along Utah Highway 24 as there are heaps of things to do near Hanksville.
Those that don’t intend to camp and are wanting to stay in Hanksville and make day trips out to explore the wonders of the UT-24 can stay at the Whispering Sands Motel.
Little Egypt: A Detour from the UT-24 on Utah Highway 95
Little Egypt is a little bit of a detour off of Utah Highway 24 but it is still relatively close to Hanksville so I decided to add it to this post about the UT-24 (though I was on the fence about it).
With that said above, if I had to skip anywhere on this Utah Highway 24 post, Little Egypt would be it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a pretty place but it is essentially a smaller version of what you’ll be seeing at Goblin Valley.
However, if what you’re looking for is a more secluded version of Goblin Valley that you will more than likely have completely to yourself, then Little Egypt is going to be worth the detour.
The reddish-orange hoodoos of Litte Egypt more or less formed in the exact way the hoodoos of Goblin Valley did, although these guys will get you a bit closer to the Henry Mountains.
The Best Time to See Little Egypt
Little Egypt is best visited any time of day but if photos are what you’re after, then a morning visit around sunrise would be best given how the hoodoos of Litte Egypt are situated tucked against a hill that casts a shadow in the late afternoon.
How to Get to Little Egypt
Getting to Little Egypt is easy and takes about 30 minutes to get to from Hanksvile.
From Hanksville, you will turn off of the UT-24 and onto UT-95 to the south.
You’ll eventually reach Turkey Knob Road which you will turn right onto.
Turkey Knob Road T’s off a short distance later, at this point turn left and follow it for about 1.5 miles.
You’ll easily spot Little Egypt on your right as you approach and there is even a BLM sign there.
For all the info you’ll need before visiting Little Egypt check out my post on the Utah Highway 95 detour to Little Egypt.
Those with a little bit more time to explore this area south of Hanksville can continue to the Henry Mountains as well.
Bentonite Hills & The Mars Desert Research Station
Truth be told, the chance to see the rainbow Mars out here at the Bentonite Hills is what lured me back to Utah Highway 24 in the first place (Unfortunately, I didn’t know about the Bentonite Hills back when I drove the UT-24 10 years prior).
The hills are splashed in striations of color and are so similar to the surface of Mars that the Mars Society built the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) at the southern end of the Bentonite Hills in the early 2000s.
These unusually colorful hills are comprised of Bentonite, a delicate clay that looks almost popcorn-like on the surface.
As such, it’s recommended to try and only walk in washes and only obvious paths out here in the Bentonite Hills.
There are no official trails in the area around the Bentonite Hills but you will see some trodden paths going up between some of the hills to reach the tops, so try to stick to those as bentonite clay is very fragile and it’s best to avoid disturbing any new areas.
Astronauts come out here to the Bentonite Hills to do research and test gear for potential Mars landings and in general further Mars exploration.
The Best Time to Visit The Bentonite Hills
Blue hour. Hands down.
While the Bentonite Hills are cool to visit any time of day, you’ll get the best display of colors during blue hour just before sunrise and just after sunset.
Drones are allowed here at Bentonite Hills outside of the small area that is well-marked, and used by the MDRS. A drone will give you an unbelievable perspective of this place that you just won’t get at ground level.
How to Get to Bentonite Hills
The Bentonite Hills are quite close to Hanksville only about 6.5 miles away.
To get here you’ll need to head west on Utah Highway 24 from Hanksville for about 3 miles and make a turn to the north onto S. Cow Dund Road (it’s not signposted but that is the name on Google Maps.
Stay on the dirt road that is S. Cow Dung for about 3 miles and you’ll pass the turn-off for the Mars Desert Research Station (to my knowledge you aren’t allowed to visit). Keep going about 0.5 miles or so beyond here and you’ll reach an area where you can park your vehicle just off the road and walk up to the BEntonite Hills.
For more information about the Bentonite Hills, how to get there, and more on its unusual geology check out my post about visiting the Bentonite Hills.
Long Dong Silver Spire
With a funny name like Long Dong Silver, how can you resist visiting this monolith of a spire?
It’s a nice flat hike to Long Dong Silver from a pull-off along Utah Highway 24, though you can opt to cut it shorter by driving in a bit further until you hit the signed point where OHVs are no longer allowed.
The friendly people who told me about Long Dong Silver told me I’d “feel like I was walking straight to Mordor”, and I guess if I was into Lord of the Rings it would be 100% true.
Long Dong Silver’s view is tucked away from UT-24, making it feel like an almost secret spot, in fact, no one else was there when I visited.
The views of this massive black spire surrounded by stark and textured cliff faces are reason enough to hoof it out here to Long Dong Silver, if not for the inability to resist going to a place with such a funny name.
Also- don’t forget to walk to the far side of Long Dong Silver for equally as beautiful views in the other direction.
Best Time to Hike to Long Dong Silver
The best time of day to make the trek out to Long Dong Silver is either at sunrise or just before sunset.
This is especially true in the hot summer months to avoid the intense sun as there is no shade on the way out there.
Secondly sunrise and sunset are best for lighting purposes to get the best photos.
But did I heed my own warning? Nope, I went around 2 in the afternoon, though it was early May so still not too hot and I had other places along Utah Highway 24 I was more concerned about capturing at sunrise and sunset.
How to Get to Long Dong Silver Spire
Long Dong Silver is pretty easy to get to with a short drive from Hanksville and a breezy walk out there.
The pull-off on UT-24 is located about 7.6 miles west of Hanksville. Here you can either park and walk the remaining 2 miles to Long Dong Silver (and another 2 miles back), or you can drive a bit further in to cut the walk in half.
For more detailed instructions on how to get here, check out my post about walking to Long Dong Silver.
With its almost crinkled and colorful faces, Factory Butte is an impossible-to-miss landmark along Utah Highway 24 as you travel between Hanksville and Capitol Reef.
Factory Butte’s mesa rises high above a wide and barren badlands plateau floor comprised of mancos shale, a unique sediment found in this whole area near Hanksville along UT-24.
Another reason that Factory Butte is impossible to skip is that you will inevitably pass it on your way to visit the Moonscape Overlook.
Best Time to Visit Factory Butte
Factory Butte is best visited any time of course, but the coloring is much better if you visit just after sunrise or just before sunset.
So to soak in the beautiful purples, oranges, and golds of Factory Butte plan to visit it just after you catch the sunrise at Moonscape Overlook or just before you get there in the late afternoon for sunset.
There are also some cool rocky outcrops nearby Factory Butte that can give you some cool features to add to your photos.
How to Get to Factory Butte
Factory Butte is not too far from Moonscape Overlook, on North Factory Butte Road which is located about 12 miles west of Hanksville off of Utah Highway 24.
You’ll easily see Factory Butte from UT-24 long before you get to it. A few miles up N. Factory Butte Road you’ll see an OHV trail leading westward (not too far from the turn-off to the east to reach Moonscape Overlook) toward a rocky outcrop. Follow these as far in as you’re comfortable.
For full details on how to get to Factory Butte from Utah Highway 24 and more about its geology check out my post about visiting Factory Butte.
Moonscape Overlook is a place that you just have to see to believe and trust me its name undeniably fits.
From the overlook, you’ll have expansive views of the lunar-like landscapes of the Blue Valley which will make you feel as if you’ve just transported to the face of the moon.
This is an absolute highlight just off of UT-24 and is one not to be missed.
Best Time to Visit The Moonscape Overlook
Not a doubt in my mind sits with the fact that Moonscape Overlook is best right at sunrise as blue hour shifts to golden hour right when the sun just peeks over the desert horizon.
A close second, of course, is to visit at sunset, the way the last rays of light hit it lights up the rose-colored cloff faces in the distance and the shadow from the overlook lets the Blue Valley floor show if its azure hues, giving the Moonscape OVerlook at sunset an almost eerie feeling.
As such, it is worth camping up here at Moonscape Overlook for the night to capture both sunset and sunrise and wake up there right on the edge of this lunar landscape.
In the midday sun, Moonscape Overlook is more of a slate grey, backed by yellow-gold cliffs.
Do note that there are no facilities up here at the Moonscape Overlook parking lot, so you’ll need to pack everything out with you and be self-sufficient.
Another thing to know too is that it can get quite windy up here.
How to Get to Moonscape Overlook
As mentioned in the section about Factory Butte, you’ll take N. Factory Butte Road from Utah Highway 24, following it for about 6 miles. When you reach Coal Mine Road, you’ll turn east and follow it the remainder of the way to the Moonscape Overlook viewpoint.
For more information on getting to Moonscape Overlook and about its strange landscape that will transport you straight to the moon check out my post on Moonscape Overlook.
Just beyond Cainesville a bit north of Utah Highway 24 lies Cathedral Valley, which is a more remote area of Capitol Reef National Park.
Truth be told, I didn’t take the time to explore Cathedral Valley to its fullest potential but it’s my priority on my return to the UT-24.
Cathedral Valley features some colorful rock formations and hills reminiscent of the Bentonite Hills and further beyond you get into some really interesting rock formations, the most well-known being the Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon.
The Best Time to Visit Cathedral Valley
Cathedral Valley is quite the jaunt considering its short distance from Hanksville or Torrey, so you should plan for it to be a half to full-day adventure.
With that said, any time of day is lovely to visit Cathedral Valley, however, sunrise is the best time as far as lighting is concerned.
I would recommend spending the night out here if you have the time as there is space to set up camp near the famous Temple of the Sun & Moon, that way you can wake up and already be here.
Drone photographers should take note that Cathedral Valley sits within the park boundaries of Capitol Reef and as such flying drones here is not allowed, so to avoid any trouble, don’t do it (that is unless you have the proper permits to do so given by the national park).
How to Get to Cathedral Valley
Although Cathedral Valley is a relatively short distance on a map from Hanksville, it’s slow going due to the dirt road you have to take to access it. By road, it’s only 35 miles from Hanksville, but you can expect it to take about 90 minutes to reach Cathedral Valley from there.
To get to Cathedral Valley, you’ll need to head west on Utah Highway 24 from Hanksville or east from Torrey.
Near Cainesville, you’ll head north onto N. Cathedral Road (this will be located 18 miles west of Hanksville or 29 miles east of Torrey on the UT-24.
Follow N. Cathedral Road for about 2.5 miles and at the fork take the one that veers slightly to the left to continue following Cathedral Road.
Another 13 miles beyond here will take you to the Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon rock formations.
Note that if taking this route out and back, you most likely will not need a 4WD as some things online state.
That said, if you plan to do the entire Cathedral Valley Loop there is a spot where you’ll need to ford a river and thus here you probably are going to need a 4WD.
Capitol Reef National Park
Last, but certainly not least on this list of awesome places to check out along Utah Highway 24 is Capitol Reef National Park.
Now, if you visited the Temple of the Sun and Moon in Cathedral Valley, you’ve actually been inside the park, albeit a more remote and lesser visited section.
Capitol Reef National Park can be split into three distinct sections, the Fruita Historic District, the Cathedral Valley District, and the Waterpocket Fold.
In this part of the post though, I am going to focus on the scenic Highway 24 drive through Capitol Reef, also known as the Fruita Historic District.
The UT-24 cuts through the Fruita Historic District of Capitol Reef and has many scenic stops along the way to make.
Some of these stops include Chimney Rock, Panorama Point, Goosenecks Overlook, Sunset Point, the Capitol Reef Visitor Center, Fruita Schoolhouse, Petroglyph Panel, the hike to Hickman Bridge, and the Grand Wash Trail.
The stretch of Capitol Reef that sits along Utah Highway 24 is only about 9 miles in length but plan to spend at least 1-2 hours driving along this section and making scenic stops (I’m not including the time needed to do any of the hikes along the UT-24 though).
The Best Time to Visit Capitol Reef National Park
Getting an early start is best to maximize your time in Capitol Reef and to avoid the strong midday sun if you’re visiting in the summer months.
How to Get to Capitol Reef National Park
The closest town to Capitol Reef National Park is Torrey, however, Hanksville isn’t awfully far away either.
Capitol Reef is pretty straightforward to access as it sits right along Utah Highway 24 so I’m not going to go into any condescending details on that here.
Those that are trying to access the Cathedral Valley District should use Cathedral Valley Road as mentioned earlier in this post under that section.
Anyone wanting to explore the Waterpocket Fold will need to take Notom-Bullfrog Road south from UT-24 and follow it until they reach Burr Trail Road and head west onto it. This will eventually take you to Boulder where you can get on Utah Highway 12 back to Torrey.
Torrey sits just west of Capitol Reef National Park by about 10 miles and makes for a good stop or an overnight.
Torrey has an array of accommodation options compared to Hanksville, so those that require a bit more luxury may want to consider staying here.
You will have great access to Capitol Reef’s west side from Torrey as well.
Check out the different accommodation options there are in Torrey here.
Have any questions about any of these places along Utah Highway 24?
Ask in the comments section below.