The Underrated Utah State Park With Iconic Views Like The Grand Canyon But No Crowds

National parks get all the glory, especially in southern Utah, where travelers with once-in-a-lifetime vacation destination checklists scramble to check off "The Mighty 5" — the state's five national parks — in one trip. What they miss while dealing with the throngs of people at Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion are the equally impressive natural wonders and jaw-dropping vistas of Utah's state parks, especially those found at Dead Horse Point State Park. What you won't find at Dead Horse Point are the massive crowds like at the Mighty 5 parks, which collectively receive over 10 million visitors each year, according to the National Park Service (via ABC4 Utah).


The views from the canyon rim here have often been compared to those at Grand Canyon National Park, 333 miles to the south in Arizona. In fact, the canyon at Dead Horse Point looks so much like the Grand Canyon that Hollywood has used it as a stand-in for the more famous natural attraction. At the end of the 1991 film "Thelma and Louise," when the main characters drive off a cliff (meant to be the Grand Canyon) to their certain deaths, they're driving off Fossil Point. While this spot isn't technically inside the state park, it's easily visible from overlooks at Dead Horse Point.

Dead Horse Point State Park: The legend of an ominous name

The iconic view from Dead Horse Point features a sweeping horseshoe bend in the Colorado River — the same river, incidentally, that flows through the Grand Canyon — with sheer red rock canyon walls dropping down to the water from a high desert plateau. The point itself sits on a peninsula of rock jutting out from the plateau via a narrow neck of land.


Legend has it that the ominous-sounding name comes from around the turn of last century when cowboys would corral wild horses on the point and fence off the neck to keep them there. According to the park's website, in a recap of the legend, "one time, for some unknown reason, horses were left corralled on the waterless point where they died of thirst within view of the Colorado River, 2,000 feet below."

Also visible from the point is the Island in the Sky district of adjacent Canyonlands National Park, so you can see a portion of one of the Mighty 5 parks from multiple overlooks and vantage points while hiking along 7 miles of trails at Dead Horse Point. The longest and often least crowded of the trails is the 3.5-mile West Rim trail, which includes three short spur trails to canyon overlooks. 


Dead Horse Point's convenient location near other don't-miss spots

Dead Horse Point's location is a convenient one, only a 30-mile drive from the town of Moab, a main tourist hub for outdoor adventurers in the region. Also nearby is Arches National Park 26 miles away. Known for its collection of large stone arches and other geologic wonders, Arches can be toured by car in an afternoon along paved roads leading to some of the park's most popular features. 


Another don't-miss park in the area awaits 108 miles away from Dead Horse Point. Goblin Valley is a Utah state park that offers outdoor adventures and awe-inspiring views. It has unique sandstone formations that look like an army of goblins set amidst a colorful, otherworldly-looking desert landscape.

It's also a good spot for gazing at the stars, just like Dead Horse Point, where you can take in a dazzling display of starlight in a nighttime sky so free of light pollution that the park was designated an International Dark Sky Park by Dark Sky International in 2016. So bring your portable telescope on vacation, along with your binoculars, to take in spectacular views from the high desert, day and night, with plenty of elbow room to boot.