Read on for more information about the North side of the swell from a local.
Ah the swell, the desert, my playground and where I love to go the most near my home.
My usual day visits are on what the locals call this side of I-70. This is where most of my mini adventures play out. We have “The Wedge” or Little Grand Canyon, Cedar Mountain, and several pull off spots for petroglyphs, pictographs, and even dinosaur footprints. Not to mention the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, scenic Buckhorn Wash, and the Swinging Bridge, amongst many other neat-o things to see.
Just a few things to do out here
The geocache stashes out here are unreal too. I plan on adding to the geocache population out on the San Rafael Swell myself this Spring! Check out my post on a DIY geocache stash swag.
Camping is the best out here if you’re into primitive camping. You should see it around Easter! The landscape becomes full of campers, RV’s, tents, and plenty of ATV rides in all sizes. The locals call it “Easter’n”. Come sunshine, rain, and most times snow and freezing temperatures, most of the Emery County and Carbon County population go out to camp and recreate in the San Rafael Swell for Easter.
During the Spring runoff period and if we have a good winter, floating the San Rafael River is an adventure must. Check out my post on my experience with floating the river. I plan on doing this again at any chance I get.
There aren’t a lot of designated hiking trails on this side but plenty to explore on your own. However, ATV trails are in abundance.
Geology in the Swell
You’ll find a lot of the same formations that are scattered throughout Utah. Some of it looks like the formations found in Zions National Park, Moab, Bryce Canyon and Capital Reef National Parks. In fact when I visited Capital Reef National Park, I said it looked like “our” desert but more red.
History in San Rafael Swell
Native Americans, settlers, and miners helped develop this land and cultivated a story or two.
Of course we see the presence of Native Americans through the strange and wonderful paintings, carvings, and artifacts left behind. First used as a trade route and running from New Mexico to California, The Old Spanish Trail runs through the swell. There are people who still navigate the trail to this day! Old uranium mines remain, but dangerous to explore. They would be a fascinating part of history to see first hand but please don’t put yourself in harms way.
You can expect to see antelope pretty much year round and abundantly in Buckhorn Flat. Deer, prairie dogs, and even wild horses and burros in some areas. I’ve spent plenty of time out on the swell and only in the last couple of years did I get the pleasure of seeing bighorn sheep up close and personal. They really are magnificent creatures, but if you spot some, please be smart about approaching them. They will run from you, and are extremely fast, but you never know.
Best time to visit
In order to get a good visit in especially if you’re traveling far, I would recommend anywhere between April to about mid June. In the summer, it can get pretty hot and most of all buggy.
Then try September to whenever it decides to snow on a regular basis. I made pretty frequent visits up to December and January this year and had gorgeous weather.
Let me tell you, when you’re hanging out in the desert in February and you actually see winter coming, you should probably start packing up your picnic stuff because it comes fast!
Check out the video for a little time warp of Buckhorn Wash in the Winter for your viewing pleasure!
Located in south central Utah and situated in the southern portion of the San Rafael Swell desert, or as the locals here would call it below or the south side of I-70.
This State park features some pretty spectacular natural formations that the first settlers of this area named “goblins”. There’s no argument there, they’re spooky and I can only imagine what these formations look like at night with a clear sky and a full moon to light them up. The State Park day use fee is $15 and the park is open year round. Be sure to grab a brochure when you pay your fee at the entrance gate, and go inside for more info about the geology of this area as well as a little gift shop to look around in.
Where is the Park located
From Green River, Utah on I-70, take exit 149 to get on Hwy 24 and follow all the signs to the park from there as it is well signed.
What to do here
Hiking – The park offers several hikes at various difficulty levels or you can just do what most people like to do for the first visit or two and explore the Valley of the Goblins.
Canyoneering – With a permit and all the required gear needed for your canyoneering fun, you can attempt The Goblin’s Lair!
Camping – The park offers 22 total designated campsites. Two yurts – $100 per night, twelve standard sites for campers or motorhomes – $30 per night, seven tent only sites for $30 per night, and one big group site for $100 per night. All of which can be reserved at
Disc golf – I didn’t know about this activity until after visiting the park for the second time. You can get more info on this from the park rangers at the entrance gate. It sounds like it could be a lot of fun!
Mountain biking – There are 5 loop trails to explore around the park. The brochure they give you at the gate doesn’t explain these so you might want to ask for more info if interested.
What’s close by
Green River, Utah is about an hour away – There’s decent lodging, restaurants, gas stations, truck stops and KOA campgrounds and RV parks sprinkled throughout this small town. Plus The Green River runs right alongside and offers river related activities with that feature as well.
Hanksville, Utah is about 45 minutes away – This is an even smaller town but there are a few choices in lodging and a few places to eat. There’s also a pretty cool convenience store built into the sandstone rock called Hollow Mountain.
Capital Reef National Park – This National Park is only about an hour away as well so you might even be able to loop down around and get a visit in on one of Utah’s many beautiful National Parks too.
I have been to Goblin Valley before several years back and this second visit was in mid February. We just had a decent snow storm where I live so I was hoping for snow on the hoodoos. As you can see from the pictures, there wasn’t any snow on this side of the swell at all. What a great adventure and opportunity to re-connect with the outdoors in the middle of February. I’m a little disappointed I didn’t know about the disc golf until after my visit. I would’ve loved that and definitely want to participate next time. Check out my video at the end of the page for more of my adventures here!
I wonder what it’s like to camp here and go explore the park in the dark. What do you think? Comment below please!
Head to Monroe, UT for a relaxing mineral soak in some hot springs at a hippie inspired little resort.
With a name like Mystic Hot Springs, how can you not be intrigued.
Some of you may not know exactly what a hot spring is. Basically it’s groundwater that rises to the surface that has been heated geothermally and can vary in temperatures.
The water at Mystic Hot Springs comes out at 168 degrees and is then cooled down for safe soaking by channels they’ve dug in the ground, flowing down the hills above, into bathtubs and pools. They have 8 bathtubs, a shallow pool, (about knee hight at standing) and a deep pool that is quite a bit hotter. The mounds around some of the tubs and extending into the shallow pool, are the result of calcium carbonate deposits that have formed over time. It doesn’t seem to take long though. There’s no sulfur present and even though the water looks kinda icky, it has no smell.
You can spend the night
It’s nice to be able to come here, stay the night and soak whenever you want. The springs are open to overnight guests 24/7.
Buses – They offer several buses, varying in size and accommodations.
Cabins – Small and reconstructed of old cabins, an original pioneer cabin and materials found.
Campground – They offer a small campground for tent camping complete with grass!
RV spots – There are a few spots to hook up an RV to sewer, water, and electricity. Available April – October.
Mars Hotel Guesthouse – Book a 3 bedroom trailer, or just one of the rooms and share the experience with other guests.
Concerts – That’s right! Live performances! More so in the warmer months I’m sure. But they have an outdoor stage and a small indoor stage to get your groove on!
Get a massage – You can book massages with one of their on-site massage therapists.
Check out the gift store – A lot of hand made items. Jewelry, clothes, rocks, crystals, statues, massage oils and incense.
Mystic Hot Springs is a lovely and unique place, and I am anxious to go back. Although it was pretty chilly going in January, I think it’s probably best to stick to the cooler months when planning a visit here. I don’t know how hot it gets in Monroe Utah in the summertime, but I would think soaking in the springs would be a little too unbearable for me at that time.
The owners could do a little more to improve things overall, like for instance, sealing up the buses better against the cold, and maybe paving and some concrete work would help cut down on all the mud build-up. The entire time my husband and I were there we were making plans on what could be done to make it better, and what could be done to expand and make it more lucrative. I also understand wanting to keep it small and more intimate too.
I fully plan on going back this year, and hopefully spending a night or two in one of those cabins. I miss the relaxing feeling of a good soak already!
Have you been to Mystic Hot Springs? How is the concert scene there? Please share, I’d love to know!
For me camping is a great way to get in a bunch of ATV rides, hikes and even geocaching in. You can do those things all day and don’t have to go very far to get back to cook and sleep. But not everyone does or likes those things, so here’s a few ideas to keep yourself and kids entertained.
ATV rides – Like I said, this is my number one choice. Even if I don’t want to go on a long ride, it’s great to use the side-by-side to get from camp to wherever.
Hiking – Locate a hike you’d like to do in the area before hand. I’ve also just drove around until I found something that looks promising and hiked it to see what was up. That can be a little risky so do your research before you go. Check out my post on hiking tips!
Make your own walking stick/roasting sticks – On your ride or whilst on your hike, look around for a perfect walking stick or marshmallow roasting stick to take back to camp to carve up later. You can put in some really cool designs in your walking stick with just a good knife. If you have kids at the camp, you can carve some up for them. Maybe if they’re old enough, you can let them do it with supervision. That’s entirely up to you though! (scary)
Go geocaching – Look at the map at geocaching.com in the area you’ll be camping to see if there are any near geocaches to find. I’ll bet there are! Check out my post about geocaching.
Go fishing – If fishing is your cup o coffee – by all means get your fish on. Camping and fishing is another pair of outdoor activities that go hand-in-hand. Make sure you know your states fishing guidelines before trying it if you don’t already know.
Outdoor games – Or yard games they may be called. Games like horseshoes, Ladderball, Bocce ball, frisbee toss, corn hole, giant jenga, or even badminton.
Play cards – This is a great one to do if you have a camper or tent to go in if it starts to rain. You can also hold a poker tournament outside on camping tables or if you’re at a camp site with picnic tables. That is if the wind isn’t blowing too bad!
Set-up a photo scavenger hunt – This can be a photo thing like the one I have posted here. Or you can look around real quick at your surrounding area at camp and write down some things the kids can go find. Give them each a little baggie and the list. That should keep them busy for a while.
Stargaze – This is nice especially if you’re not allowed to have a fire due to restrictions. You can download an app for your phone to help you find and decipher what you’re looking at.
Make Ice cream – That’s right! I said make ice cream. A long time ago I purchased some ice cream balls that you put ice and rock salt in the middle stainless steel cylinder. Then evaporated milk and any soda pop you want on the outside. Toss the ball around to each other and in no time you have some delicious homemade ice cream. This is especially popular with kids.
I also look at camping as a great way to unplug. As best as you can (I know it can be hard if you have service) try not to use your phone, except for photos or music. Try not to even look at it to see what time it is. It’s kind of nice not knowing I think.
Like the song by A Perfect Circle says, “Time to put the silicon obsession down, take a look around”
How much fun is this? Go out to one of your favorite spots or hikes, or while your camping. Take a few of your friends or family and make a contest out of it.
Here’s my photo scavenger hunt list. It’s pretty easy, so you could get kids involved as well. Other than the bonus finds they should be found just about anywhere.
Something natural in the shape of a letter
A natural body of water – Like a river, pond or lake.
A lonely tree – A tree out all by itself with no others around it.
Clouds in the shape of something
Something left behind – Garbage, coins, anything left or dropped by humans.
A trail – This could be a hiking trail, ATV trail, bike trail.
Funky shaped rock
A dead tree
Something you think is special
A great place to hide a geocache
You can do this however you want. Do it just for fun, look at the photos of each item and judge based on popular vote – whoever gets the most votes wins. You could make each one specific to the area you’re in and make it harder for adults only or make it simple for kids.
Looking for some ATV fun or just a fun place to get away for a weekend? Big Rock Candy Mountain has you covered.
My husband and I had the pleasure of visiting this attraction tucked away and basically hiding in West-central Utah in Paiute County. The Mountain you see above, gets it’s mostly mustardy yellowish-white color from volcanic rock spewed millions of years ago and had been chemically altered by the obvious hydrogen sulphide, along with water and oxygen, as well as minerals present in the surrounding area to form and give you these beautiful little piles of rock to change up the scenery a bit in the rolling farmland hills.
Lodging at Big Rock Candy Mountain
It’s a great little place to stay if you’re looking into exploring the Paiute Trail system. Which is ginormous by the way! 2000+ miles with a 240 mile main loop.
You have your choice of 8 cabins, (yay)
12 caboose train cars, (whoohoo)
A few motel rooms, (snore)
32 lot RV park, (way too crowded and too close for comfort)
Or some good old fashioned camping, (I do enough of that!)
The lodging at this place books up pretty quick as it is a great place to stay whilst getting your fill of all of the ATV rides you can stand. As my husband puts it “we’re comin in jiggly hot!”
If you’ve decided on booking one of the train cars
When starting my research and bookings for this trip I immediately fell in love with these caboose train car rentals. I thought these are either going to be super trashy, inconvenient, in desperate need of repair and updating, tiny and strictly novelty rooms that I will wish I didn’t book for 3 nights. I was impressed really! Turns out, they were probably one of the best rooms I’ve stayed in lately. All of the train cars had a different name and theme. Ours was a beachy nautical theme and was super cute.
They’re clean, convenient, updated and yes novelty but again way cute. Especially the porch overlooking the Sevier River. There are some fire pits, grills and tables down by the river for more of your outdoorsy pleasure. We didn’t indulge in our love of a good sit-down by the fire with a beer in hand, because they wasn’t advertised, and I didn’t want to pay $9 for a small bundle of wood at the ol nearby “convenience” store. Had I known, I would’ve probably brought some wood from home.
Oh yes – the “convenience” store. The one that closes whenever it wants really, because everyday it was different. The day we arrived, which was on the Thursday right before Labor Day weekend, they closed at 3 PM. To our later thankfulness we had our shit together that morning and left way earlier than we needed to, we ended up there around 1:30 – 2 PM and decided we would see if we could check into our lovely little ass end of a train room. The staff was super friendly and helpful though.
Services available and some things to know before you go
I advise taking a quick drive around in your ATV to get your bearings. There are signs posted around about not driving on the main highway. They don’t like it and I can see why.
If you know where you want to go, drive around and see how you can get there by using the trails. It’ll be a fun adventure in itself!
There’s basically no cell service so be prepared for that. It can be hard to get used to if you’re a Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and whatever junkie. It can also be hard if you are trying to look up where something is via the internets cuz that shit isn’t happening unless you drive into Marysvale.
Restaurants and foodstuffs
At the Big Rock Grill & Smokehouse, you can get good home cooked meals with very friendly and fairly fast service. They also have a sauce they make for sale called Honey Jalapeño Dippin Sauce. It was so good we bought 2 bottles.They closed at 8 PM on weekdays and 9 PM on Saturday.
Hoover’s Cafe just a little further down the road towards Marysvale was closed when we went but I read they’re planning to re-open for the 2019 season.
There’s a little convenience store in Marysvale called Tug’s One Stop and it closes at 7 PM so make sure you take plenty of food, snacks, and water just in case. I’m happy to report that my overpacking really shined in the food, coffee, and snack department. If you like to savor a good glass of wine, a few beers, or if your more of a “let’s get waay steed” type of person, then be sure to BYOB. There is a super secret tiny section in the back of Tug’s where you’ll find a small selection of those things. ( which blew my mind by the way) And maybe that is why they close at 7 PM because of some of the Utah laws about enjoying yourself too much and apparently too late.
There are a few other places to eat at in Marysvale as well.
Tomatoe’s Pizza Pie – Specializes in Pizza, sandwiches, pasta and also serves up salads, burgers and ice cream. (this place was good but busy around dinner time)
Marysvale Diner @ Webers – this is a motel restaurant with the usual American fare. (didn’t try)
Dixon’s Dawg House – a walk-up stand serving Hot dogs, chips and burgers. (passed it up)
Activities and such
Naturally if you’re coming to the resort, you’re going to check out the Paiute Trails on your sweet ass side-by-side or 4-wheeler. (or your crummy ass piece of shit) Or you can rent one of their many selections of off-road vehicles for a cost of course.
These trails are so abundant and interconnected that I can’t even tell you which ones we were on or which were my favorite. But I did enjoy the one that passes by a spot called Hennessy Point, which is pretty high in elevation. I believe we found out it’s a bit over 10,000 feet!
Just grab a trail map (available pretty much everywhere at varying prices) and choose which ones you want to explore. Just make sure you bring food and especially water as there are no services anywhere except in Marysvale.
But if you’re into hiking, I highly recommend the short trip up to the Bullion Falls. We weren’t able to go down to the falls like we had heard you can do because we thought my husband had torn his biscuits (Meniscus) so we stopped because it gets a little rocky going down. Check out my post on hiking tips.
Man made fun
The resort has a few other activities to check out besides the ATV and bike trails, and hiking.
There’s the Adventure Mountain which is a suspension bridge across to the mountain with ropes and iron footholds and handholds to help you up to where you get to zip line your way back down to the bottom. You have to be in a safety harness so don’t worry about free falling to your death like I would. (a little scared of heights but getting better)
The Adventure Park will get you the thrill of making your way through obstacles such as a tight rope walk over the Sevier River, tire swings, wall climbs, balance beams and the like. I didn’t partake in these activities but there’s always next time.
Sevier River trips
There’s also an unguided lazy river float and a guided white water rafting trip available with everything needed to participate for a small fee. Or you can just float the river on your own if you have the life jacket and tubes, rafts or SUP boards to make this water loving attraction possible. We paid for the lazy river float and in hindsight I wish we would’ve just used our paddle boards and went down the river by ourselves. It would’ve been about the same experience to be honest. The “kid” that drove us all down to the launch area was pretty much clueless mouth breather and probably didn’t know his left hand from his right.
Big Rock Candy Mountain overall conclusion and thoughts
After spending a long weekend here, I must say I really enjoyed it but I could have enjoyed it a lot more had I known about all the weird early closing times of basically everything and that I had my own fire pit to myself to enjoy down by the river as part of the train car rental.
That amenity may have been listed somewhere but I sure as hell didn’t see it or maybe I didn’t pay attention to it. Who knows! But I had been wanting to go here ever since we bought our RZR and finally had the chance to go. We starting looking about a month and a halfish before going and found only one train car available. It was Labor Day weekend and the last weekend they had their season open so maybe that had a lot to do with it.
They could benefit from adding a cell tower out there for sure. Just because it would be nice to know you could call for help or look up some info online if need be. Trust me, it was a little frustrating.
A little dive bar that serves some food wouldn’t hurt but I bet they don’t do that for fear of too many people getting in their rides and feelin the need to booze cruise and get lost and wreck and die and or cause accidents. I get it. People are dumb.
But I will say a beefing up of knowledgable personnel around for the guided trips and helping people stay on track and not being stupid, especially on the busy weekends or Holiday weekends would make it a more safe and resorty type experience for sure.