Goosenecks State Park
You probably don’t realize it yet, but you love entrenched meanders. Said in plain English, entrenched meanders are the deeply-cut river bends that make you want to pull out your camera and take a photograph. Goosenecks State Park is one of the greatest places in Utah to see such magnificent erosional feats.
Located north of Mexican Hat, Goosenecks State Park is an easy-to-get-to area with a million-dollar view. The San Juan River begins in the mountains of Colorado and travels to its junction with the Colorado River at Lake Powell. Look down upon the San Juan River 1,000 feet below you and see the results of 300 million years of erosion.
From this primitive state park, you can see the famous goosenecks and also enjoy a picnic and a campsite with great views and open spaces.
The day-use fee for Goosenecks State Park is $5 per vehicle, while the campground fee is $10 per night on a first-come first-serve basis. If camping, be advised that Goosenecks State Park can be rather windy, so it is best to not camp along the cliff’s edge, although it seems like the most scenic and best option; instead, opt for something more inland. There is a pit toilet, but no other amenities, such as running water, at this park. The nearby town of Mexican Hat is small, but offers lodging and a few restaurants.
Goosenecks is open year-round, but check the weather before you go–during the summer there is no shade and temperatures can exceed double digits. The best times for photography — sunrise and sunset — also happen to be more mild and enjoyable. Dogs are allowed in the park, but must stay on a leash.
What Makes it Great
The goosenecks of the San Juan are a rare and amazing geologic formation. And this view point of the river is easy to get to. Take the paved road right to the park and check out how the river has carved a gorge into the plateau. Peer down 1,000 feet to the river below and extend your view outwards to formations as far away as Arizona. The walls of the canyon are made from shale and limestone and are more than 300 million years old.
The river loops several times from the main vantage point. Over 1.5 miles as the crow flies, the river actually flows six miles due to the crooked bends in the San Juan. You can travel down dirt roads in either direction from the main area to try to find more views, but a high-clearance vehicle is recommended and you should note that there is not access directly to the river from the park road. However, there is an unmarked trail nearby called Honaker trail that will get you down to the water level, although it is quite a rugged route.
Goosenecks State Park is an incredible place to take panoramic photographs as well as night sky photos. Because there is little light pollution due to its remoteness, the stargazing here is some of the best in Utah (check out our Dark Sky Parks for more great places to see stars). In addition, this park makes for a pleasant picnic spot and camping destination.
What You’ll Remember
Craning your neck to see the full goosenecks from the viewing platform; standing in awe at this geological marvel; gawking at just how winding and twisting a river can run; the colorful hues brought forth from a desolate geography when the light is just right.
Goosenecks State Park