A woman sits on the ground in front of a white campervan among a desert landscape with mountains in the distance

The Absolute Best Things to do in Hanksville Utah

Hanksville is home to some of Utah's most remarkable landscapes. We have the guide to hiking, off-roading, and camping while exploring these epic views.

Updated April 2024

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To a casual observer Hanksville might seem to be just a small blip on the map. And the town itself is. Barely more than one square mile with a couple hundred full time residents.

But it's right at the heart of some of Utah's most extreme landscapes. The greater area surrounding Hanksville makes an ideal basecamp for all your outdoor adventures.

It's a gateway into one of the state's "Mighty Five" national parks, Capitol Reef, an often overlooked and underrated destination.

Numerous other landmarks, like the mysterious black spire rising up from the middle of nowhere, winding slot canyons, and the otherworldly Moonscape Overlook will have you feeling like you've left Earth behind for another planet.

Hanksville is one of our favorite outdoor playgrounds. In this post we've put together some detailed insights from our own personal adventures.

Here's our guide to the absolute best things to do in Hanksville Utah.

Spend a Night at Moonscape Overlook

We're starting off strong with not only one of our favorite views in the whole area, but one of the best boondocking sites we've ever found.

Moonscape Overlook is an otherworldly viewpoint located along the sheer cliffs known as Skyline Rim. It's just a few miles west of town and can partially be seen on the north side of Highway 24.

If you're going to spend a night in the area, and we highly recommend you do, this is where you should stop.

You can expect a slightly bone-rattling drive up the washboard road to get here. That, and more than a few bumps once you leave the gravel road to finally reach the rim. But the drive is actually doable for pretty much any vehicle. No 4x4 or even high clearance required, which is pretty astonishing for this being such a remote and one-of-a-kind view.

Bring your camping gear and prepare for one of the best sunrises you've ever seen.

A woman in a red jacket stands on the edge of a cliff overlooking a dramatic otherworldly landscape

Marvel at Factory Butte

One thing we absolutely love about Hanksville is just how diverse the views are, yet everything is so densely packed together.

You don't even have to venture far from Moonscape Overlook to see Factory Butte, because you're going to drive right past it.

This monolithic beast seems to rise up out of the desert landscape from nowhere. On closer inspection its weathered sandstone peak and surrounding badlands are the results of centuries worth of unrelenting erosion.

It's a wonder to behold it in person, especially early in the morning or late in the evening, when the sun catches a thousand striations and makes the whole scene truly come to life.

A dramatic monolithic rock formation lit up by sunrise
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Go Canyoneering

Less than an hour north of town the San Rafael Swell's slot canyons offer an adventurous day of hiking for beginners and the more experienced alike.

Little Wild Horse Canyon & Bell Canyon

For the uninitiated or families with small kids, Little Wild Horse Canyon makes a great introduction to canyoneering.

The trail is full of twists and swirls, with sections of 'narrows' where you'll have to squeeze through sideways. It's not a technical hike, but there's a small amount of scrambling involved.

You'll have the option of either heading into the slot canyon as far as you'd like before turning back, or taking the eight mile loop which connects Little Wild Horse and Bell Canyon, returning you back to the trailhead parking area.

Ding And Dang Slot Canyons

This pair makes for a semi-technical experience. Hikers should be prepared for drops of 8 to 12 feet and areas of standing water, that you'll either need to wade through or mountain goat your way around.

While climbing gear isn't required, experienced visitors have recommended bringing some rope and having prior canyoneering experience before setting out here.

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Off-Roading at Swing Arm City

To keep the adrenaline levels high, you can test your off-roading skills at Swing Arm City, a freeride OHV area just west of Factory Butte.

You'll need a capable 4x4 vehicle, but you can camp and ride on this patch of land that's managed by BLM.

The bentonite clay hills make for some incredibly unique terrain. There's something for every skill level here, including wide open areas, steep hills, and narrow spines.

Hundreds of intersecting rolling hills catching golden sunlight in the morning

Discover the Mysterious Long Dong Silver Spire

Hidden from view, not far from some of Hanksville's more popular destinations, is the elusive black spire nicknamed Long Dong Silver.

When you arrive you'll feel like you've been transported into a sci-fi movie. It definitely gives off evil villain stronghold vibes.

The hike to get here is relatively flat and easy, only two miles out and back.

To find it, you'll just need to navigate to a pull-off on Highway 24, seven miles west of town. You won't be traveling along any official roads, but it should be passable for pretty much any vehicle, unless there's excessive rain.

You can read up on all the specifics in our guide to Long Dong Silver, which includes a detailed map.

A tall pointed dark rock spire jutting up from a desert landscape

Explore the Henry Mountains

Venturing up into the Henry Mountains will require a serious amount of self-reliance, but the reward is some incredible views in one of the most remote areas of the state.

These mountains weren't even charted or named until the late 1800s, and the Navajo people still call them the "nameless mountains."

So, what is there to do and where are the Henry Mountains?

They're about 20 miles south of Hanksville, reachable by Highway 95 and then mostly unmaintained gravel and dirt roads beyond that.

There are actually a few established campgrounds within the mountains, as well as plenty of boondocking opportunities, since the land is overseen by the BLM.

For those willing to take on the adventure, untouched wilderness awaits. The mountains are home to one of the only free-roaming herds of American bison in the country and other wildlife including mule deer, antelope, and even mountain lions have been spotted.

Most of the area is also open for OHV travel and there are some established hiking trails, such as the Mount Ellen Peak Trail, which tops out at 11,522 ft.

Drive the Cathedral Valley Loop

For an off-the-beaten-path adventure that's just slightly less remote than the mountains, head out onto the Cathedral Valley Loop.

This 57.6 mile route begins with an easy river crossing, then winds its way through high desert landscapes, into the northern reaches of Capitol Reef National Park, and then back out before rejoining Highway 24.

While some say a 4x4 isn't necessary for driving the loop, we would disagree. Under ideal conditions, most of it is tame, but the river crossing alone and some of the more sandy patches through the valley could spell trouble. At the very minimum you'll need a high clearance vehicle.

We rented a Jeep Wrangler for the trip and felt much more confident than we would have in our campervan, which is RWD.

If you'd rather let an expert handle the driving and lead you out to the most scenic spots, you can book a six hour tour.

Besides the towering sandstone monoliths that give the Cathedral Valley its name, there are at least two other must-see attractions that make this drive worth it.

The Bentonite Hills

One of the first stops on the route is at the Bentonite Hills. They're best seen under the early morning or setting sun, when their colors are most vibrant. These uniquely beautiful formations have become famous for layers of blue, red, and purple that stand out in stark contrast to the surrounding terrain.

They're honestly one of the most bizarre things to see in person, especially since the ground has a popcorn texture, from the clay soil's repeated cycle of absorbing water and then drying out.

Birds eye view looking down on the colorful ringed layers of the Bentonite Hills

Temples of the Sun and Moon

Nearly opposite to the Bentonite Hills on the loop are the Temples of the Sun and Moon.

They're similar to the sandstone formations you'll see throughout the Cathedral Valley, but have their own distinct appeal. You can also drive up and easily reach both of them for a close up view.

We spent two nights camping out on the BLM land bordering the national park and this was one of our early morning missions. Waking up for sunrise views of the temples and surrounding valley was one of the highlights of our visit to Hanksville.

A massive monolithic red rock formation stands alone among a scrubby desert landscape at sunrise

Walk Among Goblin Valley State Park's Hoodoos

Yet another otherworldly landscape can be found just 20 miles north of Hanksville at Goblin Valley.

The bizarre round capped rock formations called hoodoos litter three small valleys by the thousands.

The area is open for hikers to freely wander and explore, but there are also several established trails, averaging about two miles, that lead to overlooks, canyons, and a cave known as the Goblin's Lair.

Canyoneering tours are a great way to see explore the variety of landscapes in the park and learn about them from an expert guide.

Venture Down to Little Egypt

Along the base of the Henry Mountains, about 23 miles south of Hanksville, is a similar, but lesser known grouping of hoodoos called Little Egypt.

It's much smaller than Goblin Valley, but makes an for an interesting and uncrowded stop. It's also cheaper, considering there's no entry fee here and the State Park will set you back $20 per vehicle.

Experience Capitol Reef National Park

It would be a shame to visit Hanksville and not see one of Utah's "Mighty Five" national parks, just 45 minutes away.

Though it doesn't get as much love as some of the other western parks, we think Capitol Reef is highly underrated.

The atmosphere changes drastically as you make your way down the highway toward Fruita, a pioneer settlement at the heart of the park. The dry and dusty surroundings give way to bright green patches of grass and fruit orchards.

Scattered along Highway 24 are several historic and natural stopping points, including fields of apples, apricots, cherries, peaches, and pears. The orchards were originally cultivated by the first settlers here and are still being managed by the NPS.

When fruit is in season, during the summer and fall months, you can pick it straight from the tree and use on-site self pay stations.

We think the Cathedral Valley is the best of what Capitol Reef has to offer in terms of natural landscapes, but you should still set aside time to do the 7.9 mile scenic drive and a few hikes, like Cassidy Arch (3.1 miles) and Hickman Bridge (1.7 miles).

A campervan drives down a dirt road between a rustic old barn and green orchards with red rock mountains in the background

How to Get to Hanksville Utah

Hanksville is somewhat remote, but still easily accessible by car. It's located right along Utah Highway 24, which connects to I-70 to the north.

Most visitors, coming either from the Moab area or Salt Lake City, will take the interstate, then hop on 24 for another 45 minute drive south. The total drive down from Salt Lake City International Airport is a little under 4 hours.

If you're coming up from Zion or Bryce Canyon, you can make your way north along several routes, including Highway 89 or 62 and then continue east for another 1.5 - 2 hours. Drive times from these two parks are 3 hours 45 minutes and 3 hours, respectively.

There are no major airports close by, so the best approach is to fly into SLC or even Las Vegas International and rent a car.

Our custom map of the area will help you plan out exactly where you need to go:

The Best Time to Visit Hanksville

The best time of year to enjoy Hanksville is in the late spring or the fall. The average temperature in April and May only reaches into the 70s (low 20s C), making it quite comfortable. From late September into early November you can expect about the same.

The summer months bring more extreme conditions, with highs in the upper 90s (35 C). It's a mostly dry climate with lots of direct sunlight however, afternoon storms during 'monsoon season' can result in flash floods, even with very little rain.

Winters in Hanksville tend to be somewhat mild. Snowfall is unpredictable, but typically light and adds an extra layer of beauty to all the red rocks. While crowds here are rarely much of a concern, they'll be especially thin at this time of year.

Where to Stay in Hanksville

The choice of hotels and other lodging is somewhat limited around Hanksville, but there are plenty of options if you're prepared to camp.

Camping & Boondocking

Some of the best BLM boondocking we've ever done is in and around Hanksville.

You can spend the night for free on the Cathedral Valley Loop. There's a primitive NPS campground halfway through with sites available on a first come first serve basis. There are only six of them, but each has a fire pit, picnic table and there's a vault toilet.

Stay at Moonscape Overlook for incredible sunrise views, or camp down in Swing Arm City, where you're free to set up anywhere you like.

Fruita Campground is another option inside Capitol Reef and it's just down the road from the visitor center. There are 71 sites that require reservation ahead of time.

Other nearby campgrounds include Dukes RV Park, which is right in town, Sleepy Hollow Campground, 24 minutes outside of town in Caineville, and Goblin Valley State Park Campground.

Hotels & Short Term Rentals

If you're looking for a hotel room, two options are the Cathedral Valley Inn in Caineville and Whispering Sands Motel in Hanksville.

There are some unique short term rentals in and just outside of Hanksville. The Muddy Creek Mining Company has modern cabins with king and double queen beds, and the four geodesic domes at Blue Valley Domes are fully furnished, with a separate private bathhouse.

A man sits by a fire ring with a tent set up behind him and a Jeep parked nearby

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