As beautiful drives go, a Dead Horse Point State Park scenic drive is on the short side. It’s a little over a mile from the Visitor Center to Dead Horse Point Overlook where visitors look down for a gobsmacking view of a gooseneck in the Colorado River while contemplating how this Utah destination got its name.
The scenic drive actually begins when Dead Horse Mesa Scenic Byway (U-313) starts at the turn off from Highway 191 near Moab, Utah. The route offers access to several interesting hikes, four-wheel-drive trails, rock art viewing and scenic viewpoints before turning left into the state park.
Boomer Travel Tip
As the name of the byway indicates, Dead Horse State Park sits on top of a mesa, actually a large high desert plateau. Water is scarce and temperatures are extreme so bring water and wear sunscreen, no matter the season.
A peninsula connects Dead Horse Point, the star of this stunning Utah State Park, to the mesa by a narrow strip of land. Back in the day, this 30-yard-wide connection made a natural horse corral, which is how the park (and point) got its name.
Cowboys corralled horses on Dead Horse Point for sorting out the best from the rest. But one time, the cowboys forgot to release the horses that they didn’t want.
The sad legend goes that the horses the cowboys left behind died of thirst. The sheer limestone cliffs at Dead Horse Point would have made it impossible for them to escape. They died within site of the Colorado River located far below the point.
What you’ll see on a Dead Horse Point State Park scenic drive
Alan and I visited on the last day of a photography workshop where we captured scenic views in two national parks: Canyonlands and Arches National Park. Our group of photographers drove the scenic road in Dead Horse Point State Park, stopping to photograph at all the overviews and walking a few trails before enjoying a goodbye picnic lunch in the picnic shelter near the overlook.
Basin Overlook/Visitor Center
A parking lot at the Visitor Center (21 miles from the turnoff at Highway 191) provides access to hiking trails along the rim. If you’re visiting the park as part of a scenic drive, be sure to stop here for the views and a short walk on the paved nature trail to admire Basin Overlook with views of La Sal Mountains, La Sal Basin, and Chimney Rock.
If you’ve come to the park for hiking, which Alan and I will do next time, both the East Rim Trail and West Rim Trail start here. Combine them for a picturesque, moderately easy 5+ mile-round-trip hike.
A sign and small parking area designate the narrow 30-yard passage from the mesa to Dead Horse Point Overlook. This is the area that cowboys blocked to corral horses on the point.
You can also access the East and West rim trails to create a round-trip route that’s shorter than the one from the Visitor Center. You’ll appreciate the stunning views into Canyonlands National Park.
Dead Horse Point Overlook
The scenic drive ends at an overlook where the Colorado River swirls 2,000 feet below. You’ll also find a large parking area and covered picnic shelter.
Paved walking trails fan out from the point, offering more viewpoints. You can see for a hundred miles.
The scene may look familiar to you. It’s one of the most photographed vistas in the world. I’d like to return to enjoy (and photograph) a Dead Horse Point sunset in one of Utah’s best parks.
Boomer Travel Tip
Have you seen our Utah Travel Planning Guide?
At the overlook, Alan was enthralled by the twisty dirt road edging along ledges that hugged the banks of the muddy Colorado River below us. I predict a future visit where a four-wheel-drive adventure will be part of the fun.
I’m okay with that as long as we don’t have to camp. After all, this boomer gal is a travel princess.
If you’re looking for a day trip in the Moab area, or an afternoon sunset view after leaving Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park, choose Dead Horse Point State Park. You won’t regret it!
More things to do
Dead Horse Point State Park deserves more attention than a quick scenic drive. When exploring Moab, build in an extra day or two here for active travel experiences.
Seven miles of easy, hiking trails connect eight overlooks on both the east and west sides of the peninsula. There is little elevation gain, however you will be traversing slick rock so pay attention to cairns and route markings.
Are you a cyclist? The Intrepid Trail System offers 16.6 miles of singletrack trails traveling over a mixed terrain of forest and slickrock.
As with any outdoor activity in the high desert, bring plenty of water and wear sun protection, no matter the time of year.
In 2016, Dead Horse Point became an International Dark Sky Park. Check at the Visitor Center for the availability of ranger-led programs including telescope viewing and full moon walks.
Frequently Asked Questions About Dead Horse Point State Park
Go north on US-191 from Moab for 9 miles, turn left onto Utah 313 for 23 miles to Dead Horse Point State Park. Continue driving the park road to reach the parking area at Dead Horse Point Overlook.
Day use fees are $20 for a car with 8 passengers and are good for two consecutive days. Utah residents 62 years or older pay $15. Cyclists or walk-ins are charged a $4 fee.
The park is open year round from 6 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. The Visitor Center operates from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Dogs are allowed in Dead Horse Point as long as they are leashed. Dogs are not allowed on the Intrepid Trail system.
Moab accommodations are only 32 miles away. Luxury travelers will want to consider Sorrell River Ranch Resort. Dead Horse Point State Park also offers two campgrounds with 44 partial hook-up slots, 11 tent spaces and 9 yurts.
I recommend visiting in spring or fall to avoid the sizzling summer heat. In winter, you will experience snowfall and below freezing temperatures, which could make hiking and cycling difficult. Because the state park sits on a high plateau, temperatures fluctuate wildly so be prepared for all types of weather.
Legend says that the point was used as a natural corral for wild horses. On one occasion, cowboys picked the best ones then forgot to release the remaining horses. The horses died of thirst in their waterless natural corral—a gruesome story for a spectacularly scenic spot in the American Southwest.