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Discover Fantasy Canyon

Date: March 7, 2024

Categories: Uncategorized

Unveil the Mysteries of Fantasy Canyon: A Geological Wonderland in Utah
Fantasy Canyon in Uintah

Discovered in 1909 by palaeontologist Earl Douglass, Fantasy Canyon is a true hidden gem just an hour south of the town of Vernal, in the Uintah Basin of eastern Utah.

While many who come to Utah consider visiting only The Mighty Five—which include Bryce Canyon, Zion, Arches, Capitol Reef, and Canyonlands—we highly recommend Fantasy Canyon as a prime location on your itinerary. 

Ignite Your Imagination at Fantasy Canyon!

Fantasy Canyon is a unique place where nature has worked its artistic magic over millions of years.

Here, you can explore 10 acres of sandstone and siltstone formations, sculpted by wind and water into shapes beyond belief. 


This is an incredible location that captures the imagination of geology enthusiasts, photographers, and anyone who appreciates natural beauty.

So, if you’re up for an unforgettable adventure and the chance to explore a geological wonderland, Fantasy Canyon is waiting to enchant you.

History and Facts about Fantasy Canyon


Geology

The rocks found at Fantasy Canyon were deposited during the Eocene Epoch, a geologic time period that occurred approximately 38 to 50 million years ago. 

During this ancient era, the area that is now the Uinta Basin in Utah was home to a vast body of water known as Lake Uinta. 

This lake, at one point, stretched over 120 miles wide and reached depths of over a mile. 

Over time, the surrounding highlands, which were rising due to geological processes, contributed sediments to the lake.

As these sediments accumulated, they underwent a transformation from loose sands, silts, and clays into the solid rocks we see today, composed mainly of sandstone, siltstone, and shale. 

The uplift of the region, which coincided with the rise of the Rocky Mountains, led to the elevation of these sedimentary rocks. 

Subsequently, the relentless force of erosion, a key player in shaping the remarkable landscapes of the American West, began their work.

Mineralization


An intriguing mineral found in the region is known as “Gilsonite,” a trademarked name owned by the American Gilsonite Company

In Fantasy Canyon, this unique mineral is found within a vertical vein measuring approximately one inch in width. 

Gilsonite is a black, exceptionally lightweight, solid hydrocarbon. 

When freshly broken, it displays a glassy, obsidian-like appearance, but it loses its luster when exposed to sunlight. 

What sets Fantasy Canyon apart is that it’s the sole location globally where Gilsonite is commercially mined.

Fossils

The Uinta Formation plays an important role in preserving a portion of the fossil record for this region. 

Within its layers lie the scattered remains of creatures, mainly reptiles and mammals, that inhabited the Uinta Basin during the Eocene Epoch. 

As you follow the rock trail, you may even stumble upon the cross-section of a suspended turtle shell, offering a fascinating glimpse into the ancient past.

The Best Time to Visit Fantasy Canyon

The best time to visit Fantasy Canyon is during the cooler months of spring and fall, typically from March to May and September to November. 

Keep in mind that summers can be scorching, and winters extremely cold and snowy—so you’ll want to try to avoid this location during these seasons.

As for the best time of day to visit Fantasy Canyon, aim for the early morning or late afternoon to see the rock features. 

Not only will you be able to avoid the heat, but you’ll also be able to capture the stunning rock formations in the soft, golden light of sunrise and sunset. 

What You’ll See at Fantasy Canyon

Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Fantasy Canyon is only accessible from the Fantasy Canyon Trail which lies on what was once the banks of Lake Uinta.


From the trail, you’ll see incredible geological formations with visitors imagining them to be in the shapes of animals, people, or dinosaurs. 

Some of the rock formations have already been named, such as The Flying Witch.


You may also be able to spot The Screaming Man, Flying Porpoise, Alien Head, or Flying Otter. 

Maybe you’ll agree that this looks like a camel?


You may also see the fossilized remains of a variety of animals, such as turtles, if you look closely. 


Several herds of wild horses roam the area around Fantasy Canyon. If you’re lucky, you may spot a few!

What to Do at Fantasy Canyon


🥾 Hiking

Because the delicate, highly weathered rock formations are so fragile, the area is referred to as “Nature’s China Shop.”

The gentle hike at Fantasy Canyon is only 0.6 miles long and forms a loop through the canyon.

Be sure to keep to the footpath and avoid standing on, or climbing any of the rock formations, because they could easily break.

Because the hike at Fantasy Canyon is so short and easy, it is perfect for the whole family—including your kids!

📸 Photography

Fossil Canyon is the perfect location to take some incredible photos. We recommend using a good camera and not just your phone to capture the incredible rock formations here.

🦅 Wildlife viewing

While it’s not known for its wildlife viewing opportunities, the surrounding desert and shrubland in the region are home to a few interesting creatures.

Common animals you could encounter in the vicinity of Fantasy Canyon include:

Birds: Various bird species adapted to desert environments, such as raptors, songbirds, and ground-dwelling birds like quail and roadrunners, can be spotted.

Reptiles: Desert reptiles like lizards, pygmy rattlesnakes, and desert tortoises may be present.

Insects: Insects adapted to arid conditions, such as ants, beetles, and butterflies, can be found in the area.

Small mammals: You may come across small desert mammals like rodents, including ground squirrels and kangaroo rats.


How to Get to Fantasy Canyon

Fantasy Canyon is located just 42 miles from the town of Vernal. 

A high-clearance vehicle is recommended as you will be navigating some dirt roads on your trip. 

We suggest stopping by the Utah Visitor Center in Jensen at the junction of US 40 and SR 149, to pick up a map and brochure before your trip.

⬆️ Starting in Vernal, head south and follow UT-45 for 25 miles, leaving behind the city of Naples. 

➡️ At this junction, turn right and drive on Glen Bench Rd for 12 miles. 

⬅️ At the next junction, turn left onto a dirt road and continue for another 3 miles. 

➡️ At this point, turn right and after half a mile, then take another right. 

🅿️ After 0.43 miles, you will find the large parking area for Fantasy Canyon on the right.

Where to Stay in the Fantasy Canyon Area

Vernal is the best town to visit and stay in, and it’s located approximately 40 miles from Fantasy Canyon.

Hotels and inns

You can choose from a range of great inns and hotels in this lovely town. To find your perfect bed and breakfast hotel or inn, browse through our approved range, or select one of the options below:

RV camping

Head to Vernal using your RV and enjoy one of the extremely comfortable and well-appointed RV parks that this town has to offer:

Camping

The Vernal area is home to some excellent, well-maintained camping sites. Here are a few options for you to consider:

Bureau of Land Management Campgrounds.

Dinosaur National Monument Campgrounds.

Red Fleet State Park Campgrounds.

Starvation State Park Campgrounds.

Recent Five-Star Reviews of Fantasy Canyon


Here are what others have had to say about their experience visiting Fantasy Canyon:


⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Julia, Salt Lake City

This was an enjoyable hike with a bunch of little kids! My sister-in-law and I went on this hike with about nine children under the age of nine. 

We survived, no one got hurt or lost, and it was an adventure.

It’s a short walk around the rock structures and the greenish surrounding hills. Very windy and dry when we went (July). It was pretty cool though and we talked about how those rocks get like that.

I’d definitely bring plenty of drinks, sunscreen, a hat, and refreshing snacks. Watermelon was super nice after that hot, dry hike.


⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ John, Colorado

This is definitely off the beaten path, but the drive there was enjoyable. 

Unlike many of our travels to places like this, we did not need a truck or a 4X4 to get there. 

This is an easy place to get around if you have children and want to explore the whole area. 

It is worth the drive! The formations are amazing and there are some pretty great photo opportunities here, too.


⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Jessica, New York

About an hour’s drive south of Vernal, UT through desolate landscape. 

The road is paved until you get about 4 miles from the canyon, then it’s packed gravel. 

You drive through mostly oil fields until you finally see the parking lot and pit toilet. 

The canyon itself is not big, maybe a few acres of weird formations. There are a few markers pointing out the shapes of animals, etc. 

There is no shade but some tables if you want to bring lunch. Definitely bring water if it is hot. Not the most beautiful place in Utah or even the weirdest formations. We spent about 45 min here.


⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Mike, West Jordan

We did a little scouting trip for my Mandalorian costuming club. We’ve been looking for a place to do a photo shoot.

This would be the place. It’s a bit hard to find, but worth the drive.