Campground Review: Dead Horse Point State Park – Moab, Utah

Posted September 6, 2020 – Narrated by Carmen

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bambi-4
See our 5-Bambi rating legend at the end of this review.


It all began as a Bucket List thing.

For decades I’d heard about Dead Horse Point and hoped one day to see this place which inspires rapturous testimonials about the views, the beauty and the grandeur which many travelers will swear on a stack of red rock shale rivals The Grand Canyon.

Iconic view from Dead Horse Point Overlook

If canyons had a beauty contest, I’d be a terrible judge. They’re all winners to me. But if you’re looking to avoid crowds, Dead Horse Point is a good bet.

In mid-June, at Boyd Lake State Park, I asked Jim, the master of navigation details, if we’d be near Moab as we exit Colorado. He confirmed. We would pass through Moab and Arches on our way to Vinnie’s Northbay Airstream Repair. But Moab would be hot in late July – high 90’s or low 100’s. Maybe we should save Dead Horse Point for some future spring or autumn.

You see, we had an agreement to keep summer 2020 about staying cool in the mountains – to camp within walking distance of rivers and lakes. And, so far, we’d successfully beat the major heatwaves.

I explained to Jim that Dead Horse Point is right beside the Colorado River and only 2,000 feet above the shoreline. Due to that altitude it can be twenty degrees cooler than the valley. The park’s proximity to Moab and Arches and Canyonlands, makes Dead Horse Point one of the most popular campgrounds in Utah. So, even if we decided to go, it was doubtful we’d be able to secure a reservation on such short notice.

The word, “doubtful,” was part truth and part strategy.

Hearing that something can’t be done triggers Jim’s can-do impulse. He ducked into a phone booth and right then and there he accessed his Super Reservation Powers to secure a twelve-day stay.

Never doubt the scheduling abilities of Jim Beaubeaux. After a quick dash onto ReserveAmerica, he spotted two openings – a campsite for the first eight days, and then another – right next door – for an additional four days. Precisely the timeframe we wanted.

The stars were aligned. Livin’ the dream.

Be warned, there are at least two campgrounds named Dead Horse in the United States. Do not confuse dreamy Dead Horse Ranch in Cottonwood Arizona (where we stayed for two-weeks in May) with Dead Horse Point in Utah. Our friends, Cyndy and Lee – long-term camp hosts at Dead Horse Ranch – have suffered the anguish of breaking the news to confused arrivals that their campsite reservation is hundreds of miles away.

Dead Horse Point has no water at the site, only electricity. So, before heading up, we filled the fresh water tank to capacity (Yes, the silicone patch is still holding up) and emptied the black and gray tanks.

This campground is forty-five minutes from services, so we stocked up on provisions and topped off our diesel. But, for me, all this preparation was like doing “the happy dance.

Dead Horse Point, here we come!

A peninsula of rock atop sheer sandstone cliffs, Dead Horse Point is connected to the mesa by a narrow strip of land called The Neck. There is some conflict about the history of how this promontory received its name.

The Legend

A turn-of-the-century legend goes … “Wild mustangs roamed the mesa tops and cowboys rounded them up and herded them across The Neck which was only 30 yards-wide. With The Neck closed off with a rudimentary fence tied together with branches and brush, the Point made a natural corral surrounded by sheer cliffs so the horses could not escape.

From The Point, cowboys would sort out the herd and let the broomtails go free. This went on for decades until, for some unknown reason, the herd was left alone during a long dry period. Within view of the Colorado River, 2,000 feet below, the poor horses either died of thirst or plunged to their deaths.”

There are two campgrounds for RVs at Dead Horse Point, and a yurt village as well.

The original Kayenta Campground rests in a beautiful red rock area and has twenty-one sites which are suitable for tents and RVs.

The new and larger Wingate Campground has twenty RV campsites, eleven tent-only sites, and four yurts.

The Moenkopi Area has five yurts.

Yurts

The yurts are furnished with a bunk bed, futon, dining tables (indoors and outdoors), air-conditioning and heater units, lamp, BBQ grill, and a fire pit.

Pets, smoking, and cooking are not allowed inside the yurts. 

Most of the Wingate RV sites are back-in.

There are eleven pull-thru sites. We saw one pull-thru accommodate a 45-foot motorhome and a 20-foot enclosed trailer for a Jeep with room to spare. Off-roading is popular here, and these campsites can easily accommodate all the necessary toys.

Not only are the Wingate sites spacious – there is a generous expanse of natural landscape between sites, creating beneficial sight lines for bird-watching, sunsets and star-gazing.

Most sites are about fifty feet apart, and some more than 100 feet. Dead Horse Point is a social-distancing mecca.

The back-in sites can easily handle a 50-foot rig.

Most of the Kayenta sites are older, smaller and closer together. However, this is the best area for car-camping, vans and minimalist rigs. With plenty of old-growth trees and shrubs, Kayenta sites are cozy with tall, dense, natural green screen between most sites.

The Wingate tent-only sites are nicely spaced apart for privacy. They are minimally developed and some sites are shady. There is no electrical outlet at the tent-only sites. Tent-campers must walk-in from a parking lot which is between twenty and two-hundred yards away depending on the site. The sites furthest from the parking lot have more privacy and better views.

Immediately, upon arrival, the feeling of being “on top of the world” takes over.

Maybe, because you feel so very small, you start thinking big thoughts. And, this new, artistically designed campground uses the wide-open terrain to maximize the expansive views where it feels that the juncture of Land and Sky is sharp enough to cleave you open to the bone.

It’s like having your own private retreat.

Each site is paved and features a one or two-sided, solid roofed shelter, picnic table, fire pit, and a raised tent pad. We couldn’t think of enough ways to use all of this infrastructure. We didn’t need to use our Clam Quickset because the roofed shelter was sufficient to store our bikes.

Many campers bedecked their shelter with elaborate accoutrement – decorations, lights and privacy screens – to maximize their space. Next time we will bring some bling.

But, one other advantage of the older Kayenta campground is its proximity to the North Rim where a partial canyon view is visible from one side of the campground. Wingate campers must walk about a quarter-mile to view the rim.

Each Wingate RV site has 20/30/50 amp electrical service. No sewer. No water.

But do not despair. Within about fifty yards of each campsite there are flush toilets and sinks with running water. Water is trucked up the mountain from Moab, so it is required that all RV campers arrive with full tanks and plenty of drinking water.

Outdoor dish-washing sinks are positioned on the perimeter of each restroom. These stations are clearly posted for dish-washing only and are not for refilling fresh water tanks or bathing of any kind.

To insure our water lasted for twelve days, I made a daily trek (sometimes two) to the dish-washing station to fill our collapsible tub and take the water back to the trailer …

… for dishwashing.

Since only cool water is provided, we boiled some of the water for a more sanitizing wash. Then, to conserve our grey water, I took the used water back to the station and dumped it down the sink. Voila! This method relieves campers from having to wait in line as others try to wash dishes in cold water at the campground sink.

Bathrooms and Dump Stations

In addition to the full-flush restrooms, a couple of vault-toilet restrooms are conveniently positioned near the trailheads. Every station was spotless and free of foul odors. Due to the scarcity of water, no laundry rooms or showers are provided.

A complimentary sewer dump is positioned near each campground entrance. The dump station at Wingate accommodates two RVs at once. It also provides a hose to flush out the tanks.

Okay, we’ve seen a lot of dump-station configurations, but this was new. The two sewer inlets merge into an open pit which is only covered with a metal grate. Sooooo… as you prepare to open the tank to release black water stand away from the grate, pull up your covid mask, and avert your eyes and nose... You’re welcome.

Each campground has a refuse station near the entrance in the sewer dump area. We didn’t find any sorting bins marked for recyclables, so we packed that stuff out.

The entire campground is asphalt-paved, including each RV site.

Indigenous plantings – flowers and grasses – are softly landscaped with local rock and gravel.

The juniper bushes were loaded with berries.

It is important to stay on developed paths to protect the landscape and prevent thorn injuries. I confess that I had to learn this lesson the hard way. Hiking boots are recommended at all times.

The wind is unpredictible.

On our first day, powerful unpredicted wind gusts uprooted a neighboring tent and blew it into our site. Due to these surprise gusts, we never left our awning out unattended.

But temperatures were surprisingly comfortable in late July to early August. It remained in the mid-80’s for the first week and rose to the mid-90’s during the second week. Every day at about 2 pm, we switched on the air-conditioner until the cool hours began at about 6 pm. At sundown, we opened the windows and welcomed the cool, dry breeze.

No WiFi is provided. But, since Wingate Campground is a bit higher in elevation than the Kayenta Campground, we harnessed 3 LTE bars with our WeBoost cell booster. Data speeds were up to 10 Mbps (at times) and (other times) as slow as 600 Kbps. This was a treat since we were connectivity-starved for most of this mountain-high summer in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and Utah. It was a hoot to live-stream movies almost every night at Dead Horse, of all places.

Pets

Pets are allowed at the campground, leashed at all times – but it is not safe for pets to run free. The rim is dangerous. Properly leashed dogs are allowed on the hiking trails and overlooks.

Equipped doggie stations are provided throughout the campgrounds.

Just a FYI: We think it is a wise policy to forbid dogs on trails inside Arches and Canyonland National Parks. So, in order to view those areas, we made Pico comfortable in the air-conditioned trailer. We were always home by 2pm just in case a campground or area-wide blackout (which actually occurred while we were there) cuts off the air.

Dead Horse and the surrounding area is a hiking wonderland.

There are seven overlooks around the campground, all marked at trailheads. The main one, Dead Horse Point Overlook, is also vehicle accessible and has a parking lot and beautiful picnic area.

The views are visually exciting … but please, Dear LIB Followers, if you go to Dead Horse, do not venture too close to the edge. During our stay, a poor man slipped from one of the popular viewpoints and fell two-hundred feet to his death. Our hearts go out to his family.

Not even professional photography – much less, our amateur efforts – can comprehensively explain the depths, shapes and colors of these canyons. But, thanks to our zoom camera and binoculars, we were able to explore from a safe distance.

We couldn’t ride bikes this time, but an intricate mountain biking trail system begins at the north end of the visitor’s center parking lot with eight trails ranging from easy to very difficult. Hikers are allowed on the bike trails, but dogs are not.

Dark Sky Park

Dead Horse Point State Park is a International Dark Sky Park and is a great place to stargaze. My friend, Morgan visited there during dark nights and watched a meteor shower which lasted from dark till past dawn.

Dead Horse Point State Park Dark Sky

Even on a full moon night, the stars were breathtaking.

Forty dollars ($40) a night may seem a bit steep for an RV site with no water – but considering the location, Dead Horse Point is a bargain. It’s only thirty-two miles to Moab, twelve miles to Canyonlands National Park, and a mere twenty-seven miles to Arches National Park. Tent-only sites are $35 a night and Yurts with spectacular view decks are only $140 a night.

The staffed Visitor Center explains the history, geology, and biology of the area, PLUS they sell eight pounds of glorious ice for around three bucks a bag – a good value since the nearest convenience store is fifteen miles away. The phone number for the Visitor Center is (435) 259-2614.

Campsites are available for reservation year-round on a four-month rolling basis. For example, on January 10th sites are available for reservation through May 10th. 

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park is only twenty-miles away, so we took the scenic drive twice. With our senior pass, entrance was free.

Canyonlands National Park Mesa Arch
Mesa Arch at sunrise August 3, 2020 – Canyonlands National Park

Arches National Park

Arches was a magical half-day driving-only adventure. With Jim’s foot still in “the boot” we viewed most of the famous scenery from the truck while sipping tall tumblers of iced tea.

Moab

For restaurants, shopping and hospital, Moab is the place. Following Jim’s medical appointments at Moab Regional Hospital

the fabulous patio dining at Thai Bella made his foot feel all better. We also met our traveling friends, Marion and Tom Zimmerman at Thai Bella and had so much fun catching up that we forgot to take a group photo … Next time!

Dead Horse Point is on State Route 313, eighteen miles off Highway 191 near Moab. There is no official address for the park, but the GPS coordinates for the campground are: Latitude: 38.4838, Longitude -109.7385

Even if you don’t have time to camp, the views are worth the drive from Moab, or as a side-trip from your campsite at Canyonlands National Park. A $20 vehicle pass (up to 8 passengers) is good for three consecutive days.

The park is open daily from 6am to 10 pm and the Visitor Center is open from 9 am to 5 pm year round except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

In the fog of morning, we broke camp.

I reached through the tangle of juniper to unhook the feeder. A war party of hummingbirds surrounded me, protesting.

“Ah, don’t saddle me with guilt,” I whined.

Then, a young muscular gust of chill autumn air galloped through. I turned my head and caught the fragrance of waterfalls and transitioning aspen woods with shimmering golden leaves coming from places that might as well be the moon.

The wind twisted the branches corkscrew, slinging the feeder to the ground.

The nectar vanished into parched earth.

The birds dashed away.

Just another disappointment in this beautiful place of sheer loss, deprivation and broken promises where everything is impossible and nothing is always possible.

Later, as we pulled out, I deleted Dead Horse Point from my bucket list and then, entered it again.

I’m captured.

Our “BAMBI” rating system explained:

bambi-1 – One Bambi: Should’a boondocked.

bambi-2Two Bambi’s: Better than a Cracker Barrel or Walmart.

bambi-3Three Bambi’s: Adequate for a short stay.

bambi-4Four Bambi’s: Great place! Met our expectations for an extended stay. Needs minor improvements or is not ideally situated for all our preferred recreation (walking, cycling, swimming, kayaking) without driving.

Five Bambi’s: Destination Camping at it’s best! Critical as we are, there’s nothing we’d improve, and you can bet your sweet Bambi we’re going back!

If you want to see our exact route, click here.

*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.


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