Canyonlands National Park is located in southeastern Utah near the city of Moab. The land has eroded to form many beautiful canyons and its parks with many recreational opportunities that almost half a million people flock to visit every year. Visitors enjoy hiking, backpacking, four-wheelers, mountain biking, kayaking, rafting and much more in the versatile options and landscapes the park has to offer. The park has four different districts known as the Sky, the Needles, the Maze and the Green and Colorado River areas to enjoy.
Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky
The Island in the Sky is a mesa located in the northern part of the park between the Colorado and Green river. The area has sandstone cliffs towering up over 1,000 feet to surround the land. There are many scenic overlooks due to the cliffs with many pullouts and views along a scenic and paved drive. There is a visitor center here called Island in the Sky Visitor Center and it is open daily. Here you can find general information, maps, exhibits and much more. If you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle, consider taking the White Rim Road, which is a 100-mile loop that goes around and below the Island in the Sky and provides panoramic views from certain points. The road is rough, with dirt and challenging, so use caution.
There are many different trails you will find at the Island in the Sky area ranging from easy to difficult. The Grand View Point is an easy trail and is an about 2 miles round-trip and takes about an hour and a half to complete. This is a leisurely walk along a canyon edge and ends with fantastic panoramic views of the area. There are many others to choose from and many offer great views, historic aspects such as corrals and perfect places to watch the sunset.
Head east of the Colorado River in the park and you will find the area known as “The Needles.” The Needles refers to white and red striped rock pinnacles that are grouped together to form what looks like long, skinny rock formations that could possibly resemble the same shape as a needle. The park recommends using a map to reach the Needles area, as GPS units commonly get people lost when trying to find it.
The Needles area also has a visitor center where you can stop to get a map, directions and gifts at the bookstore, permits, picnic areas and more. Roads in the Needles area require tough, four-wheel-drive vehicles to conquer the challenging landscape of the rock and dirt roads. Roads found at the Needles are Elephant Hill, Colorado Overlook, Salt Creek & Horse Canyon and Lavender Canyon. There are also over 60 miles of trails available at the Needles, all ranging from easy to moderate to difficult. The strenuous Peekaboo trail is an about 10 miles round trip and takes about 6 hours to complete. The result is spectacular views at the end of the hike. Along the way two ladders must be climbed on the challenging hike. There are many others to choose from and some of which give perfect views of the rock Needles.
The Maze can be found to the west of the two rivers and is the most difficult to get to. It is very remote and inaccessible making it challenging for some to see. However, if you do travel to the Maze, be prepared for a longer trip and difficult roads as well as trails. There are roads in the Maze area, but they are difficult and rough. High clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicles are needed to consider attempting any roads in the Maze.
Make sure to pack camping gear, extra water and supplies for your trip. The trails found in this area are primitive. There are no paved trails; just wild, rugged backcountry trails that lead into remarkable areas in Canyonlands National Park. Trails can lead into the canyons or up on top of the mesa. Most of the trailheads start from one of the four-wheel-drive roads. This is also a backpacker’s heaven, as there are many trails and areas to explore in the beautiful area.
Through the red and gold canyons of the park run two rivers, adding drama and beauty to an otherwise arid looking landscape. The Colorado and the Green River wind through the park, forming two deep canyons for visitors to enjoy. There are launch locations for people interested in rafting or kayaking down the calm waters of the rivers, but they are difficult to get to. Try a guided river trip down the water with a guide. A guided tour and trip can last anywhere from half a day to week long river excursions. Enjoy the cool, calm waters of one of the rivers in the beauty of a canyon.
Horseshoe Canyon is located within the park and is home to some of the most fantastic and significant rock art in the U.S. There is an area known as the “Great Gallery,” which has life-sized preserved art and drawings written on a massive rock wall. The springtime brings large amounts of wildflowers in the area and the sheer rock walls that tower above are very impressive. Cottonwood groves are also found on the floor of the canyon, making for scenic views. The hike to the Great Gallery is an approximately 7 miles roundtrip and takes over 5 hours to complete. The easiest way to get to the Horseshoe Canyon is from the west. Rangers lead guided walks during the spring and fall months.
Hours or Weeks Can Be Spent at Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park is a recreational paradise. Mountain bikers can ride for miles and miles through stunning territory and see amazing sights. Canoe or kayak down the calm waters of one or both of the rivers that have cut deep canyons through the park over time. Drive your vehicle through the paved roads, or if you have a high clearance and four-wheel-drive car, you can take some of the dirt roads to more unbelievable views.
Camping is available in certain areas for a longer stay. Horse-back riding and stock are allowed on the backcountry roads as you ride into the sunset. Stargaze at night with a blanket of stars in the black sky with no light interference from any nearby city. Participate in a ranger-led program to learn about the area and the stunning canyons that define the park and surrounding area. Backpack, hike, climb and explore the canyons and rivers of a unique yet beautiful area in Canyonlands National Park.