Canyonlands National Park

Located: Utah  -  Established: September 12, 1964

The Park:  The mighty Colorado and Green Rivers converge near the center of Canyonlands, dividing the park into four distinctively different “districts.” 

The northern district, Island-in-the-Sky, is located 32 miles southwest of Moab, UT.  This district is the easiest to access and offers expansive views deep into the canyon.  If you’d like to experience the canyon below the Island Mesa, the White Rim Road provides 4-wheel drive enthusiasts and mountain bikers 100-miles of scenic terrain! 

Terry trekking about the Needles District. Park visit  #8 .

Terry trekking about the Needles District. Park visit #8.

A short hike worth taking when visiting the Island District is the easy trek out to Mesa Arch where you’ll get to experience “living dirt!”

The Needles District is found in the southeastern section of the park and features a host of colorfully jumbled landforms.  Hiking opportunities abound in this District and include: Roadside Ruin, Pothole Point, Cave Spring and Slickrock Foot Trail. For a more adventurous trek, don’t miss the 11-mile Chesler Park Loop hike beginning at Elephant Hill. (our favorite!)

The Maze District remains as one of the most remote and primitive locations within the continental US. There are no paved roads into the Maze and those who venture to explore this section of the park must be fully prepared for a primitive experience! To really get away from civilization, venture out to the Maze District!

The River District is comprised of the Green and Colorado Rivers, which both have carved through the sandstone helping to form two deep canyons. Above the Confluence, where the rivers join together, the waters are calm. Below, the combined waters of the Green and Colorado begin a 14-mile stretch of whitewater in what is called Cataract Canyon that is as treacherous as any found on earth!  

Getting thereFrom Moab, access to the Island-in-the Sky District is via UT-313 E and US-191 S  - approximately a 30-mile drive. To get to the Needles District from Moab (approx. 76 miles), head south on US-191. Take UT-211 W past Newspaper Rock.  Good luck getting to the Maze! 

When to visitCanyonlands is open year-round. The best time of year to visit this rugged park is in the spring and fall when the daytime temps are below 80° and the nighttime temps won’t freeze you! Summers will be teaming with people and quite warm. 

View of Canyonlands from Island-in-the-Sky

View of Canyonlands from Island-in-the-Sky

What to doIf you’ve only got a single day to visit Canyonlands – visit the Island in the Sky District. Be sure to take the drive out to Grand View Point Overlook and take in the expansive view of Canyonlands. Also, take the short hike to Mesa Arch and experience “living dirt!”  

For longer stays, the Needles District offers camping, hiking, biking, backpacking and stargazing. There are several short hikes in this District. Our favorite was the 11-mile Chesler Park Loop originating at Elephant Hill. If petroglyph sightings are a thing of interest, be sure to visit Newspaper Rock located just off Hwy 211. Native American “journalists” inscribed exquisite prehistoric rock art over 2000 years ago. (See banner) Two other displays of Native American pictographs can be found at Horseshoe Canyon and Great Gallery. 

Where to stayThe city of Moab, UT is a short distance from the Island in the Sky District and offers several hotel and motel options. 

There are two campgrounds within Canyonlands: The Willow Flat Campground, located in the Island District has 12 campsites, but no water. The Squaw Flat Campground in the Needles District has 26 sites, flush toilets and water year-round!

Chesler Park Loop Trail

Chesler Park Loop Trail

Memorable moment: Perhaps the most memorable hike we’ve taken during our trek about the parks has been the 11-mile Chesler Park Loop Trail within the Needles District. This trail includes hiking deep and narrow fractures and vistas filled with colorful sandstone spires.

Banner: Petroglyphs from Newspaper Rock.

Experience these Check List:

  • Stop by the park’s 3 Visitor Centers (Island-in-the-Sky, Needles and Maze)
  • Explore the Island-in-the-Sky District
  • Gaze out from Grand View Point Overlook
  • Experience Mesa Arch and ”Living Dirt”
  • Hike the trails in the Needles District  
  • Read Newspaper Rock
Needles District Spires

Needles District Spires