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Canyonlands National Park - Know Before You Go

The Needles in Canyonlands on Chesler's Loop Hike

Formed by the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers, Canyonland NP is one of our favorite places in the entire world. With other worldly 360 degree landscapes, epic views to the horizon, and hiking that is world class, make this park a priority in your near future.

Find the TimeCanyonlands NP is huge. As in over 337,000 acres huge. It has three vastly different sections with two different entrances; the northern Island in the Sky - accessible about 10 miles north of Moab, Utah, and the Needles District to the southeast - 40 miles south of Moab. Please note that it is also a fair drive from the park entrances to the main sections of the park - this means sunrise fans staying outside the parks will have to wake up REALLY early. The third district, The Maze, is a four-wheel drive only, back-country region to the southwest with no services. Finally, there are the rivers that helped form this region. Allow at least one day each to investigate the two main regions (Island and Needles). Back-country enthusiasts will want significantly more time to dive as far into the wilderness as they can. River passes must be acquired in advance. In all, you could spend anywhere between 2 days and 2 weeks in this park without seeing everything.

Two Part Park

Most tourists will visit Canyonlands’ two main sections, Island in the Sky and- to a lesser extent - The Needles District. The Island in the Sky is a massive mesa with ridiculous views looking east, south and west over the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers. Most visitors enjoy the short walks from your car to the massive lookouts, but there are also hikes to unique features like the Upheaval Dome as well as treks down into the canyons.  Fifty miles south and several thousand feet down from the Island's rim, the Needles provides a cris-cross of hiking trails in, around, and over huge rock formations with unbelievable 360 degree views throughout. Essentially, the Island looks out over the Needles, where you can surround yourself with these totally unique landscapes.

Canyonlands Island in the Sky Overlook

World Class Hiking

I have yet to experience hiking that even comes close to that of Canyonlands NP - it’s just that amazing. That said, I still haven’t even done many of the Island in the Sky hikes which descend into the surrounding canyons or up to the Upheaval Dome - a massive crater of churned up earth that has scientists baffled. For me, The Needles are where I could get lost for days (in a good way). A web of trails allow hikers of all endurance levels to create their own customized trail through the towering rock formations. The park’s secret gem is reserved for those willing to venture the furthest - down through Chesler’s Loop to the Joint, where massive rocks have separated just enough to allow hikers (and mid-day sunlight) to venture between the towering walls. If you love hiking, you’ve just found your happy place in Canyonlands. Bonus points for photography enthusiasts as the lighting changes drastically throughout the day to illuminate the various formations in dramatic ways.

Come Prepared

This wilderness is so epic that it can keep you entertained for well over a week, but don’t count on much in the way of amenities while you’re here. Moab, Utah sits between the two park entrances but is only a small tourist hub full of hotels and restaurants. It is actually so small that there isn’t even a Walmart. While there are some places to get supplies, make sure you’re rolling into the park with everything you need. The high desert means water is at a premium - hikers should consume much more than usual to stay hydrated - at least a gallon a day. While most people know to bring sun protection, the cold temperatures during winter months (or even summer nights) may take many by surprise. All the more precautions should be taken by those venturing into the Maze, where back country permits are required.

While You are Here…Make no mistake - you are out in the Great American West at Canyonlands NP. The nature beauty extends well outside of the park boundaries and will likely warrant an Annual National Park Pass purchase ($80) to visit other nearby sites. A few of our favorites in Utah are Natural Bridges National Monument, Monument Valley, Capital Reef NP, Bryce Canyon NP, Arches NP, and Zion NP. In nearby Colorado, you can also explore Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP, Mesa Verde NP, Great Sand Dunes NP, Rocky Mountain NP, and Colorado National Monument. This area is truly the home of the great American road trip so buckle up and enjoy every minute!

1 Comment

The photographs sure are impressive! Definitely a must see! Could I see all of these parks in just a few days? What would a week long trip through this part of the States include?

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