Canyonlands National Park, Utah
According to travelationary, the Canyonlands, in the middle of the Colorado Plateau, are a vast wilderness of rock and stone. Soil erosion by wind, ice and water were the main architects of this landscape, which consists of ﬂat layers of sedimentary rock and hundreds of colorful canyons, mesas, stone pillars and arches.
At the heart of this landscape are two large gorges dug by the Green and Colorado rivers. These are surrounded by vast, very different landscapes – to the north is Island in the Sky (island in the sky), to the west is the Maze (maze) and to the east is the Needles (needles) district. All three landscapes are mostly untouched desert areas. But each captivates with its own beauty.
When Canyonlands National Park was established in 1964, the remote landscape was largely unknown. Only Native Americans, cowboys, or explorers on river boats used to venture into this rugged, southeastern Utah region. Large parts of Canyonlands are still untouched. Most of the roads are unpaved, the paths are easy trails.
Island in the Sky
From ‘Island in the Sky’ the views range from the depths of the Green and Colorado Rivers to the high mountain peaks. ‘Island in the Sky’ is a broad mesa wedged between the Green and Colorado Rivers. This is Canyonland’s observation tower, because from here you have excellent views of incredible dimensions.
The rocky slopes and bluffs are the preferred home for many of the bighorn sheep that live in Canyonlands National Park. The many trails and trails are good for spotting wildlife, especially in the early morning, at dusk or in the cooler months.
The western Maze District is the most remote region of Canyonlands National Park and one of the most inaccessible areas in the United States. This region includes a canyon labyrinth that has been described as a “77 square kilometer sandstone puzzle”. Near this labyrinth are the bizarre spiers, walls and mesas of the Land of Standing Rocks, Ernie’s Country, the Dollhouse and the Fins.
Visitors who come to this rugged, arid wilderness of rock, stone and stunted juniper bushes find solitude, tranquility and the challenge of being on their own. The 183m descent into the labyrinthine canyon of the Maze means entering the heart of this land.
The varied names of the natural attractions are also characteristic of the diversity of the Needles district: Devils Kitchen (Devil’s Kitchen), Angel Arch (Angel Arch), Elephant Hill (Elephant Hill), Caterpillar Arch (Caterpillar Arch), Gothic Arch (Gothic Arch) and Paul Bunyan’s Potty (Paul Bunyan’s Potty). The Needles is an amazing landscape of rock pillars, natural stone arches, canyons and ditches created by erosion.
However, the dominant formations are the Needles themselves: reddish-white striped pinnacles. Earth movements have fractured the rocks and erosion by water, wind and frost has created the rock formations seen today. Grassy areas such as the 4km² Chesler Park provide a striking contrast to the bare rocks. As with Arches National Park to the northeast, the Needles District has a number of fascinating natural stone arches that add an additional appeal to the area. The 46 m high Angel Arch is located in a side canyon of Salt Creek Canyon. In contrast, the Wooden Shoe Arch has only a small, tunnel-like opening.
Canyonlands National Park information
Location and Size
Canyonlands National Park is located in the middle of the Colorado Plateau, in southeastern Utah, near Moab and in the immediate vicinity of Arches National Park. The area covers an area of 1,366 km².
Each district of Canyonlands National Park must be visited separately, there are no bridges or roads connecting each district within the park.
- From US Highway 191 north of Moab, Utah Highway 313 leads to Island in the Sky
- From US Highway 191 south of Moab, Utah Highway 211 leads to Needles
- Maze can only be reached on unpaved roads with a 4WD vehicle. When it rains, the roads are impassable
Grand Junction, CO and Salt Lake City, UT are accessible by air. By car, these cities are at least 2 to 4 hours from the nearest park entrance (Island in the Sky).
By Bus or Train
Greyhound travels along I-70 with stops in Grand Junction, CO and Green River, UT. Amtrak stops at Grand Junction and Green River. Shuttle buses operate between Moab, Salt Lake City and Grand Junction.
There is no public transportation to Canyonlands, and the park is not accessible without a rental car.
Opening Hours and Seasons
Canyonlands is open year-round, 24 hours a day.
Island in the Sky
The Island in the Sky Visitor Center is open daily from 9am to 4pm, with extended hours spring through fall. Backcountry permits are issued up to one hour before the office closes. The visitor center is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and late December through February.
Maze and Needles
The Hans Flat Ranger Station in Maze is open daily from 8:30am to 4:30pm and the Needles Visitor Center in Needles is open daily from 8:30am to 4:00pm. From spring to autumn is longer open. Visitor Centers are closed for Thanksgiving. The Hans Flat Ranger Station is closed for Christmas and New Year’s Day, the Needles Visitor Center from early December to February.
Admission to Canyonlands National Park is valid for 7 days.
USD 30 is charged for a private, non-commercial vehicle with up to 15 passengers.
Admission is USD 25 per motorcycle including passenger. Hikers and cyclists pay USD 15.
A fee-based permit is required for each overnight stay in the backcountry. That goes for backpacking, 4×4, mountain biking, and river cruising. Permits are also required for day visits by car, bike or horse to the Horse/Salt Creek and Lavender Canyon areas in Needles. It is necessary to contact the park or visitor center in advance to obtain advance permits or to make reservations. Application forms are available online.
Addresses and telephone numbers
Canyonlands National Park, 2282 SW Resource Blvd., Moab, UT 84532, fax 435-259-4285
Park Shuttle Service
No shuttle service is offered. There is no public transport within the park. A private vehicle is required to explore Canyonlands National Park.
Campgrounds are available at Willow Flat Campground at Island in the Sky and at Squaw Flat Campground at Needles. Seats will be allocated according to the “first come, first serve” principle. Both offer picnic tables, barbecue grills and restrooms. Water is available at Squaw Flat Campground while water is not available at Willow Flat Campground. Camping is chargeable.
The desert climate is characterized by hot summers, pleasant springs and autumns and cold winters. Large temperature fluctuations within a single day are possible at any time. Rainfall is rare and usually comes as thunderstorms in late summer or early fall, or as light snowfalls in winter.
The temperate (and most popular) times to visit are spring (April to May) and autumn (mid-September to October), with daily highs averaging 16°C to 27°C and lows averaging -1°C to 10°C.
Temperatures in summer often reach 38° C or more, strenuous tours are problematic. Low humidity makes the summer heat somewhat bearable. In the late summer monsoon season there can be violent thunderstorms and frequent flash floods.
Winters are cold, although large amounts of snowfall are rare (except in the nearby mountains), even small amounts of snow or ice can make paths and roads impassable .
|Average temperatures in Canyonlands National Park in °C|
Good gear, clothing appropriate to the season and sound planning are essential to ensure a safe and enjoyable stay.
Heat and sun
If you come in summer, you should expect high temperatures, intense sunlight and low humidity. You should eat plenty and drink at least 4 liters of water every day. It is important to take enough water with you for all activities. Loose-fitting, light-colored clothing and a sun hat are recommended. It is also important to use sunscreen on all exposed areas of the skin. Strenuous activity should only be carried out in the early morning or evening hours.
Wild animals often carry deadly diseases and can become aggressive and attack without warning. This also applies to snakes. It’s wiser to view wildlife from the safety of your own car or from afar. Under no circumstances should you approach wild animals to take photos!
A drive through the park can range from a leisurely tour on a paved road to a strenuous 4WD adventure up a steep, rocky dirt road. Paved roads and dirt roads open to normal cars in the Island in the Sky and Needles districts lead to interesting natural sites, scenic spots, hiking trails, picnic spots and campgrounds. There are also dirt roads that are only passable for off-road vehicles; day trips or tours lasting more than a week are possible on such roads.
One of the most popular tours is the 100-mile White Rim Road , which can take two days or much longer. Simple campsites are located along many of these natural roads. It is mandatory to take water, food supplies and tools with you on such a tour.
Overnight camping requires a permit for the hinterland, which is subject to a fee. Applications are made through the Canyonlands National Park Reservations Office. In remote areas you should always travel with two vehicles. Vehicles and bicycles must not deviate from the road.
Walks and long hikes lead to some of the fascinating natural beauty of Canyonlands. Overlooks, natural stone arches and other geological rock formations, and Native American ruins can be reached via short hiking trails (less than 1 mile) in the Island in the Sky and Needles districts. There are boards along some of the trails explaining geological features, and brochures are available at some trailheads or visitor centers. Longer trails lead into the remote back country and are generally only marked with stone markers. Such hikes are strenuous and should not be attempted alone. Always stay on the trails and carry water and a map. A backcountry permit is required for backcountry camping.
The upper reaches of the Green and Colorado Rivers are accessible by motorboat, inflatable boat, or canoe. Navigating these waterways requires a backcountry permit, subject to a fee. Anyone planning to white-water raft through Cataract Canyon below the confluence of the rivers also requires a permit in advance. However, navigating this dangerous stretch of white water is limited and only a few are permitted per year. Boat ramps are located north of the park and at north park communities such as Moab and Green River. There is no service along the rivers. The best travel time is spring to autumn.
Guided tours with 4WD vehicles, mountain bike and hiking tours, horseback riding, boat tours are offered by tour operators in the surrounding towns throughout the year.
Tour suggestions are the first to be obtained from the visitor center – above all current information about the paths, roads, information programs and the weather. There is also a film about the park in the visitor center.
If you have 2 hours
Drive to Grand View Point or Green River Viewpoint. Hike to Mesa Arch.
If you have 4 hours
Drive to Grand View Point, Green River Viewpoint and Upheaval Dome.
Walk the Grand View Point, Mesa Arch and Upheaval Dome scenic trails.
If you have 8 hours
Visit all the lookouts, hike several Mesa routes or one of the more strenuous trails down to the White Rim. Picnic along one of the trails, at White Rim Lookout or at Upheaval Dome.
If you want to experience sunrise or sunset
Check the visitor center for sunrise and sunset times. Visit Mesa Arch at dawn. Experience the incomparable sunset over the canyons from Green River Lookout and Grand View Point. Hike to the top of Aztec Butte for spectacular views of the Island in the Sky landscape.