Canyonlands National Park is truly phenomenal! I invite you to explore the countless canyons and bewildering buttes that make this wilderness feel exceptionally wild. Rivers divide the park into three districts; Island in the Sky, Needles, and The Maze district each have their own unique opportunities for adventure.
There are no lodging or dining facilities within the park. Your nearest dining and lodging opportunities include Moab, northeast of Canyonlands nearest Island in the Sky, Monticello, southeast of Canyonlands nearest the Needles District, and Green River, North of Canyonlands near The Maze. The districts each have their own entrances and are hours apart.
There are two campgrounds; one at The Needles where you may reserve some individual and group sites and one at Island in the Sky where sites are first-come, first-served. Backcountry camping is also available for those who are experienced enough to enjoy the extensive trails designed for backpacking, four-wheel driving, boating, and bicycling.
There are numerous picnicking areas throughout the park that provide shade and tables; we packed a cooler each morning full of water and our food for the day when visiting Canyonlands and utilized these spots. There are water fill-up stations throughout the park; it is important to have a map to know where these stations are.
Island in the sky.
We found Island in the Sky to be the most busy of the two districts we explored. There are certainly more family friendly hiking experiences to be had here than the other two districts.
TRAIL: Mesa Arch
DIFFICULTY: Very Easy
DESCRIPTION: One of the busiest trails in the park and only .5 miles but the view is worth the crowd! Please do not walk on top of the arch. Try to arrive at sunrise to avoid some of the largest crowds sights in the park will see.
TRAIL: White Rim Overlook
DESCRIPTION: Enjoy a flat, just under 2 mile hike to an east-facing overlook for views of the Colorado River, Monument Basin, and La Sal Mountains. There is very limited trailhead parking, but some really awesome views from just off the parking lot if you’re not down for the hike.
TRAIL: Murphy Point
DESCRIPTION: 3.6 flat miles to a gorgeous cliff edge where we enjoyed some rock hopping and a gorgeous sunset despite the smoke pollution from a nearby forest fire.
TRAIL: Upheaval Dome
DESCRIPTION: A crater-view trail with a couple of different theories on and an opportunity to educate yourself on the mystery. The first overlook is about .3 miles in to the hike after climbing about 150 feet via stone steps. Thin out the crowds and continue on to the second viewpoint, which will add an additional mile and elevation change to your hike. We had some fun climbing around the rock formations and marveling at what could have caused the different color folds.
TRAIL: Aztec Butte
DESCRIPTION: Explore ancestral Puebloan granaries and ruins along the edge of a dome shaped butte that rises 225 feet above the mesa. Nestle yourself into the natural alcoves of the rim trail and enjoy some mid afternoon shade with a view of Taylor Canyon. At just under 2 miles, this hike has a steep climb to the top of the butte but otherwise traverses flat, sandy, grassy plains.
The Needles District.
We might’ve seen four people all day at Needles and not a single one of those people were found on the trail. Enjoy the canyons and spires of the great american outback; peep the folks in the visitor center at opening for the opportunity to feel the ‘Salute Your Shorts’ nostalgia of a trumpet playing while the flag is being raised.
TRAIL: Cave Springs
DESCRIPTION: At only .6 miles this trail was a welcomed easy stroll compared to our previous 10 mile adventure. Although not strenuous, the trail does involve a number of ladders and cave-like overhangs. Enjoy a look at a historic cowboy camp & prehistoric petroglyphs on a fun little walk through some interesting terrain.
TRAIL: Pothole Point
DESCRIPTION: About a .5 mile loop over slickrock to a diverse pothole community with an expansive view of the needles.
TRAIL: Peekaboo Springs
DESCRIPTION: Follow the cairns through 10 miles of sandy canyon bottoms, over slick rock, up a few ladders, and a few scrambles to a brilliant rock art site. Enjoy crossing Squaw and Lost Canyons, climbing headwalls with views of the La Sal Mountains and Six Shooter Peak and climbing through rock openings. Be sure to pack ample snacks and water; you are very exposed on this hike so many sure you are wearing appropriate sun protection.
TRAIL: Druid Arch
DESCRIPTION: Another popular, but long hike through the Needle District Backcountry. Explores canyons, and involves some light rock scrambling with spectacular views. There are three backpacking sites along this trail and seasonal water.
The Maze district.
Due to the remote nature of this undeveloped land, we did not have the opportunity to explore The Maze although guided hikes in horseshoe canyon are offered most Spring and Fall weekends. It is requested that individuals obtain backpacking permits to explore the remote, primitive trails of The Maze.
Canyonlands is wild! Prepare your days ahead of time to fit as much exploration in as you can; I would say at minimun you should spend one day in the Island in the Sky District and an additional day in the Needles District. Be sure to pack in (and out) all of your hydration and nurishing needs. I went for the long hauls in the lightest pair of hiking books I owned and made sure to bring my Chacos for shorter trails; they were MORE than durable and I wouldn’t hike in the deser without them.