Canyonlands National Park
Imagine wave after wave of deep canyons, towering mesas, pinnacles, cliffs and spires stretching across 527 square miles. This is Canyonlands National Park, formed by the currents and tributaries of Utah's Green and Colorado rivers. Canyonlands is home to many different types of travel experiences, from sublime solitude in the more remote stretches of the park to moderate hikes through the Needles district to the opportunity to create your own version of one of the West's most photographed landforms, Mesa Arch.
Located to the west of the town of Moab and a short distance from Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park is wild and wonderful and diverse in its landscapes and travel opportunities. Due to the park’s massive size, Canyonlands has four separate “districts,” including three land districts and the rivers themselves, each with their own characteristic landscapes and experiences.
Geographically, the Canyonlands is a section of southeastern Utah, some of it embodied in two magnificent national parks, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. But geography is only a small part of the story. Naturally, the Canyonlands is much more.
It’s a rugged piñon pine growing out of solid slickrock—and the beautiful blue piñon jay screaming at you from it. It’s the stealthy mountain lion stalking the skittish mule deer or the seldom-seen bobcat getting fat on the desert cottontail. It’s those amazingly hardy desert plants. It’s a whole lot of slickrock, those little potholes in the slickrock that evolve into microhabitats. It’s the amazing light that colors the cliffs red and pink and orange, and it’s the quiet of a region far from the hustle and bustle of our urban areas.
And, famously, it’s those breathtaking deep canyons dropping suddenly out of the desert and winding aimlessly through the plateau along with awesome sandstone spires and cliffs.
In Canyonlands National Park, opportunities abound for day hiking and backpacking. Mountain bikers can tackle challenging dirt roads that lead through the heart of the park. Canyonlands National Park is also a great place to view incredible scenery from the paved roads that lead to awe-inspiring viewpoints. For those staying overnight, Canyonlands offers some of the most peaceful campgrounds you will ever find.
Do yourself a favor and don’t hurry through the park. Instead, take your time and let the nature of the Canyonlands sneak up on you and take root in your heart. It’s quite likely you’ll become so attached to the place that you’ll have to return again and again and again.
Canyonlands National Park Must-Do Guide
Hiking and Backpacking
For day hikers and backpackers, Canyonlands National Park is a dream come true. The Needles district has more hiking trails (about 74 miles) and a better variety of trails than the Island in the Sky and Maze districts but Island in the Sky offers a variety of well-maintained trails including some family-friendly hikes and the famous Mesa Arch.
Two paved roads lead into the park: UT 313 from the north and UT 211 from the east. (There are also many dirt roads to explore for those who are equipped with four-wheel-drive vehicles and prepared for the rigors of desert travel.)
Camping in Canyonlands National Park is a great way to enjoy a fun family vacation and share an intimate experience with the landscape. Plus you’ll be out there in the early morning and late evening when the light is amazing, especially for photography enthusiasts.
Although there is no singletrack mountain biking in Canyonlands, the 100-mile White Rim Road at the Island in the Sky is a well-known challenge for mountain bikers. Cyclists will also enjoy the paved scenic roads into Canyonlands National Park.
Although it feels like an entirely separate trip, Canyonlands boasts some of the west's best whitewater rafting through the 14 miles of Cataract Canyon, which includes up to Class V rapids. There are also flat water sections. Visit the National Park Service Canyonlands page for information on all boating in Canyonlands, including how to obtain permits.
Read the full Must-Do Guide here.
Canyonlands Travel Tips
Explore geography and camping then learn how to backpack like a pro.
Canyonlands National Park