Canyonlands Adventure Guide

Top Six Adventure Hikes in Canyonlands National Park

Adventurous day hiking and backpacking in Canyonlands National Park can be divided into three distinct districts: Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the Maze. The Maze requires a four wheel drive vehicle to get to the trailheads and is better suited for backpacking). All three districts have great opportunities for adventurous day hikers and backpackers who want to experience the incredible vistas and geology of Canyonlands National Park.

Island in the Sky is a high mesa wedged between the Colorado and Green Rivers like a natural observation platform. Vistas rival those found anywhere. Although the trail system is not as extensive as in the Needles District, hikers can choose from a variety of challenging day hikes and overnight backpacking trips.

The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park is a high desert paradise. It is a jumbled landscape dominated by a series of distinctive sandstone spires called, of course, the Needles. Perhaps the other distinctive feature of the Needles District is an extensive trail system that offers nearly endless hiking options.

When people use the old adage “in the middle of nowhere,” they could easily be talking about the Maze. Most people have never been to a place as remote as the Maze, and getting there can be a great warm-up for experiencing this remote district of Canyonlands National Park. Whether you come from Hite, Hanksville, or Green River, you definitely get the feeling of being out of touch with civilization long before you reach the park boundary. This network of twisted sandstone canyons is for rugged individuals who can take care of themselves and their vehicle. There’s no gas station, restaurant food, or room service for 50-plus miles in any direction. And even those 50 miles don’t tell the true story, because it might take half a day to cover that distance on these roads. Be aware that when you venture in the Maze, you’re on your own. Because of the remoteness of the Maze, we don’t include hike information here, but if you are interested in hiking and backpacking in the Maze, get a copy of Hiking Canyonlands and Arches National Parks.

Remember, all backpacking in Canyonlands National Park requires an overnight stay permit. Reservations can be made online at canypermits.nps.gov up to four months in advance and two days prior to the trip start date.

The Hikes

ISLAND IN THE SKY

1. Alcove Spring: 11.2 miles. A long day hike or overnighter with spectacular scenery.

2. Syncline Loop: 8.3 miles. A long day hike or overnighter; perhaps the premier hike in Island in the Sky.

3. Murphy Loop: 10.8 miles. A long, difficult day hike or overnighter from the Island in the Sky to the White Rim Road and back.

THE NEEDLES

4. Lost Canyon: 8.6 miles. A spectacular loop hike through some of the best scenery in the Needles District.

5. Druid Arch: 10.8 miles. A scenic route to a spectacular arch, one of the most popular destinations in the Needles District.

6. Chesler Park Loop: 5.4 miles. A popular, ultrascenic loop hike, requiring a four-wheel-drive vehicle to reach the trailhead.