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Canyonlands

Canyonlands National Park is the largest national park in Utah, covering 527.5 square miles. The park is divided by the Colorado and Green Rivers into three distinct districts: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the Maze. Horseshoe Canyon is also part of Canyonlands National Park but is geographically separate.

The rivers and their tributaries have had a major hand in designing this natural wonder where canyons, mesas, and buttes typify the primitive southern Utah desert landscape yet each section is highlighted by its own unique characteristics. Renowned American author Edward Abbey called Canyonlands National Park, 'the most weird, wonderful, magical place on earth.' Visitors will quickly see why.

Island In The Sky

The Island in the Sky district is a massive mesa elevated more than 1,000 feet above the surrounding landscape, with panoramic views of spectacular canyon country up to 100 miles in every direction. The district is defined by the Green River to the west and the Colorado River to the east. The Island in the Sky district is the easiest district to explore, with accessible scenic drives and easy hiking trails. 


Spending the Day at the Island In The Sky District

A paved road with several scenic pullouts leads from Moab to Island in the Sky, making it one of the most accessible areas to explore. Island in the Sky district can be explored in as little as an hour, by driving to Grand View Point and Green River overlooks for a broad view of Canyonlands National Park. 

A half day will also allow time for a few short hikes. There are several short trails (all two miles roundtrip or less) atop the mesa, including Aztec Butte, Grand View Point Trail, Mesa Arch, Upheaval Dome Overlook Trail, and Whale Rock Trail, as well as access to longer trails like Murphy Loop, Syncline Loop, Lathrop Canyon, and Taylor Canyon.

The White Rim Road Trail runs for 100 miles below the mesa top, offering spectacular views and multi-day mountain bike and four-wheel drive trips. Trail maps are available at the visitor center, which is open daily and has limited services.

For more hiking recommendations around Utah’s Canyon Country, download the hiking itinerary here.

Camping at Island in the Sky

Overnight visitors can stay on a first-come basis at Island in the Sky Campground, which offers year-round camping at its twelve sites, plus grills, picnic tables, and vault toilets. Be sure to bring bottled water and food, as no other services are available in the park. Ranger-led activities are available from March through October.

 

Needles District

The Needles district is named for the Cedar Mesa sandstone spires that jut up from the landscape. Located in the southwest section of Canyonlands National Park, this district is well-known for its natural formations, extensive interconnected trail system, and more than 50 miles of rugged roads. 

For those wanting an authentic remote experience to connect with nature, but still have amenities close by - we recommend the Needles district. The Needles district is perfect for those wanting an accessible southwestern experience, away from the crowds that gather at other Utah National Parks or the Island in the Sky district. Staying in Montecillo allows for a great day trip to the Needles district with amazing hotel amenities and restaurants to wrap up your day. 

Traveling to the Needles District

The Needles district can be accessed from towns along Highway 191 by heading west on Highway 211 to the Visitor Center, which is open from Spring to Fall, depending on staffing. 

From there, a scenic road winds through a section of the Needles to Big Spring Canyon Overlook for an expansive view. Stops along the way include Roadside Ruin, Cave Spring, Pothole Point, and Slickrock Trail. Short interpretive trails at these stops are a great way to experience the park for visitors with only an hour or two to explore.

Spending the Day at the Needles District

Those with half a day to explore can hike the 2.4-mile Slickrock Trail or drive to the Colorado River Overlook. A full day or more allows time to hike some of the longer trails, like the Chesler Park Loop/Joint Trail, Elephant Canyon/Druid Arch, Confluence Overlook, Big Spring to Wooden Shoe Canyon, Wooden Shoe Canyon to Lost Canyon, and Peekaboo Trail. 

The longest trails, Lower Red Lake Canyon (18.8 miles) and Salt Creek Canyon (22.5 miles) require overnight camping. Be prepared with plenty of water, food, snacks, and layers of clothing as temperatures can be warm during the day and decrease drastically during the night.

Trail conditions are rough, typically slick rock or very sandy, and are marked with cairns. There are few water sources so make sure to bring plenty of water along the trip. 

Hiking isn’t the only way to explore the Needles, however. More than 50 miles of rugged roads requiring a high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicle lead through some of the most challenging backcountry Canyonlands have to offer, including Elephant Hill, the Colorado Overlook, Salt Creek, Horse Canyon, and Lavender Canyon. Permits are required for all overnight backcountry trips, whether by vehicle or on foot. Roads may close due to inclement weather.

For more hiking recommendations around Utah’s Canyon Country, download the hiking itinerary here.

Camping at the Needles District

The Needles district has three small campgrounds to accommodate overnight visitors: Needles Campground, Wooden Shoe, and Split Top. Needles Campground is the largest, with 26 sites, bathrooms, grills, picnic tables, tents, and RV pads. Campgrounds fill fast from March to October, and reservations are required for large groups. 

Needles Campground is the perfect base camp for a number of half and full-day hikes accessible from the Elephant Hill Trailhead and the Loop A Trailhead. There are five backcountry vehicle campsites with a limited number of spots.

Maze District

The Canyonlands Maze district is the most remote, and hard-to-access area of Canyonlands. While the Maze district provides incredible scenery and provides an extreme feeling of isolation - this district is reserved for EXPERT WILDERNESS TRAVELERS ONLY
 

Many visitors spend multiple days in this district and can spend up to a week in the wilderness of the Maze district. With no access to services, you must be prepared for self-sustainability and self-rescue equipment. Again, this is reserved for expert wilderness travelers, so if you’re looking for a district away from the crowds while being close to accessible services check out the Needles district instead. 

 

How to Get to Canyonlands

Moab, La Sal, and Monticello offer convenient access via paved roads to the Island in the Sky and Needles districts inside Canyonlands National Park. From Highway 191, take Highway 313 to Island in the Sky, or take Highway 211 to reach the Needles district. Dirt roads leading to the Maze district require a four-wheel drive vehicle and may be impassable in wet weather. Canyonlands National Park is open year-round.

Some travel restrictions apply—Call 435-259-4351 for more information. 

Needles District

Accessible via Utah Highway 211

  • Visitor Center
  • Campground
  • Ranger Programs

 

Island-in-the-Sky District

Accessible via Utah Highway 313

  • Visitor Contact Station accessible via Utah Highway 313
  • Campground
  • Ranger Programs

 

 

Nearby Lodging Options

There are plenty of great accommodations for those looking to make a full-day trip to Canyonlands without the hassle of camping. If you want to take in the remote experience of Canyonlands National Park with the comfort of hotel and lodging accommodations - check out some of our favorite places to stay near Canyonlands:

Hotels and Lodging Options Near the Needles District

Hotels and Lodging Options Near the Island In The Sky District

 

 

Frequently Asked Questions about Canyonlands National Park

How Much Are The Entrance Fees to Canyonlands?

There are entrance fees to access Canyonlands National Park. For a private, noncommercial vehicle it costs $30.00 to enter the park and $25.00 for Motorcycles. For individuals, without a car (bicyclists, hikers, and pedestrians) the fee is $15.00. Ages 15 and under are admitted free. 

What is the Best Time to Visit Canyonlands

Canyonlands is open year-round, but some facilities are closed during the winter season. Spring and Fall are the best times to visit to stay away from the crowds, but the weather can be unexpected during these months so make sure to check the forecast and bring layers to adjust to the changing temperature. Summer brings the most crowds to the park, and temperatures are often hot and can reach triple digits - so pack plenty of water and sunscreen! 

Can I bring a dog to Canyonlands? 

Pets are not allowed in many places in the park due to the ongoing commitment to preserving the natural environment and cultural resources of the park. It’s best to leave your dogs and pets at home, as dogs are not allowed on hiking trails, in visitors centers, at overlooks, or in the backcountry. Pets are allowed on leashes at some front-country campgrounds and picnic sites, but again, with high temperatures and limited areas where dogs are allowed - we do not recommend bringing your animals to Canyonlands. 

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