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.
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 on the east. A paved road with several scenic pullouts leads from Moab to Island in the Sky, making it one of the easiest 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. Overnight visitors can stay on a first-come basis at Willow Flat Campground, which offers year-round camping at their 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.
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 interconnecting trail system, and more than 50 miles of rugged roads. The Needles district can be accessed from towns along Highway 191 by heading west on Highway 211 to the Visitor Center, which is open year-round. 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.
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 Squaw Canyon, Squaw Canyon to Lost Canyon, and Peekaboo Trail. The longest trails, Lower Red Lake Canyon (18.8 miles) and Salt Creek Canyon (22.5 miles) may require overnight camping.
Trail conditions are rough, typically slickrock or very sandy, and are marked with cairns. There are few water sources. 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 has 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.
There are three small campgrounds in the Needles district to accommodate overnight visitors: Squaw Flat, Wooden Shoe, and Split Top. Squaw Flat Campground is the largest, with 26 sites, bathrooms, grills, picnic tables, tent and RV pads. Campgrounds fill fast from March to October, and reservations are required for large groups. Squaw Flat Campground is the perfect base camp for a number of half- and full-day hikes accessible from the Elephant Hill Trailhead and the Squaw Flat Loop A Trailhead. There are five backcountry vehicle campsites with a limited number of spots.
Moab, La Sal, Monticello, and Blanding 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.
Accessible via Utah Highway 211
Visitor Contact Station accessible via Utah Highway 313