Canyonlands National Park: Wikis


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Canyonlands National Park
IUCN Category II (National Park)
Location San Juan, Wayne, Garfield, and Grand counties, Utah, USA
Nearest city Moab
Coordinates 38°12′0″N 109°56′0″W / 38.2°N 109.933333°W / 38.2; -109.933333Coordinates: 38°12′0″N 109°56′0″W / 38.2°N 109.933333°W / 38.2; -109.933333
Area 337,597.83 acres (1,366.21 km2)
337,570.43 acres (1,366.10 km2) federal
Established September 12, 1964
Visitors 392,537 (in 2006)
Governing body National Park Service

Canyonlands National Park is located in the American state of Utah, near the city of Moab and preserves a colorful landscape eroded into countless canyons, mesas and buttes by the Colorado River, the Green River, and their respective tributaries. The rivers divide the park into four districts: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze and the rivers themselves. While these areas share a primitive desert atmosphere, each retains its own character.[1] The park covers 527.5 mi² (1,366 km²). Canyons are carved into the Colorado Plateau by the Colorado River and Green River.[2] Author Edward Abbey, a frequent visitor, described the Canyonlands as "the most weird, wonderful, magical place on earth -- there is nothing else like it anywhere." [3]



Raft in the Big Drop Rapids, Cataract Canyon.

Canyonlands is a popular recreational destination. Over 400,000 people visited the park in 2008.[4] The geography of the park is well suited to a number of different recreational uses. Hikers, Mountain Bikers, Backpackers, and Four Wheelers all enjoy traversing the rugged, remote trails within the the Park. Rafters and Kayakers float the calm stretches of the the Green River and Colorado River above the confluence. Below the confluence Cataract Canyon contains powerful whitewater rapids, similar to those found in the Grand Canyon.

The Island in Sky district, with its proximity to the Moab, Ut area attracts the majority (59-percent) of park users. The Needles district is the second most visited, drawing 35-percent of visitors. The rivers within the park and the remote Maze district each only account for 3-percent of park visitation.[5]

Political compromise at the time of the park's creation limited the protected area to an arbitrary portion of the Canyonlands basin. Conservationists hope to "complete" the park by bringing the boundaries up to the high sandstone rims that form the natural border of the Canyonlands landscape. [6]


Looking over the Green River from Island in the Sky
False Kiva stone circle.

The Colorado River and Green River combine to within the park, dividing it into three distinct districts. Below the confluence, the Colorado River flows through Cataract Canyon.

The Island in the Sky district is a broad and level mesa to the north of the park between Colorado and Green river with many overlooks from the White Rim, a sandstone bench 1,200 feet (366 m) below the Island, and the rivers, which are another 1,000 feet (305 m) below the White Rim.

Aerial view, 3D computer generated image

The Needles district is located east of the Colorado River and is named after the red and white banded rock pinnacles which dominate it, but various other forms of naturally sculptured rock such as canyons, grabens, potholes, and a number of arches similar to the ones of the nearby Arches National Park can be found as well. Unlike Arches National Park, however, where many arches are accessible by short to moderate hikes or even by car, most of the arches in the Needles district lie in back country canyons and require long hikes or four-wheel-drive trips to reach them.

The Great Gallery, Horseshoe Canyon

This area was once home of the Ancestral Puebloan Indians, of which many traces can be found. Although the items and tools they used have been largely taken away by looters, some of their stone and mud dwellings are well-preserved.[7] The Ancestral Puebloans also left traces in the form of petroglyphs, most notably on the so-called Newspaper Rock near the Visitor Center at the entrance of this district.

The Maze district is located west of the Colorado and Green rivers is the least accessible section of the park, and one of the most remote and inaccessible areas of the United States.[8][9]

A detached unit to the north, Horseshoe Canyon unit, contains panels of rock art made by hunter-gatherers from the Late Archaic Period (2000-1000 B.C.) pre-dating the Ancestral Puebloans.[10][11][12] Originally called Barrier Canyon, Horseshoe's artifacts, dwellings, pictographs, and murals are some of the oldest in America.[11] It is believed that the images depicting horses date from after 1540 A.D., after the Spanish re-introduced horses to America.[11]


The National Weather Service has maintained two cooperative weather stations in the park since June 1965. Official data documents the desert climate with less than 10 inches of annual rainfall, as well as very warm, mostly dry summers and cold, occasionally wet winters. Snowfall is generally light during the winter.

The station in The Neck region reports average January temperatures ranging from a high of 37.0F to a low of 20.7F. Average July temperatures range from a high of 90.7F to a low of 65.8F. There are an average of 43.3 days with highs of 90F (32C) or higher and an average of 124.3 days with lows of 32F (0C) or lower. The highest recorded temeprature was 105F on July 15, 2005, and the lowest recorded temperature was -13F on February 6, 1989. Average annual precipitation is 9.07 inches. There are an average of 59 days with measurable precipitation. The wettest year was 1984 with 13.66 inches and the dryest year was 1989 with 4.63 inches. The most precipitation in one month was 5.19 inches in October 2006. The most precipitation in 24 hours was 1.76 inches on April 9, 1978. Average annual snowfall is 22.9 inches. The most snowfall in one year was 47.4 inches in 1975 and the most snowfall in one month was 27.0 inches in January 1978.[13]

The station in The Needles region reports average January temepratures ranging from a high of 41.2F to a low of 16.6F. Average July temperatures range from a high of 95.4F to a low of 62.4F. There are an average of 75.4 days with highs of 90F (32C) or higher and an average of 143.6 days with lows of 32F (0C) or lower. The highest recorded temperature was 107F on July 13, 1971, and the lowest recorded temperature was -16F on January 16, 1971. Averange annual precipitation is 8.49 inches. There are an average of 56 days with measurable precipitation. The wettest year was 1969 with 11.19 inches and the dryest year was 1989 with 4.25 inches. The most precipitation in one month was 4.43 inches in October 1972. The most precipitation in 24 hours was 1.56 inches on September 17, 1999. Average annual snowfall is 14.4 inches. The most snowfall in one year was 39.3 inches in 1975 and the most snowfall in one month was 24.0 inches in March 1985.[14]


Mesa Arch at sunrise, Island in the Sky district

A subsiding basin and nearby uplifting mountain range (the Uncompahgre) existed in the area in Pennsylvanian time. Seawater trapped in the subsiding basin created thick evaporite deposits by Mid Pennsylvanian. This, along with eroded material from the nearby mountain range, become the Paradox Formation, itself a part of the Hermosa Group. Paradox salt beds started to flow later in the Pennsylvanian and probably continued to move until the end of the Jurassic.[15] Some scientists believe Upheaval Dome was created from Paradox salt bed movement, creating a salt dome, but more modern studies show that the meteorite theory is more likely to be correct.

A warm shallow sea again flooded the region near the end of the Pennsylvanian. Fossil-rich limestones, sandstones, and shales of the gray-colored Honaker Trail Formation resulted. A period of erosion then ensued, creating a break in the geologic record called an unconformity. Early in the Permian an advancing sea laid down the Halgaito Shale. Coastal lowlands later returned to the area, forming the Elephant Canyon Formation.

Large alluvial fans filled the basin where it met the Uncompahgre Mountains, creating the Cutler red beds of iron-rich arkose sandstone. Underwater sand bars and sand dunes on the coast inter-fingered with the red beds and later became the white-colored cliff-forming Cedar Mesa Sandstone. Brightly-colored oxidized muds were then deposited, forming the Organ Rock Shale. Coastal sand dunes and marine sand bars once again became dominate, creating the White Rim Sandstone.

Druid Arch in the Needles district

A second unconformity was created after the Permian sea retreated. Flood plains on an expansive lowland covered the eroded surface and mud built up in tidal flats, creating the Moenkopi Formation. Erosion returned, forming a third unconformity. The Chinle Formation was then laid down on top of this eroded surface.

Increasingly dry climates dominated the Triassic. Therefore, sand in the form of sand dunes invaded and became the Wingate Sandstone. For a time climatic conditions became wetter and streams cut channels through the sand dunes, forming the Kayenta Formation. Arid conditions returned to the region with a vengeance; a large desert spread over much of western North America and later became the Navajo Sandstone. A fourth unconformity was created by a period of erosion.

Rock formations in the Needles district

Mud flats returned, forming the Carmel Formation and the Entrada Sandstone was laid down next. A long period of erosion stripped away most of the San Rafael Group in the area along with any formations that may have been laid down in the Cretaceous period.

The Laramide orogeny started to uplift the Rocky Mountains 70 million years ago and with it the Canyonlands region. Erosion intensified and when the Colorado River Canyon reached the salt beds of the Paradox Formation the overlying strata extended toward the river canyon, forming features such as The Grabens. Increased precipitation during the ice ages of the Pleistocene quickened the rate of canyon excavation along with other erosion. Similar types of erosion are ongoing, but occur at a slower rate.


  • Harris, Ann C. (1998). Geology of National Parks. Kendall Hunt Publishing Co.. ISBN 0-7872-5353-7.  
  • Zwinger, Ann (1986). Wind in the Rock. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. ISBN 9780816509850.  
  • Johnson, David (1989). Canyonlands: The Story Behind the Scenery. Las Vegas: KC Publications. ISBN 0887140343.  
  • U.S. Department of the Interior (2003). The National Parks: Index 2001–2003. Washington, D.C.

See also

False Kiva


  1. ^ {{cite web |url= |title= Canyonlands National Park |accessdate= 28 April 2008 |dateformat= dmyauthor= National Park Service |last= |first= |authorlink= |coauthors= |date= |year= |month= |format= |work= |publisher= |pages= |language= |doi= |archiveurl= |archivedate= |quote= Canyonlands preserves a colorful landscape eroded into countless canyons, mesas and buttes by the Colorado River and its tributaries. The rivers divide the park into four districts: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze and the rivers themselves. While these areas share a primitive desert atmosphere, each retains its own character and offers different opportunities for exploration.
  2. ^ Canyonlands National Park at National Park Service
  3. ^ Edward Abbey, 1985 letter in Postcards from Ed : dispatches and salvos from an American iconoclast, 2006, Milkweed Press, ISBN 1571312846
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ [2]
  6. ^ 2009 Canyonlands Completion report
  7. ^ U. S. National Parks Service (2008). "Native Americans" (.pdf). U. S. National Parks Service. Retrieved August 21 2008.  
  8. ^ U. S. National Parks Service (2008). "Maze". U. S. National Parks Service. Retrieved August 21 2008.  
  9. ^ United States National Parks and Monuments Guide (2008). "Canyonlands National Park - The Maze District". United States National Parks and Monuments Guide. Retrieved August 21 2008.  
  10. ^ U. S. National Parks Service (2008). "Horseshoe Canyon" (.pdf). U. S. National Parks Service. Retrieved August 21 2008.  
  11. ^ a b c Robert Hitchman (2000). "The Great Gallery of Horseshoe Canyon". Apogee Photo Magazine. Retrieved August 21 2008.  
  12. ^ U. S. National Parks Service (2008). "The Archeology of Horseshoe Canyon" (.pdf). U. S. National Parks Service. Retrieved August 21 2008.  
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ Harris, Ann C. (1998). Geology of National Parks. Kendall Hunt Publishing Co.. ISBN 0-7872-5353-7.  

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Green River Overlook in the Islands in the Sky district
Green River Overlook in the Islands in the Sky district

Canyonlands National Park [1] is a United States National Park that is located in Utah's Canyon Country. The small town of Moab is the gateway to this and the nearby Arches National Park. It is divided into three districts not connected by roads interior to the park: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the Maze (including Horseshoe Canyon). The Island in the Sky offers sweeping vistas over the lower two districts; the Needles and the Maze are more rugged, backcountry districts that offer excellent backcountry hikes and camping.



From the 1880s to 1975, local ranchers used much of Canyonlands for winter pasture, constructing trails to move their stock across the rugged terrain. In the 1950s the growth of America's nuclear arms program created a high demand for uranium. To encourage prospectors, the Atomic Energy Commission offered monetary incentives and built almost 1,000 miles of road in southeast Utah. In Canyonlands, these roads include the popular White Rim Road at the Island in the Sky. Though the region produced substantial amounts of uranium, miners discovered very little in what is now Canyonlands. However, the newly created roads led to other discoveries. For the first time, much of Canyonlands could be seen from a car. Tourism slowly increased as more people learned about the area’s geologic wonders. By opening canyon country to travel, the miners blazed the trail for the creation of a National Park.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Arches National Monument Superintendent Bates Wilson advocated the creation of a National Park in what is now Canyonlands. On September 12, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Public Law 88-590 establishing Canyonlands National Park. Initially consisting of 257,640 acres, Congress expanded Canyonlands to its present size of 337,598 acres in 1971.


Canyonlands National Park preserves one of the last relatively undisturbed areas of the Colorado Plateau, a geological province that encompasses much of the Colorado River and its tributaries. Carved out of vast sedimentary rock deposits, this landscape of canyons, mesas, and deep river gorges possesses remarkable natural features that are part of a unique desert ecosystem. Elevations within the park range from 3,700 to 7,200 feet above sea level.

The foundation of Canyonlands' ecology is its remarkable geology, which is visible everywhere in cliff profiles that reveal millions of years of deposition and erosion. These rock layers continue to shape life in Canyonlands today, as their erosion influences elemental features like soil chemistry and where water flows when it rains.

Flora and fauna

The desert animals that live in the park are mostly nocturnal and include kangaroo rats, woodrats (also called packrats) and most other small desert rodents, skunks, ringtails, foxes, bobcats, mountain lions, bats and owls. Other animals are most active during dawn and dusk hours and include mule deer, desert bighorn, coyotes, porcupines, desert cottontails, black-tailed jackrabbits, and many songbirds. The handful of animals likely to be seen during the day include rock squirrels, antelope squirrels, chipmunks, lizards, snakes, hawks, and eagles.

Plants in the park include drought escapers (those which make use of favorable conditions when they exist) and drought resistors (those capable of growing with little water). Drought escapers are usually annuals that grow only when enough water is available. Seeds may lie dormant for years if conditions are not favorable. Most grasses are escapers, as are wildflowers that bloom after seasonal rains during spring or late summer. Drought resistors are typically perennials. Many have small, spiny leaves that reduce the impact of solar radiation, and some may drop their leaves if water is unavailable. Spines and hairy leaves act to reduce exposure to air currents and solar radiation, limiting the amount of water lost to evaporation. Cacti, yuccas and mosses are examples of drought resistors. Yuccas have extensive taproots that are able to use water beyond the reach of other plants. Moss, a plant not commonly associated with deserts, thrives because it can tolerate complete dehydration: when rains finally return, mosses green up immediately.


Southeast Utah is part of the Colorado Plateau, a "high desert" region that experiences wide temperature fluctuations, sometimes over 40 degrees in a single day. The temperate (and most popular) seasons are spring (April through May) and fall (mid-September through October), when daytime highs average 60 to 80°F and lows average 30 to 50°F. Summer temperatures often exceed 100°F, making strenuous exercise difficult. Late summer monsoon season brings violent storm cells which often cause flash floods. Winters are cold, with highs averaging 30 to 50°F, and lows averaging 0 to 20°F. Though large snowfalls are uncommon (except in nearby mountains), even small amounts of snow or ice can make local trails and roads impassable.

Get in

By air

Canyonlands Field Airport [2], from which Great Lakes Airlines provides daily commuter service to Denver, is located on US Route 191 just 16 miles north of downtown Moab.

By car

To reach the Islands in the Sky district take US Highway 191 to Utah Highway 313 (10 mi/16 km north of Moab, or 22 mi/35 km south of I-70) and then drive southwest 22 mi/35 km. Driving time to the visitor center from Moab is roughly 40 minutes.

The Needles district can be reached by driving 40 miles (60 km) south of Moab or 14 miles (22 km) north of Monticello on US Highway 191, then take Utah Highway 211 roughly 35 miles (56 km) west. Highway 211 ends in the Needles, and is the only paved road leading in and out of the district.

The Maze district is one of the most inaccessible areas in the continental United States. The outskirts of the Maze can be reached by driving two and one-half hours from Green River. From I-70, take Utah Highway 24 south for 24 miles. A left hand turn just beyond the turnoff to Goblin Valley State Park will take you along a two-wheel-drive dirt road 46 miles (76 km) southeast to the ranger station. From the ranger station, the canyons of the Maze are another 3 to 6 hours by high-clearance, 4WD (more if traveling by foot). Another four-wheel-drive road leads into the Maze north from Highway 95 near Hite Marina (driving time is 3+ hours to the park boundary).


Entrance fees are $5 for individuals on foot, bike or motorcycle, and $10 for private vehicles (fees are good for seven days). A Local Passport may be purchased for $25 and allows unlimited entry to Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park, Hovenweep National Monument and Natural Bridges National Monument for one year. Alternatively, the $80 National Parks Pass allows entry to all National Park areas for one year.

Fees may be waived for groups whose purpose is educational rather than recreational; check with the park in advance for fee waiver details.

Get around

By car

Travel to Canyonlands generally requires a car. Once in the park, each district offers different opportunities for exploration. The Island in the Sky is the most accessible district and the easiest to visit in a short period of time. All other destinations require some boating, hiking or four-wheel driving to see the area's attractions.

By air

Daily air tours to Canyonlands National Park in a Cessna aircraft are provided from the Canyonlands Field Airport. The aircraft seats about 7 people (including the pilot). The flights take you over all of the most scenic parts of Canyonlands including the Maze District, Island in the Sky, Dead Horse Point, the Colorado River and more. Typically flights last about 1-2 hours. Helicopter flights are also available as a tour-by-air option.

Flight Operators:

  • Moab Adventure Center, 225 S. Main St.,Moab, UT 84532, Ph: (888) 622-4097 [3]
  • Arches & Classic Helicopter Services, 2251 S. Hwy 191, Moab, UT 84532 (435) 259-4637 [4]
  • Canyonlands by Night & Day, 1861 N Hwy 191, Moab, UT 84532 (800) 394-9978
  • Red Cliffs Lodge Trails, Highway 128 – Mile 14,Moab, UT 84532,(866) 812-2002
  • Tag-A-Long Expeditions [5], 435 N. Main Street, Moab, UT 84532, (800) 453-3292


Island in the Sky District

The Island in the Sky District encompasses the northern section of the park, offering an overlook of much of Canyonlands. The 34-mile (round-trip) scenic drive passes several overlooks, providing dramatic views.

  • Grand View Point. An impressive overlook of the canyons, with particularly incredible sunset views.
  • Green River Overlook. An overlook from which visitors can see the Green River, which along with the Colorado River is responsible for carving out the landscape. This overlook is also particularly scenic at sunset.
  • Upheaval Dome. An unusual crater that can be reached via a short but strenuous trail.
  • Mesa Arch. Views of the arch are best at sunrise.

Needles District

The Needles District forms the southeast corner of Canyonlands and was named for the colorful spires of Cedar Mesa Sandstone that dominate the area. The district’s extensive trail system provides many opportunities for long day hikes and overnight trips.

  • Big Spring Canyon Overlook. Accessible by road, this overlook provides a scenic view of the landscape.
  • Tower Ruin. An ancient Puebloan structure accessible by foot or 4WD vehicle.
  • Confluence Overlook. The confluence of the Colorado and Green rivers is accessible only by foot or by 4WD vehicle.
  • Druid Arch. A natural arch located at the end of a long canyon, accessible by foot.
  • Joint Trail. A narrow crack in the earth, the Joint Trail extends for several hundred meters and is often no more than a few feet wide with walls extending several stories into the air.
  • Chesler Park. Located within the heart of the Needles, this area is accessible by foot and is surrounded by the sandstone formations that gave the district its name.

Maze District

The Maze District is accessible only by unpaved roads and is considered one of the most remote areas in the lower-48 states. The Maze District is also well known as a previous hideout for famous outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The Hans Flat Ranger Station is open year-round from 8 AM to 4:30 PM and offers books and maps for sale. There are no entrance fees charged in the Maze District, and no services or amenities are available.

  • Chocolate Drops. The Chocolate Drops are a series of sandstone mesas that rise above the surrounding landscape. They are also known as Locomotive Buttes.



The park is a mecca for hikers. The Joint Trail is a particularly famous trail due to the unique terrain through which it passes, although nearly all of the park's trails lead through unique geological areas.

Islands in the Sky District

  • Aztec Butte Trail (2 mi / 3 km round-trip). This trail ascends 225 ft / 69 m up a slickrock dome to some ancestral Puebloan granaries and outstanding views of Taylor Canyon.
  • Grand View Point Trail (2 mi / 3 km round-trip). This trail offers an easy walk out to the very end of the Island in the Sky mesa, including panoramic views.
  • Mesa Arch (0.5 mi / 0.8 km round trip). A mild walk out to an arch perched right on a cliff edge. A great sunrise hike.
  • Upheaval Dome Overlook Trail (1 mi / 1.5 km round-trip to first overlook). Good view of a very intriguing rock formation. Hiking to the second overlook adds 1 mi / 1.5 km.
  • Whale Rock Trail (1 mi / 1.5 km round trip to main overlook). Starting near the Upheaval Dome parking area, this trail climbs steeply up Whale Rock. Good views of upheaval dome area.
  • Lathrop Canyon (17 mi / 27 km round-trip). This trail leads from the canyon rim to the Colorado River. After crossing grasslands on the mesa top, this trail descends via steep switchbacks to a boulder-strewn wash that leads to the White Rim Road.
  • Murphy Loop (9 mi / 14 km round-trip). A few miles of hiking on the mesa top leads to a steep descent down a cliff face to a bench where the trail divides. One fork continues along Murphy Hogback, a slim mesa with great views of the White Rim Formation and the surrounding canyons. At Murphy camp, hikers follow the White Rim Road south for about a mile, then follow a rock-strewn wash back up onto the hogback.
  • Syncline Loop (8 mi / 13 km round-trip). Starting from the Upheaval Dome Trailhead, this strenuous trail follows the washes on either side of Upheaval Dome, forming a loop that provides access to both the crater and the Green River near its midpoint. Total elevation change is roughly 1,300 feet. The north side of the loop passes through a riparian area where water and shade are usually available. There is one designated campsite along the trail.
  • Taylor Canyon (20 mi / 32 km round-trip). Starting from the Alcove Spring Trailhead, the trail descends via steep switchbacks to a rocky wash that leads into this broad, steep-walled canyon. Hikers can follow the four-wheel-drive road to the Green River. Four at-large camping permits are available. Groups may encounter significant traffic on the roads as well as on the river. Returning to the trailhead via Upheaval Canyon reduces the round-trip mileage.

Needles District

  • Cave Spring Trail (0.6 mi / 1 km round-trip). Trail features a historic cowboy line camp and prehistoric pictographs. Two wooden ladders must be climbed.
  • Pothole Point Trail (0.6 mi / 1 km round-trip). Uneven slickrock surface. Trail leads to pothole communities and views of the Needles.
  • Roadside Ruin Trail (0.3 mi / 0.5 km round-trip). Trail features an ancestral Puebloan granary.
  • Slickrock Trail (2.4 mi / 4 km round-trip). Uneven slickrock surface. Several viewpoints and sometimes bighorn sheep.
  • Chesler Park Loop / Joint Trail (11 mi / 18 km round-trip). Starting from the Elephant Hill Trailhead, the trail leads three miles to a saddle overlooking Chesler Park, a scenic expanse of desert grasses and shrubs surrounded by colorful sandstone spires. The loop around Chesler is fairly level and winds through an unforgettable series of deep, narrow geologic fractures called the Joint Trail. Five backpacking sites. No water.
  • Elephant Canyon / Druid Arch (11 mi / 18 km round-trip). Starting from the Elephant Hill Trailhead this trail offers one of the most spectacular views in the Needles. It follows the Chesler Park access trail to Elephant Canyon, then travels along the canyon bottom across a mixture of deep sand and loose rock all the way to its upper end. The last 0.25 mile is a steep climb involving one ladder and some scrambling. Three backpacking sites. Water available seasonally.
  • Confluence Overlook (11 mi / 18 km round-trip). Starting from the Big Spring Canyon Overlook, this trail traverses mostly dry, open country along the northern edge of the geologic faults that shaped the Needles. Trail ends at a cliff overlooking the junction of the Green and Colorado rivers. At-large camping only. No water.
  • Big Spring to Squaw Canyon (7.5 mi / 12 km round-trip). From the Squaw Flat Loop "A" Trailhead this trail offers a good introduction to the landscape of the Needles, connecting two canyons for a loop across varied terrain. The route between the canyons climbs steep grades that are dangerous when wet and may make people with a fear of heights uncomfortable. Two backpacking sites in each canyon. Water available seasonally.
  • Lower Red Lake Canyon (18.8 mi / 30 km round-trip). From the Elephant Hill Trailhead this strenuous hike leads to the Colorado River, changing 1,400 feet of elevation in the process. There is little shade along the way as the trail climbs in and out of the Grabens and then descends the steep talus slope of Lower Red Lake Canyon toward the river. This trail is recommended as a multi-day hike. At-large camping only. No water before reaching the river.
  • Salt Creek Canyon (22.5 mi / 34 km one-way). From Peekaboo or Cathedral Butte the trail follows the main drainage of the canyon past cottonwood groves, through thick brush, and down an old four-wheel-drive road. The trail is often obscured by dense vegetation. Many archaeological sites and arches can be seen. Four designated campsites in upper section. Lower section (along the old road) is at-large camping only. Water is usually available.

Maze District

Trails in the Maze are primitive and lead into canyons and to various viewpoints. Due to the nature and depth of Maze canyons, access to them is limited. Routes into the canyons are cairned from mesa top to canyon bottom, but routes through washes are often unmarked. Many of the canyons look alike and are difficult to identify without a topographic map. The Maze Overlook Trail and other routes in the district require basic climbing maneuvers in order to negotiate sections of steep slickrock and pour-offs. A 25-foot length of rope is often essential for raising or lowering packs in difficult spots. Many routes may make hikers with a fear of heights uncomfortable.

Most trailheads start from four-wheel-drive roads. Visitors with two-wheel-drive vehicles may park at the North Point Road junction, approximately 2.5 miles southeast of the Hans Flat Ranger Station, and hike 15 miles to the Maze Overlook. Depending on the vehicle, hikers may also be able to negotiate the 14-mile road to park at the top of the Flint Trail switchbacks.


This park is more rugged and remote than most, with the Maze District in particular being renowned as one of the most remote backpacking destinations in the lower-48.

Elephant Hill 4WD "Road"
Elephant Hill 4WD "Road"

The park offers some of the most challenging four-wheel drive roads to be found in the United States. Check with rangers about road conditions on the roads you plan to explore -- some "roads" are little more than nearly undriveable rocky trails that will be unpassable to all but the most skillful drivers in vehicles with high ground clearance.

  • White Rim Road. The 100-mile White Rim Road loops around and below the Island mesa top and provides expansive views of the surrounding area. Trips usually take two to three days by four-wheel-drive vehicle or three to four days by mountain bike. All vehicles and bikes must remain on roads. ATVs are not permitted. Under favorable weather conditions, the White Rim Road is considered moderately difficult for high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicles. Permits are required for all overnight trips along the White Rim. During the spring and fall, demand for permits frequently exceeds the number available.
  • Elephant Hill Road. Located in the Needles District, this road is one of the most technical four-wheel-drive roads in Utah, with steep grades, loose rock, stair-step drops, tight turns and backing. Over the hill, equally challenging roads lead to various features, as well as to BLM lands south of the park.
  • Colorado Overlook. A moderately difficult road in the Needles District requiring high clearance, this route begins near the visitor center and leads to an overview of the Colorado River. There are large rocks and stair-step drops in the last 1.5 miles which visitors may avoid by parking on the road (leave room for others!) and walking to the overlook.
  • Horse Canyon / Peekaboo. Also located in the Needles District, this road travels along canyon bottoms where deep sand, deep water and quicksand are common. Prehistoric rock art may be seen at Peekaboo, while there are several arches and Tower Ruin along the Horse Canyon road.
  • Lavender Canyon. A road through a canyon in the Needles District where deep sand, deep water and quicksand are common. There are two major creek crossings with steep banks. Many arches and archeological sites may be viewed from the road.
  • Flint Trail. This road is the most commonly used road in the Maze District, traversing slopes of clay that are extremely slippery when wet. The Flint Trail is often closed during winter. Drivers on this road should be capable of making any necessary vehicle repairs.
  • Teapot Camp to the Land of Standing Rocks. Another 4WD road in the Maze District that is considered very difficult under any conditions and involves considerable risk of vehicle damage. Drivers on this road should be capable of making any necessary vehicle repairs.

Mountain biking

Nearly any of the park's 4WD roads can be traversed by mountain bike, with the exception of the Horse Canyon Road which can be too sandy for mountain biking; inquire with rangers. Bikers should carry plenty of water, and be aware that permits are required for all overnight stays. In addition, many of the park's backcountry roads connect to BLM lands outside of the park, making for interesting itinerary possibilities.


Rafting on the rivers is popular, although all visitors must have permits. Guided trips are offered by the following companies:

  • Adrift Adventures of Canyonlands, (800) 874-4483, (435)259-8594, [6].
  • Adventure Bound, (800) 423-4668, (970) 245-5428, [7].
  • Colorado River & Trail Expeditions, (800) 253-7328, (801) 261-1789, [8].
  • Don Hatch River Expeditions, (800) 342-8243, (435) 789-4316, [9].
  • Holiday River Expeditions, (800) 624-6323, (801) 266-2087, [10].
  • Moki Mac River Expeditions, (800) 284-7280, (801) 268-6667, [11].
  • Tag-A-Long Expeditions, (800) 453-3292, (801) 259-8946, [12].
  • Western River Expeditions, (800) 453-7450, (801) 942-6669, [13].
  • O.A.R.S. (Outdoor Adventure River Specialists), (800) 346-6277, (209) 736-4677, [14].


The visitor centers have gift shops selling books and souvenirs, but otherwise there is nothing to be bought within the park. Supplies, groceries, hardware, and a variety of souvenirs can be purchased in towns outside of the park.


There is no food available within the park. Visitor centers sell water, but everything else will either need to be brought into the park or purchased in towns outside of the park.



There is no lodging within the park, but numerous hotels can be found in the town of Moab, as well as in the towns of Hanksville, Green River, and Monticello.


The park has two organized campgrounds, with additional camping options available outside of the park on public land.

  • Squaw Flat Campground. Located in the Needles district, this campground offers 26 sites on a first-come, first-served basis. Bathrooms, fire grates, picnic tables, tent pads and water are available year-round. Group size limit is 10 people and 2 vehicles. Maximum RV length is 28 feet. Fee is $10 per night. Squaw Flat typically fills every day from late March through June and again from early September to mid-October.
  • Willow Flat Campground. Located in the Islands in the Sky district, this campground is open year-round on a first-come, first-served basis. There are twelve sites with tables, fire grills and vault toilets. The 1 mi/1.6 km access road is paved. Firewood and water are not available. Maximum group size is ten people, with a limit of two vehicles per group. Sites are $10 per night.


Permits are required for all overnight stays in the backcountry, including backpacking, four-wheel drive or mountain bike camping, and river trips. Permits are also required for day use by vehicles, bikes and horses in Horse/Salt Creek and Lavender canyons in the Needles District. Permits are not required for day hiking. Permits costs vary in price from $15 to $30 depending on activity, and are valid for groups of as many as fifteen people.

Permits can be obtained at the visitor centers, and all permits can be reserved in advance. Those not reserved in advance are available to walk-ins first-come, first-served (see for more information). Walk-in permits are only available the day before or the day of a trip. Permits are issued up to one hour before the close of business each day. River permits are issued (usually in advance) from the Reservation Office in Moab.

Permits (except day use) are good for a maximum of fourteen days. Exact sites/zones and dates must be determined when the permit is issued. Backpackers may stay up to seven consecutive nights in any site or zone. Visitors using the designated vehicle camps may stay a maximum of three consecutive nights at a camping area before having to relocate.

Reservation office staff are available by phone to answer questions and assist with trip planning Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (MST), at (435) 259-4351. When workload permits, phones may be answered until 4:00 p.m. Please have a map available if you would like assistance with trip-planning. Visitors may also email questions to Reservations may not be made over the phone or by email.

Stay safe

The park's greatest danger is weather. Summer temperatures often exceed 100 ° F, but even during the spring and fall visitors should plan on drinking one gallon of water per day. When hiking be aware that it can be easy to get lost in the twisting canyons, so let someone know where you are going and bring more food and water than you think you'll need. During storms avoid high open areas which can be prone to lightning strikes. In addition, be extremely cautious in narrow canyons as flash floods can occur with even just a small amount of precipitation. If you are in a canyon and it begins to rain, look for higher ground immediately; if you can hear the sounds of floodwaters approaching or notice rising water around you it is already too late to seek safety. During winter ice can make roads dangerous, and visitors may want to consider bringing tire chains.

  • Arches National Park. A spectacular (if sometimes crowded) park that features some of the best works of Mother Nature. The weird arches and other spectacular rock formations are definitely worth a visit.
  • Moab. The nearest major town, Moab offers all the services, lodging options, and material support to guarantee that everyone from the most threadbare adventure seeker to a Minivan-driving family of six has what they need.
This is a guide article. It has a variety of good, quality information about the park including attractions, activities, lodging, campgrounds, restaurants, and arrival/departure info. Plunge forward and help us make it a star!

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