National Park Guides

Canyonlands National Park: Explore Countless Canyons, Arches, Mesas and Buttes

POSTED ON November 27, 2022 BY Ralph S.


Introduction to Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park is an incredible national treasure with a beautiful landscape of canyons, mesas and buttes in southeastern Utah.

With its towering sheer cliffs, meandering rivers, and miles of white rim trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding, you’ll find plenty to explore during your overnight trips!

From panoramic views to stunning sunsets over the Colorado River, Canyonlands National Park will leave you awestruck.

The Island in the Sky district is a flat-topped mesa surrounded by cliffs and the meandering Green River, which offers spectacular views across its canyons and buttes. The Needles district is characterized by a multi-colored sandsky.

The Maze District is a wild and remote area with no roads or trails that requires careful navigation to explore.

Horseshoe Canyon offers some of the most spectacular rock art in the world. It is also within proximity to Goblin Valley State Park, an area that features unique rock formations referred to as goblins.

Whether you’re looking for an unforgettable rafting adventure or simply want to take in the majestic beauty of this amazing park, you won’t be disappointed.

Come experience all that Canyonlands National Park has to offer and make sure to bring your camera – there are plenty of photos around every corner!

Large red sandstone rock in Canyonlands National Park

Entrance Fees & National Park Passes

Entrance fees for the park are very reasonable, ranging from $15 for a single person to $55 for an annual Southeast Utah Park Pass, which includes access to Arches National Park and Hovenweep and Natural Bridges national monuments as well. Motorcycle passes are $25 and cars and other private vehicle passes $30. More info can be found here on the website of the National Park Service.

If you’re visiting multiple parks within a year, consider getting an America the Beautiful Annual Pass for $80 which will allow access to all US national parks and every national monument.

History of Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park was established in 1964 and is one of the most unique landscapes found anywhere in the United States. The park covers 337,598 acres (1,366.21 km2) and includes the Green and Colorado Rivers – along with many canyons, mesas and buttes carved from thousands of years of erosion.

Within its borders, you’ll find numerous archaeological sites that date back to prehistoric times including Ancestral Puebloan ruins, petroglyphs and pictographs, that provide an amazing look into the lives of ancient civilizations that once lived here.

The Great Gallery in Canyonlands National Park

The most notable sites are located on the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park, including Upheaval Dome, a giant crater thought to have been created by a meteorite strike or other unknown forces. Here you’ll find rock art panels with intricate designs and symbols carved into sandstone cliffs alongside dwellings constructed from stone blocks that were used by ancestral Puebloans thousands of years ago.

Other archaeological sites throughout the park include granaries, small house structures and cliff dwellings providing insight into how these ancient peoples lived.

There are also several exposed dinosaur fossils throughout the park dating back millions of years. Some of the dinosaur fossils discovered include Ceratosaurus, Diplodocus, Stegosaurus and Apatosaurus, as well as ancient fish, amphibians and reptiles.

Key Facts About Canyonlands

Size: 337,598 acres (1,366.21 km2)

Number of Visitors: 911,594 (2021)

Established: September 12, 1964

Number of Hiking Trails: 82 (AllTrails)

Lowest Point: 3,700 feet (1,128 meters) at Cataract Canyon on the Colorado River

Highest Point: 7,180 feet (2,188 meters) above Big Pocket in the Needles District

Other interesting facts:

  • Canyonlands National Park is home to two rivers – the Green and Colorado – which form canyons, mesas and buttes as they meander through the landscape, providing several opportunities for rafting and other river activities.
  • There are over 100 hiking trails in the park ranging from easy one-mile strolls to multi-day backpacking trips for experienced hikers.
  • The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park is known for its unique spire-like rock formations and spectacular vistas of the surrounding area.
  • The Maze District is a remote section of Canyonlands that features an intricate network of canyons, buttes and mesas, making it perfect for exploring on foot or by a four wheel drive vehicle.
  • Night skies make Canyonlands an ideal destination for stargazing – take a guided tour to learn about the different constellations visible in the park.
  • There are over 5,000 archaeological sites found in Canyonlands National Park, including ruins from Ancestral Puebloan people and petroglyphs that date back 4,000 years!
  • The park is home to diverse wildlife, such as bighorn sheep, coyotes and mule deer as they explore its various trails and canyons.

A Rock in Canyonlands National Park

Climate and Weather

When visiting Canyonlands National Park, the climate and weather should be taken into consideration when planning your overnight trips. The park has four distinct seasons – spring, summer, fall, and winter – with temperatures ranging from cool to cold depending on the season.

Spring

In spring (March-May) temperatures range from 25-60°F (-4°C-16°C) and can dip below freezing at night. Visitors will likely experience windy conditions with occasional snowfall in higher elevations. Days are generally sunny but storms are common at this time of year so be sure to bring along rain gear if visiting during this season.

Summer

Summer in Canyonlands National Park is generally warm and pleasant, with an average high of 80°F (27°C) and lows near 50°F (10°C). There is usually little to no rain during this time, but visitors should be aware that storms can still occur unexpectedly, so it’s a good idea to pack rain gear just in case.

During the months of June-August, the days are generally sunny, but visitors should be aware that temperatures can drop significantly at night. This is a great time of year to explore the park and take part in outdoor activities like hiking and rafting. Be sure to wear plenty of sunscreen and bring enough water for your adventure!

Fall

Fall (September-November) brings cooler temperatures and an increased chance of precipitation. Temperatures range from 40-70°F (4°C – 21°C) during the day but can dip below freezing at night in higher elevations. Storms are more frequent during this time of year so visitors should pack rain gear and warm clothing for their trip.

The days are generally sunny and mild, making it an ideal time for activities like hiking, camping, or stargazing. The vibrant colors of the turning leaves make this a great season to explore the park and marvel at its beauty. Be sure to bring plenty of layers as temperatures can drop quickly after sunset. As always, make sure to pack enough water so you stay hydrated during your adventure.

Winter

Winter (December-February) in Canyonlands National Park brings colder temperatures and more frequent storms. Average highs range from 40-50°F (4°C – 10°C), with lows often dipping below freezing. Storms are common during this season, so visitors should prepare for wet weather by packing rain gear and warm layers of clothing.

Winter is an excellent time for activities like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, with some of the best views of the park when blanketed in white. Be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks so you stay hydrated and energized during your adventure! With clear night skies, this is a great season for stargazing – take a guided tour to learn about the different constellations visible in the park.

A four wheel drive vehicle is recommended for travel during this season, as well as bringing along chains or snow tires if you plan on tackling icy roads.

Winter in Canyonlands National Park

Best Time to Visit Canyonlands National Park

The best time of year to visit Canyonlands National Park is in spring and fall if you want to avoid the summer crowds. During these seasons, temperatures are mild with little rain or snow. The park has fewer people than during the summer months, making it easier to find a campsite and get out on the trails without too much competition.

The most popular time to visit Canyonlands National Park is during the summer months of June-August when the days are usually sunny with little rain and temperatures are mild and comfortable. This season also attracts the largest number of visitors due to its pleasant conditions, but can lead to crowded conditions, similarly to other Utah national parks..

Visitors looking for cooler weather should plan their trip for winter (December-February). Temperatures at this time of year can be quite chilly but there’s usually very little precipitation and no crowds. Just make sure you dress warmly and bring enough layers during your overnight trips!

Check on the NPS website (National Park Service) on current conditions & alerts before your visit.

Recommended Gear

Planning a trip to Canyonlands National Park? Be sure to pack the right gear so you can make the most of your visit! Depending on the time of year and what activities you have planned, here are some essential items to bring:

  • Sun protection such as hats, sunglasses and sunscreen
  • Comfortable clothing suitable for hot and cold weather
  • Waterproof jacket or coat
  • Hiking boots or sturdy shoes with good treads
  • Flashlight or headlamp with extra batteries
  • Camping supplies such as tents, sleeping bags, camp stoves and cookware if camping overnight.
  • Binoculars for observing wildlife from a distance

For more information on day hiking, you can find a lot of ideas in this checklist that covers all the essential items you should bring.

When visiting Canyonlands National Park, especially during the winter months, it is important to be prepared for any type of weather. If a storm is in the forecast, make sure to bring rain gear and warm layers of clothing so you can stay dry and comfortable. It’s also a good idea to have a daypack handy that contains a flashlight or headlamp with extra batteries, as well as an emergency kit that includes a first aid kit, knife, whistle, phone charger and matches.

If you’re camping overnight in the park be sure to bring a waterproof tent and enough supplies to last for several days if necessary. Finally, make sure to check the weather forecast before you set off and follow the advice of rangers if a storm is headed your way.

Make sure to bring maps of the park as well, you can download them from the National Park Service for each district of the park here:

Island in the Sky District map

The Maze and Orange Cliffs map

Horseshoe Canyon map

Needles District map

Things to do in Canyonlands National Park

Located in southeastern Utah, Canyonlands National Park is an outdoor paradise for those seeking adventure. From rafting and hiking to biking or stargazing, there’s something for everyone to enjoy at this incredible park.

One of the most popular attractions in the park is Grand View Point Road, a scenic route that takes visitors past some of the oldest rocks in North America and out to an overlook with panoramic views of the remote Maze District. You can navigate to the Hans Flat Ranger Station which is open daily to get hiking recommendations or learn more about the geology of the park.

Another area of the park that is not to be missed is Chesler Park, a sprawling sandstone plateau filled with canyons and natural sculptures carved out by the wind and water over thousands of years.

The great gallery is also another of Canyonlands’ most popular attractions with towering sandstone walls covered with a colorful landscape and ancient rock art. Picnic tables are also scattered throughout the park, offering a great place to relax and take in the breathtaking views.

There is a sky visitor center located in nearby Salt Lake City where visitors can learn more about Canyonlands National Park’s history and attractions. Green River Overlook is the best place to see the sunset and one of the best in any national park. Located about 8 miles (12 km) and 14 minutes from the Island. It’s no wonder that people come from all over the world to explore what the Park has to offer!

The Green river overlook in Canyonlands National Park

Hiking and Backpacking

Canyonlands National Park is a hiker’s paradise offering challenging hikes through a remote and primitive desert atmosphere! With its stunning red rock canyons and mesas, plus plenty of trails to choose from, it’s easy to see why so many adventurers come here to explore the area.

Canyonlands National Park is home to a variety of must-see attractions, which are reachable via trails. The most popular ones include the impressive Mesa Arch, which offers stunning views of the canyons and mesas below; Upheaval, which features a spectacular rocky outcropping that gives visitors an unparalleled panoramic view of the area; and Angel Arch, which is a natural sandstone archway that offers breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape.

There’s also the Dome, which is an impressive sandstone formation that towers over 500 feet above the canyon floor.

Taylor Canyon is a picturesque site featuring multi-colored rock formations, towering sandstone cliffs, and cascading waterfalls. The canyon walls stretch for miles, leaving hikers with spectacular views of the surrounding desert terrain. It is an impressive natural wonder that stands out among Utah’s other red rock parks.

If you want to really immerse yourself in nature, several backpacking trails like the Slickrock Trail, Maze Overlook Trail or Green River Overlook Trail offer spectacular views of the rugged landscape.

Top Hiking Trails in Canyonlands National Park

If you’re looking for a challenge, several trails including the Grand view point trail lead to the cliff edges of the canyons.

Mesa Arch Trail: This is one of the most popular and easily accessible hikes in Canyonlands National Park. The moderately difficult hike is 0.7 miles (1.1 Km) long with an elevation gain of 100 feet (30 meters) and takes about 45 minutes to complete. It offers stunning views of the surrounding mesas, canyons and buttes, plus visitors have the chance to spot some wildlife along the way.

Upheaval Dome: This is a great choice for adventurous hikers looking for a challenge! The first overlook has a round tip distance of 0.6 miles (1 km) and an elevation gain of 115 ft (35m), taking around 3-4 hours to complete. Along the way, you’ll pass by several stunning cliff edge overlooks with incredible panoramic views, plus get up close to geological formations like the Upheaval Dome.

White Rim Trail: For a fairly easy, yet rewarding trek, White Rim Trail is just what you need! This 100-mile (160 km) loop follows through the jeep road along the rim of an ancient lake. It takes several hours via dirt roads or days to complete, depending on your availability. But keep your eyes peeled for breathtaking views of the La Sal Mountains in the distance as well as some desert wildlife. However, you’ll need to get a day-use permit for all vehicles, motorbikes, and bicyclists on single-day trips on the White Rim.

Syncline Loop Trail: The Syncline Loop Trail is an excellent choice for hikers who want to take it slow and enjoy all that Canyonlands has to offer. The moderate 8-mile (12.8 km) loop has an elevation gain of only 1627 feet (496 m) and takes around 3-5 hours to complete. Along this trail, you’ll get up close cliff edge views of colorful rock formations plus plenty of stops for admiring the stunning landscape.

Druid Arch Trail: The Druid Arch Trail is one of the toughest out-and-back hikes in Canyonlands National Park, yet also one of the most rewarding. This strenuous 9.7-mile (15.6 km) hike has an elevation gain of 1,500 feet (457 m) and takes around 5-6 hours to complete. But don’t let that discourage you! Along the way, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of natural sandstone arches plus have plenty of chances to spot some desert wildlife.

Angel Arch: Angel Arch is a great option for hikers looking for a moderate trek with plenty of eye candy along the way. The 26.7-mile (43.1 km)loop has an elevation gain of 700 feet (213 m) and takes around 10-11 hours to complete. Along the way, you’ll be treated to some of the most stunning views in the park plus the chance to spot some rare plants and animals.

Wild Horse Canyon Trail: For a truly unique experience, try Wild Horse Canyon Trail! This moderately challenging 5.9-mile (9.5 km) hiking trail takes about 2-3 hours to complete and offers stunning views of red rock canyons plus plenty of chances to spot wild horses roaming around their natural habitat. The full loop is 8.1 miles (2.5 m) long with an 800 ft (244 m) elevation gain and takes about 4-6 hours to complete. It’s one not to miss!

As the largest national park in Utah, Canyonlands is also home to multiple viewpoints including Grand View Point Overlook, White Rim Overlook and the Island In The Sky mesa vista point. These all offer incredible views of the surrounding canyon, plus you have the chance to spot some desert wildlife in the area as well.

Hiking Trails in Canyonlands National Park

Mountain Biking

Mountain biking in Canyonlands National Park is a great way to explore the rugged terrain. There are plenty of trails suitable for all levels, from short, easy routes to more challenging options for experienced mountain bike riders.

The White Rim Trail is especially popular amongst mountain bikers and offers stunning views of the La Sal Mountains and surrounding canyons. Along the way, you may also be able to spot some of the local wildlife in their natural habitat.

Another popular trail to explore the rugged terrain is the Shafer Trail! This intermediate 19.6-mile (31.5 km) loop has an elevation gain of 3107 feet (947 m) and takes about 5-6 hours to complete. It offers thrilling trails with plenty of ups and downs, plus breathtaking views of the canyons and mesas in the distance.

Rock Climbing

For rock climbers, there are plenty of challenging cliffs and peaks to explore. Canyonlands National Park is a paradise for rock climbers, offering spectacular views of the surrounding canyons plus some great routes up their faces. Popular climbing spots such as Elephant Hill, The Joint, and Big Bend provide challenging climbs for experienced climbers, while the easy-to-navigate routes of the Syncline Loop Trail are great for beginners.

Other top spots include White Rim Overlook, Island in the Sky Vista Point and Grand View Point Overlook, all offering stunning views of the park plus plenty of chances to spot local wildlife.

Water Rafting and Watersport Activities

If you prefer aquatic activities, then Colorado and the Green Rivers offer a wealth of watersport activities for visitors to Canyonlands National Park! Several boat ramps on both the Colorado River and Green River allow visitors to launch kayaks, canoes or rafts onto these majestic waterways.

Rafting is especially popular amongst visitors, with both the Colorado and Green Rivers providing plenty of exciting rapids.

Canoeing is a great way to explore the calmer parts of these rivers and is suitable for all levels of experience. Kayaking is also popular, with several routes available to suit both experienced kayakers and those just starting. Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) is a great way to explore the rivers, as it allows you to cover more distance while enjoying the stunning views of the surrounding canyon walls.

Fishing

Fishing in Canyonlands National Park is a great way to relax and take in the scenery, while also having the chance to catch some of the native species and non-native fish.

The area is home to some excellent fishing spots where you can try your hand at catching minnows, razorbacks or humpbacks. But you need to get a Utah State government license to fish. Also, you can check out this guidebook to find out more about fishing in Utah.

Horseback Riding

Horseback riding is a great way to explore the stunning terrain of Canyonlands National Park. The park offers plenty of hiking trails specifically designed for horseback riding, from easy routes suitable for beginners to challenging ones for experienced riders.

Popular trails include the White Rim Road and Syncline Loop, both of which provide spectacular views of the canyons and mesas in the distance. Horseback riding is a great way to take in the natural beauty of the park and spot some of the local wildlife. Before you get started, make sure to check with a ranger for any safety tips or regulations.

You can also book day or night horseback riding tours.

Stargazing

Canyonlands National Park is a great place for stargazing, thanks to its remote location and clear night skies. On a clear night, visitors can get an incredible view of the Milky Way and other stars, planets and constellations.

The park also offers astronomy-based ranger programs during the summer months, which provide insight into the science of stargazing and how to make the most out of it. The Dark Sky Events are especially popular and provide a unique opportunity to see the stars in all their glory.

Remember that you can stargaze on your own or with a ranger. Find more information about the events you’ll find.

Night life in Canyonlands National Park

Camping

Canyonlands National Park is a great spot for backcountry camping! With its stunning views and rugged terrain, there is a variety of camping areas including the Needless Campground which offers stunning views of the canyon walls and sky.

The four main campgrounds in the park include Island In The Sky Campground, Squaw Flat Campground, Upheaval Dome Group Site and Willow Flat Campground.

All of these offer a variety of backcountry camping sites ranging from primitive backcountry campsites to full-facility RV sites with running water and showers.

If you want to stay overnight in the backcountry, you’ll need to get a permit from the Visitor Center. These permits are available for either one or two nights and allow you to camp anywhere within Canyonlands National Park.

Lastly, if you plan on doing any backpacking or self-guided tours such as The Maze Overlook Trail or Grand View Point Overlook, then be sure to check with the park rangers for more information and advice before heading out.

Where to Stay

When planning a trip to Canyonlands National Park, you’ll want to find the perfect place to stay. Inside the park, there are four main campgrounds as well as several backcountry campsites available with prior permits.

If you’re looking for something a bit more comfortable, then there are plenty of lodges and hotels located in nearby towns such as Moab, Green River, and Monticello. Plus, you can also take advantage of some unique accommodation options like glamping tents or even houseboats!

Moab is also 30.2 miles (48.6 km) away, and another ideal option for a night stay. The city offers many convenient and affordable hotels and lodgings. You can check out the prices and book the precise place to stay, depending on your preferences.

Just north to Moab there’s Arches National Park. Many people visiting both national parks in a single trip and Moab offers easy access to both.

No matter what type of lodging you choose, make sure it’s close enough to the park so that you can easily enjoy all its activities during your visit.

With so many great places to stay near Canyonlands National Park, you’ll be sure to have a memorable and enjoyable vacation!

How to Get There and Getting Around

Visiting Canyonlands National Park is an amazing experience for anyone who loves spending time outdoors. But before you can begin your adventure, you have to figure out how to get there. Luckily, it’s easier than ever!

The closest airport to Canyonlands National Park is the Grand Junction Regional Airport in Colorado. From there, you can take a shuttle or rent a four wheel drive car and drive to Moab which is the closest town to the park. It only takes about two hours and offers plenty of stunning views along the way.

Once you’re in Moab, then you’re almost ready to explore Canyonlands. To get around inside the park, visitors are encouraged to use either their vehicle or a rental car since most of the trails are unpaved and difficult to traverse without one.

If you’d rather not drive, then there are also a few tour companies that offer guided trips through the park. These tours can provide a great educational experience as well as access to some more remote areas within Canyonlands National Park making it an ideal option for those looking for a more comprehensive visit.

Conclusion

Canyonlands National Park is a stunning destination for adventurers of all skill levels.

From awe-inspiring hikes to thrilling rafting trips, this large national park has something for everyone! Plus, with its convenient location and easy access from the Grand Junction Regional Airport, visiting Canyonlands could be easier than ever before.

So if you’re looking for a unique adventure filled with beautiful sights and unforgettable experiences then don’t miss out on the opportunity to explore Canyonlands National Park! With its spectacular canyons and endless outdoor activities, it’s sure to be an experience you won’t forget.


RALPH S.

Ralph S. is the founder of Silverlight, an avid hiker and trail runner he enjoys spending time outdoors, riding his motorcycle and swimming at the beach when he's not busy replying to customers or developing new Silverlight gear.

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