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The Colorado River and the Green River flow together in the heart of Canyonlands, creating a rippled landscape with deep red-walled canyons, arches, buttes, spires and innumerable other spectacular rock formations. Canyonlands is so large and so diverse that it is carved naturally into three distinctive districts: Island in the Sky, The Maze and The Needles. While they adjoin each other, each area must be reached from different entry points. The travel time between each of the three districts is several hours.
Canyonlands is open year-round, 24 hours a day. Visitor center seasons and hours may vary. Check the park’s official website for the most current information. All visitor centers are closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Travel to Canyonlands usually requires a car. Once in the park, each district requires some boating, hiking or four-wheel driving to see the area’s attractions. Food, gas, lodging and similar services are not available. To truly appreciate this geologic fantasyland, allow four or five days to explore all three districts. Leave Moab with a full tank of gas, food, lots of water, a spare tire and sun protection. There are no restaurants or hotel accommodations in the park. Canyon country is not a friend to cell phones. Do not rely on GPS units to guide you in the park. Once you enter Canyonlands, cellular service diminishes greatly, especially in the canyons (and away from the pavement). Pets are not allowed on any trails. Leashed and restrained pets may accompany visitors in the campground, at overlooks and at pullouts along the paved scenic drives.
Island in the Sky
A wide, high plateau with commanding views across many miles of deep red-rock canyons in all directions. North on US Hwy 191, ten miles to Utah Hwy 313 then southwest 22 miles to the visitor center. Island in the Sky has about 20 miles of paved highway and some gravel roads with several viewpoints. It is the most accessible district and the easiest to visit in a short period of time. There are many hiking trails, including a path to Upheaval Dome, a weird moonlike crater with peaks springing from its center. Firewood and water are not available at campsites.
The Maze, west of the rivers, is the wildest and most remote section of the national park. This most inaccessible district of Canyonlands requires a four-wheel-drive vehicle, time and self-sufficiency. The Hans Flat Ranger Station in The Maze is a three-hour drive west from Moab via Interstate 70. From Interstate 70 take Utah Hwy 24 south along unpaved roads, starting between Hanksville and Green River, across relatively flat and completely uninhabited terrain to Hans Flat Ranger Station. Remember, the roads are passable only in a four-wheel-drive vehicle. No paved roads. There are no amenities, food or gas.
The Needles, in the southeast region of the park, is the heart of rock country and offers many opportunities for exploring. 76 miles from Moab, south on US Hwy 191, 40 miles to Utah Hwy 211, then 35 miles west to the park entrance and visitor center. Utah Hwy 211 ends in The Needles District and is the only paved road leading in and out of it. The Needles District has only eight miles of roads accessible by foot, four-wheel-drive vehicles or mountain bikes. Note the petroglyphs on the rock face at Newspaper Rock on the road into The Needles District.
Activities requiring a backcountry permit include backpacking, four-wheel-drive and mountain-bike camping, horseback riding, river trips and four-wheel-drive day use. Permits (other than river) are issued seven days a week at district visitor centers. Permits can be reserved in advance online at www.canypermits.nps.gov. Reservations must be made no more than four months and no fewer than two days prior to the permit start date. 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.
Sites at Willow Flat Campground at Island in the Sky are $15/night. Sites at Squaw Flat Campground in The Needles are $20/night. All sites are first-come, first-served.
Sound of Silence
The National Park Service measured the interior of Canyonlands National Park and found it to be one of the quietest places in the United States.
An authentically dark night The International Dark-Sky Association has granted Gold-Tier International Dark Sky Park status to Canyonlands National Park, an honor reserved for the darkest of dark skies and the most stunning of starscapes.
Commercial Tours NAVTEC Expeditions offers front and backcountry tours for all three districts of Canyonlands.
GyPSy Guide, Canyonlands National Park’s driving tour app, might just be your perfect companion as you explore. It plays commentary automatically as you drive so you won’t miss a thing.