Untamed, Unforgettable: Canyonlands National Park, UT

author image

January 8, 2011

Canyonlands National Park covers a vast area of wilderness, centered around the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers. The park preserves an immense wilder­ness of rock, in which water and gravity have carved hundreds of canyons, mesas, buttes, spires, arches, and other spectacular rock formations.

The Green and Colorado rivers have carved two large canyons that serve as the centerpieces for the colorful but smaller canyons that sur­round the area.

Over millions of years, the rivers and their small tributaries have carved the flat sandstone rock layers into many amazing forms with an immense variety of colors.

There is so much to see and do at Canyonlands that one could spend a lifetime here and never know it fully.

Although there are some paved roads, much of Canyonlands is still largely inaccessible. The best way to see most of the park is by 4WD vehicle, but many roads are rough, and huge areas lack any access.

The sheer canyons of the Green and Colorado rivers have naturally sliced the park into three distinctive districts: The Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze. Travel between them is necessarily difficult, requiring several hours or more driving.

There are two major entrances to Canyonlands National Park. One, found 35 miles northwest of Moab, enters the Island in the Sky district. The other lies 40 miles south of Moab or 22 miles north of Monticello, and leads to The Needles district.

Island in the Sky

The Island in the Sky region is a wide high plateau with commanding views across many miles of deep canyons in all directions.

The Island gets its name from the fact that, with the exception of the narrow route across The Neck, this huge mesa is isolated from the canyons below by towering cliffs. Major places of interest include Grand View Point, Green River Overlook, and colorful, crater-like, 1,500 foot deep, Upheaval Dome.

From Grand View Point, one can look out over Monument Basin, the White Rim, and the vicinity of the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers.

Views from the Green River Overlook include the White Rim, the Green River, and the Orange Cliffs.

Upheaval Dome can be viewed from a 3.4 mile round trip walking trail. Fourteen other hiking trails are located in the Island in the Sky district. The Mesa Arch Trail, located 6 miles south of the visitor center, offers an easy ½-mile loop with beautiful inner canyon views.

To reach the Island in the Sky, drive 9 miles north of Moab on Highway 191and west on Highway 313. The highway travels climbs out of Seven Mile Canyon and across a plateau before reaching the turnoff to Dead Horse Point State Park. Continue on the main road toward the Canyonlands National Park visitor center near The Neck.

The Needles

The Needles district of Canyonlands is lower in elevation and has shallower canyons but a greater variety of rock formations.

Recreation opportunities are centered along the scenic drive and the network of hiking trails and 4WD vehicle routes that lead into a colorful world of red and white sandstone monoliths, towers, arches, needles, and canyons.

To reach the Needles District, drive 40 miles south of Moab on U.S. Highway 191 or 22 miles north of Monticello and 35 miles west on Utah Scenic Byway 211 to the Park Visitor Center.

En route you’ll pass through the Indian Creek Canyon portion of the Canyon Rims Recreation Area. Newspaper Rock displays one of the most outstanding Indian Rock Art panels in canyon country.

The Maze

The Maze section, west of the Green and Colorado rivers, is a wild and remote section of the park that can be reached only by driving 50 miles along rough and dusty roads. A 4WD vehicle is highly recommended. The Maze is a jumble of six steep inhospitable canyons. Around this are other remote areas of rock with yet more canyons and fins, buttes, and domes.

Canyonlands National Park


Operating Hours: Open year-round, 24 hours a day

Admission: $10/vehicle (good for 7 days); all federal lands passes accepted

Pets: Not allowed on any hiking trails or anywhere in the backcountry

Contact: (435) 719-2313

Leave a Reply

1 comment

  1. Sue

    Pets: Not allowed on any hiking trails or anywhere in the backcountry

    Are you kidding me? Why can’t your pets go into the back country with you? We don’t go ANYWHERE where our two little dogs can’t go. And we ALWAYS clean up after them and outselves! We boondock alot because of the no pets allowed ANYWHERE but we have found some awesome places in Utah to go that others who stick to “highly regulated” campgrounds don’t ever see. Too bad tho, would like to see it but that’s ok.