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 and Green Rivers. and their tributaries. The rivers divide the park into four districts: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze and the rivers themselves. A detached unit to the north, Horseshoe Canyon, contains panels of rock art made by hunter-gatherers from the Late Archaic Period (2000-1000 B.C.) pre-dating the Ancestral Puebloan Indians. While these areas share a primitive desert atmosphere, each retains its own character. Although they may appear very close on a map, traveling between them requires two to six hours by car. Complex topography makes direct travel difficult or even impossible in many areas. Most visitors find it impractical to visit all areas in a single trip. Go directly to the Canyonlands Photo Gallery.
Island in the Sky is a broad and level mesa to the north of the park between the rivers with many overlooks of the White Rim, a sandstone bench 1,200 feet below the Island. The Needles district is named after the red and white banded rock pinnacles which dominate it. The Maze district 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.
Canyonlands has become an increasingly popular backcountry destination. Permits are required for all overnight travel in the backcountry. During the spring and fall, demand for backpacking and four-wheel-drive permits frequently exceeds the number available. If you plan to visit Canyonlands National Park during peak season, it is recommended that you make reservations well in advance. There are extensive hiking trails in the park, providing opportunities for short walks, half or full-day hikes, or backpacking trips lasting a week or more. Lack of water is a limiting factor, and hikers may have to carry their own supply. Pets are not allowed on hiking trails.
In Canyonlands, peak visitation generally coincides with the most pleasant weather. The busiest seasons are spring and fall, when daytime highs average 60° to 80° F. and lows average 20° to 50° F. Crowds are largest and campsites and backcountry permits are most difficult to obtain during holiday weekends such as Easter and spring break. Summer temperatures, with highs hovering near 100° F., discourage crowds and tend to make strenuous exercise difficult. Most precipitation falls in late summer and early autumn thunderstorms. Winters are cold, with highs averaging 30° to 50° F., and lows averaging 0° to 20° F. Though large snowfalls are uncommon in the park, even small amounts of snow or ice can make trails and roads impassible. Many four-wheel-drive roads are closed in winter.
Starting at the Elephant Hill Trailhead, the 11-mile roundtrip Chesler Park loop trail circuits 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 a series of deep, narrow fractures called the Joint Trail. Five backpacking sites. No water. We spent a glorious day in and around Chesler in 2005. Colorado Bro has made many trips to Canyonlands. Be sure to check out his trail guide galleries for more information.
Horseshoe Canyon contains some of the most significant rock art in North America. The Great Gallery, the best known panel in Horseshoe Canyon, includes well-preserved, life-sized figures with intricate designs. Other impressive sights include spring wildflowers, sheer sandstone walls and mature cottonwood groves along the intermittent Barrier Creek stream in the canyon bottom. Horseshoe Canyon was added to Canyonlands NP in 1971. Most visitors access Horseshoe from the west. Two-wheel-drive access to the west rim of Horseshoe Canyon is from Utah Highway 24 via 30 miles of graded dirt road, or from Green River on 47 miles of dirt road. Driving time is roughly 2.5 hours from Moab or 1.5 hours from Green River. We visited this section of the park in October, 2008.
In the northwest corner of the Island in the Sky district is Upheaval Canyon and the Upheaval Dome, an ancient impact crater. Surrounding the dome is Syncline Valley and the Syncline Loop Trail to the Green River rim. Colorado Bro took this video when he hiked the loop in April 2010.
Proceed to the Canyonlands National Park Photo Gallery
National Parks Conservation Association — The gradual, accelerated warming of our planet will have disastrous consequences for America's national parks. But all is not lost. Although the situation seems dire, NPCA's report, Unnatural Disaster, says we can still halt the most severe effects of climate change if we take action now. The national parks offer a unique opportunity to draw attention to America’s priceless resources at risk, and to showcase opportunities to act to protect them.