Sunday, September 19, 2021

Top Things to do in Canyonlands National Park

Explorer Lens

Despite being the largest national park of Utah, it is often overlooked and overshadowed by the other famous national parks of Utah like Arches, Zion and Bryce. But it has plethora of surprises and things to explore.

Canyonlands National Park is among the 5 iconic National Parks of Utah, which are also known as Mighty 5. In our ten days roadtrip to Utah, Colorado and Wyoming, we also planned to cover this national park.

After exploring another unrated gem of Utah - Capitol Reef National Park, we were on our way to check out the offbeat places of Canyonlands National Park.

Canyonlands is made of five different areas – Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze, the Rivers and Horseshoe Canyon. While the overlook points of Island in the sky are the most popular among tourists, the Needles also provide great hikes, scenic views and magnificent pillars and spires of sandstones.
The Colorado and Green river flows through Canyonlands and provide opportunity for white water Rafting, kayaking and canoeing. The Maze is the remotest and least accessible region of Canyonlands.
You need 4 × 4 vehicle, permit, proper hiking gear, great level of planning and a very detailed map to explore it. Horseshoe Canyon has great hikes and also known for its significant rock art and petroglyphs.

While there is a lot to experience and explore in Canyonlands, we planned to visit the more accessible famous districts - Island in the Sky and the Needles.

Here is the list of major attractions in Island in the Sky:

1. Visitor Center Viewpoint

The first viewpoint of the park is right at the visitor center. Just park your car at the visitor center and get to the other side of the road to have a stunning view of Canyonlands. There are canyons, dirt roads, mesas and La Sal Mountains off in the distance which create a great first look of the park.

Distance – 0.2 miles round trip from parking
Time – 15-20 minutes

2. Shafer Canyon Viewpoint

After visitor center viewpoint, this is the next overlook to stop and have a view.
It gives you a close-up of the iconic Shafer Point Road winding down the massive sandstone cliff.
You can stand at the edge of the mesa which is 1,400 feet above the canyon and take in the incredible view.

Distance – 0.3 miles round trip
Time – 30 minutes


3. Mesa Arch

Mesa Arch gives competition to the arches found in Arches National Park. It is one of the most popular spot of Canyonlands National Park and the best time to visit it is during sunrise. As the sun rises, it illuminates the arch, creating a mesmerizing view.

It can get crowded during the peak afternoon hours, so try to visit during the start of the day or late afternoon hours.

Distance – 0.5 miles round trip
Time – 45 minutes


4. Green River Overlook

Green River Overlook is one of the most famous viewpoints of Canyonlands National Park.
It is easy to access and the overlook is just a short walk from the parking lot.

From 6,000 feet above, you have unobstructed stunning view of the green river carving it’s way through the canyon, numerous cliffs, buttes, mesas and also the Maze district.

Distance – 0.2 miles round trip from parking
Time – 20 minutes


5. Buck Canyon Overlook

As you drive towards Grand View Point from Green River Overlook, this is a great viewpoint on the way.
You can see numerous buttes to the left and canyons carved by the river to the right. Definitely worth a stop for few minutes to absorb in the amazing views.

Distance – 0.1-miles round trip from parking
Time – 15-20 mins


6. Grand View Point

Another spectacular overlook in Canyonlands is Grand View Point. It has a large parking, but because of its popularity, it fills up fast.

At the overlook, you get absolutely incredible views of the Canyonlands National Park stretching far into the horizon with endless alleys of canyons formed by the Colorado River. You can also see the Needles Area of the park from here.

You can also choose to hike the Grand View Point hike which starts at this point. It is a 2 miles roundtrip and offers stunning 360° views.

Distance – 0.2 miles round trip from parking
Time – 20 minutes


7. Upheaval Dome

It is a unique place in Canyonslands and the views are completely different to what we have normally seen in the park. Though we didnt get time to visit it, but you should definitely have it on your list.


8. White Rim Overlook

It is a 2 miles roundtrip hike to the overlook point, so he decided to skip this. If you have an extra hour, you can definitely check it out.


9. White Rim Road

It is the 100 miles iconic dirt road which loops around the Island in the Sky mesa. It takes an average of 2-3 days with 4×4 vehicle and even more with a bike. This is a totally different way to experience Canyonlands National Park.

There are few more scenic hikes and overlook points in the Island of the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park and it totally depends on how much time you have to cover them.

Here is the list of major attractions in the Needles:

1. Wooden Shoe Arch Overlook

This is the first overlook of the Needles. You can see a wooden shoe shaped rock formation which looks amazing. The shoe rock is a bit far away, so you would need a zoom lens to get a good view.


2. Slickrock Trail

If you don’t have time to hike to Chesler Park and only have time for one hike in the Needles, Slickrock trail is the recommended one. It offers incredible views of the Needles and Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park.

Distance – 2.4 miles loop trail
Time – 2-2.5 hours


3. Chesler Park

Chesler Park is the best spot in the Needles, as you get to see close-up view of hundreds of sandstone spires (which are called needles).

There are two hiking options here, the shorter one is 6 miles round trip, while the longer one is 11 miles loop trail. The shorter one takes you to the Chesler Park Viewpoint, from where you can La Sal Mountains to the north and Chesler Park to the south.

As we only had half day for the Needles, we did the shorter one. But if you have complete day for Needles, try the longer one as it takes you through the Chesler Park where you can have the best close up view of the sandstone spires aka Needles.

Distance – 6-11 miles loop trail
Time – 4-7 hours


4. Druid Arch

Druid Arch is considered to be one of the most popular destinations in Needles. The hike offers an iconic arch at the end of the trail which is said to resemble large rocks of Stonehenge.
As we were short of time, we couldn’t visit the arch, but it is definitely worth visiting.

Distance – 10.4 miles round trip
Time – 5-7 hours


Credit - Here

Tips from our experience and learning

1. Canyonlands National Park has a lot of remote, untamed and rugged places which are accessible via dirt road and will require a 4 × 4 vehicle, so do keep a note of that while visiting this national park.

2. Bring lots of water and food, as there are no cafes or restaurants in Canyonlands National Park or in the vicinity.

3. Get your tank full at Moab, as there are no gas stations in Canyonlands National Park.

4. Try to visit Mesa Arch during Sunrise and Dead horse point state park during sunset which lies in close vicinity to Island in the Sky district of Canyonland.

5. If you are visiting the park during summers the temperatures can soar to 100 Fahrenheit, so carry sunscreen and good amount of water.

6. If you are thinking of hiking the Maze, make sure you have that much hiking experience, supporting gear, a very detailed map of Maze, 4 × 4 vehicle and ofcourse Permit. Try for guided tours.

7. It is a 2 hours drive from Island in the Sky to Needles or vice versa, so plan your visit accordingly.

8. Try to keep atleast 2 days for Canyonlands National Park to visit it’s major attractions, unless you are planning to drive the White Rim Road which will take additional 2 days.

Explorer Lens / Author & Editor

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