Canyonlands National Park Things to Do

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    by goodfish
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    Mesa Arch
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    View of arch through tree line
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Most Recent Things to Do in Canyonlands National Park

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    Island in the Sky: Shafer Overlook

    by goodfish Updated Apr 8, 2015

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    This is an easy, unpaved stroll to a really fabulous overlook right across from the visitor center. From here you can see the Shafer Trail - built in the early 1900's as a horse path, and then used to move uranium ore - that winds down into the canyon to connect with the 100-mile loop of White Rim Road, or Potash Road farther east. You need a high-clearance 4X4 to travel all of this so don't try it in your minivan, OK? Hang up your car and it'll cost you over $1,000 to have it hauled out. You can mountain-bike them if you have two wheels and the time: RT on White Rim takes 3-4 days. Have a jeep? 2-3 days will do ya. And a camping permit. Otherwise, just enjoy the view.

    http://www.nps.gov/cany/index.htm

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    Needles: Joint Trail

    by goodfish Updated Apr 2, 2015

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    If you are planning on doing the Chesler/Joint Loop, this is a continuation of my previous tip with thanks again to David and Utah Trails for the borrowed link to the useful guide (below).

    I've also included a screen capture from the park website's map in my Chesler Park/Devil's Kitchen hike review which can be used as a reference.

    At the end of a jeep road spur on the south side of Chesler park, you transition from wide open space with towering rock formations down into a section of subterranean keyhole caves and a very narrow fracture that runs for about a 1/4 mile or so. The narrow opening in the rock that is the entrance is an uphill climb from the end of the road, through a narrow opening in the rock, and descent down a flight of conveniently placed steps: you'll run into a large keyhole that's almost a subway except for the narrowest of fracture in the ceiling. Previous devotees of the Joint have made it a temple of sorts with offerings of cairns to show their appreciation and the way forward (or out, if you're doing this hike clockwise).

    Follow other cairns through, taking right or left turns as they indicate or where you are forced to - you'll be doing some scrambling over large rockfalls here and there - until you reach a 300-ft section of fracture that's under 2 feet wide in places but with sides rising 50 feet high. Follow along to another nicely placed stairway at the end and up into open air. Follow along the trail that finishes the Chesler Park loop - going left at the fork that otherwise heads to Druid Arch on the right - and return to the loop's starting point to retrace your way back to the Elephant Hill parking lot. Do be careful not confuse that fork with a lefthand path to the CP3 - CP5 primitive campsites: that turnoff is just BEFORE the lefthand fork you'll take on the Chesler/Joint trail.

    Do NOT attempt to do the Joint with rain in the forecast. We got caught down here in an unexpected downpour and while not in a critical section, got a good look how much rushing water can fill the narrow fracture passage in a short time. It also made scrambling out one soggy, slippery pain in the (insert body part): see my warnings and dangers tips. That fracture is also difficult to squeeze through with large backcountry packs.

    http://www.utahtrails.com/CheslerPark.html

    Rain in Cairn Temple, Joint Trail Joint Trail, Needles, Canyonlands Joint Trail, Needles, Canyonlands Joint Trail, Needles, Canyonlands
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    Needles: Chesler Park

    by goodfish Updated Apr 2, 2015

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    So as promised in the previous tip, here's the skinny on the Chesler Park portion of Chesler/Joint. This portion of the loop is about about 4.5 miles in length, and a real honey. It has its share of big ups and downs but not much for elevation change: a good thing for this flatlander.

    The trail travels over sections of slickrock, sand and dirt, down into Elephant Canyon, up through a narrow opening or two, and past fantastic hoodoo and pinnacle formations of layered deep reds, bright oranges and pale yellows. And just when you think it can't get any better, you reach the wide-open meadow of Chesler Park itself. *Gasp* It is one truly magnificent panorama. It defies words. Below you stretches a fantastic, alien city of monoliths, towers and caprocks that look for all the world like a set in a sci-fi movie. Here is the best spot for a bag lunch and a long, long look from your perch... but be careful lest you gaze away some serious daylight!

    It's at this point that you can either turn around and retrace your steps 3 miles back to the parking area, or continue onto the Joint. If choosing the latter, there are still 8 miles to go so tear yourself away and drop down into the "city" itself to circle 1.6 miles or so around the needles to a short section of 4-wheel road that signals the upcoming turnoff to the Joint. After about 1/4 mile or so on this road you'll see the sign: you'll be heading east .5 miles to the next amazing stretch of this loop...

    Although there's good signage at critical points, you need to watch carefully for the cairns that mark the trail over large sections of slickrock. I'm including the same link from the previous tip (thank you to David Day and Utah Trails) that gives a good route description and which direction to turn at forks to other trails.

    http://www.utahtrails.com/CheslerPark.html

    I've also included a screen capture from the park website's map in my Chesler Park/Devil's Kitchen hike review which can be used as a reference.

    Trail to Chelser Park, Needles Chesler Park, Needles, Canyonlands NP Slot enroute to Chesler Park, Canyonlands Chesler Park, Needles, Canyonlands NP
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    Needles: Chesler Park/Devil's Kitchen

    by goodfish Updated Apr 2, 2015

    Needles is by far our favorite unit of the three in Canyonlands we’ve explored. It is a 75-mile drive from Moab but the payoff is in spades: some of most ridiculously gorgeous trails in Utah, and having had them, for the most part, all to ourselves. This is a hiker/ backpacker destination that requires some effort to fully appreciate so overlook and windshield gazers don’t come here. Overrun and frustrated by the masses at Arches? This is your escape!

    The 'classic' Needles hike is Chesler Park/The Joint - which we did on a previous trip. My review on the Chesler section is here:

    http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/p/m/215860/

    This 2nd hike gave us another shot at Chesler but looped back to our starting point at Elephant Hill the opposite direction, through Devil’s Kitchen. The distance was about the same (11 miles RT) and while without that fun squeeze through The Joint, provided oodles of “mushrooms”, fins, pinnacles and other eye candy. To do this one, refer to the little map I’ve included :

    Follow the route from the Elephant Hill parking area south and then west via Chesler Park Trail/Loop Trail.

    About 4.1 miles from the E.H. trailhead, the trail comes to a junction.
    To the left (south) goes to the loop for The Joint.
    To the right goes to Devil’s Kitchen loop: go right (north).

    Continue north on a sandy trail through a flat plain called Devil’s Park bordered by rock formations and a high canyon wall on the more northerly end.

    Devil’s Kitchen backcountry campground is 5.5 miles from the E.H. trailhead. A flat, juniper-shaded rock here is a nice rest/picnic spot, and there’s a pit toilet but no water.

    At this point head east (do not follow the 4WD road that goes north) and just follow the trail as it eventually curves around to the south and back to connect again with Chesler Park Trail. Retrace your steps 3 miles or so back to Elephant Hill.

    A larger map of the entire park can be found here:

    http://www.nps.gov/cany/planyourvisit/upload/NeedlesTrailsandRoads.pdf

    A park entrance fee is required for access to the trailhead but no special permit to day hike. There is a small visitor center at the entrance to the park, about 10 miles before the E.H. parking area. Directions here:

    http://www.nps.gov/cany/planyourvisit/needles.htm

    You do not need a topographical map, GPS or any other special equipment but you will need to be able to follow cairns, do up/down scrambling, and the leg through that flat plain is a long-ish slog through sand and scratchy vegetation. It is also going to be VERY HOT during the summer/early fall months, and there are lengthy sections with no shade so bring as much water as you can carry.

    Needles is remote - we’ve run into very few other people on both of our treks here - and there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to pick up phone service (we couldn’t) so it’s not a great place to break an leg or sprain an ankle: take care through rocky passes, over the slickrock and whatnot, OK? More information on various trails at Needles can be found here:

    http://www.nps.gov/cany/planyourvisit/needlestrails.htm

    Note: my photos were taken on a vivid setting so the formations appear more red than they actually are. No matter: they're plenty impressive in real life!

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    Horseshoe Canyon: the hike

    by goodfish Updated Dec 16, 2014

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    Besides the pictographs, one of the big paybacks of Horseshoe is the canyon itself. You descend 750 feet of winding dirt and slickrock to the floor, and follow a wash: between towering sandstone cliffs, past interesting alcoves, and among rabbitbrush and wildflowers. Ancient peoples inhabited this place many thousands of years ago, and in the quiet between echoing canyon walls you can imagine them hunting for game, collecting water, and taking refuge against the weather in the nooks and crannies. They also painted mysterious, ghostly figures which puzzle and captivate hikers and archeologists alike.

    If it's dry, you'll be walking in the wash of Barrier Creek or on a cairned path beside it if there has been a recent, heavy rain. You will have to cross it several places so be prepared to get wet, muddy feet if water in the wash is running but it shouldn't be any deeper than that. If rain has been REALLY heavy, the road to the trailhead would have probably have been impassable to begin with.

    It's easy to just ramble along enjoying the scenery but don't forget what you came here for! There are 4 sections of pictographs on the route, and you need to keep your eyes open to find some of them (see next tip).

    http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/p/m/215b42/

    This will be a hot one in the summer months, and that 750 feet DOWN must go UP again at the end of the day: a hat, sunscreen and lots of water are gotta-haves. The hike is about 7 miles RT and it's recommended to allot 4-6 hours.

    http://www.nps.gov/cany/planyourvisit/horseshoecanyon.htm

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    Grand View Trail

    by blueskyjohn Updated Dec 11, 2014

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    Excellent views! This is a very easy 1.5 mile out and back hike. The trail is well maintained and in recent years many stone steps have been put in place to make it even easier. The view to the south is much better than on the other side of this peninsula. At the end of the trail is the island in the sky, a large lonely mesa. Hiking out to the end, stay on you left for the great views. Be careful here, there are no guard rails and it is a 2000 ft. drop.

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    White Rim Overlook Trail

    by blueskyjohn Updated Dec 11, 2014

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    This Trail is only 1.5 miles long and has completely flat terrain. The hike travels out on a finger into the heart of Canyonlands to beautiful views of the White Rim Trail. If you are looking to avoid people, this hike is better than the Grand View Trail.

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    The Needles

    by Assenczo Updated Oct 9, 2014

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    The Needles district must be a paradise for hikers. It has a dense network of trails and a wide variety of small(er) scale rock formations. Of course, the big attraction is the row of “Needles” but there are other structures with similar “candy” colouring all around. Moreover, this is the place where one can attempt to reach the confluence of the Colorado and the Green Rivers without special gear or camping in the wilderness. Summer of course is not the best time to spend hours on end under the unrelenting sun. This is a time more appropriate for car incursions with the relative safety of air-conditioned environment for a while. In this context, there are two options predetermined by the road fork in the middle of the district. One arm takes the crowds to the Big Spring Canyon Overlook where the trailhead to the Confluence Overlook is. The other arm adds some excitement in the form of unpaved and very narrow road, where the drivers have to squeeze in the on-coming traffic, all the way to the base of the Elephant Hill. Here the proud owners of 4X4 vehicles can try out their luck on even more adventurous highway, while the poor sedan-possessing mortals might opt for a bit of hiking in the scorching sun. Even the snakes are napping at this time of the day!

    Giant Needles Red Blobs Reluctant Hiker Canyon Guards Sexual Hoodoos
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    Indian Creek

    by Assenczo Updated Oct 8, 2014

    One of the approaches to Canyonlands Park is from the town of Monticello (the spot to stock up on gas, water and picnic goodies) via Indian Creek. If anybody has anxiety about missing the turn-off point he/she should not worry at all. The turn is properly indicated by the usual road signage but this is trivial compared to the unforgettable stone sculpture sticking out at the right spot. This upside-down lotus-topped sculpture has such similarity to the onion domes of Mogul India that one might take a double look to make sure that this one is indeed naturally made. Despite the confirmation at close inspection, its influence is so powerful that one wonders whether the name of Indian Creek refers to the natives or their namesakes at the opposite side of the globe. As if to blast any residue of doubt, once out of the escarpment and down into the canyon itself, Indian message to posterity makes it quite clear who were the folks the creek was christened after. The so-called Newspaper Rock is a brilliant piece of petroglyph art taking the maximum advantage of the rock shape and its blackish top layer by juxtaposing it to the white colour of the carved sections. Most intriguingly and disappointingly, this message does not seem to appear stylistically uniform and pure since along the true “Indian” look-alikes there are images of wheels, most probably related to European settlers of the area, and also some profanities of the sorts: “Joe Blow has been here”. While this last fact might spur disappointment amongst professionals and amateurs alike and drive its ratings down, “Newspaper Rock” is unique enough to warrant a short stop on the way to The Needles. Following Indian Creek’s contour one gradually becomes exposed to other bizarre similarities to art forms from distant worlds. Stone faces of the canyon are shaped in “acropolis style” slabs shooting strait up from hill tops. Later on come the reminders of the Egyptian pyramids standing on a vast platform, architecturally not far off the Giza plateau set-up. Grand overview of the plain that Indian Creek’s canyon turns into is best witnessed from the lofty Needles Overlook which is reached via a different route from the major north-south 191 highway.

    Road Sign Time travel Indian Creek Canyon North & South Sixshooters Indian Creek and Plain - Needles Overlook
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    Sky Island

    by Assenczo Updated Oct 8, 2014

    Island in the Sky is a very poetic name and heavily-loaded metaphor albeit slightly inaccurate; the “island” is actually connected to the rest of the mesa by a tiny “neck” just off the Shafer canyon. Once over this minor theoretical blip and physical threshold, the visitor is onto a path of discovering some of the greatest panoramas the Mother Nature has produced. From the elevated tip of the Grand View Point Overlook one can enjoy a 360-degree sweeping view of the vast Canyon formed by the Colorado and Green rivers plus the numerous sub canyons delved by their smaller tributaries; from the abrupt end of the mesa to infinity. Here is the place where the visitor can realize why the “Needles” were baptised this way and not called “skyscrapers” for example, of which they remind when gawked from closer distance. Here one can notice the tiny sliver of the Green River on the left, working its way to the confluence with its mighty co-culprit Colorado and at the same time admire the magnificence of the La Sal mountains framing the view to the northeast, on the right.
    Another spectacular corner of the island includes the “Upheaval Dome”. Reportedly this geological feature is best seen and understood from the air but even the close-up from the slopes is worth the trouble of getting there. The tectonic catastrophe has produced rocks of many colours clogged in a crater reminding unwittingly of the Death Valley’s Artist Palette in California.
    All along the rugged rim of the “island” there are stupendous views of different canyons starting somewhere in the abyss below. Equipped with more time one can look back at the mesa from the lower level for a completely different perspective. This exercise requires specialized 4x4 vehicles though but the roads must be quite tame considering that they were ploughed by miners some time ago. This fact points out to the major shift of local and federal authorities’ agenda to promotion of tourism at the expense of mining and thus saving the natural beauty of the area unspoiled for future generations of admirers.

    Colourful Disaster Buck Canyon & La Sal Mountains Panoramic self-portrait Tripod hole
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    Dead Horse Point

    by Assenczo Updated Oct 8, 2014

    Once upon a time there were some good-cum-bad guys who caught wild horses for pleasure and purpose. One day they had their usual ways of cornering the freedom-loving creatures on a tip of the mesa, part of what is to be known as Island in the Sky by later generations in the tourism era. This section of the mesa is actually a “peninsula” connected to the “mainland” via a narrow “neck”. The remaining unwanted and frightened animals would not dare to try to escape back onto the “mainland” through the “neck” and instead jump to their deaths from the cliffs. Hence the bizarre name of this state park. The other oddity is the fact that this land is geographically bound to the rest of the “Island of the Sky” area and by extension to the Canyonlands National Park. This premise was apparently not good-enough reason and the Dead Horse Point was separated from its flesh and blood and transferred into the hands of Utah state park service. Whatever the shenanigans, one has to remember that this area is under different jurisdiction and passes from the national parks are not accepted. Preliminary calculation is necessary to determine the usefulness of the pass versus single entries in several parks.

    Colorado Gooseneck
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    Island in the Sky: Good stuff to know

    by goodfish Updated Jan 21, 2014

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    The Island in the Sky unit of Canyonlands NP is 32 miles from Moab and the park has another 20 miles of paved scenic road. Figure on driving 40 miles within the park as the road doesn't loop; you'll double back on all branches. Park entry fees are $10 per vehicle, $5 per motorcycle or bicycle, or use your annual NPS park pass if you have one. Entry fees are good for a week and cover the Needles unit as well (no entry fee needed for the Maze or Horseshoe Canyon). Entry fees do not cover camping, river use or other permits so see the NPS website on those.

    There is one small campground (Willow Flat) open year-round on a first-come, first-served basis. It has 12 sites with picnic tables, grills and toilets but no water, firewood or hookups. Site fees are $10.

    The Visitor Center at the park entrance is open 9:00AM - 4:30 PM daily with some longer hours March - Oct. You can talk to a ranger about the best activities for your abilities, get backcountry permits and maps, and purchase bottled water (no drinking water sources within the park). There's no restaurant so pack your own food and water for the day and bring a bag to pack out your trash.

    http://www.nps.gov/cany/planyourvisit/index.htm

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    Island in the Sky: White Rim Overlook Trail

    by goodfish Updated Nov 28, 2013

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    This is another easy two-miler that weirdly doesn't show up on the park website. The trailhead starts at the White Rim Overlook and picnic area parking lot and meanders along slickrock (follow the cairns) to a point as drop-dead gorgeous as Grand View's. Stretching 1,200 feet below is another perspective of Monument Basin and White Rim Plateau. At the end of the trail is a huge sandstone hoodoo rock that makes a great perch for scenery gazing, and braver souls can go out even further onto some flat outcroppings. We spent WAY too much time here, too.

    Note: the end of this trail has unprotected edges and long, long drop-offs

    http://www.nps.gov/cany/planyourvisit/iskyshorthikes.htm

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    Island in the Sky: Mesa Arch Trail

    by goodfish Updated Nov 28, 2013

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    A one mile RT hike to leads to a 50-foot span of rock that is probably the most photographed spot in the park. A graceful opening perfectly frames the La Sal Mountains, several dramatic towers and an interesting arch below. Look closely at the three formations just left of center in my second photo: the tall thin formation on the right is Monster Tower. Right next to it is Washerwoman Arch: you can just barely see the vertical hole under what looks like the woman's arm. Behind both of these formations is Airport Tower.

    This is an easy one with a gradual 100 ft gain in elevation. Your biggest challenge will be trying to get a shot sans humans as it's one of those places that draws like flies the folks who cannot seem to EVER shoot ANYTHING without someone positioned squarely in front of it. Dedicated photographers will come here at sunrise to capture the most visual drama - but so do 100 other shutterbugs. I read that the best time is at dawn in winter when the sun peeks over the horizon at an optimal position and there are fewer competing lenses to contend with.

    http://www.nps.gov/cany/planyourvisit/iskyshorthikes.htm

    Mesa Arch, canyonlands Monster and Airline Towers and Washerwoman Arch Mesa Arch, Canyonlands Mesa Arch, hazier Day
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    Island in the Sky: Scenic drive and overlooks

    by goodfish Updated Nov 28, 2013

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    Island in the Sky really needs to be explored from the trails or unpaved bike/4X4 roads to get the full effect but if you have mobility issues or are pressed for time, you can get a taste from the pullovers and a few overlooks along the 20 miles of paved scenic road. Buck Canyon, Green River and Grand View overlooks are all accessible to wheelchairs and strollers and all provide jaw-dropping views for the camera. The scenic road is in 3 branches and all require doubling back to the park entrance - no loops. Bring a cooler along for lunch at the White Rim Overlook or Upheaval Dome picnic areas - they both have a few covered tables and vault toilets (but no water).

    The 32-mile drive to the visitor center from Moab is pretty scenic too: lots of red rock and a few pull-overs here and there as well. Monitor and Merrimac Buttes viewpoint on Hwy 313 is a nice one.

    http://www.nps.gov/cany

    Green River Overlook, Canyonlands Buck Canyon Overlook, Canyonlands Buck Canyon Overlook, Canyonlands Picnic shelter, White Rim Overlook Monitor and Merrimac Buttes, near Canyonlands
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Canyonlands National Park Things to Do

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Canyonlands encompasses the fantastic canyon area around the confluence of the Green and Colorado River.  There are three separate areas each with their own entrance: Island in the Sky,...

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