Canyonlands National Park Things to Do

  • View of arch through tree line
    View of arch through tree line
    by BruceDunning
  • Eroded flat surface in water flow area
    Eroded flat surface in water flow area
    by BruceDunning
  • Eroded buttes are plentiful
    Eroded buttes are plentiful
    by BruceDunning

Best Rated Things to Do in Canyonlands National Park

  • goodfish's Profile Photo

    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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  • markftlaud's Profile Photo

    canyonlands confluence of rivers

    by markftlaud Written Jan 31, 2004

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    The confluence of the Green and Colorado River.

    This is the confluence of the Green and the Colorado River both of which run through Canyonlands National Park. The confluence separates the Needles and the Maze sections of the Park. I took this photo from the Needles section. It is a very short hike from the parking lot

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  • BruceDunning's Profile Photo

    Upheaval Dome-Island District

    by BruceDunning Written Oct 15, 2009

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    First trail View looking into the dome
    3 more images

    This is by far the most unique feature of the park. It is at the north end, about 12 miles form the visitor center. Hiking here can be done, and a shorter for 8/10 mile round trip to a view, and longer, more rigorous for 2.2 mile hike. The second leg is up some steep rock and on angle, then at 2/3 point the overlook hangs you out to the edge of the cliff. It then proceeds another 1/2 mile to get another view of the dome. Theory is a meter crashed here and caused the ground to create a huge crater. It is 2 miles wide and 1 mile deep. Salt deposits from blast heat to the meteor blew out of the ground, and today this is the dome. The salt has dissipated a lot, and the minerals left create the color of the dome and caldron

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    Island in the Sky: Aztec Butte trail

    by goodfish Updated Nov 28, 2013

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    Aztec Butte, Canyonlands NP

    This was a hoot as it's up the sides of two slickrock buttes to the ruins of some ancient grainaries and one heck of a view. It's bigger than it looks here - the picture was from some distance away - and the backside is nearly a sheer drop straight into the canyon.

    It's about a 2-mile trek RT from the parking lot to the top of the butte, with a 225 ft. elevation. The top is flat but you used to be able to work your way down and around the canyon side to some of the grainary sites (see bottom pix of my title page). Unfortunately, a section on the larger butte has become unstable so hikes are limited to the smaller of the two. I'll update this tip if they decide to reopen it.

    http://www.nps.gov/cany

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  • BruceDunning's Profile Photo

    Slickrock Hike-Needles District

    by BruceDunning Written Oct 16, 2009

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    Buttes and valleys abound
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    Entry to Needles District is off Hwy 211 and that is 36 miles west of Hwy 191 turnoff. The Slickrock trail is to the north of the visitor center 7 miles and at Big Spring overlook. The hike at Slickrock was 3 miles and took 1 hr 10 minutes. There are boulders to climb and walking on the angle of slickrock facing. Cairn markers are about every 10-30 feet to direct you to keep on the trail. The hike was between easy to moderate in my opinion. The views at the end are worth the trek.
    The more adventuresome can take the Confluence trail from Big Spring for 5.5 miles one way and ends at the Colorado river.

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  • goodfish's Profile Photo

    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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    Driving on the Back Country Roads

    by windsorgirl Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    Shafer Trail

    There are over 100 miles of back country roads in the Island of the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park, however you must have a high clearance 4 wheel drive vehicle, or a mountain bike and some experience on how to use them!

    The White Rim Road is accessed via the exhilerating Shafer Trail which descends 1000 feet down the canyon side by a series of switchbacks.

    The White Rim Road then loops around and below the Island mesa top to various campsites and viewpoints. Trips usually take two to three days by four-wheel-drive vehicle or three to four days by mountain bike. All vehicles and bikes must remain on roads and ATVs are not permitted.

    Permits are required for all overnight camping in the backcountry and you are advised to make reservations well ahead of time, esp in the spring and fall.

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  • Ischyros's Profile Photo

    Aztec Butte

    by Ischyros Written Feb 25, 2003

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    Aztec Butte
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    The Aztec Butte trail in Canyonlands takes you past several Anasazi graineries and to the top of a giant butte. This hike is not for hikers with a fear of heights but the view from the top is unbelieveable!

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    Mesa Arch

    by Ischyros Written Feb 25, 2003

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    Mesa Arch

    Mesa Arch in Canyonlands is a rare granite arch. Perched at the edge of a cliff, the arch frames beautiful photographs of the La Sal Mountains in the distance. The trail to the arch is a short half mile loop trip and is an easy walk.

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  • richiecdisc's Profile Photo

    Hiking to the Green River

    by richiecdisc Updated Jul 5, 2009

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    The Green River

    While we did not get to hike to the canyon floor on our most recent trip, I did it on my own in 1995 and this is a photo of the Green River from the trail's end. It was a tough hot hike on the way back up! The Taylor Canyon trail is a 20 mile round trip hike from Alcove Spring Trailhead to the Green River that drops about 2000 feet in elevation. As with such canyon trails, it drops steeply over a series of switchbacks before meeting up in a rocky wash that leads to a broad steep-walled canyon. From there you can follow the four-wheel drive road to the Green River. This can be done as a backcountry trip and four permits are available to camp at large.

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  • BruceDunning's Profile Photo

    Shafer Trail-Island District

    by BruceDunning Written Oct 16, 2009

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    Layout of the trail map

    This is one I did not take, and it is not advised unless you have a 4WD vehicle. Even then it is said the "trail" or road path as you may call it is treacherous, and only for the adventuresome. Access to the trail is located close to the Island in the Sky visitor center and goes off to the east for about 20 miles before connecting to a paved Potash Road that is another 17 miles to get to Hwy 191. The 4x4 drive from what I read takes you up and to Goosenecks Park area, and many scenic overlooks to the Colorado River. To get there, the climb is steep and so rough even a lot of 4WD vehicles cannot make it past the first few miles. Then the road becomes single lane while going up the road, and some areas are washed out with cracks from erosion that you have to drive over. The rough rocks also have sharp points that can ruin a tire. This is to be investigated before trekking further.

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  • goodfish's Profile Photo

    Island in the Sky: Grand View Point Trail

    by goodfish Updated Nov 28, 2013

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    4 more images

    This is a fun one with drop-dead fabulous panoramas. The trailhead for the 2-mile RT hike is at the southernmost end of the scenic drive, and the trail follows the mesa edge all the way to a narrow point. From there you can see for miles and miles in every direction: the far-away La Sal mountains to the east, Monument Basin way down below, Junction Butte rising from the canyon floor, and the more remote sections of the Maze and Needles.

    The trail is fairly level and no sweat to navigate (follow the cairns) but we spent a LOT of time dawdling along the rim taking pictures and gawking over the view so allow twice as much time for this easy two-miler than you think you should. There's also an overlook close to the parking area that's wheelchair/stroller friendly.

    Note: much 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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    Mesa Arch, canyonlands
    3 more images

    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

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  • kazander's Profile Photo

    For the early risers...

    by kazander Written May 1, 2007

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    Mesa Arch with Washer Woman in the distance

    Mesa Arch at Sunrise is just spectacular. The underside of the arch glows a bright orange red with the expanse of the valley stretching beneath it. One of the most famous formations out in that scene in the washer woman arch. The rocks really do look like a woman bent over a bucket full of laundry....You must get up quite early to witness this spectacle though. At least an Hour and a half if not 2 hours before sunrise if you are coming from Moab. We only had a couple other photographers as company when we were there, but I do hear it can get quite crowded at times....
    The trail head is located just off the road as it forks. The trail is about a half mile long.

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  • windsorgirl's Profile Photo

    Shafer Trail Overlook

    by windsorgirl Updated Dec 9, 2004

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    Shafer Trail Overlook

    This viewpoint is worth a look. Not only do you have great views looking east toward Dead Horse Point, but you also have a good view of the Shafer Trail which descends 1000 feet to the canyon floor via a series of exhilerating switchbacks down the canyon wall.

    There are also a series of interpretive signs here that explain the history of the Shafer Trail. It was first carved into the canyonside by early ranchers in the 1880's who used the sheltered canyon floor for winter grazing for their herds of cattle and sheep. The Shafer's were one such family of ranchers. Each fall the herd would be led down the narrow and dangerous ledge and then back up again in the spring. Many animals were lost as they fell off the trail.

    In the 1950's the trail was improved to allow the passage of trucks and 100 more miles of road were created on the canyon floor. This was paid for by mining companies who were looking for uranium in these hills. The uranium market declined, but the roads remained, opening up new areas of the park to be explored by visitors in 4 wheel drive vehicles or mountain bikes.

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