Canyonlands National Park was established in 1964, part of a large expansion of the National Park Service (NPS) system during the Johnson administration. It is divided into four distinct areas that are not easily connected by roads: The Needles District, The Maze District, Horseshoe Canyon Unit, and the most heavily-trafficked Island in the Sky District near Moab, Utah. Backpacking is a major draw to this park, as is whitewater rafting on the Colorado and Green Rivers.
Learn more in our guidebook to the 62 National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).
Mesa Arch, Grand View Point, Chesler Park, Druid Arch, The Maze, Great Gallery
Horseshoe Canyon is a separate unit of Canyonlands National Park accessible by good dirt road from Highway 24 southwest of Green River, Utah. Its main attractions are four large pictograph panels estimated at 3,000 years old at the bottom of the 800-foot deep canyon. The largest panel, dubbed the Great Gallery, stretches over 200 feet with numerous life-sized human figures painted in red and white on a sandstone wall. It is a 3.5-mile hike to get there from the trailhead on top of the canyon rim that drops down to and then follows a meandering stream which passes three smaller panels.
There are miles of incredibly scenic trails in The Needles District, many of which leave from Elephant Hill Trailhead. We recommend the six-mile roundtrip hike to Chesler Park where you will see the pointy formations that gave this district its name. Druid Arch or Angel Arch make great destinations for long day hikes, but you should at least stop at Slickrock Foot Nature Trail to get a feel for sandstone beneath your soles.
You may have never heard of the Island in the Sky District, but you have surely seen a sunrise photograph of Mesa Arch since it makes it on many calendars. Walk the half-mile loop to the edge of the cliff where this famous formation frames distant mountains.
Spring and fall
$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass
There are seriously rough 4×4 roads throughout this park, so ask a park ranger about road conditions before attempting any drive. The scenic drive that dead ends at Grand View Point in the Island in the Sky District is entirely paved.
There is running water at Squaw Flat Campground in The Needles District, but none available at the small Willow Flat Campground in the Island in the Sky District. White Rim Road and Chesler Park are also famous for their backcountry campsites accessible by 4×4 vehicles (permit required). Due to high demand, backpacking permits within this park are among the most expensive in the entire NPS system.
Arches National Park (Utah)
Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)
Natural Bridges National Monument (Utah)
Explore More – It may look small in photographs, but just how tall is Druid Arch in The Needles District?
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