Canyonlands National Park

Needles District, copyright Tom Till, Tom Till Photography

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Baked by time like some multi-layer geologic tort, Canyonlands in southeastern Utah features a landscape cut by canyons, rumpled by upthrusts, dimpled by grabens, and even pockmarked, some believe, by ancient asteroids.

A kaleidoscope of tilted and carved geology laid down over the eons -- red and white Cedar Mesa sandstone, the grayish-green Morrison Formation, pinkish Entrada sandstone, tawny Navajo sandstone, just to name a few of the layers -- help make Canyonlands the most rugged national park in the Southwest, and quite possibly if you find yourself deep in the Maze, in the entire Lower 48.

But exploring the park’s 527 square miles does not require you to hoist pack on your back and set off on a week’s journey. Well-maintained state, county, and national park roads help you easily negotiate Canyonlands and find yourself at overlooks and trailheads that show off a landscape both intoxicating in its beauty and mind-boggling in its geology and cultural imprints.

The Island in the Sky District offers views down into the ragged maw of the park, views that quickly explain how Canyonlands got its name, and offers short hikes to ancient granaries.

Set up camp in the Squaw Flat Campground in the Needles District and spend a morning hiking towards Chesler Park and the Creamsicle-hued minarets that quickly rise above you help put “geologic time” in context when you begin to wonder how long it took them to be whittled. Come sundown some of the country’s darkest night skies sparkle with pinpoints of light, as well as the occasional shooting star.

Head to the park’s Horseshoe Canyon Unit and a hike down into the canyon rewards you with the Great Gallery, a sprawling panel of prehistoric artwork that dates, perhaps, to 9,000 years B.C. "when Paleoindians hunted megafauna like mastodons and mammoths across the Southwest.”

Seeking adventure? The Colorado River offers mile-after-mile of white water as well as solitude in a redrock backcountry.

Of course, the gateway town of Moab with its many RV-friendly campgrounds, motels, restaurants, and shops can serve as a spoke for your exploration. Arches National Park, another Southwestern wonder not to be missed, is just 5 miles north of town. Canyonlands’ Island in the Sky District is 27 miles west of town, the Needles District rises 76 miles to the southwest, and the Horseshoe Canyon Unit with its Great Gallery is a longer excursion, 101 miles, one way.

Traveler's Choice For: Hiking, white-water rafting, star-gazing, wildflowers, Native American history

Park History: Canyonlands National Park

You're far from being the first person to set foot in the landscape now called Canyonlands National Park. People have been visiting this region for more than 10,000 years.

Seasons in Canyonlands

From high heat in the middle of summer to the potential of zero degrees Fahrenheit some winter nights, Canyonlands offers a wide range of temperatures and seasons for park goers.

Lodging in Canyonlands

There is no lodging inside Canyonlands. Instead, you need to look to the surrounding communities.

Camping in Canyonlands

When it comes to camping in Canyonlands, front-country sites are at a premium. Some appear ridiculously hard to land. That's why during most of the year you can't just arrive in the park at mid-day expecting to snag one.

Hiking In Canyonlands

Rugged as it seems, Canyonlands National Park has some great hikes -- both those that head off into the backcountry, and others that take you to interesting sights in the front-country.

Running The Rivers in Canyonlands

Getting wet in Canyonlands usually involves a float trip down the Colorado River, but you also can paddle down the Green and end up in the park.

Traveler's Checklist for Canyonlands

Canyonlands is quite accurately described by its name. It's a landscape cut by canyons, rumpled by upthrusts, dimpled by grabens, and even pockmarked, some believe, by asteroids. To explore its 527 square miles acres, you'll need a good rig with good gas mileage, and preferably high ground clearance, for getting around Canyonlands entails a lot of traveling, some down roads that will swallow your average sedan.

Wildlife In Canyonlands

This harsh landscape hides its wildlife well, except for the ubiquitous lizards scampering here and there.

Geology of Canyonlands

Rock. In every direction you glance in Canyonlands your eye confronts rock. And whether it's twisted, contorted, or shattered rock, it's also more likely than not incredibly colorful.

Resources for Planning A Canyonlands Trip

This is where you can find things such as websites, helpful phone numbers, friends groups and cooperating associations, and, sometimes, books relating to the park.

Canyonlands National Park News

Essential Summer Guide '14: Rocks And Roll Through Canyon Country

For mind-blowing scenery, vast vistas of eroded stone, and rugged topography, Utah is the place. The Beehive State is home to five national parks (Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Zion) and five national monuments (Cedar Breaks, Grand Staircase-Escalante (managed by the BLM), Rainbow Bridge, Natural Bridges, and Hovenweep) for good reason. It’s the greatest earth on show.

Exploring The Parks: Musings From Island In The Sky At Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park is divided by the Green and Colorado Rivers into three distinct districts. Needles, Island in the Sky, and the Maze. There are no roads connecting them because the rivers and some very deep ditches are in the way. Island in the Sky is about a two-hour drive north of the Needles. The Maze is another matter. It can be reached only via a very long and circuitous route.

Exploring The Parks: Musings From The Needles District In Canyonlands National Park

It’s hot here. Welcome to the beginning of summer in the Southwest. Two days ago it was raining and near freezing and I was complaining about it at Mesa Verde and now it’s sweat time. But those rains have turned the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park into a veritable flower garden. Everywhere I look there are blooms.

Canyonlands National Park Images