Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park

Sights to See

Places To Go

The Green and Colorado rivers separate Canyonlands into three land districts in addition to the Horseshoe Canyon detached unit. Each destination within Canyonlands offers different opportunities for sightseeing and exploration.

There are no roads that directly link the districts. Although they may appear close on a map, traveling between them requires two to six hours by car. Most people find it impractical to visit more than one area in a single trip.

1. Island in the Sky
2. White Rim Road
3. Needles
4. Maze
5. Orange Cliffs Unit (Glen Canyon NRA)
6. Horseshoe Canyon
7. Green River
8. Colorado River
9. Cataract Canyon

Needles

The Needles are a series of spires located to the southwest of Squaw Flat campground that surround the Chesler Park area of the Needles District. They are formed out of a resistant red and white sandstone layer called Cedar Mesa Sandstone which makes up most of the rock features in the Needles District. This 245 to 286 million year old layer was once a dune field on the eastern edge of a shallow sea that covered what is California, Nevada and western Utah today. Sand was blown in from this direction and formed the white bands in the Cedar Mesa Sandstone. The red bands came from sediment carried down by streams from a mountainous area near where Grand Junction is today. These layers of sand were laid down on top of each other and created the distinctive rocks seen today.

How Needles Form

Starting about fifteen million years ago, the Colorado Plateau was pushed up thousands of feet and rivers, such as the Colorado and the Green, cut down and carved deep canyons. Water, the primary force of erosion, eats away or weathers rock by attacking the cement holding the sand grains together. Moreover, during storms, rushing water knocks loose sand and rocks as it flows down washes causing additional erosion. The water naturally acts faster on areas of weakness within the rock, such as fractures and cracks. The Needles occur in an area with many fractures called joints.

How Joints Form

The joints were formed in two different manners. The first was the Monument uplift, which begins around the Needles District and trends slightly southwest all the way to Monument Valley. This uplift caused brittle, surface rock like the Cedar Mesa Sandstone to crack as it was bent upward, forming a set of joints in a northeast-southwest direction.

A thick salt layer underneath the Needles district, known as the Paradox Formation, is the second cause of joint formation. The salt is flowing slowly toward the Colorado River and dragging the overlying layers with it. As the upper layers became stretched, they also fractured into joints. This action created a set of joints running northeast-southwest. In the Needles area, these two joint sets meet and form square blocks of rock between the joints. As water widened the joints, the squares were sculpted into pillars and spires that are today the Needles of Canyonlands.

Island in the Sky

The Island in the Sky mesa rests on sheer sandstone cliffs over 1,000 feet above the surrounding terrain. Every overlook offers a different perspective on Canyonlands' spectacular landscape. The Island is the easiest district to visit in a short period of time, offering many pullouts with spectacular views along the paved scenic drive. Hiking trails and four-wheel-drive roads access backcountry areas for day or overnight trips.

Location

To reach the Island, take US Highway 191 to Utah Highway 313 (10 mi/16 km north of Moab, or 22 mi/35 km south of I-70) and then drive southwest 22 mi/35 km. Driving time to the visitor center from Moab is roughly 40 minutes.

Visitor Center

The visitor center is open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily (except some winter holidays), with extended hours spring through fall. Exhibits, publications and information are available, and a park orientation video may be viewed. Bottled water is available for sale at the visitor center. No water is available elsewhere; bring all that you will need.

Interpretive Programs

Overlook talks and other ranger activities are presented March through October. Check at the visitor center for times and locations.

Campground

Willow Flat Campground is open year-round on a first-come, first-served basis. There are twelve sites with tables, fire grills and vault toilets. The 1 mi/1.6 km access road is unpaved. Firewood and water are not available. Maximum group size is ten people, with a limit of two vehicles per group. Sites are $10 per night.

Maze

The Maze is the least accessible district of Canyonlands. Due to the district's remoteness and the difficulty of roads and trails, travel to the Maze requires more time, as well as a greater degree of self-sufficiency. Rarely do visitors spend less than three days in the Maze, and the area can easily absorb a week-long trip.

The Orange Cliffs Unit of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area shares Canyonlands' western boundary and is administered under the same backcountry management plan and permit/reservation system. While some regulations differ, the information here should assist Orange Cliffs visitors in planning trips.

Location

The Hans Flat Ranger Station is two and one-half hours from Green River, Utah. From I-70, take Utah Highway 24 south for 24 miles. A left hand turn just beyond the turnoff to Goblin Valley State Park will take you along a two-wheel-drive dirt road 46 miles (76 km) southeast to the ranger station.

From the ranger station, the canyons of the Maze are another 3 to 6 hours by high-clearance, 4WD (more if traveling by foot). Another four-wheel-drive road leads into the Maze north from Highway 95 near Hite Marina (driving time is 3+ hours to the park boundary).

Ranger Station

The Hans Flat Ranger Station is open year-round from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. There is a small sales area with books and maps. There are no amenities like food or gas, no entrance fees and no potable water sources in the Maze District.

Horseshoe Canyon

Horseshoe Canyon contains some of the most significant rock art in North America. The Great Gallery, the best known panel in Horseshoe Canyon, includes well-preserved, life-sized figures with intricate designs. Other impressive sights include spring wildflowers, sheer sandstone walls and mature cottonwood groves along the intermittent stream in the canyon bottom. Horseshoe Canyon was added to Canyonlands in 1971.

Location

Most visitors access Horseshoe from the west. Two-wheel-drive access to the west rim of Horseshoe Canyon is from Utah Highway 24 via 30 miles of graded dirt road, or from Green River on 47 miles of dirt road. Driving time is roughly 2.5 hours from Moab or 1.5 hours from Green River. A four-wheel-drive road leads to the east rim of Horseshoe Canyon from the Hans Flat Ranger Station. All access roads may become impassable during storms.

Camping

Visitors may camp at the west rim trailhead on public land managed by the BLM. A vault toilet is provided but there is no water. Overnight camping is not allowed in Horseshoe Canyon within the Park boundary.

Hiking

From the west rim trailhead, the hike to the Great Gallery is 6.5 miles round-trip, descending 750 feet and requiring about six hours. Pets are prohibited below the rim of Horseshoe Canyon. Group size is limited to 20 people. Bring your own drinking water. There is no water above the canyon rim and water sources are unreliable within the canyon.

Horseback Riding

The trail into Horseshoe Canyon from the west rim trailhead is an old 4WD road that is suitable for horses. Group size limit is ten animals and ten people. Permits are free and may be obtained at the Hans Flat Ranger Station or by phone at (435)259-2652. The following regulations govern the stock in Canyonlands:

Interpretive Activities

There are currently no interpretive activities scheduled at Horseshoe Canyon. Special walks may be scheduled for groups of 20 or more by contacting the Hans Flat Ranger Station at (435) 259-2652.