Canyonlands National Park
Things To Do
Things To Do
Whether you're stopping by for an hour or planning a two-week vacation, Canyonlands offers many ways to spend your time in the park.
The Colorado and Green Rivers have played a significant role in shaping the landscape of Canyonlands, and both offer an interesting way to visit the park. Above their confluence near the heart of Canyonlands, the rivers offer miles and miles of flat water perfect for canoes, sea kayaks and other shallow-water boats. Below the confluence, the combined flow of both rivers spills down Cataract Canyon with remarkable speed and power, creating a fourteen-mile stretch of Class III to V white water.
Permits are required for all overnight private river trips. Permits can be reserved in advance starting the first business day of each calendar year.
Local outfitters offer a variety of guided trips, from half-day excursions to week-long floats. Most river trips involve several nights of camping.
Access & Facilities
There are no facilities or services along the rivers in Canyonlands. Entrenched in deep canyons, the rivers are generally hidden from view and possess a primitive, isolated character. In the entire park, only Green River Overlook offers a view of the rivers that visitors can reach with a two-wheel-drive car. All launch ramps and take-out points are located outside the park. Hiking trails lead to the rivers in each district. Well-suited to backpacking trips, each of these trails involves a long descent of 1,000 feet or more over very rough terrain.
Squaw Flat Campground
Located in the Needles, Squaw Flat Campground is an ideal base camp for day hikes to popular destinations like Chesler Park, Druid Arch and the Joint Trail. There are 26 sites available on a first-come, first-served basis. Bathrooms, fire grates, picnic tables, tent pads and water available year-round. Group size limit is 10 people and 2 vehicles. Maximum RV length is 28 feet. Fee is $15 per night. Squaw Flat typically fills every day from late March through June and again from early September to mid-October.
Willow Flat Campground
Located at the Island in the Sky, the Willow Flat Campground is a short walk from one of the finest sunset spots in the park: Green River Overlook. Twelve sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Sites include picnic tables, fire grates and vault toilets. No water. Maximum RV length is 28 feet. Group size limit is 10 people and 2 vehicles. Fee is $10 per night. Willow Flat typically fills every day from late March through June and again from early September to mid-October.
The Needles offers three campsites for groups of 11 or more people which may be reserved in advance. The Squaw Flat Group Site can hold up to 50 people and 10 vehicles. The Wooden Shoe Group Site can hold up to 25 people and 5 vehicles. The Split Top Group Site can hold up to 15 people and 3 vehicles. Nightly fees are $3 per person.
Other Camping Options
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) operates many campgrounds in the Moab area. Some accommodate large groups and may be reserved in advance. For more information, visit the BLM's Moab Field Office.
The Island in the Sky offers the best opportunities for sightseeing by car. The overlooks along the scenic drive are perched 1,000 feet above the surrounding terrain, providing spectacular views of the canyons below as well as the other districts. Several short trails, including Mesa Arch, Upheaval Dome and Aztec Butte, lead to interesting natural and cultural resources. Plan on spending at least an hour in the park in order to drive out to Grand View Point. More time is needed to enjoy the other overlooks or explore some of the short trails.
There are hundreds of miles of four-wheel-drive roads in Canyonlands, providing access to various campsites, trailheads and viewpoints in the park's backcountry. These roads range in difficulty from intermediate, like the White Rim Road at the Island in the Sky, to extremely technical routes like Elephant Hill in the Needles and the road to the Land of Standing Rocks in the Maze.
Permits are required for all overnight trips in the backcountry. During the spring and fall, demand for permits frequently exceeds the number available. If you plan to visit Canyonlands during peak season, especially to camp along the White Rim Road, it is recommended that you make reservations well in advance.
All vehicles must remain on established roads and must be "street legal." ATVs are not permitted. High-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicles and some experience are required for most backcountry roads. Other vehicles (e.g. low-clearance all-wheel-drive or high-clearance 2WD) usually have difficulty negotiating the rough slickrock, loose rocks, deep sand and steep switchbacks found throughout the park.
Most vehicle rental agreements restrict vehicles to paved roads. Check your contract and be aware that the rental company can charge you for damage to the vehicle outside of the contract agreement specifications.
Drive carefully! Towing charges are very expensive. Visitors caught in the backcountry of Canyonlands with disabled vehicles can expect towing fees in excess of $1,000. AAA and other towing insurance may not be valid on backcountry dirt roads.
Much of Canyonlands is managed as undeveloped land, and the park has become an increasingly popular destination for backcountry travel. Permits are required for all overnight trips in the backcountry. During the spring and fall, demand for permits frequently exceeds the number available. If you plan to visit Canyonlands during peak season, it is recommended that you make reservations well in advance.
Sites and Zones
In order to protect natural and cultural resources and prevent crowding, the backcountry of Canyonlands is divided up into sites and zones, and access to each is limited. There are designated walk-in sites along some heavily traveled hiking trails, mostly in the Needles, for use by backpackers. In more remote areas like the Maze, visitors stay in at-large zones and may choose their own campsites.
Water is a limiting factor for most backcountry trips in Canyonlands. There are springs scattered throughout the park, mostly in canyon bottoms. There are also large areas, such as the Grabens in the Needles and the entire White Rim bench at the Island in the Sky, where there are no reliable water sources. Obtaining drinking water from the Colorado or Green Rivers is difficult as the water is very silty and hard to purify. Backpacking groups are encouraged to pack in water whenever possible. Many springs marked on topographic maps may dry up during periods of drought. Spring locations and current conditions are available at district visitor centers.
The national parks and monuments of the Colorado Plateau have long been popular destinations for travelers. In addition to their stunning landscapes and rich cultural history, these areas share another resource: some of the darkest skies remaining in the contiguous 48 United States.
Though often unappreciated, the utter dark of a moonless night in Canyonlands surprises many visitors. As few as one in ten Americans live in areas where they can see the estimated 2,500 stars that should be visible under normal conditions. In many cities, the night sky is completely obscured by the glow of urban settlement. At Canyonlands, the naked eye is sufficient to witness a wealth of stars. Under the right conditions, common binoculars may even reveal the rings of Saturn.
However, a clear view of the Milky Way is more than an aesthetic experience. Research indicates that light pollution severely impacts the ability of many animals, especially birds and insects, to navigate. On many occasions, thousands of birds have died in a single night by following artificial lights into towers, buildings, smokestacks and even the ground.
Canyonlands preserves a wealth of resources. Many, like natural dark, have become more significant as they become increasingly rare outside the park.
The sandstone towers at the Island in the Sky attract the most rock climbers. Little climbing is done in the rest of the park due to the poor rock quality and a lack of established routes. Permits are not required for technical rock climbing unless it involves an overnight stay in the backcountry.
Technical rock climbing is prohibited in the Salt Creek Archeological District in the Needles, in Horseshoe Canyon, into any archeological site or cultural resource, or on any arch or natural bridge in Canyonlands National Park or the Orange Cliffs Unit of Glen Canyon NRA named on a USGS map, with the exception of Washer Woman Arch at the Island in the Sky. The intentional removal of lichen or plants from rock is prohibited. The physical altering of rock faces by chiseling, glue reinforcement of existing holds, and gluing of new holds is prohibited. The use of motorized power drills is prohibited.
All climbing shall be free or clean-aid climbing with the following exceptions:
- No new climbing hardware may be left in a fixed location; however, if a hardware item is unsafe, it may be replaced.
- Protection may not be placed with the use of a hammer except to replace existing belay and rappel anchors and bolts on existing routes, or for emergency self-rescue.
- If an existing software item (sling, etc.) is unsafe, it may be replaced (software that is left in place must match the rock surface in color).
Canyoneering (cross-country travel involving the occasional use of climbing equipment ) may occur in areas closed to rock climbing, but must occur at least 300 feet away from cultural sites.
Canyonlands is famous for its mountain biking terrain, particularly for the 100-mile White Rim Road at the Island in the Sky. The Maze also offers some multi-day trip possibilities, though the logistics and roads are more difficult (for the support vehicles, not the bikes). Many of the roads in the Needles travel up wash bottoms and are unsuitable for bikes due to deep sand and water.
Permits are required for all overnight trips in the backcountry. Permits are not required for day rides. During the spring and fall, demand for permits frequently exceeds the number available. If you plan to visit Canyonlands during peak season, especially to camp along the White Rim Road, it is recommended that you make reservations well in advance. These permits can be reserved starting the second Monday in July for the next calendar year.
Mountain bikes groups must remain on established roads and camp in designated sites. There is no single-track riding in the park. A support vehicle is recommended for all multi-day bike trips as there are no water sources along most of the roads. Guided trips are available for many destinations within Canyonlands.
National Park Service Areas
Arches National Park
Aztec Ruins National Monument
Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Hovenweep National Monument
Mesa Verde National Park
Natural Bridges National Monument
Local Partners & Information Resources
Bureau of Land Management (Moab area)
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages much of the public land surrounding Canyonlands National Park.
Canyonlands Natural History Association (CNHA)
CNHA operates the bookstores in National Park Service visitor centers throughout southeast Utah. Many area maps and guidebooks may be purchased on their website.
Moab Area Travel Council
The Moab area Travel Council website provides visitor information for the town of Moab, with a list of attractions and visitor services in the area.
San Juan County Travel Council
The San Juan County Travel Council website provides visitor information for much of southeast Utah, including the towns of Blanding, Bluff, Mexican Hat and Monticello.
Utah Travel Council
The Utah Travel Council website provides visitor information for the State of Utah, including attractions, camping, lodging, restaurants, shopping and much more.
Rangers present a variety of interpretive programs March through October at the Island in the Sky and Needles districts. Schedules and times vary so please check visitor center and campground bulletin boards for current listings.
Special walks or programs may be arranged for large groups by contacting the districts directly:
Island in the Sky: (435) 259-4712
Needles: (435) 259-4711
Horseshoe Canyon: (435) 259-2652
Travel to backcountry areas requires planning, experience and equipment that is often expensive. For visitors without the resources or inclination to plan their own excursions, guided trips offer the perfect way to experience the wonders of Canyonlands.
The companies listed here are authorized by the Park Service to conduct tours in Canyonlands. Guided trips are offered for hiking, biking, four-wheel driving and river running. Some companies combine a variety of these activities, and trips may vary in length from one to many days.
Adrift Adventures of Canyonlands
(800) 874-4483, (435) 259-8594
(800) 423-4668, (970) 245-5428
Colorado Outward Bound School
(800) 477-COBS, (303) 837-0880
Colorado River & Trail Expeditions
(800) 253-7328, (801) 261-1789
Don Hatch River Expeditions
(800) 346-6277, (209) 736-4677
(435) 259-7423, (800) 596-2953
Holiday River Expeditions
(800) 624-6323, (801) 266-2087
|White water, Mountain Biking|
(800) 546-4245, (435) 259-4464
Moki Mac River Expeditions
(800) 284-7280, (801) 268-6667
National Outdoor Leadership School
(800) 833-1278, (435) 259-7983
|4WD tours, White water|
O.A.R.S. Canyonlands National Park Tours
(800) 342-5938, (435) 259-5865
|4WD tours, White water|
Outdoor Leadership Training Seminars
(800) 331-7238, (303) 333-7831
San Juan Expeditions
(See Tag-a-Long Expeditions)
Sheri Griffith River Expeditions
(800) 332-2439, (435) 259-8229
(800) 453-3292, (435) 259-8946
Jet boat tours, Canoe shuttles, 4WD tours
(877) 662-2839, (435) 259-5101
|Canoe shuttles, Jet boat tours|
(800) 453-9107, (801) 225-0755
Western River Expeditions
(800) 453-7450, (801) 942-6669
Western Spirit Cycling
(800) 845-BIKE, (435) 259-8732
World Wide River Expeditions
Pack and saddle stock may be taken on all backcountry roads and in Horseshoe Canyon. Cross-country travel is prohibited. Pack and saddle stock include horses, burros or mules. All other domestic animals are prohibited in the backcountry. All pack and saddle stock use requires a backcountry permit, which may be obtained at district visitor centers.
Lack of water is a limiting factor for pack and saddle trips in Canyonlands, as only a few areas have reliable sources. Contact the park for recommended destinations.
Stock must be fed pelletized feed for 48 hours in advance of and for the duration of the trip in order to prevent the spread of exotic plant species. Animals may not be left unattended and must be staked at least 300 feet from water sources and away from vegetation where possible. Park vegetation may not be consumed. Animals may not be unstaked and hobbled.
Day use permits are unlimited and free of charge, except in Horse/Salt Creek and Lavender Canyons in the Needles District, where day use is limited to seven animals per day. In these areas, permits are available through the reservation system and fees are charged. In all other areas of the park, including Horseshoe Canyon, group size must not exceed ten animals and ten people.
Overnight trips must stay at designated vehicle camps. Permits are $30. All manure and feed must be packed out from the campsites. The group size limit is seven people and ten horses for the Needles and Island in the Sky, and five people and eight horses for the Maze and Orange Cliffs. Overnight use is not allowed in Horseshoe Canyon.