Canyonlands is different from most parks in the system in that it is more oriented towards off-road vehicles more than most others. Although I'm considered by many to be a real wilderness purist, I don't have a problem with this. It is a huge desert park and water is scarce. Without jeep trails, it would be hard to visit this park at all during most times of the year. I'd much rather have it traversed by jeep trails than by highways. Unfortunately, a lot of visitors have abused this privilige and as years go by, more and more jeep trails have been closed. With the popularity of sport-utility vehicles and their availability as rentals, most people can visit this park one way or another. Even if you don't own a 4-wheel drive vehicle or want to rent one, there are commercial operators who can take you on a jeep tour.
You don't need a vehicle with extensive off-road preparation. There are some extremely difficult trails, but most can be handled by any 4-wheel drive vehicle. I once used a 4-cyl. base model Jeep Cherokee with highway tires, just as it came off the dealer's lot. I noticed that the park rangers at the time(late 80's) used identical vehicles.
The park is filled with the spectacular red rock formations that are characteristic of this part of Utah. Anasazi ruins are common along the trails. Many drawings made by the prehistoric residents of this area can still be seen. Get a good map or guidebook, because a lot of interesting sights are not marked by signs. I'm guessing this is to hold down vandalism of ruins and pictographs.
The town of Moab, south of highway 70, is the gateway to this area. I always look forward to a stop in Moab when traveling across the country. Moab was a boomtown in the heyday of uranium mining. In fact, the uranium miners did most of the exploring of the Canyonlands area. Mining of various kinds still goes on around Moab, but tourism is now a major industry. The explosive growth of mountain biking alone has drawn thousands of visitors.
Canyonlands is a huge park, divided into three districts. Island-in-the-Sky has a paved road and short hiking trails and is most accessible by ordinary car. The other two district, Needles and The Maze, are mainly places to tour by jeep.
There is one other excellent way to visit- the Green River through Canyonlands is an easy canoe float and is nearly as spectacular as Grand Canyon in terms of scenery. A float from Mineral Bottom to the Green/Colorado confluence is a nice 5-day trip and one of the best canoe trips I've ever taken anywhere.
Visit the official site.
Favorite trail: For jeeps: Horse Canyon. For hiking: Lost Canyon
Favorite place to stay: There is a single campground (Squaw Flat)in the Needles district that qualifies as a "normal" park campground, accessible from the paved road. There are backcountry sites along the jeep trails, mostly by permit. There are many places to stay in Moab.
Favorite place to sit for hours: Overlooking The Needles
While in the area visit: Arches National Park, also near Moab.
Read: Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey
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