Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
- How To Get to Canyonlands National Park
- Getting Around Canyonlands National Park
- What To See and Do in Canyonlands National Park
- Best Times To Visit Canyonlands National Park
- Where To Stay in Canyonlands National Park
- Where To Eat in Canyonlands National Park
- Canyonlands National Park Facts
- Final Thoughts
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Canyonlands National Park includes canyons, sandstone cliffs, mesas, buttes, and arches carved by the Colorado and Green Rivers. This spectacular park brings in nearly 750,000 visitors annually. If you are seeking a vacation filled with adventure, natural beauty, and wonder, a trip to Canyonlands National Park is the ideal location for an incredible experience.
How To Get to Canyonlands National Park
Where Is Canyonlands National Park?
Canyonlands National Park is located in southeastern Utah. This park is Utah’s largest national park, as it stretches over 527 square miles of a desert landscape and rocky terrain. The closest gateway city to Canyonlands National Park is the town of Moab.
Nearest Airports to Canyonlands National Park
There are several airport options for those flying into Canyonlands National Park. Some of these options are very close, but smaller airports have fewer airlines, and major international airports are located further from the park. Let’s take a look at some of the airport options available for visitors flying to Canyonlands National Park.
Canyonlands Regional Airport (CNY)
The closest airport to Canyonlands National Park is Canyonlands Regional Airport. This airport is just 16 miles from Moab, the gateway town to Canyonlands National Park. This airport has daily flights from Colorado to Moab and Salt Lake City to Moab. Delta and SkyWest service this airport. This small airport is excellent for those seeking flights from Colorado and Salt Lake City.
Grand Junction Regional Airport (GJT)
Grand Junction Regional Airport is 121 miles from Canyonlands National Park. This airport is used frequently by visitors coming to the park. Grand Junction Regional Airport services Allegiant, American, and United and offers numerous flights to major U.S. cities such as Dallas (DFW), Denver (DEN), Las Vegas (LAS), and Phoenix (PHX).
Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)
The closest major airport to Canyonlands National Park is Salt Lake City International Airport. This airport is further than the others, and it takes a little over 4 hours to get to Canyonlands National Park. Salt Lake City International Airport offers over 300 nonstop flights daily to over 90 major cities. This airport services several popular airlines, including Aeromexico, Delta, Frontier, Southwest, and United.
Driving to Canyonlands National Park
There are 3 different park entrances for Canyonlands National Park. These entrances must be accessed separately, as they do not connect inside the park. Let’s explore the routes for visiting from the gateway city of Moab.
For those coming from the north of Moab, US 191 to UT 313 will bring you to Island in the Sky. US 191 from the south of Moab, taking UT 211, will bring you to The Needles area. The Maze area of the park is the least accessible. This area is accessed from UT 24 from I-70.
Taking the Train to Canyonlands National Park
Amtrak is the way to go for those who prefer a national park trip by train. Amtrak has a line that stops at Grand Junction, Colorado, and Green River, Colorado. Grand Junction is a little under 2 hours from Canyonlands National Park, and the Green River station is an hour away.
Taking a Bus to Canyonlands National Park
Another option for traveling to Canyonlands National Park is by bus. Greyhound Bus offers services to Moab right outside of the park. Their routes travel along I-70 and make stops at Grand Junction, Green River, and Colorado.
Getting Around Canyonlands National Park
The best way to get around Canyonlands National Park is by personal vehicle. This vast park has miles and miles of paved and unpaved roads just waiting to be explored. The easiest area to explore is the Island in the Sky district, which is the most accessible. Many park areas are best explored by 4-wheel drive vehicles, boats, or on foot.
One crucial thing to remember when preparing to explore Canyonlands National Park is that a GPS will not be very helpful. A map is essential for exploring the park. The park service provides a variety of printable and interactive maps online.
What To See and Do in Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park is known for its hiking, camping, rock climbing, and stargazing. This national park has plenty of activities and sights to see. Let’s explore some of the most exciting things to do in Canyonlands National Park.
Each of Canyonlands National Park’s districts has its own gems. At Island in the Sky, your gaze stretches across miles of corrugated canyons. At The Needles, fantastical rock shapes line the road and 70+ miles of hiking trails. A trip to The Maze requires advanced 4WD skills and days of unstructured exploration. Boating on the Green or Colorado River is a trip down the watery lifelines of this desert park.Karen Garthwait, Park Ranger
Boating the Colorado and Green Rivers
The Colorado and Green Rivers are almost solely responsible for carving out the landscape of Canyonlands National Park. Taking advantage of the boating opportunities available in the park offers a remarkable experience from the bottom looking up.
The rivers have miles of flatwater, ideal for kayaks, canoes, and other shallow-water boats. Cataract Canyon is for those who enjoy the thrill of whitewater rafting. This canyon is 14 miles of raging rapids and adventure.
With hundreds of miles of hiking trails, Canyonlands National Park is a paradise for hiking enthusiasts. The hiking trails in the park range from easy to strenuous and can last from 20 minutes to up to 7 hours.
Hot Tip: Popular courses in the park include Lathrop Trail, Syncline Loop, Chesler Park, and Peekaboo Trail.
Horseback riding is a unique way to experience the terrain and wonder of Canyonlands National Park. Popular places for riding horses include Horseshoe Canyon and The Needles.
Those who plan to ride for a day must obtain a free permit, and those who want to take horses for an overnight trip must pay $36 for a permit. Overnight trips with horses require lodging at one of the vehicle camps.
Horseshoe Canyon is a major attraction in Canyonlands National Park. This area features some of North America’s most impressive rock art. Part of this area is called “The Great Gallery” and showcases preserved, life-sized, intricately designed figures that give clues into the past groups who made their home in the park area.
The hike at Horseshoe Canyon is moderately strenuous and is 7 miles long round trip. The trail takes visitors through wildflowers, canyons of sandstone, and cottonwood groves.
Island in the Sky
Island in the Sky is a mesa of sandstone that towers 1,000 feet above the rest of the land. This easily accessed area is the most visited part of the park and offers diverse views from every angle.
Island in the Sky features a variety of hiking trails varying in difficulty and length. Some of the best overlooks are also in this district of the park. For a fantastic perspective and experience in Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky should be at the top of your itinerary.
The Maze is found in a remote area of the park and can only be accessed by a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Red rock cliffs tower through this park area, and there are miles and miles of hiking trails through the cliffs and boulders.
Adventurers could easily spend a week exploring The Maze. While this is the least accessible area of the park, it is well worth a visit. Popular attractions in The Maze area include The Dollhouse, Maze Overlook, Golden Stairs, and Orange Cliffs.
The Needles section of the park was named for its giant red and white sandstone pillars reaching up from the desert floor and extending for miles. The area has many arches, narrow canyons, domes, and ancient ruins and rock carvings that give clues to the area’s original inhabitants.
Park rangers offer programs on a regular schedule throughout Canyonlands National Park. Rangers share about the natural and cultural resources in Canyonlands National Park through talks, hikes, and evening programs.
Visitors can choose from various topics, such as geology and astronomy. Favorite programs include full moon hikes and the Cave Spring guided walk. These ranger-led programs are one of the best ways to learn about the natural and cultural history of Canyonlands National Park.
There is also an opportunity for children to take part in the Junior Ranger program. This program allows youth to participate in a variety of learning activities and exercises while exploring the park. Once the children complete the activities, they can turn in a booklet and receive a Junior Park Ranger badge and certificate.
There are several climbing opportunities at Canyonlands National Park, but most rock climbers visit this park to climb the sandstone towers at Island in the Sky.
Island in the Sky is in the northern region of the park. This major attraction showcases the most impressive towers in the park. The other parts are less popular and not advised for rock climbers because the rock quality and visibility are poor.
Stargazing is popular at Canyonlands National Park, as it has one of the darkest skies in the contiguous 48 states. Most nights, visitors can see nearly 2,500 stars with the naked eye. The Rings of Saturn can sometimes be seen for those who want to bring binoculars.
There are stargazing opportunities with park rangers and events for those who want to see the majestic night sky from this fantastic location on earth.
There are 4 visitor centers in Canyonland National Park, one for each region. These visitor centers have exhibits and films that teach about the park’s history, culture, and geology. Rangers are stationed at each visitor center to answer questions and help plan itineraries.
Visitors can shop for souvenirs at the onsite bookstores and purchase permits for their excursions. Visitor centers can be found at Island in the Sky, The Needles, Hans Flat, and Canyonlands Backcountry.
Best Times To Visit Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park is a phenomenal place to visit whether you come during the winter, spring, summer, or fall. There are times throughout the year that are better to plan a trip if you are looking to participate in specific events or activities. Here are some of the best times to visit Canyonlands National Park.
Best Time To Visit Canyonlands National Park in Winter
Winter is an exciting time in Canyonlands National Park. For the best winter experience, visiting in December is a grand idea. The park has fewer visitors during December so you can explore the park at your own pace.
While visiting Canyonlands National Park in the winter is an excellent experience, it is essential to note that there will be fewer guest services during this time, and there is a chance that roads could be closed due to poor conditions.
Hot Tip: Another thing to remember when planning a winter visit to Canyonlands National Park is that the weather can be unpredictable, so it is wise to pack for rain, snow, and ice.
Best Time To Visit Canyonlands National Park To Avoid the Crowds
Those who want a less crowded park experience should visit Canyonlands National Park in the winter. January is the best month for visiting with fewer crowds. Not does this month provide a more solitary experience, but the views of the lands and rivers are especially spectacular at this time of year.
Best Time To Visit Canyonlands National Park for Viewing Wildlife
The best time to visit Canyonlands National Park for hiking is in April. Hiking in April has cooler temperatures and less chance of rain. While this is the beginning of peak season, it is an opportune time for hiking enthusiasts.
Cheapest Time To Visit Canyonlands National Park
November is an excellent time to plan a trip to Canyonlands National Park and save money simultaneously. November has fewer crowds which typically results in cheaper airfare and accommodation prices. Not only will you have a less crowded experience and save some money, but Canyonlands also has a great mix of fall and winter weather at this time of year.
Annual Events in Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park’s incredible location means that there’s always excitement around. This national park has several events in and near it each year. This area is a runner’s paradise, with dozens of race opportunities each year. Let’s look at some popular events in and near Canyonlands National Park each year.
Canyonlands Half Marathon
The Canyonlands Half Marathon has been taking place since 1976. This event happens each year in March. Thousands of runners come to run this race and see the incredible red rock formations and beautiful Colorado River. This race has been featured by Runner’s World UK as one of the world’s greatest races.
Canyonlands Ultra is a Mad Moose event in October each year. This event starts and ends the Behind the Rocks Trail in the wilderness. This event is part of the Run Moab series and offers various races, from 15K to a full marathon. This race offers an incredible way to experience the terrain and beauty of Canyonlands National Park.
Moab’s Red Hot Ultra
Moab’s Red Hot Ultra is a long-distance running event in Moab, Utah. This course combines jeep trail and single-track challenges at 50 miles. Runners can enjoy the views of the La Sal Mountains and Canyons National Park throughout their race. Moab’s Red Hot Ultra is one of the best Moab trails and race courses and is ideal for race enthusiasts. This event takes place each year in February.
Winterlude Music Event
Winterlude is a music festival that takes place each year from the end of January to early February. This event is part of the Moab Music Festival and features various events and activities for visitors of all ages.
Favorite events include workshops where aspiring musicians from youth to adults can learn and work with professionals and evening escapes with phenomenal musical artists in various lounges and clubs throughout Moab.
Visiting Canyonlands National Park and attending the Winterlude music festival leads to an exciting, memorable vacation.
Where To Stay in Canyonlands National Park
The only option for lodging in Canyonlands National Park is to set up camp at one of the campgrounds or backcountry sites. If camping doesn’t suit your vacation needs, there are plenty of options for lodging near the park. Let’s explore the possibilities for camping in Canyonlands National Park and some of the spectacular lodging opportunities in the nearby towns.
Inside the Park
Camping at Canyonlands National Park is an incredible way to experience all the park offers. The Needles Campground and Island in the Sky Campground are available for those wanting to experience the great outdoors. There are also many places in the park for backcountry camping.
Canyonlands National Park has vast areas for backcountry camping. Backcountry camping provides a primitive experience and great opportunities to see the park in its grandeur. Backcountry camping is perfect for adventurers who want to backpack, cycle, boat, and drive 4-wheel vehicles during their park excursions.
Willow Flat Campground
The campground near Island in the Sky is also known as Willow Flat. This campground has 12 sites available on a first come, first served basis. Willow Flat is open year-round and fills up quickly in the spring. This campground offers toilets, fire rings, and picnic tables but has no water. Drinking water can be found at the nearby visitor center from the spring to the fall.
The Needles Campground
The Needles Campground is found in The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. This campground has 26 individual campsites and 3 group sites. During the spring and fall, the campsites are reservable, but the rest of the year, it is open on a first-come, first-serve basis. This campground has picnic tables, fire rings, and toilets for guests to utilize.
Lodging Near Canyonlands National Park
For those who prefer a non-camping option, there are several towns near Canyonlands National Park. Where you spend the bulk of your day will help determine which town to set up your base camp. Let’s check out the towns near the most popular park areas and see what they offer for accommodations.
Moab is the closest town to the Island in the Sky area of Canyonlands National Park. Moab is a little over 30 minutes away from the Island in the Sky Visitor Center. Moab is an incredible town for lodging, dining, and entertainment.
This city has a variety of luxury hotels, outstanding resorts, and unique locally-owned inns. Moab also has an endless list of restaurants, including unique cafes, burger joints, and gourmet dining rooms.
Moab is in the ideal location for entertainment and adventure. Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy fantastic hiking, rock climbing, stargazing, and winter sports opportunities. There are also plenty of shopping opportunities, art galleries, and history museums for the guests who enjoy the culture.
Monticello is about an hour from Canyonlands National Park. This charming town has plenty of variety for lodging, including several inns, lodges, and cabins. For adventurers planning to spend most of their time in The Needles area, Monticello is a great place to set up a base camp.
There are many places to stay in Monticello, from quaint inns to bed and breakfasts to grand lodges. There is an abundance of activities for outdoor fun, including hiking trails, fishing, mountain bike trails, and winter activities. There are also plenty of activities for those who enjoy indoor recreation and cultural experiences.
There are several wineries and distilleries in Monticello for a day of tastings and learning how local drinks are made, and great shops and boutiques for those who love to buy unique souvenirs and antiques.
Where To Eat in Canyonlands National Park
There are no dining options in Canyonlands National Park, but there are a variety of fantastic restaurants nearby. The closest city with lots of dining options is the town of Moab. This town is just a few minutes from the park and has many restaurants serving various cuisine, from local favorites to authentic multicultural options.
Food enthusiasts love dining at Desert Bistro. This restaurant is located 2.7 miles from Canyonlands National Park and is one of the top-rated restaurants in Moab.
Desert Bistro is a casual upscale gourmet restaurant with a southwestern flair. Visitors can dine in the dining room or outdoor covered patio. Popular dishes include sea bass, beef tenderloin, and bacon-wrapped dates. This restaurant serves vegetarian, friendly, gluten-free, and vegan options to ensure that all guests can enjoy this spectacular cuisine.
Moab Diner is located 3 miles from Canyonlands National Park. This restaurant serves traditional American and southwest cuisine and features popular menu items such as signature cheeseburgers, gourmet sandwiches, boxed meals to go, and a loaded breakfast menu.
The menu at Moab Diner is perfect for any appetite, whether you are craving comfort foods, something spicy, or if you have food restrictions such as gluten-free and vegetarian. This restaurant is open Monday through Saturday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When you leave Moab diner, you’ll be satisfied and ready to return to your national park vacation.
Moab Garage Co.
Moab Garage Co. is just a few minutes from Canyonlands National Park and is open daily for breakfast and lunch. The menu features American cuisine with options for those who are gluten-free, vegetarian, or vegan.
Moab Garage Co. serves specialty coffee that is roasted locally in Utah. Popular dishes include the Garage Burrito, Street Tacos, and Liege Waffles. This spot is the perfect place to grab a bite before, during, or after you head out for your park experience.
98 Center Moab
98 Center Moab is a top-rated restaurant in Moab, just a few minutes from Canyonlands National Park. 98 Center Moab serves a diverse menu featuring a fusion of local and Asian cuisine.
During the day, this restaurant offers a delightful, fresh lunch with a menu of pho, bánh mi sandwiches, freshly-made salads, and an exceptional coffee selection of cold brew, pour-over, and Vietnamese coffee. At night the restaurant transforms into a lounge that offers signature, craft, beer, signature, cocktails, and light bites to eat, with live music and a DJ.
Whether you’re looking for a fabulous quick bite to eat or something fun to do in the evening, 98 Center Moab is just what you need.
Quesadilla Mobilla serves authentic Mexican and southwestern cuisine from a food truck in the Moab area. This particular food truck is stationed less than 5 minutes from Canyonlands National Park and is ranked number 1 by visitors dining in Moab.
This dining option offers vegetarian-friendly, gluten-free, and vegan options so everyone can enjoy this menu. Popular options include the Southern Belle, Sweet and Spicy, and the Enchanted Chicken.
While the most popular menu items are different types of quesadillas, Quesadilla Mobilla also serves fresh guacamole, chips, and salsa, as well as sweet treats, like the salted chocolate chip and caramel cookie. Quesadilla Mobilla is sure to please every food enthusiast and have them coming back for more.
Sweet Cravings Bakery + Bistro
Sweet Cravings Bakery + Bistro is less than 3 miles from the Canyonlands National Park and is an excellent choice for dining. Whether you are looking for a fantastic cup of coffee and a quick bite for breakfast or if you are looking to refuel from your park excursions, Sweet Cravings Bakery + Bistro has incredible options to suit your needs.
This restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and specialty baked goods daily from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. They use locally-grown dairy and produce and offer top-quality meats, organic coffees, breads, and desserts baked from scratch.
No matter if you want to sit and stay for a while or grab something on the go, Sweet Cravings Bakery + Bistro is sure to impress you and your tastebuds.
Thai Bella is located 2 and a half miles from Canyonlands National Park. This restaurant serves authentic Thai food with high-quality ingredients.
Guests can dine indoors or outdoors, and there are options for those with food restrictions, such as gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan. Customer favorites include drunken noodles, gyoza, and coconut shrimp. Visitors enjoyed dining in this cozy restaurant and rave about exceptional customer service.
Canyonlands National Park Facts
1. A Newly Established Park
President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a law and established 257,640 acres as Canyonlands National Park on September 12, 1964.
2. Original People of the Park
While many Native American groups and tribes have made their home in Canyonlands National Park, the Puebloans are believed to be the first people of the area. This native group thrived in the area, farmed, and lived on the land 10,000 years ago.
3. Lights, Camera, Action
Canyonlands National Park was featured in the 1991 hit movie “Thelma and Louise.” The ending scene was filmed above the Colorado River and in a canyon in The Maze section of the park. Another noteworthy movie filmed in the park was “127 Hours,” starring James Franco.
4. Gold Tier Status
Canyonlands National Park has been awarded Gold-Tier International Dark Sky Park. This status means the park has one of the darkest night skies and a spectacular starscape. The park service takes this status very seriously and works hard to protect this valuable natural resource. Visitors from all around the world come to Canyonlands National Park to experience the incredible stargazing opportunities.
5. Outdoor Laboratory
For years, Canyonlands National Park has been used as an outdoor laboratory for many types of scientists from around the world. Most scientists focus on the geology and soils of the park, but some scientists specifically focus on the plant life, human history, and animals that make their homes in the park.
6. Living Soil
Canyonlands National Park has a remarkable biological soil crust made up of living organisms. This soil helps to control erosion in the area and holds and retains water, allowing the plant life to survive the desert environment. Visitors should be mindful of this unique soil and stay on the designated footpaths.
7. Outlaw Hideout
Butch Cassidy was an American bank and train robber and a leader of a gang of outlaws. These outlaws had a hideout that happens to be in the Maze district of Canyonlands National Park and many of the surrounding areas. This hideout became known as Robbers Roost. “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” is a film that tells the true story of this notorious outlaw.
8. Famous Survivor
Aron Ralston is an American adventurer who set out to explore Canyonlands National Park. He went canyoning, a massive boulder fell above him, and his arm became trapped. After being trapped for 5 days, he self-amputated his arm and miraculously survived. The movie “127 Hours” portrays this traumatic experience.
9. Highs and Lows
The highest elevation point in Canyonlands National Park is Cathedral Point. This geologic feature reaches 7,120 feet, making it the highest point in the park. The lowest elevation at Canyonlands National Park is found at The Big Drop Rapids section of Cataract Canyon. This elevation measures 3,700 feet.
10. Rafting the River
John Wesley Powell was the first person to raft Cataract Canyon on the Colorado River. He led this exciting rafting excursion in wood boats in 1869 and paved the way for future adventurers in Canyonlands National Park.
11. Animals All Around
A great number of animals make their home in Canyonlands National Park. There are over 50 species of mammals, 273 types of birds, and a large number of reptiles, amphibians, and fish. Common animals seen by visitors include desert cottontails, mule deer, birds, lizards, and kangaroo rats. The animals can be seen mostly at dusk and dawn.
12. Endangered Species
Several endangered species can be found in Canyonlands National Park. Four of these species are fish, including the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, humpback chub, and bonytail chub. The fifth endangered animal is a bird called the southwestern willow flycatcher. These endangered species are federally listed on the endangered species list.
Canyonlands National Park is Utah’s largest national park and is just waiting to be explored. This is the ideal place to see spectacular desert views and geologic phenomena and experience the adventure that awaits.
From amazing overlooks at Island in the Sky to the wonderful trails in The Needles area, and the remote wilderness of the Maze district to the rushing rivers, Canyonlands National Park offers endless opportunities for adventure, discovery, and exploration. A trip to Canyonlands would be a bucket-list trip that would create one-of-a-kind memories.
Featured Image Credit: Dominik Schröder via Unsplash
Frequently Asked Questions
How many days should I plan for a trip to Canyonlands National Park?
One day is plenty of time to visit the Island in the Sky area of Canyonlands National Park. This allows for visiting the main attractions, taking a couple of short hikes, and seeing the views from the remarkable overlooks. For those wanting to participate in extensive hikes or outdoor adventures, 2 to 3 days may be a better option.
What are the fees for entering Canyonlands National Park?
Visitors can purchase a 7-day park pass for $30 per vehicle. Anyone entering the park as an individual on foot or bicycle can pay $15 for a 7-day pass.
What is the weather like in Canyonlands National Park?
The weather fluctuates during the year and can range from the lowest temperature of 0 degrees to the highest at 100 degrees. Visitors can expect drastic temperature changes during the days and different forms of precipitation, from flash floods to snowstorms throughout the year.
Which district should I visit if I only have 1 day at Canyonlands National Park?
Island in the Sky is the most accessible area of the park. This area features incredible overlooks, many of the park’s top sights, and excellent hiking trails. If you only have 1 day in the park, this area would be best to visit.
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