The Canyonlands is Utah’s largest national park with three sections: the Island in the Sky, the Needles and the Maze. The Green and Colorado Rivers divide these three districts and each one is uniquely spectacular.
The Island in the Sky mesa overlooks breathtaking sandstone cliffs, the Green and Colorado rivers and rugged deep canyons. Island in the Sky is the northern part of the Canyonlands, a 40 minute scenic drive from Utah’s adventure town of Moab and Arches National Park.
This popular section of the Canyonlands offers diverse experiences and adventures. Short hikes right off the paved road provide spectacular views while backcountry trips allow primitive desert access and mountain biking, river rafting, hiking and four-wheel-drive adventures.
The White Rim Road, in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park, is a wildly popular mountain bike adventure near Moab. On this 100 mile White Rim journey, you’ll ride below the Canyonlands Island in the Sky mesa through diverse terrain and unique desert scenery.
The Needles district is located in the southeast corner of the Canyonlands National Park south of Moab. The Needles district is rugged and remote with stunning spires and fins of Cedar Mesa sandstone. This section of the Canyonlands offers trails for many long day hikes and overnight trips. Four-wheel drive roads are also popular.
Canyonlands: The Maze District
The Maze section is extremely remote, less accessible and the road and trails are more difficult to get to and travel on. The Maze is best for longer trips where more self-sufficiency and backcountry skills are involved. Trails for hiking are primitive and often require climbing. 4X4 trails are also very challenging. While this area is more challenging and primitive, there’s much beauty and adventure in a well-planned trip.
Tips on Elevation, Heat, Pets & Hiking
Canyonlands National Park is considered the high desert with a truly unique climate. Expect intense heat and quickly changing weather conditions.
- If you are hiking, take a CamelBak to sip water easily and often. Monitor the amount of water you drink. It’s a good idea to bring salty snacks and electrolyte replacements for longer hikes.
- Keep as cool as possible by wearing breathable, light colored clothing and covering up from the sun. Wear layers and be prepared for changing weather conditions.
- Wear a high SPF on skin exposed to the sun. Wear a broad rimmed hat and sunglasses.
- The park does not allow pets on the trails, and it’s generally too hot for your pet to be left in the car for even a few minutes.
Permits, Planning Ahead & Backpacking
Plan your trip in advance for activities requiring permits. You need a permit for all overnight trips expect for Island in the Sky’s Willow Flat campground and the Needles Squaw Flat campground. For popular trips such as the White Rim, apply for a permit months ahead of time.
Camping in Canyonlands National Park
Islands in the Sky offers one campground, Willow Flat Campground. There are 12 campsites offering a picnic table, fire grill and nearby vault toilets (no showers, firewood or other amenities). In the Needles district, Squaw Flat Campground, with 26 sites, is an ideal base camp for popular day hikes. The campground provides bathrooms, fire grates, water, and picnic tables. Both campgrounds operate on a first-come, first-served basis.
How to Get to the Canyonlands
- Moab is the town where you’ll want to start your adventure. Visit the Moab Visitor Center to learn about adventures and activities. Stock-up on snacks and water/drinks before you enter the park.
- Once in Canyonlands National Park, visit the tourist center. Pick up maps, learn about the park and how the forces of nature created this fascinating landscape.
There are no roads that directly link the three districts in the Canyonlands.
Island in the Sky District Location
On US Highway 191, head 10 miles north of Moab. Turn onto Utah Highway 313 and drive up a scenic climb to the entrance of the park for 22 miles.
Needles District Location
On US Highway 191, drive 40 miles south of Moab, then take Utah Highway 211 roughly 35 miles west to the Needles.