Canyonlands National Park
Location: Eastern Utah
Getting there: Canyonlands is located west of Arches National Park and slightly southwest from the closest town of Moab. It will take you about 40 minutes to get to Island in the Sky, the area of the park we went to, by car from Moab and 30 from the visitors center in Arches National Park. The drive up to Island is windy and steep at first but flat once you are on top of the plateau.
Park Orientation: The Green and Colorado rivers split Canyonlands into three major districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze. Island in the Sky and Needles both have visitors centers, and Maze has a ranger station. Island in the Sky is the more popular option among travelers with limited time to visit and its accessibility, while Needles and Maze require a bit more hiking, and 4-wheel-drive vehicles, to truly enjoy the environment. The Island is also about two hours from Needles, but also has easy access to Dead Horse State Park, making it a must-go for people that stop there.
Popular Features: Mesa Arch is undoubtedly the most iconic view in Canyonlands and the busiest hike in the park. Though being very accessible from the parking lot, this area does get a lot of traffic during the peak seasons. The arch overlooks the valley towards Moab and the Green River and seems to be hanging on from a thread from the cliff face straight below. Not only a great photo-op but a natural phenomena as well.
There are also tons of easily accessible overlooks and small hikes for any ability within the park with great views of the Green and Colorado Rivers, and canyons from just Island in the Sky. There are also a few dirt roads that all wheel drive vehicles can access closer views to the Green River near Dead Horse State Park (You can see this road in the last picture in this post, right next to the river)
Photography: One of the most iconic areas of the park, Mesa Arch, is most commonly photographed at sunrise and sunset when the sun peaks over the canyon walls, illuminating the arch to a golden hue. This part of the park, as mentioned before, gets heavily flooded with tourists and photographers. If you can visit in the off season, however, you may find yourselves alone at the arch like we did! We arrived to the arch after sunrise and we’re still delighted to see the golden hue of the arch top when we got there.
- This isn’t exactly a “fun” fact but in 2003 an adventurer named Aron Ralston became famous after he was trapped in a canyon slot near the Maze district in Canyonlands and had to remove his arm to get free. 127 Hours is based on this event.
- The land of Canyonlands National Park was once inhabited by the ancient Puebloans (2000-1000BC), early Native Americans that left behind stone and mud dwellings, and petroglyphs that can be seen in the park.
- There is actually a fourth district in Canyonlands, a detached area known as Horseshoe Canyon. This area is best known for its impressive Native American rock art.
Dead Horse State Park
Dead Horse State Park will be on your left hand side before you enter into Island in the Sky at Canyonlands. It will be an extra fee to enter the park, and national park passes will not be accepted. If you have time, this park is a great place to spend at least a little time at. A lot of people love flying drones in this park at the overlook, but it does require a $10 permit between the months of February and November. There are a ton of picnic areas, and the park has a popular bike/hiking loop that is highly recommended by park rangers.
Originally posted January 31st, 2018