Canyonlands is my favorite National Park that we visited on our road trip out west. I either didn’t do too much research on it or the pictures I saw weren’t very great…but for whatever reason, I had no idea what to expect.
Canyonlands has 3 districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles and The Maze.
Island in the Sky
This is the most accessible part of the park and has amazing views of layered canyons. There are several drivable viewpoints that you can get out at to walk around. Each viewpoint has unique landscape and we were surprised each time we stepped out of the car. It also has a Visitor Center with water available from March-October.
The needles remind me of the hoodoos at Bryce Canyon. They are tall spires with different layers of rock. The Needles is about 40 miles south of Moab and then 35 miles west into the park. While we didn’t go to this one, it looks to have some great hiking trails and photo ops.
The maze is described as a puzzle in sandstone. This is the most remote section of Canyonlands. It takes about 2 hours from I-70 to get to the ranger station and another 3-5 hours on top of that. This section is for the travelers who are up for primitive wilderness. There is no water availability and you will need a backcountry permit for primitive hiking routes and camping.
We arrived in the area around 5pm and decided to get a map of Canyonlands at the Island in the Sky Visitor’s Center. By this time, the Visitor’s Center was closed and there was hardly anyone there. We were really close to a viewpoint so we decided to drive through and check out the park. I was shocked when I stepped out of the car. Canyonlands is so much larger than I anticipated! The landscape is so unique and stunning that I was in awe standing there.
Since the park was nearly empty, we decided to keep going through to the other viewpoints.
I was surprised each time I stepped up to the edge. I had never seen anything like this.
The next morning, we decided to get up early and catch the sunrise at the Mesa Arch. The park was empty and for some reason I thought we would again have the park almost entirely to ourselves. I was wrong.
We were running late–counting down the minutes until the sun was to rise while racing through the park. We sprinted up the 1/4 mile or so to the arch only to be met by a group of 50 people already crowding around the arch. Obviously we were not the only ones who had this idea. People were standing so close to the arch that I thought I would never be able to get a decent picture. I gave up trying to get the most popular shot and instead shot around it. Once the sun came up, people actually cleared out and I was able to sneak in and snap a few shots between arms and cell phones.
We went to the remaining viewpoints after sunrise and covered the whole district before they had even opened. I highly suggest going after hours or before to avoid a crowd.
Things to know:
Time needed to explore: This depends on how many districts you want to see. Island in the Sky could be covered in 1 day. If you want to venture to The Needles, add a 1/2 day of travel and another full day of exploring and hiking. To visit The Maze, I would probably account for one day of travel and maybe a couple of days to explore.
Entrance fee: $25 (or use your America the Beautiful Pass)
Campsites: There is one at Island in the Sky and one at the Needles. The campsite at the Island in the Sky looked great, however it was all full when we checked, as there are only 12 spots. The overnight fee is $15. The Needles has 27 spots and is $20 overnight.
Water: Is available only at Island in the Sky (March-October) and The Needles.
Permits are needed for backcountry travel.
For more information and park updates, check out NPS.