Outdoors In Utah Logo

Bob Bouldering at Joe's ValleyBob Skiing at SnowbasinBrett on the Rim of Coyote GulchBob Hiking in Little Wild Horse Canyon
HomeCampingSkiingHiking
ClimbingExploringGuide Books
 
 

ExploringCanyonlands National Park

The Canyonlands is such a large park, it is divided into three primary areas:

Island in the Sky

Needles

The Maze 

 

Island In the Sky, Canyonlands National Park 
Ok, close your eyes and visualize with me here a moment. Imagine standing on a narrow tongue of land overlooking a seemingly endless view of canyons and cliffs. A valley far below you contains strange solitary towers rising from its depths. The Grand View Point, in the Island in the Sky district of the park, offers one of the most stunning views in America. The Green and Colorado rivers have carved a surreal landscape here.

This park was created in 1964, but has a rich history. The entire Canyonlands was once the domain of the Anasazi Indians. This Tribe has left its mark in various locations throughout the southwest desert. Pictographs and petroglyphs can be found throughout the park The Island In the Sky was once used by ranchers to corral their horses, this tongue of land could be easily fenced off and provided a natural corral. The Uranium rush of the 50’s is responsible for most of the roads in the park. Uranium mining has left a bitter legacy in this region; entire generations of local people have been lost to cancer and other diseases.

The Island in the Sky is the most visited region of the park. Canyonlands is broken up into three separate regions, each offering their own virtues. The virtue of Island in the Sky is the accessibility by car of all the great views. The Grand View Point is arrived at by a paved road with access for all. The view of Upheavel Dome is also good but you will have to get out of the car to see it fully. The White Rim is considered part of the Island region, this is a plateau 1200 feet below the Island in the Sky. The White Rim Trail descends onto the white rim via steep switchbacks down a virtual cliff face. If you are in this section of the park be sure and check out Dead Horse State Park.

The Camping

There is only one organized campground in the Island district; the Willow Flats campground has 12 sites and cost’s 5 dollars a night. There are a number of campsites available in the backcountry. The White Rim Trail has a number of campsites along its length. I have stayed in the Grey Crack campsite, this campsite is halfway through the White Rim. These campsites are usually booked far in advance, although we have gone down in February and did not have a problem. There is plenty of camping available on the BLM land, which surrounds this park. All along highway 313 (highway which leads into the Island region) there are many spots, which will be obvious, that people have camped before. Explore the side roads to find your campsite.

Please be careful here, the environment in the desert is more precarious than it appears. Camp only in established sites and take all your trash and that of those before you when you leave.

The Hiking

If you were coming to Canyonlands to hike I would not recommend this region. The hikes around Upheavel Dome are interesting but you have seen most of the sites from your car or not far from it. If you are mountain biking the White Rim is a very popular trail, the switchbacks at the beginning will punish you on the way out.

The Climbing

The rock in this section of park will vary from bulletproof to desperate nightmares. The towers in Monument Basin were conquered by some of the pioneers of rock climbing. One of the most famous towers in this area is Standing Rock ie the Totem Pole, this formation is visible from the Grand View Point and is a slender tower rising 300 feet above the desert floor. First climbed in 1962 by Layton Kor and partners this is still a highly regarded lead. Washer woman and Zeus are other sandstone towers that climbers will drool over.


Overall

If you are here for the views and the accessibility this is the place to be. Paved roads lead to all of the great views. The best four wheeling in this region is the White Rim Trail; this trail is rather benign for the first 10 or so miles. After that the trail seems to disappear into faint trails of rubber over the sandstone. The White Rim Trail is truly the gem of this section of the park.

back to top

 

Needles, Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park is a beautiful landscape of desert red-rock. This park is a fantastic demonstration of geologic forces at work. Erosion by the Colorado and Green rivers have altered the fragile sandstone landscape to a surreal vision of fantastic shapes and colors. The Needles district of this park is a bit more off the beaten path. Much of this land is only accessible by hiking or 4-wheeling. The Needles/Anticline overlook offers stunning views of standing sandstone pillars, these red towers seemingly have been arranged in rows, thus prompting the name Needles. This is a very vast section of the park, a bit more remote than Island In the Sky.

The Needles district Visitor’s Center is located about 75 miles South of Moab, take highway 191 South from Moab. There are several interesting places to stop along the way. The Hole In The Rock is a convenience store/museum/tourist trap, this is worth a stop at least to grab a coke. The convenience store and museum are both contained in rooms carved into the Cliffside. Wilson arch is a great photo-op just off the highway. This is a large sandstone arch visible from 191, a well-marked view area is just off the highway.

Once you turn off onto highway 211 you begin the descent into the heart of the Needles district. The first 10 or 15 miles of the drive are rather uneventful, soon you enter Indian Creek Canyon. Newspaper Rock is a must-see stop on your way into Needles. This is a rock wall, on which ancient taggers have performed their version of graffiti. These drawings vary from obvious hunting scenes to obscure scrawlings of past gods.

Indian Creek is a sprawling valley surrounded by sandstone cliffs. The Six-shooter Towers are an awe-inspiring sight as these two towers stand atop large talus cones. In my personal opinion, Indian Creek is the most beautiful place in the entire park. Much of this area is on ranch land so if you venture off onto any of the roads, be sure and close any gates behind you.

The Camping

There is only one organized campground in this section of the park. Squaw flats campground is located past the Needles visitor center. This campground has 26 sites and is your typical national park campground with campsites close together and clean facilities. This campground is first-come first-served. In the Spring and Fall, the sites will fill up early so arrive at the crack of dawn to put your name in. In the off-season you can usually find a campsite fairly easily. There are 10 campsites in the backcountry here, most of which are reached by a long hike or four wheel drive. These will all be usually booked far in advance during peak times. Call ahead for reservations in the Spring and Fall.

My favorite place to camp in the Needles region is on Lockhart Basin Road. Once you are North of the Six-shooter towers, you will come upon a dirt road on your right. If you travel down this road about four or five miles you will come upon a group of campsites. This is an area of isolation, most of the campsites are widely spaced. Most people do not know of this area and I almost feel guilty giving it away. These campsites all have picnic tables, fire pits with grates, and bathrooms within reasonable distances. Fantastic views of the Six-shooter towers and the desolation of the desert make this a very special place to be. And, best of all, being BLM land these are free!

Monticello is the closest place to replenish supplies while staying in Needles. They roll up the sidewalks around 9:00 here, make sure you have everything you need by then.

Hiking/4-wheeling

The best scenery of this section of the park is off the pavement. Whether you choose to see the countryside via your boots or a four-wheel drive vehicle this area will provide you with fantastic sights and experiences. One of the benefits of getting someplace via hiking or 4-wheel drive is that it tends to thin the crowds. Looking out over the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers is more of a zen-like experience without the constant stream of people found in Island in the Sky.

Elephant Hill is the best known four-wheel drive trail here. This trail is rated 3+, which means a stock high clearance vehicle “should” be able to pass, just barely. The first time we ever went to Elephant Hill we saw a Ford Explorer being towed out with the roof caved in. Elephant Hill is a pretty serious trail involving large steps up boulders with a cliff to the side of your vehicle. If you care about the underside of your truck you better stay away from here, my Toyota Tacoma received several dings on the skidplates from this trail. If you want to get your blood pumping either rent a jeep or take your own vehicle down this trail.

There are numerous trails throughout this area of the park. If you are coming to the Canyonlands for the hiking, the Needles is the place to be. There are numerous day hikes within reach of Squaw flats and parking lots throughout the area. Big Spring Canyon and Squaw Canyon are both great hikes close to the campground. The hike over Elephant Hill into Chesler Park is very scenic.

The Climbing

Indian Creek is the climbing gem of this area. Indian Creek is a world-renowned crack climbing destination. The Wingate sandstone comprising Indian Creek is an extremely hard sandstone. This rock tends to fracture in uniform vertical cracks. Most routes here require a certain size of cam one after the other. Once you start on a route here the crack size does not usually change.

The Six-shooter towers are two of the most sought after climbs in the region. These are two towers within close proximity of each other, each rises above a talus cone. The South Six-shooter is the shorter and easier of the two. Several 5.7 to 5.9 routes lead to the top of this tower. The North Six-shooter is taller and more technical, the Lightning Bolt cracks is the best and most popular route up this tower.

There are some sport routes here but don’t expect the bolts to be too close together. This is historically a traditional area, you won’t see many bolts here other than lowering anchor’s.

If hiking and four-wheeling are what you are looking for this region of the park will definitely will fit the bill. There are many petroglyphs and pictographs located throughout this part of the park. Chesler park has some well preserved Indian writings.

back to top

 

The Maze, Canyonlands National Park 

The Maze region of Canyonlands is one of the most remote places in the continental US. This is a place of absolute solitude, very few people venture into this section of the park. Just like the other regions of the park the red rock scenery dominates the landscape. The best part of the Maze is the isolation you feel here. Even in the peak season you may only see three or four other vehicles All Day.

When camping in the other regions of the park you will inevitably have neighbors nearby and a stream of 4x4’s driving by while you cook breakfast. This is not the case in the Maze. We have a two year old and don’t have the luxury of hiking deep into the park to get away from crowds. The Maze allows anyone with a 4-wheel drive vehicle to camp and have no one within ten miles.

The trails here can be somewhat confusing, it is easy to lose your way here. There are several different ways to approach this section of the park. The Hans Flat ranger station is the Northern entrance, this is accessed via Hwy 24 off of I-70. The scenery on the drive in is spectacular. Red rock domes and cliffs catch the eye and make driving through this area very hard, most likely there will be no one else on the road with you. My favorite way into the Maze is the entrance located between the Dirty Devil and the Colorado rivers. This way allows you a fantastic view of the beginning of Lake Powell. The view of the blue water of Lake Powell contrasting with the red rock of the surrounding landscape is breathtaking.

When going to the Maze you should be very well prepared. The two closest towns are Hanksville and Blanding, neither of which would be considered actual towns, unless you consider a convenience store and a couple restaurants a town (and I do use the term restaurant loosely). Stock up on everything you will need before you venture into this territory. You aren’t going to be able to jaunt into town and pick up some hot dogs while you are camping here. I recommend having a camping checklist when venturing to places such as this. It is all too easy to forget that vital camping or cooking staple.

I wouldn’t venture into this expanse of the park unless you have a lot of confidence in your means of transportation. This is not the place to break down in, expect a healthy tow bill to get your auto out of here. The trails here for the most part should be easily negotiated by any stock 4-wheel drive vehicle, but this isn’t the place for the family car. Route-finding here can be very difficult, there are a number of trails which criss cross around each other. The park map gives a very vague view of the trails here. I would recommend getting the Gazetteer for Utah, this map shows most every trail in the park.

The Camping

This section of the park is home to various backcountry sites. You can usually have your pick of any of the sites in this region. Permits are available at the Hans Flats ranger station or you can call for reservations at 435-259-4351. There are about 20 different backcountry campsites, the sites around the Standing Rocks are very scenic and usually vacant. These campsites require a long drive in over rugged trails. All campers are required to have a self-contained toilet with them. The Golden Stairs was our favorite campsite, we fell asleep to coyotes yipping and woke to stunning views of sheer cliffs rising from a jumbled landscape of red boulders.

The Hiking

This area offers some fantastic hiking. The Chocolate Drops trail is a 4.5 mile trail which offers views of incredible scenery ending at a surreal vision of giant “Hersheys kisses”. There are several strenuous hikes from the Doll House area. Spanish Bottom trail will get you breathing hard. The overlook trail from here gives an opposite view of the confluence than from the Island in the Sky. Seeing the two rivers come together and the sculpting of the land from this union is a very powerful sight.

When hiking here, be cautious of the Crytobiotic soil. This is a vital participant in the desert ecosystem. This is a thin dark crust protecting the sand. Without this protection the moisture would not be retained. Our footprints disturbing this crust take many years to repair. Our blunders today in this area remain for future generations to see. Please remain on the trails when you are hiking here.

The Climbing

This is one of the few area’s in the US which is still open to exploration. There is very little documented climbing in this region of the park. If you have ever dreamed of recording a first ascent this is a good place to realize this dream. The Eric Bjonstaad guidebook covering this area contains less than 20 climbs. The climbing potential here is practically limitless.

Overall

This is the best spot in the park if you want to be away from the crowds, and also the worst spot if you aren’t prepared. Anytime you are this far away from civilization you have good points and bad points, if you come prepared the bad points are negligible.

Have a great time in the beautiful state of Utah!

Nearby Areas:
Arches National Park

Moab
Kane Creek

Resources

Book Siteseeing Tours & Other Adventures Here


Maps

Canyonlands NP-Needles/Island UT Trail Map

Canyonlands NP-Needles/Island UT Trail Map

More than just a map - National Geographic Trails Illustrated topographic maps are designed to take you into the wilderness and back. Printed on durable tear-resistant waterproof material this map can go anywhere you do! Each map is based on exact reproductions of USGS topographic map information updated customized and enhanced to meet the unique features of each area. Folded and printed on plastic for durability.


Canyonlands National Park Maze & NE Glen Canyon N

Canyonlands National Park Maze & NE Glen Canyon N

More than just a map - National Geographic Trails Illustrated topographic maps are designed to take you into the wilderness and back. Printed on durable tear-resistant waterproof material this map can go anywhere you do! Each map is based on exact reproductions of USGS topographic map information updated customized and enhanced to meet the unique features of each area. Folded and printed on plastic for durability.



Campgrounds

Call 435-259-4351 to reserve backcountry campsites.  All other campgrounds are first come first served.


Shopping


Books

cover  

Utah Atlas and Gazetteer
by DeLorme (Editor)

Book Description

Rely on the Utah Atlas & Gazetteer for the utmost in trip planning and 
backcountry access. Contains topographic maps with unbeatable 
detail, plus gazetteer information on great places to go and things to 
do. Scale equals 1:250,000 or 1"=4 miles. Contour Interval is 300'. 
Each page  covers 37 miles... Read more


 

Get the 2005 Trailer Life Directory for 50% off the cover! 


 

Was this page helpful?

Comments?

 

 

Return to Exploring Index

 

    

Maps

Books

Reservations

Shopping

Nearby Areas

Exploring Index

  Start Your Free Trial Now!

 

 


Home      Camping      Skiing      Hiking      Climbing      Exploring      Guide Books     Shop      Site Map

Outdoors in Utah   6875 South Kiesta, West Jordan, UT 84084
 http://www.outdoorsinutah.com   mailto:bob@outdoorsinutah.com
 

 

© Copyright, 2000-2006, Bob McMann                                                   Website Design and Marketing by Effective Results       Contact Webmaster