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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Have a great time in the beautiful state of Utah!
Arches National Park
Book Siteseeing Tours & Other Adventures Here
Call 435-259-4351 to reserve backcountry campsites. All other campgrounds are first come first served.
Utah Atlas and Gazetteer
by DeLorme (Editor)
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
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