On our first trip to Moab, Utah we had wanted to do Arches National Park one day, and Canyonlands National Park the next day, however, we quickly realized that wasn’t going to happen as Arches National Park was just too big. We were disappointed with our limited amount of time in Moab, but it did give us a great reason to come back. It was definitely on our must-see list the next time we were in the area. were able to visit on a trip in February of 2021.
First, a little bit about the park before I share our visit. Canyonlands National Park is a U.S. National Park located in southeastern Utah near the town of Moab. It preserves a colorful landscape eroded into countless canyons, mesas, and buttes by the Colorado River, the Green River, and their respective tributaries. Legislation creating the park was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on September 12, 1964.
The park is divided into four districts: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze, and the rivers themselves. While these areas share a primitive desert atmosphere, each retains its own character. Two large river canyons are carved into the Colorado Plateau by the Colorado River and Green River.
Apparently, an average of 440,039 people visit the park each year I can see why, as the geography of the park is well suited to a number of different recreational uses. While exploring the area you will see many hikers, mountain bikers, backpackers, and four-wheelers all enjoy traveling the rugged, remote trails within the park. All we had with us was our dog in a standard manual car, lol. But we still had a good time.
Obviously not during February, but during the warmers months you will find, rafters and kayakers floating the calm stretches of the Green River and Colorado River above the Confluence. Below the Confluence, Cataract Canyon contains powerful whitewater rapids, similar to those found in the Grand Canyon.
However, since there is no large impoundment on the Colorado River above Canyonlands National Park, river flow through the Confluence is determined by snowmelt, not management. As a result, and in combination with Cataract Canyon’s unique geology, this stretch of river offers the largest whitewater in North America in heavy snow years.
The Island in the Sky district, with its proximity to the Moab, Utah area, attracts the majority (59 percent) of park users. The Needles district is the second most visited, drawing 35 percent of visitors. The rivers within the park and the remote Maze district each only account for 3 percent of park visitation. Not sure we fell on this chart, lol. But we weren’t the only ones enjoying the beautiful area.
Canyonlands National Park did seem to take a while to get to even from Moab where we were staying. However, it was a very peaceful drive with gorgeous views all around. We finally got there, got a map of the park, and decided what we wanted to see and do first. We ended up walking around the Visitor Center for a while to get a better idea and view of the park. Since we didn’t have any specific plans or things to see, someone suggested we do the 34-mile scenic route around the Island of the Sky area.
We started out and I don’t remember the name of all of the places we stopped, but I do remember spending some time in awe at Grand View Point Overlook. It is at an elevation of 6,000 feet and was absolutely breathtaking. From this area, you can see the White Rim, features in The Maze and The Needles, and distant mountains. A short, paved sidewalk leads to a spectacular viewpoint. Apparently you can hike an additional mile to a second viewpoint but we didn’t know that until I was writing this post. Sounds like it might have been nice. Maybe next time we are in the park.
There is also a stop at Green River Overlook. This stop is southwest-facing and the viewpoint affords the best views of one of Canyonlands’ two mighty rivers: the Green River, deep in its channel 1,300 feet (396 m) below. You can also see The Maze district and the White Rim Road. We didn’t plan it, but we were there right at sunset and later found out that it is one of the best places in the Island in the Sky to watch the sunset. From here you can also see Elaterite Butte, Ekker Butte, Orange Cliffs, Turks Head, Cleopatra’s Chair, and the Henry Mountains.
We had a wonderful day exploring this phenomenal park and area while in Moab. I would love to go back another time and visit some of the areas we didn’t get to. There was definitely A LOT more her to explore than we were able to see or visit in a day. I see future upcoming visits, lol. Here is a link to their website if you are planning your own trip sometime.
Canyonlands National Park Visitor Information
2282 Resource Blvd. Moab, UT 84532
Canyonlands National Park is generally open 24 hours a day, year-round.
Private Vehicle – $30.00
Admits one private, non-commercial vehicle (15 passenger capacity or less) and all its occupants.
Motorcycle – $25.00
Admits a private, non-commercial motorcycle and its riders.
Per Person – $15.00
Admits one individual with no car. Typically used for bicyclists, hikers, and pedestrians. Youth 15 and under are admitted free
Southeast Utah Parks Annual Pass – $55.00
Valid for one year through the month of purchase. Admits one (1) private, non-commercial vehicle or its pass holder to Arches and Canyonlands national parks, and Natural Bridges National Monument.
Canyonlands National Park is cut into three land districts by the Green and Colorado rivers. Island in the Sky, in the north of the park, is about 40 minutes from Moab, UT via UT 313. The Needles district is in the southeast corner of Canyonlands, about 90 minutes from Moab or an hour from Monticello, UT via UT 211. The Maze district, in the west of the park, is the most remote and challenging; its ranger station is down 46 miles of dirt road from UT 24. All roads in The Maze require high-clearance 4WD.
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