If you’re planning a trip through Utah’s National Parks, you’re probably excited to see the stunning natural arches of Arches National Park and the breathtaking sandstone cliffs of Zion National Park. Maybe you’re already planning on hiking Angel’s Landing. But if you haven’t spent much time researching Canyonlands National Park, you’ll miss out on an epic experience. Not only is the scenery spectacular, but the hiking is fantastic! Let’s look at our five favorite hikes in Canyonlands to get you started planning your adventure!
What Is Canyonlands?
Canyonlands National Park is in southeastern Utah near Arches National Park. This is by far one of the most rugged pieces of terrain we have stepped foot on. Canyons truly abound from being carved out by the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers.
It features countless canyons carved by the Colorado River and human stories that date back 10,000 years. Pictographs and petroglyphs can be found on canyon walls throughout the park, providing pieces of history from 8,000 BCE to 500 BCE. In addition to canyons, Canyonlands National Park preserves mesas, buttes, fins, arches, and spires across its 337,598 acres.
It’s not as accessible to vehicles as its directed by two major rivers without any bridges within the park. Its also so rugged that few roads exist to access it. However, if you are an off-road enthusiast there are plenty of rugged trails, including the famous white rim trail that you need a permit to traverse.
How Many Hikes Are in Canyonlands?
There are hundreds of miles of hiking trails throughout the park. They’re usually marked with cairns (small rock piles) because signs are more difficult to get into the ground here. The Island in the Sky mesa has four easy hikes, five moderate hikes, and six strenuous hikes. Along the White Rim Road, there are three additional hiking trails.
The Needles consist of four easy-to-moderate hikes and eight strenuous hikes. Typically this area is left for strong hikers familiar with the primitive Utah terrain. There are also trails at Horseshoe Canyon that meander over steep rocky areas and through wet sand. The trails here take almost all day to complete.
Keep In Mind: If you’re going to visit Arches National Park after Canyonlands, remember they have a new timed reservation system in place.
Do You Need a Permit to Hike Canyonlands?
You don’t need a permit to hike the marked trails in Canyonlands. However, you’ll need a backcountry day-use permit for all vehicles, motorcycles, and bicycles traveling on White Rim Road, Elephant Hill Road, Lavender Canyon Road, and Peekaboo/Horse Canyon roads.
Permits are necessary for overnight stays. If you’re planning a several-day-long hike for a White Rim trip or a Needles backpacking trip during spring and fall, plan ahead and get reservations because these are quite popular.
5 Best Hikes in Canyonlands That Will Inspire You
Hiking in Canyonlands National Park is a dream. The stunning colors, changing landscapes, and rich history bring hikers from all over the country to southeastern Utah. Let’s look at the five best hikes in Canyonlands so you can start making your plans to visit soon!
Mesa Arch Trail
The Mesa Arch Trail is a short, easy trail for all hikers on the Island in the Sky mesa. The elevation gain is only 88 feet, so there are no steep inclines or descents. The trail takes you to an arch perched on a cliff edge and is a great location to watch the sunrise in Canyonlands.
Hike Length: A 0.7-mile loop
How to Get There: From Moab, take Highway 191 to Highway 313 and then drive southwest approximately 22 miles to the visitor center. Parking is available at the trailhead.
Grand View Point Trail
Whereas the Mesa Arch Trail is great for a sunrise, the Grand View Point Trail is the perfect location for a sunset in Canyonlands. One of the best hikes in Canyonlands, the trail is paved until the first overlook and is safe and accessible for wheelchairs and strollers. However, past the overlook, the terrain becomes rocky. This well-marked, mostly flat trail offers visitors stunning views surrounding the Island in the Sky mesa.
Hike Length: A 1.8-mile out-and-back
How to Get There: From the Island in the Sky visitor center, drive about 6 miles south on Main Island Road. Bear left toward Grand View Point at the junction of Upheaval Dome/Grand View Roads. You’ll pass White Rim Overlook as you drive another 6 miles to the Grand View Trailhead.
Upheaval Dome (via Crater View Trail)
Mystery surrounds this mile-wide crater. Unlike the rest of Canyonlands National Park, this area was dramatically transformed rather than going through a slow, gradual erosion process. One theory suggests that a meteorite struck the Earth about 60 million years ago. The trail itself has some rock scrambling and steeper sections than the previous two trails, which is why it’s rated as moderate.
Hike Length: A 1.3-mile out-and-back
How to Get There: From the Island in the Sky visitor center, take Highway 313 south approximately 6 miles to the junction of Main Island Road and Upheaval Dome Road. Then bear right and drive another 5 miles to the parking area for Upheaval Dome.
White Rim Overlook Trail
The White Rim Overlook Trail provides visitors with beautiful views of the Colorado River, Monument Basin, and the La Sal Mountains. You can try to beat the crowds and get a parking spot by getting up early, but the best time to visit this location is late afternoon. The elevation gain is about 160 feet on this mostly flat, easy trail.
Hike Length: A 1.8-mile out-and-back
How to Get There: Just like the Grand View Point Trail and Crater View Trail, you’ll begin at the Island in the Sky visitor center. Drive approximately 6 miles south on Main Island Road. Bear left toward Grand View Point at the junction of Upheaval Dome/Grand View Roads. Pass the Buck Canyon Overlook to the Gooseberry Trailhead, about 5 miles after the intersection. There’s limited parking available.
Chesler Park Loop Trail
The only trail in the Needles area to make the list of best hikes in Canyonlands is Chesler Park Loop Trail. It’s also the longest hike at over ten miles. You’ll follow the Elephant Hill trailhead to the Chesler Park trail. Along the trail, hikers get amazing views of the canyons, mesas, and mountains that make up Canyonlands. You also get the chance to walk through slot canyons and do a bit of rock scrambling.
Hike Length: A 10.4-mile loop
How To Get There: This trail is located in the Needles area of Canyonlands National Park. From the visitor center, take the main park road to Squaw Flat Campground. Bear right onto Elephant Hill access road, and drive two miles to the trailhead.
Pro Tip: Before you lace up your boots for a hike in Canyonlands, make sure you have these 10 Hiking Essentials You Should Never Hit the Trail Without.
When Is the Best Time to Hike Canyonlands?
Because of the summer heat, it’s best to get up early and start hiking around 7:00 a.m. or 8:00 a.m. You’ll certainly need to head out earlier if you’re trying to catch the sunrise. The afternoons can reach over 100 degrees in the summer, which is the peak season for Canyonlands. In the shoulder seasons, guests can enjoy hiking later in the morning, but it’s still best to avoid the middle of the day.
How Much Water Do You Need for Hiking Canyonlands?
You can never have too much water when you’re hiking desert areas. Some areas of Canyonlands are especially remote, so you want to pack plenty of water since you won’t find any amenities nearby. Water is scarce in the Island in the Sky and the Needles locations. It’s recommended to pack at least one liter of water per person for short trails and up to one gallon of water per person for long trails.
Hike One of Utah’s Mighty Five
Utah’s Mighty Five includes Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Arches National Park, and Canyonlands National Park. It’s impossible to see them all in just a couple of days because of how spread out they are. But if you have a week or more to explore all five of the best hikes in Canyonlands, you won’t be disappointed.
Canyonlands offers spectacular scenery, from slick rock gorges to faded rock art panels to awe-inspiring rugged canyons. Its remoteness is one of the most appealing factors of this particular National Park. Less than a million people explore Canyonlands each year, which makes it the least-visited National Park of the Mighty Five. You won’t experience the same kinds of crowds as you will in other locations, so get out and hit the trails!
Which Canyonlands trail will you tackle first? Tell us in the comments!
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