Canyonlands National Park

Maze Overlook at sunset in Canyonlands National Park
Maze Overlook at sunset. Photo: Arlene Waller

Utah’s Canyonlands National Park preserves a colorful landscape eroded into numerous canyons, mesas and buttes formed by the Colorado River and its tributaries. The rivers divide the park 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 and offers different opportunities for exploration.

It’s important to note that there are no roads that directly link the various districts. In fact, traveling between them requires two to six hours by car. Most people find it impractical to visit more than one area in a single trip.

Island in the Sky District with the Green River Just 15 miles south of Moab, hike your way through 337, 598 acres of dramatic red-rock landscape in Canyonlands NP, and do it all without having to compete for room on the trail–Canyonlands is both Utah’s largest and least visited park.

The river-carved park boasts 360-degree views of rust-colored arches, buttes, and cliffs – but because of the high-desert rock environment, its climate is subject to extreme temperature fluctuations. Skip packing the parka, and go in the spring or fall for the most moderate, and most forgiving, weather.

So expansive it’s divided into four districts, Canyonlands delivers a quintessential desert experience: deep canyons, prehistoric rock art, rivers, and sweeping overlooks. Pack an extra memory card: Among the exceptional, striated rock formations, there are landmarks you shouldn’t miss, like the unusual 1500-foot Upheaval Dome–thought to be a meteorite crater–or the Druid Arch, often referred to as Utah’s own Stonehenge. Keep watch for the wildlife, too. Bighorn sheep take residence in the canyons and buttes, along with mule deer, kangaroo rats, and coyote. Look up for red-tailed hawks, and at night, for one of the darkest skies in the Lower 48. On a moonless night, get more than your fill of stars–or get out the binoculars to try for the rings of Saturn.