Canyonlands National Park
- Canyonlands National Park consists of nearly 337,600 acres divided into 3 units (Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze) separated by the Colorado River and the Green River. This National Park is so large, it’s about 106 miles from Island in the Sky Visitor Center to The Needles Visitor Center. Canyonlands National Park is open 24 hours. Trails in all units are marked with cairns, small rock piles.
- Island in the Sky, only 32 miles from Moab, is the most popular unit with many points of interest accessible from the paved scenic drive. The Needles is more remote with longer hiking trails and a shorter 6.5 mile paved scenic drive. The Maze is the most remote section with primitive trails and can only be accessed by high clearance, 4 wheel drive vehicles.
- Clear sky chart to determine the best day and time for astronomical viewing: https://www.cleardarksky.com/csk/prov/Utah_charts.html
- Flash flood potential: https://www.weather.gov/slc/flashflood
Canyonlands National Park – Island in the Sky
- Island in the Sky is the most popular unit only 32 miles from Moab, 28 miles from Arches National Park, and 14 miles from Dead Horse Point State Park with views of the canyon 2,000 feet below. Scenic overlooks, trailheads, and high clearance, 4 wheel drive roads are reached from the paved 34 mile scenic drive through Island in the Sky.
- Hike to the top of Aztec Butte on a 2 mile round trip trail for panoramic views of the mesa. There is a short spur trail off the main trail to Lower Butte.
- Mesa Arch has some of the best panoramic views in Canyonland National Park. The cliff side arch frames the La Sal Mountains, Buck Canyon, Washer Woman Arch, and Monster Tower. Hike .25 miles to join the crowd for sunrise.
Traveling Gingerbread Note: We were bummed to see a crowd of photographers before reaching the arch, but it challenged us to get a new perspective. With a little creativity and a different angle, we were able to beautifully capture the arch with no people in our photo.
Buck Canyon Overlook
- Less than 4 miles from Mesa Arch, we had the sunrise to ourselves at Buck Canyon Overlook.
Orange Cliffs Overlook
- View the meeting point of Canyonlands National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area at Orange Cliffs Overlook.
Grand View Point Overlook
- Grand View Point Overlook is a 2 mile trail along the canyon edge. The best views are in the afternoon, but just after sunrise we enjoyed the golden glow of the canyon. From Grand View Point Overlook look closely to see Monument Basin, Colorado River Canyon, Canyonlands National Park – The Needles (12 miles South), the Abajo Mountains (35 miles Southeast), and La Sal Mountains (35 miles Northeast) in the distance.
White Rim Trail
- White Rim Trail is a 1.8 mile round trip trail the views of the Colorado River, Monument Basin, and La Sal Mountains. The lighting for this hike is best in the afternoon. There is very limited parking at the trailhead.
Upheaval Dome Trail
- Upheaval Dome Trail has 2 overlooks and connects to the Syncline Loop Trail around the rim of the crater. First Overlook is reached by a .8 mile trail. Hike an additional mile to reach Upheaval Dome Second Overlook. Both overlooks offer great views of Upheaval Dome and Upheaval Canyon.
Green River Overlook
- The Maze and White Rim Road (a high clearance, 4 wheel drive road) can be seen from Green River Overlook.
Bears Ears National Monument – Indian Creek Unit
- Bears Ears National Monument was the first national monument created at the request of 5 Native American tribes to protect their sacred sites and pueblos. The 1.3 million acre national monument is managed by both Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service. No additional fees or passes are needed to drive through Bears Ears National Monument – Indian Creek Unit to reach The Needles.
Canyonlands National Park – The Needles
- From Moab, drive 40 miles South on US 191, then 35 miles West on Highway 211 through Bears Ears National Monument – Indian Creek Unit to reach The Needles Visitor Center. Scenic overlooks, trailheads, and high clearance, 4 wheel drive roads are reached by the paved 6.5 mile scenic drive in The Needles.
Traveling Gingerbread Note: Most trails in The Needles are 6+ miles round trip. The majority of the unit is accessed by high clearance, 4 wheel drive roads and hiking trails. With a standard rental car, we were limited to the 6.5 mile scenic drive, a 3 mile unpaved 2 wheel drive road to Elephant Hill, and 1 mile unpaved 2 wheel drive road to Cave Spring without long, strenuous hikes.
Slick Rock Trail
- Slickrock Trail is a 2.4 mile round trip trail with 4 shorter trails leading to viewpoints. Any bare rock surface is referred to as Slickrock.
- View Point 1 offers panorama views of Elaterite Butte, Ekker Butte, The Needles, Abajo Mountains, Colorado River Basin, North Sixshooter Peak, and La Sal Mountains.
- View Point 2 provides a view of Upper Little Spring Canyon sculpted by flash flooding washing away sediment, freezing, and thawing of rocks.
- The contrasting purple and gray rock layers of Little Spring Canyon are visible above the red and white Cedar Mesa Sandstone at View Point 3.
- At View Point 4, Grand View Point and Junction Butte can be seen above Big Spring Canyon.
Pothole Point Trail
- Weak acidic rainwater collected in depressions on the sandstone slowly dissolving the rock. As rainwater continued to collect in small uneven surfaces the depressions became deeper forming potholes. Pothole Point Trail is a .6 mile round trip trail with views of The Needles.
Wooden Shoe Overlook
- Wooden Shoe Arch can be seen in the distance along the horizon from Wooden Shoe Overlook.
- Church Rock was named by a nearby utopian community, Ogden Home of the Truth, in the 1930’s. The legend is the community planned to hollow out this nearby rock by hand to make a church. Others believe the property owner used dynamite to remove a section of the stone to store salt licks in the 1940’s. Regardless, a 16×24 feet chiseled area is visible at the base of the rock and Ogden once a lively utopia is now a ghost town.
Traveling Gingerbread Note: We stayed at Abajo Haven Guest Cabins between our visit to Canyonlands National Park – The Needles and Natural Bridges National Monument. The cabins were clean, cozy, and we had incredible views of the night sky.
Natural Bridges National Monument
- 80 miles South of Canyonlands National Park – The Needles is Natural Bridges National Monument, open 24 hours. A paved 9 mile loop road takes visitors to 3 bridges. Natural bridges are formed by the erosion of moving water and freezing and thawing of moisture within the rocks. Arches are only formed by freezing and thawing of moisture within the rocks.
- Sipapu Bridge can be viewed from the Sipapu Bridge Overlook or by a 1.5 mile trail. Sipapu Bridge measuring 220 feet tall and 268 feet wide, is the second largest natural bridge in the world, first being Rainbow Bridge in Glen Canyon.
- Previously, the bridge was named President and then Augusta. In 1908, the leader of the government survey was given the task to appropriately name the bridges. He chose the name Sipau, in Hopi mythology meaning a gateway for souls to pass to the spirit world or place of emergence.
- Sipapu Bridge Trail is 1.5 miles round trip and the steepest in the park with a staircase and 3 wooden ladders (pictured above).
- Horsecollar Ruin Overlook is a .3 mile trail along the edge of the White Canyon to a Puebloan cliff dwelling. The ruins are named after the horseshoe shaped doors at the entrance of the granaries.
- Kachina Bridge has the smallest span and is the newest bridge in Natural Bridges National Monument. Hike along a 1.5 mile trail to the bridge or follow a 600 feet paved trail to the overlook. The bridge is named after the Hopi Kachina dancers and the rock art symbols drawn on Kachina dolls.
- Owachomo Bridge is reached by a .5 mile trail. In Hopi mythology Owachomo means round mound. It has eroded more quickly than the other bridges, but the river that once created Owachomo Bridge has chosen a new path leaving the bridge to closely resemble an arch.