Hiking in Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park is a good place to saturate yourself in the intoxicating colors, smells, and textures of the desert. Many of the trails are long, rolling routes over slickrock and sand in landscapes dotted with juniper, pinyon, and sagebrush. Interconnecting trails in the Needles District provide excellent opportunities for weeklong backpacking excursions. The Maze trails are primarily accessed via four-wheel-drive vehicle. In the separate Horseshoe Canyon area, Horseshoe Canyon Trail takes a considerable amount of effort to reach, as it is more than 100 mi from Moab, 32 mi of which are a bumpy, and often sandy, dirt road.
Island in the Sky
Aztec Butte Trail. The highlight of the 2-mile round-trip hike is the chance to see ancestral Puebloan granaries. Easy. Trailhead on Upheaval Dome Rd., about 6 miles from park entrance, Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park, UT, 84532.
Grand View Point Trail. If you're looking for a level walk with some of the best scenery in the West, stop at Grand View Point and wander this 2-mile round-trip trail along the cliff edge. Many people just stop at the paved overlook and drive on, but you'll gain breathtaking perspective bys strolling along this flat cliffside trail. On a clear day you can see up to 100 miles to the Maze and Needles districts of the park, the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers, and each of Utah's major laccolithic mountain ranges: the Henrys, Abajos, and La Sals. Easy. Trailhead on the main park road, 12 miles from park entrance, Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park, UT, 84532.
Mesa Arch Trail. After the overlooks, this is most popular trail in the park. A ½-mile loop acquaints you with desert plants and terrain and offers vistas of the LaSal Mountains. The highlight of this hike is a natural arch window perched over an 800-foot drop, giving a rare downward glimpse through the arch rather than the usual upward view of the sky. Park rangers say this is one of the best spots to enjoy the sunrise. Easy. Trailhead 6 miles from visitor center, Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park, UT, 84532.
Whale Rock Trail. If you've been hankering to walk across some of that pavement-smooth stuff they call slickrock, the hike to Whale Rock will make your feet happy. This 1-mile round-trip adventure, complete with handrails to help you make the tough final 100-foot climb, takes you to the very top of the whale's back. Once you get there, you are rewarded with great views of Upheaval Dome and Trail Canyon. Easy. Trailhead on Upheaval Dome Rd., 11 miles from park entrance, Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park, UT, 84532.
Syncline Loop Trail. If you're up for a strenuous day of hiking, try this 8-mile trail that circles Upheaval Dome. You get limited views of the dome itself as you actually make a complete loop around the outside of the crater. Stretches of the trail are rocky, rugged, and steep. Difficult. Trailhead on Upheaval Dome Rd., 11 miles from park entrance, Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park, UT, 84532.
Upheaval Dome Trail. It's fun to imagine that a giant meteorite crashed to earth here, sending shockwaves around the planet. But some people believe that salt, collecting and expanding upward, formed a dome and then exploded, causing the crater. Either way, it's worth the steep hike to see it and decide for yourself. You reach the main overlook after just 0.8 miles, but you can double your pleasure by going on to a second overlook for a better view. The trail is steeper and rougher after the first overlook. Round-trip to the second overlook is 2 miles. Moderate. Trailhead on Upheaval Dome Rd., 11 miles from park entrance, Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park, UT, 84532.
Horseshoe Canyon Trail. This remote region of Canyonlands National Park is accessible by dirt road, and then only in good weather. Park at the lip of the canyon and hike 6½ miles round-trip to the Great Gallery, considered by some to be the most significant rock-art panel in North America. Ghostly life-size figures in the Barrier Canyon style populate the amazing panel. The hike is moderately strenuous, with a 750-foot descent. Allow at least six hours for the trip and take a gallon of water per person. There's no camping allowed in the canyon, although you can camp on top near the parking lot. Difficult. Trailhead 32 miles east of Rte. 24, Maze, Canyonlands National Park, UT, 84525.
Slickrock Trail. Wear a hat if you're on this trail in summer, because you won't find any shade along the 2.4-mile round-trip trek. This is the rare frontcountry site where you might spot one of the few remaining native herds of bighorn sheep in the national park system. Easy. Trailhead on main park road, about 10 miles from park entrance, Needles, Canyonlands National Park, UT, 84535.
Cave Spring Trail. One of the best, most interesting trails in the park takes you past a historic cowboy camp, prehistoric pictographs, and great views. Two wooden ladders and one short, steep stretch may make this a little daunting for the extremely young or old, but it's also a short hike, features some shade, and has many features packed into half a mile. Allow about 45 minutes. Moderate. Trailhead off the main park road on Cave Springs Rd., 2.3 miles from park entrance, Needles, Canyonlands National Park, UT, 84535.
Chesler Park Loop. Chesler Park is a grassy meadow dotted with spires and enclosed by a circular wall of colorful "needles." One of Canyonlands' more popular trails leads through the area to the famous Joint Trail. The trail is 6 miles round-trip to the viewpoint. The entire loop is 11 miles. Difficult. Accessed via the Elephant Hill Trailhead, off the main park road, about 7 miles from park entrance, Needles, Canyonlands National Park, UT, 84535.
Joint Trail. Part of the Chesler Park Loop, this well-loved trail follows a series of deep, narrow fractures in the rock. A shady spot in summer, it will give you good views of the Needles formations for which the district is named. The loop travels briefly along a four-wheel-drive road and is 11 miles round-trip; allow at least five hours to complete the hike. Difficult. Accessed by the Elephant Hill Trailhead, off the main park road, 7 miles from park entrance, Needles, Canyonlands National Park, UT, 84535.
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