Hikes in Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park is an incredible destination for hikers of all ages and abilities. This park is in a breathtaking region of the Utah desert and is intersected by the confluence of the Green River and the mighty Colorado River. Canyonlands National Park is divided by these rivers into four districts, each with its own unique topography and special attractions. On your visit, be sure to check out the picturesque viewpoints in the Island in the Sky District, the epic and imposing Druid Arch Formation in the Needles District, and the unique geology of the Maze District. The fourth, and final area, is the River District, which is home to a diverse range of wildlife and plant life.
The natural history of this park is truly incredible, and If you are interested in human history, Canyonlands National Park is rich with ancient anthropological attractions. As native land to the Ute, Paiute, and Pueblo peoples, Canyonlands National Park has some spectacular artifacts, including some of the best-preserved pictographs and petroglyphs in the world.
You can hike to these pictographs along popular trails like Horseshoe Canyon and The Harvest Scene Trail. You can also take the Aztec Butte or the Spanish Bottom Trail to see ancient granaries: storerooms that the Ancestral Pueblo People built to house grains and seeds. The False Kiva Trail is another great hike for the budding anthropologist or archeologist as it brings you to a class II archeological site that is still being unearthed. On your hikes, please be respectful of the artifacts you encounter; do not touch or lean against them and do not leave any markings of your own in the park. Let’s work together to keep this incredible place in good condition for future generations to learn from and appreciate.
10 Amazing Hiking Routes in Canyonlands National Park
There are many amazing hiking routes and so much to explore in Canyonlands National Park. If you’re not a huge hiker, there are some easy trails with breathtaking views of the park, and if you are ready for a challenging day along rugged terrain, don’t worry; there are plenty of trails for you too. From the ancient petroglyphs, pictographs, and granaries, to the unique geological formations of this park, you’ll want to make the most of your time visiting this incredible region. To hit the trails and see some of Canyonlands’ major highlights, check this list of our favorite hikes below:
- The Mesa Arch Trail: A short hike to one of the most photographed spots in Canyonlands National Park. The Mesa Arch is a 50 ft sandstone formation that stands atop a 500 ft cliff. This arch becomes perfectly illuminated in shades of gold as the morning sun rises over the eastern horizon.
- The Horseshoe Canyon Trail: This beautiful hike leads you past world-renowned petroglyph and pictograph panels. The Horseshoe Canyon Trail winds up in the Great Gallery, a single panel approximately 200 ft long with 20 incredibly well-preserved life-sized drawings of human forms decorated with intricate designs.
- The Upheaval Dome Trail: If you are a geology geek, this is the trail for you! This short hike takes you to the Upheaval Dome: a massive dome and crater formation of uncertain origins.
- The White Rim Overlook Trail: This short and easy, family-friendly hike takes you to an overlook with some of the best views in Canyonlands National Park.
- The Whale Rock Trail: A hike up this whale-shaped rock will earn you 360-degree views of the Utah desert.
- The Lost Canyon Trail: This moderately challenging trail travels over a diverse desert landscape with cryptobiotic soil, cacti, deciduous trees, and classic Canyonlands sandstone.
- The Druid Arch Trail: Reminiscent of Stonehenge, the Druid arch is an impressive and unique 150 ft tall sandstone formation at the end of Elephant Canyon. The hike there can be a bit of a challenge but just one look at this incredible structure, and it will all be worth it
- Aztec Butte Trail: This short and scrambly hike will bring you to an incredible viewpoint overlooking Canyonlands National Park. Check out the Pueblo Granaries along this trail: these rooms were built in 1200-1300 CE by the Pueblo peoples to store grain and seeds high above the canyon floor.
- Grand View Point Trail: This trail will bring you to several overlooks with some pretty grand views (pun intended) of Canyonlands National Park. This first section of this trail is paved and stroller and wheelchair-friendly.
- The False Kiva Trail: The False Kiva Trail is an unmaintained hike to an archeological site featuring a Kiva: a circular formation of stones that was historically used by Indigenous People as a space for meetings and ceremony.
When is the Best Time to Hike in Canyonlands National Park?
The best time to hike in Canyonlands National Park is in the spring or the fall. Summer in Canyonlands is beautiful but it can be blisteringly hot. Summertime and early fall thunderstorms can also pose a risk to hikers. No matter what time of the year you visit Canyonlands, always be prepared for the heat of the desert and the Utah sun. Wearing sunscreen, long light layers, and a good sunhat can go a long way to make your hike in the desert a positive experience (as opposed to a miserable, sunburnt slog). Always check the weather forecast before you head on your hike and bring along lots of water and some salty snacks to replenish your electrolytes along the way.
Other Outdoor Activities in Canyonlands National Park
Though hiking is the primary activity in Canyonlands, this park has so much to offer! Canyonlands National Park is a popular destination for off-highway-vehicle (OHV) driving, technical climbing, horseback riding, and stargazing. Paddling trips down the Green River and Colorado River are also a great way to experience the beauty of this region. The National Parks Service also offers programs on the natural and cultural significance of Canyonlands National Park with informational talks, and guided tours in the spring and fall.
Fantastic Adventure Tours in Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park truly has so much to offer. This stunning and diverse region of the Utah desert is a great place to sample the American Southwest. If you would like help planning your trip to Canyonlands, check out our adventure tours in the area or give us a shout to ask questions and learn more about what this park has to offer.
Frequently Asked Questions About Canyonlands National Park
What are the four districts of Canyonlands National Park?
Canyonlands National Park is divided into four districts by the intersections of the Green and Colorado Rivers. The Four districts are: the Maze District, the Island in the Sky District, the Needles District, and the Rivers District.
What Native Land is in Canyonlands National Park?
The area of Canyonlands National Park is Native to the Ute, Paiute, and Pueblo peoples. Pictographs and Petroglyphs that were initially drawn by these people hundreds of years ago are still visible in Canyonlands today. It is important to note that certain trails and areas of Canyonlands are named using Indigenous slurs; efforts to re-name areas of Canyonlands National Park are ongoing.
What kind of animals live in Canyonlands National Park?
Canyonlands National Park is home to a wonderful range of desert wildlife. As you explore the park, keep an eye out for mule deer and desert bighorn sheep, commonly seen roaming the trails. In addition, reptiles such as the northern whiptail, the desert spiny, and the colorful western lizard are often seen scampering along the trail or sunning themselves on the hot rocks. Some dangerous species such as mountain lions, the midget-faded rattlesnake, and black widow spiders are present in the park; however, sightings are rare. If you do encounter wildlife, do not feed the animals and be sure to give them lots of space.
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Best Hikes in Canyonlands National Park
Mesa Arch Trail
The Mesa Arch trail is a short hike to a stunning sandstone arch on the edge of a 500 ft cliff. This hike is busiest at sunrise when the sun peaks above the horizon, illuminating the arch from below. Due to its impressive size and perfect positioning, the Mesa Arch is one of the most photographed arches in Canyonlands National Park
The Horseshoe Canyon Trail is a 7.0 mi hike to the Great Gallery - a series of incredibly preserved petroglyphs and pictograph panels. The trail itself is sandy, moderately challenging, and leads to four major galleries. The most well known gallery is the Great Gallery - a single panel approximately 200 ft long with 20 different images.
Upheaval Dome via Crater View Trail
The Upheaval Dome via Crater View Trail is a short, family-friendly hike to an incredible geological formation. This dome and crater formation dates back approximately 60 million years and its origins are hotly debated. Salt bubbles? Meteorite Impact? Aliens? Check out this geological wonder and see what you think.
White Rim Overlook Trail
The White Rim Overlook Trail is a short hike with incredible views of Canyonlands National Park. If you are looking for a great spot to take family photos—this is it. The trail itself is flat and kid-friendly, and the panoramic views from the White Rim Overlook are second to none.
Whale Rock Trail
The Whale Rock Trail is a fantastic little hike with incredible views. The hike up this sloping sandstone structure is so much fun for adventurous kids to climb on, play around, and conquer. The views from the top are absolutely stunning—the top of Whale Rock gives you a 360-degree look at the desert landscape of Canyonlands National Park.
Lost Canyon Trail
The Lost Canyon Trail is a moderately challenging hike over varying desert terrain. On this trail, you will find yourself hiking past cryptobiotic soil, cacti, deciduous trees, and classic Canyonlands sandstone. The Lost Canyon hike is a fantastic place to discover all sorts of wonderful desert flora and fauna.
Druid Arch Trail
The Druid Arch Trail is a fantastic hike in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. This trail has scramble sections and steep ascents leading up to an impressive and unique arch formation. The Druid Arch is more reminiscent of Stonehenge than it is of the classic Utah Arches and is well worth a visit.
The Aztec Butte Trail is a short, scrambly hike to an incredible viewpoint overlooking Canyonlands National Park. This hike is great for older kids who love to climb and play outside. Don’t forget the camera on this hike—the views from the top of Aztec Butte are absolutely breathtaking.
Grand View Point Trail
The Grand View Point Trail is a short, easy hike to an incredible viewpoint overlooking Canyonlands National Park. This hike is family-friendly and a great way to get out and do some exploring with young kids. The first 100 yards of this trail is flat and paved, so it can be accessed with a stroller or via wheelchair.
False Kiva Trail
The False Kiva Trail is an unmaintained hike to a class II archeological site in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. The False Kiva is an authentic site, but its origins are unknown (hence “False”), please be respectful of this area when you visit. Don’t forget the camera—the vistas along the trail and from the site itself are absolutely breathtaking.
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