Overview Canyonlands

In the southern part of Utah, the Colorado and Green Rivers carve the high desert (the Colorado Plateau) into a wonderful labyrinth of canyons. Over millions of years, the rivers and their small tributaries have carved the flat sandstone rock layers into many amazing forms with a wide range of colors. The vast landscape offers numerous vistas of rust-colored pinnacles, high mesas, sculpted buttes, sandstone spires and sheer crimson cliffs.

Although the Grand Canyon might be deeper and more dramatic at first sight, Canyonlands offers a greater variety of geological formations and the possibilities to explore them. Another major advantage is the number of visitors - if you are seeking some solitude and isolation, you will find them in Canyonlands but not in Grand Canyon. There are some paved roads, but the only satisfactory way to see most of the beautiful areas is by hiking or four-wheel-drive vehicle.

The canyons divide the park into three major sections:

Island The canyons divide the park into three major sections:

  • Island In The Sky
  • The Needles
  • The Maze

Island In The Sky

Island in the Sky, also known as Between the Rivers, is the most visited and easily reached area of the park, being close to the town of Moab and the Arches National Park. It is a broad and level mesa at an average elevation of 6,100 feet to the north of the park between Colorado and Green river with many spectacular overlooks over the White Rim, a sandstone bench 1200 feet below the Island, and the rivers which are another 1000 feet below the White Rim.

The Needles

The Needles district is named after the red and white banded rock pinnacles which dominate it but various other forms of naturally sculptured rock like canyons, potholes, and a number of arches similar to the ones of the nearby Arches National Park can be found as well. Unlike Arches National Park, however, where many arches are accessible by short to moderate hikes or even by car, most of the arches in the Needles district lie in backcountry canyons and take long hikes or four-wheel-drive trips to reach.

This area was once home of the Ancestral Puebloan Indians of which many traces can be found. Although the items and tools they used have been largely taken away by looters, many of their stone and mud dwellings are well-preserved. The Ancestral Puebloans also left traces in the form of petroglyphs, most notably on the so-called Newspaper Rock near the Visitor Center at the entrance of this district.

Points of Interest

Island In The Sky

Shafer Trail 03

Shafer Trail

The road starts close to the visitor center and leads down to the White Rim Road as well as Shafer Canyon (Potash Road). Shafer Trail is literally carved into the canyon walls, you will experience a narrow road with steep grades and some very exposed areas until you reach White Rim Road.

Shafer Canyon 01

Shafer Canyon

After descending from the Colorado Plateau (Shafer Trail), the road continues into Shafer Canyon where you can enjoy some outstanding and usually undisturbed views of rock formations as well as the Colorado River.

Gooseneck Overlook 03

Gooseneck Overlook

Reachable via Shafer Trail and a short part of White Rim Road, the overlook offers a magnificent view of the Colorado River.

Mesa Arch 02

Mesa Arch

The view through the arch, looking out towards the distant and often snow-covered La Sal Mountains, is one of the most photographed in the park.

Upheaval Dome 01

Upheaval Dome

In an area approximately three miles across, rock layers are dramatically deformed. In the center, the rocks are pushed up into a circular structure called a dome. A short path climbs to the top of the rim to a viewpoint above the steepest section of the crater walls.

Green River Overlook 02

Green River Overlook

This overlook is directly accessible by car and offers some amazing views of the Green River. On a clear day, the Henry Mountains are visible in the distance.

Buck Canyon Overlook 02

Buck Canyon Overlook

An overlook directly accessible by car (between Mesa Arch and Grand View Point) offering a great view of the south fork of Buck Canyon and the La Sal mountains in the distance.

Grand View Point 01

Grand View Point

The views encompass 100 miles or more of canyon after canyon, with the La Sal Mountains to the East and the Neddles in the South, clearly the best view in the whole park.

Needles District

Newspaper Rock 01

Newspaper Rock

The rock is covered by hundreds of ancient Indian petroglyphs (rock carvings) - one of the largest, best preserved and easily accessed groups in the Southwest.

The Needles 02

The Needles

The red and white rock pinnacles are visible throughout the whole district, mixed with other rock formations like potholes, arches, spires, and domes.

Wooden Shoe Arch_1

Wooden Shoe Arch

Weathering along fractures caused by salt shifting underneath the sandstone carved Wooden Shoe Arch as well as other arches, spires, knobs, and fins visible today.

Elephant Hill 01

Elephant Hill

Walking up the hil you can enjoy some beautiful red-rock formations along the way.



Island In The Sky

In our opinion, the best way to visit Canyonlands National Park as well as Arches National Park is to go to the town of Mohab and stay there for a few days. Starting at Mohab, follow 191 North for about 11 miles and then turn left onto 313 West. Follow 313 until you reach the Island In The Sky visitor center after about 22 miles.

The Needles

If you want to explore this district, either start at Mohab or Monticello (50 miles south of Mohab). Starting at Mohab, take 191 South until you reach 211 after about 40 miles. If you start at Monticello, take 191 North to get to 211 (about 10 miles). Take 211 West until you reach the Needles visitor center after about 32 miles. Newspaper Rock is located on 211, about 10 miles from the intersection with 191.

Location Map


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