Visiting Canyonlands National Park

By Robin Odach , last updated December 16, 2011

Canyonlands National Park lies in Southeast Utah and contains a landscape that is made up of arroyos, mesas, and buttes that have been cut from the red rock by the Colorado River and its tributaries. The rivers have divided the park into four sections. The Island in the Sky is the easiest to access, whereas the Needles lies in the backcountry. The other regions are the Maze, and the rivers themselves. The Canyonlands offers scenic overlooks, remote canyons, and the mesmerizing rapids of Cataract Canyon. The park is child-friendly, and provides an affordable way to give a family a vacation they won’t soon forget.


Island in the Sky has scenic paved roads, overlooks, and hiking trails that are accessed by foot and all-terrain vehicles. The Needles district requires hiking or four-wheel drive to access all of the attractions. The Maze is a remote area that requires hiking and a lot of self-reliance to visit. Just northwest of the Maze lies Horseshoe Canyon, which is a day-use area and, according to the National Park Service, contains outstanding examples of Native American rock art panels. Rafting trips are also popular for viewing the scenic landscape.


Food, lodging, and gas are located in the nearby towns of Green River, Hanksville, Moab, and Monticello. Canyonlands is a dry, high-desert region and experiences widely fluctuating temperatures. Most of the precipitation falls in the spring and fall. Summer temperatures hover above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the daytime and low 60’s at night. Spring and fall temperatures are milder, and there are freezing temperatures in winter. Be aware that during the summer monsoons, 20- minute rainfalls often cause flash floods.

Mobility and Accessibility

There are areas of the park that are accessible for people with mobility impairments, including the visitor’s center and restrooms at both the Island in the Sky and the Needles sections. Specifically, the overlooks at Buck Canyon, Green River, and Grand View Point are easily accessible, as are the Squaw Flat Campground and restrooms, and Wooden Shoe Overlook. A number of publications are available for those visitors who have hearing impairments. The easiest area to visit in the shortest amount of time is the Island in the Sky. All other destinations require some hiking, boating or using a four-wheel drive vehicle to see all of the attractions.

Just for Kids

Canyonlands hosts lots of activities for kids. There are numerous short hiking trails at both Island in the Sky and the Needles. Children visiting the Island enjoy looking through Mesa Arch and climbing on Whale Rock. Cave Spring Trail at the Needles features a cowboy camp and many prehistoric photographs. Stop by the Visitor’s Center at either the Needles or the Island and pick up a child’s discovery pack, which contains a pair of binoculars, a naturalist guide and a notebook. Junior Ranger books are available at the park’s visitor centers. Completing some of the exercises in the book earns visitors Junior Ranger badges. Most of the activities are designed to engage children between six and 12.

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