Canyonlands National Pk



Set in southeastern Utah in the heart of the Colorado Plateau, Canyonlands National Park, near Moab (230 mi/320 km southeast of Salt Lake City) encompasses the confluence of the Colorado and Green rivers and the breathtaking canyons that were created when the rivers eroded the plateau. Those seeking the solitude and magnificence only the high desert can offer will not want to miss this.

You can drive through a portion of Canyonlands on state highways, but we recommend using a four-wheel-drive vehicle to traverse the extensive backcountry roads leading into the heart of the park. A hike along one of the many trails will pay big dividends if you invest the time: The natural arches, Native American ruins, petroglyphs and canyon scenery are spectacular.

There are five distinct sections of the park—the Island in the Sky District, the Needles District, the Maze District, the Rivers District and the Horseshoe Canyon Unit. Island in the Sky, the section farthest north, is probably the best for those who want to take a relatively quick look without venturing too far from their car. While in this area, you might want to stop by Dead Horse Point State Park (named for ill-fated wild horses that perished after being marooned on the park's narrow upland peninsula).

The Needles District offers the best day hikes. We especially liked the 11-mi/18-km trail from Elephant Hill to Druid Arch, which leaves you standing high above the needles. The Maze District is a remote, wild area—the only road access is via four-wheel-drive routes on the west side of the rivers. (Be advised it's a long drive from the other parts of the park.)

The River District contains parts of the Green and Colorado rivers, and one of the best (though not necessarily inexpensive) ways to see Canyonlands is on a river trip by raft, canoe, kayak or powerboat. You can choose from a range of adventures—from relatively mild stretches above the rivers' confluence to the wild white-water rapids of Cataract Canyon. Many outfitters and tour companies are located in Moab.

The Horseshoe Canyon Unit is 12 mi/19 km northwest of the Maze District. It's actually detached from the rest of the Park, but worth the trip if you're interested in seeing prehistoric pictographs.

The park includes a visitors center (offering guided tours), a museum and interpretive trails. There are areas for picnicking and camping and trails for hiking and horseback riding. On your way into Canyonlands be sure to see the ancient drawings and petroglyphs on a sheer cliff at Newspaper Rock Historical Monument (between Moab and Monticello).

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