I’ve been hitting up several National Parks in and around Utah this past year and have come to fall in love with Canyonlands National Park. Just west of the well known Arches National Park, on the other side of Moab, lies the beautiful Canyonlands National Park. The north entrance, just north of the entrance for Arches, takes you to the Island in the Sky District. At the edges of “Island in the Sky” you realize why it has its name; steep cliffs drop off into the canyon floor hundreds of feet below which continue miles beyond human sight. The Green and Colorado Rivers have formed much of the land, carving deeper canyons below. With the limited time I’ve had in the Island in the Sky District, and Canyonlands in general, I’ve only been able to hit some of the shorter hikes and closer lookouts. For a one or two day trip to Canyonlands, I would suggest staying in the Island in the Sky District and hitting the sites there. These are some of my favorites:
- Mesa Arch is one of the most famous arches in the area and is best seen at sunrise. There will be 20-30 other people there, especially in the spring and summer months, so get there early if you want to set your tripod somewhere decent. Or you can always hope for an overly friendly European who will wave you over to set your tripod leg to leg with his, in the midst of a sea of Japanese tourists, to get the exact shot you were hoping for. But I wouldn’t count on it. Get there early if you don’t want to be fighting for your view of Mesa Arch.
- False Kiva is one of the best kept secrets in the park. The trail is unmarked and followed only by the occasional cairn, but if you ask a ranger at the visitor center, they’ll tell you exactly where to go. It is a very secluded hike. Chances are, you won’t see another person the entire way. Keep that in mind, and be prepared, if you plan on going alone.
- Any of the overlooks are amazing; I would suggest hitting as many as you can and choosing Green River Overlook or Grand View Point Overlook for sunset.
For the majority of my most recent trip, I spent my time in, or getting to, the Needles District. None of the four districts in Canyonlands connect, and you have to drive out the same way you come in, so accessibility is not exactly easy. The road to get to the Needles District is north of Monticello, and from the 191 it’s a scenic 35 mile drive in. The places I was able to see only made me disappointed that I didn’t have more time to explore. This part of the park definitely requires pre-planning. Backcountry permits go quickly and can only be reserved if you call at least two weeks ahead. Very few are given out on a first come, first serve basis at the visitor center, and they start giving them out a day prior to the backcountry day. I know the next time I go to the Needles I will have a backcountry permit in hand. It seems to me, the only way to really experience the Needles District is to spend a night or two in the secluded backcountry. Maybe in the next few months…
|Mesa Arch. Island in the Sky District, Canyonlands.
Canon 1Ds Mark II, Canon 17-40mm, Tripod.