Canyonlands National Park Trekking and Backpacking Overview

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Hikers on Grand View Point Trail, Canyonlands National Park
Hikers on Grand View Point Trail, Canyonlands National Park (National Park Service)

Canyonlands Trekking and Backpacking

  • Trails may not be too obvious, so you'll need to keep an eye out for cairns (small rock piles) and carry a topographic map. Signs usually point the way at intersections, though remote trails may not be adequately marked.
  • In the Needles District, four short trails off the scenic drive give you a sampling of the natural beauty, prehistoric history, and cowboy heritage here.
  • With more than 60 miles of interconnecting trails, the Needles District offers many loop possibilities. Most trails can be done in a day, or you can combine them for a backpacking trip.
  • The majority of trails have a mix of slickrock and sandy washes. Be prepared for primitive conditions, especially on the longer trails, where you might have to negotiate steep slopes, loose rock, narrow spots, or drop-offs.
  • Chesler Park Loop in the Needles District encircles a very pretty desert meadow surrounded by multi-colored sandstone spires. It is 11 miles roundtrip from Elephant Hill Trailhead. The loop includes the Joint Trail, which goes through a deep and narrow crack.
  • Island in the Sky District's colorful upturned rock layers at Upheaval Dome may be a meteorite impact crater. Syncline Loop Trail goes around this geologic curiosity in a strenuous eight miles, or it's eleven miles if you take a side trip to the crater.
  • Part of the appeal of the Maze District is its remoteness. It requires a long drive in a four-wheel-drive vehicle just to get to the trailheads.
  • Land of Standing Rocks, at the heart of the Maze District, has groups of strangely shaped rock spires that are fun to explore. Hiking routes branch off to overlooks and down to Cataract Canyon's first set of rapids.

The Maze

The most primitive and pure of Canyonlands' three districts, it is accessible only via four-wheel-drive roads and hiking trails. There are no facilities.

Horseshoe Canyon
Estimated time: 6.5 miles, can be full day
Trail description: Rock art panels from 2000 years ago make this time-consuming trip well worth making.

Horseshoe Canyon is a separate unit of Canyonlands.

North Trail Canyon
Estimated time: 14 miles, full day
Level of difficulty: moderate to difficult
Trail description: steep

The climax of the journey is the view down the Maze. A 2.5-mile trail starts at the overlook and passes through the White Rim pillars to the Harvest Scene (a pictograph panel).

Dollhouse

Spanish Bottoms Trail
Trail description: 1.2-mile descent; steep, shadeless

Southeast of Land of Standing Rocks; descends just above Cataract Canyon.

Colorado/Green River Overlook Trail
Length: 5 miles
Trail description: slickrock

Also southeast of Land of Standing Rock, this trail provides incredible views.

Elephant Hill Trailhead

Lower Red Lake
Estimated time: 9.4 miles, overnight
Level of difficulty: strenuous
Trail description: 1,400-foot elevation change


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 17 Mar 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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