The 3 Districts
The Island in the Sky
mesa rests on sheer sandstone cliffs over 1,000 feet above the surrounding terrain. Every overlook offers a different perspective on Canyonlands’ spectacular landscape. The Island is the easiest district to visit in a short period of time, offering many pullouts with spectacular views along the paved scenic drive. Hiking trails and four-wheel-drive roads access backcountry areas for day or overnight trips.
To reach the Island, take US Highway 191 to Utah Highway 313 (10 mi/16 km north of Moab, or 22 mi/35 km south of I-70) and then drive southwest 22 mi/35 km. Driving time to the visitor center from Moab is roughly 40 minutes.
The visitor center is open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily (except some winter holidays), with extended hours spring through fall. Exhibits, publications and information are available, and a park orientation video may be viewed. Bottled water is available for sale at the visitor center. No water is available elsewhere; bring all that you will need.
The Needles District
forms the southeast corner of Canyonlands and was named for the colorful spires of Cedar Mesa Sandstone that dominate the area. The district’s extensive trail system provides many opportunities for long day hikes and overnight trips. Foot trails and four-wheel-drive roads lead to such features as Tower Ruin, Confluence Overlook, Elephant Hill, the Joint Trail, and Chesler Park.
On US Highway 191, drive 40 miles (60 km) south of Moab or 14 miles (22 km) north of Monticello, then take Utah Highway 211 roughly 35 miles (56 km) west. Highway 211 ends in the Needles, and is the only paved road leading in and out of the district.
Visitor center is open year-round from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (except some winter holidays), with extended hours March through October. Exhibits, information and publications are available.
is the least accessible district of Canyonlands. Due to the district’s remoteness and the difficulty of roads and trails, travel to the Maze requires more time, as well as a greater degree of self-sufficiency. Rarely do visitors spend less than three days in the Maze, and the area can easily absorb a week-long trip.
Potholes in Needles District
To many, the most outstanding natural features of Canyonlands are the park's geologic formations. In each of the districts, visitors can see the remarkable effects of millions of years of erosion on a landscape of sedimentary rock.
Two unusual natural features are common in Canyonlands and intrigue both scientists and visitors: biological soil crust and potholes. Biological soil crust is a living groundcover that forms the foundation of high desert plant life.
Potholes are naturally occurring basins in sandstone that collect rainwater and wind-blown sediment. These potholes harbor organisms that are able to survive long periods of dehydration, and also serve as a breeding ground for many high desert amphibians and insects. Both of these communities are very vulnerable to human impacts.
contains some of the most significant rock art in North America. The Great Gallery, the best known panel in Horseshoe Canyon, includes well-preserved, life-sized figures with intricate designs. Other impressive sights include spring wildflowers, sheer sandstone walls and mature cottonwood groves along the intermittent stream in the canyon bottom. Horseshoe Canyon was added to Canyonlands in 1971.
Most visitors access Horseshoe from the west. Two-wheel-drive access to the west rim of Horseshoe Canyon is from Utah Highway 24 via 30 miles of graded dirt road, or from Green River on 47 miles of dirt road. Driving time is roughly 2.5 hours from Moab or 1.5 hours from Green River. A four-wheel-drive road leads to the east rim of Horseshoe Canyon from the Hans Flat Ranger Station. All access roads may become impassable during storms.