The Colorado and Green rivers divide the park into four districts: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze and the rivers themselves. While the districts share a primitive desert atmosphere, each retains its own character and offers different opportunities for exploration and the study of natural and cultural history.
Most visits to Canyonlands involve camping along the trails, roads and rivers found here. The four districts are not directly linked by any roads, so travel between them requires two to six hours by car. Generally, people find it impractical to visit more than one or two districts in a single trip.
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Much of Canyonlands is managed as undeveloped land, and the park has become an increasingly popular destination for backcountry travel. Permits are required for all overnight trips in the backcountry. During the spring and fall, demand for permits frequently exceeds the number available. If you plan to visit Canyonlands during peak season, it is recommended that you make reservations well in advance.
Canyonlands is famous for its mountain biking terrain, particularly for the 100-mile White Rim Road at the Island in the Sky. The Maze District also offers some multi-day trip possibilities, though the logistics and roads are more difficult (for the support vehicles, not the bikes). Many of the roads in the Needles District travel up wash bottoms and are unsuitable for bikes due to deep sand and water.
Permits are required for all overnight trips in the backcountry. Permits are not required for day rides. During the spring and fall, demand for permits frequently exceeds the number available. If you plan to visit Canyonlands during peak season, especially to camp along the White Rim Road, it is recommended that you make reservations well in advance. These permits can be reserved starting the second Monday in July for the next calendar year.
Mountain bikes groups must remain on established roads and camp in designated sites. There is no single-track riding in the park. A support vehicle is recommended for all multi-day bike trips as there are no water sources along most of the roads. Guided trips are available for many destinations within Canyonlands.
Canyonlands has hundreds of miles of hiking trails which explore the park�s natural and cultural features. Both the Island in the Sky and the Needles provide ample opportunities for short walks, day hikes and backpacking trips. Due to its remoteness, the Maze is primarily a backpacking destination.
Trails are usually marked with cairns (small rock piles) and have signs at intersections. Many remote trails do not receive regular maintenance and may not be adequately marked. All backcountry hikers should carry a topographic map. Detailed maps and guidebooks can be ordered through the bookstore.
Pack and saddle stock are allowed on all backcountry roads and in Horseshoe Canyon. However, due to a lack of water in most areas, Horseshoe Canyon and Horse/Salt Creek Canyons in the Needles are the main destinations for visitors with horses.
Permits are required for day use in both Horseshoe and Salt Creek Canyons. At Horseshoe, permits are unlimited and free, and may be obtained in advance by calling the Hans Flat Ranger Station at (435) 259-2652. Individual groups may not exceed ten animals and ten people.
In Horse/Salt Creek and Lavender Canyons, use is limited to seven animals per day and a $5 fee is charged. These permits may be reserved through the central reservation office in Moab.
Permits are required for all overnight trips in the backcountry. During the spring and fall, demand for permits frequently exceeds the number available. If you plan to visit Canyonlands during peak season, it is recommended that you make reservations well in advance. All manure and feed must be packed out from the campsites. The group size limit for overnight use is seven people and ten horses for the Needles and Island in the Sky, and five people and eight horses for the Maze and Orange Cliffs.Regulations
1. Horses, mules and burros are the only animals permitted. Other domestic animals are prohibited in the backcountry (including dogs).
2. Stock must be fed pelletized feed for 48 hours in advance of and during a trip in order to prevent the spread of exotic plant species.
3. Grazing is not allowed. Animals may not be left unattended and must be staked at least 300 feet away from water sources and away from vegetation where possible.
Permits are required for all overnight private river trips. Permits can be reserved in advance starting the first business day of each calendar year.
Local outfitters offer a variety of guided river trips, from half-day excursions to week-long floats. Most river trips involve several nights of camping.
ACCESS AND FACILITIES:
There are no facilities or services along the rivers in Canyonlands. Entrenched in deep canyons, the rivers are generally hidden from view and possess a primitive, isolated character. In the entire park, only Green River Overlook offers a view of the rivers that visitors can reach with a two-wheel-drive car. All launch ramps and take-out points are located outside the park. Hiking trails lead to the rivers in each district. Well-suited to backpacking trips, each of these trails involves a long descent of 1,000 feet or more over very rough terrain.
Located in the Needles District, Squaw Flat Campground is an ideal base camp for day hikes to popular destinations like Chesler Park, Druid Arch and the Joint Trail. There are 26 sites available on a first-come, first-served basis. Bathrooms, fire grates, picnic tables, tent pads and water available year-round. Group size limit is 10 people and 2 vehicles. Maximum RV length is 28 feet. Fee is $10 per night. Squaw Flat typically fills every day from late March through June and again from early September to mid-October.
Located at the Island in the Sky, the Willow Flat Campground is a short walk from one of the finest sunset spots in the park: Green River Overlook. Twelve sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Sites include picnic tables, fire grates and vault toilets. No water. Maximum RV length is 28 feet. Group size limit is 10 people and 2 vehicles. Fee is $5 per night. Willow Flat typically fills every day from late March through June and again from early September to mid-October.
The Needles District offers three campsites for groups of 11 or more people which may be reserved in advance. The Squaw Flat Group Site can hold up to 50 people and 10 vehicles. The Wooden Shoe Group Site can hold up to 25 people and 5 vehicles. The Split Top Group Site can hold up to 15 people and 3 vehicles. Nightly fees are $3 per person.
Technical rock climbing is prohibited in the Salt Creek Archeological District in the Needles, in the Horseshoe Canyon Unit of the Maze District, into any archeological site or cultural resource, or on any arch or natural bridge in Canyonlands National Park or the Orange Cliffs Unit of Glen Canyon NRA named on a USGS map, with the exception of Washer Woman Arch at the Island. The intentional removal of lichen or plants from rock is prohibited. The physical altering of rock faces by chiseling, glue reinforcement of existing holds, and gluing of new holds is prohibited. The use of motorized power drills is prohibited.
All climbing shall be free or clean-aid climbing with the following exceptions:
1. No new climbing hardware may be left in a fixed location; however, if a hardware item is unsafe, it may be replaced.
2. Protection may not be placed with the use of a hammer except to replace existing belay and rappel anchors and bolts on existing routes, or for emergency self-rescue.
3. If an existing software item (sling, etc.) is unsafe, it may be replaced (software that is left in place must match the rock surface in color).
Canyoneering (cross-country travel involving the occasional use of climbing equipment ) may occur in areas closed to rock climbing, but must occur at least 300 feet away from cultural sites.
Rangers also lead guided hikes in Horseshoe Canyon April through October. Walks depart the west rim parking lot Saturday and Sunday at 9am.
Special walks or programs may be arranged for large groups by contacting the districts directly:
Island in the Sky: 435-259-4712
Horseshoe Canyon: 435-259-2652.
JUNIOR RANGER PROGRAM:
Free Junior Ranger booklets are available at park visitor centers. Filled with fun activities, these books reveal the wonders of Canyonlands to kids and parents alike. By completing five or more exercises, participants earn a Junior Ranger badge and signed certificate. Activities are designed for ages 6 to 12.
The Needles District offers Discovery Packs, an essential kit for kids eager to explore and learn about the area. These packs contain many useful items, including binoculars, a hand lens, a naturalist guide and a notebook. Packs are available at the visitor center (a small fee and deposit are required).
�� The landscape everywhere, away from the river, is of rock � cliffs of rock; plateaus of rock; terraces of rock; crags of rock � ten thousand strangely carved forms.�
Powell repeated the trip a few years later.
European settlements in southeast Utah developed from the missionary efforts of the Mormon Church. In 1855, Mormons set up a mission in what is now Moab, but conflicts with the Utes caused them to abandon it. The Hole in the Rock expedition�a Mormon mission charged with settling southeast Utah�founded the town of Bluff in 1880. The towns of Blanding, Moab and Monticello were settled shortly thereafter. Most residents made their living as farmers, prospectors or ranchers.
From the 1880s to 1975, local ranches used much of Canyonlands for winter pasture. Cowboys searched the canyons for good feed and water. They constructed trails to move their stock across the rugged terrain. To guard their herds, cowboys lived in primitive camps for weeks at a time. The Cave Spring Trail in the Needles District features one such camp.
Places throughout the park bear the names of early cowboys. The Taylor, Holeman and Shafer families grazed cattle and sheep in what is now the Island in the Sky. Don Cooper, Mel Turner, D.L. Goudelock and Joe Titus ranched the Indian Creek area. Their holdings under the Indian Creek Cattle Company were bought by the Scorup and Sommerville families in 1914. Headquartered at the Dugout Ranch outside the Needles District, the Indian Creek Cattle Company operates today under ownership of the Nature Conservancy.
The Biddlecome, Ekker, Tidwell and Chaffin families wintered animals in the Maze. The Ekker Ranch grazed cows on lands adjacent to the Maze until 2000. In addition to cattle and sheep, the rugged country around the Maze harbored outlaws. Robbers Roost, a mesa top west of the Maze, provided refuge for Robert Leroy Parker (a.k.a. Butch Cassidy), Tom and Bill McCarty, Matt Warner and others.
The growth of America�s nuclear arms program in the 1950s created a high demand for uranium. Geologists thought that Utah�s canyon country contained a significant amount of uranium, but the rugged terrain made access difficult. To encourage prospectors, the Atomic Energy Commission offered monetary incentives and built almost 1,000 miles of road in southeast Utah. In Canyon-lands, these roads include the popular White Rim Road at the Island in the Sky.
Though the region produced substantial amounts of uranium, miners discovered very little in what is now Canyonlands. However, the newly created roads led to other discoveries. For the first time, much of Canyonlands could be seen from a car. Tourism slowly increased as more people learned about the area�s geologic wonders. By opening canyon county to travel, the miners blazed the trail for the creation of a National Park.
The foundation of Canyonlands' ecology is its remarkable geology, which is visible everywhere in cliff profiles that reveal millions of years of deposition and erosion. These rock layers continue to shape life in Canyonlands today, as their erosion influences elemental features like soil chemistry and where water flows when it rains.
Known as a "high desert," with elevations ranging from 3,700 to 7,200 feet above sea level, Canyonlands experiences very hot summers, cold winters and less than ten inches of rain each year. Even on a daily basis, temperatures may fluctuate as much as 50 degrees.
The plants and animals in Canyonlands have many adaptations that enable them to survive these conditions. Some species are found only in this area. The diversity of organisms reflects the variety of available habitat, which includes lush riparian areas, swift rivers, ephemeral pools, dry arroyos, mixed grasslands and large expanses of bare rock.