Known for its vast and unusual territory, Canyonlands National Park often remains unexplored due to the nearby and more accessible Arches National Park. The soaring sandstone structures and many Native American ruins are overlooked by the casual tourist, and those who love this park are okay with that. If you have the extra time it takes to visit this remote area and are knowledgeable about hiking or backpacking in the desert, then you can enjoy some of the most beautifully unique landscapes on earth. Some of these trails are short and some are multi-day excursions, but they are all guaranteed to have stunning sights with a fraction of the crowd you normally find in our great national parks.
The Needles: This 20-mile collection of trails crisscrosses the Needles District, which is considered a remote part of this already out-of-the-way park. Hike to Druid Arch to see one of Mother Nature's great artworks. The geology of the Joint Trail will blow your mind without requiring canyoneering skills. There are so many great options here, and there are few other people to get in your way; it is a true taste of the Canyonlands.
False Kiva: Located in the Island in the Sky district, the stunning views from this alcove are enhanced by a large ring of stone rocks most likely put in place about 600 years ago. While it's not a kiva, it is an archeological site and should be kept undisturbed. The hike can be a little tricky in some places and is not located on park maps, but it is incredibly picturesque.
Mesa Arch: This is by far the most visited feature in the park thanks to its short access trail located just along the main park road in the Island in the Sky District. Known for sunrise views that can be recognized in many major photo galleries around the world, expect to see a line of camera toting early-birds jockeying for position on partly cloudy mornings.
Upheaval Dome: A massive cataclysm of unknown origin created a giant crater in the already rugged landscape, and you don't need to hike for long to check it out. Sweeping canyon views and a few spots of light scrambling make it a fun trail that doesn't require too much effort with gear or planning. Scientist's are still trying to determine if the site is a meteor strike or an extruding salt dome.
Aztec Butte: Here is one of the short and easy-to-access hikes in the Island in the Sky district, and it is not far from Mesa Arch. You can get some amazing views of the river-cut canyon as well as an ancient granary. The La Sal Mountains sit in the distance, often with snow-capped peaks, and slickrock hiking adds to the fun factor of exploring the desert of the Southwest.
Salt Creek Canyon: The ridiculously beautiful 30-mile trail is one of the crown jewels of the park, and it can be found in the Needles district. Some of the most famous and well preserved works of native rock art can be seen along this hike along with the soaring and stunning Angel Arch. If you like remote backpacking in rugged, out-of-this-world scenery, this hike is for you.
Murphy Trail: The crowds remain thin on this trail even though it's beautiful, relatively short, and not hard to access. Jaw-dropping views of eroded sandstone and the ability to improvise your route to the many overlooks make it a fun and completely off-the-radar hike. The hike works well for sunrise or sunset if you want to see the light sparkling on the Green River.
Horseshoe Canyon and the Grand Gallery: One of the greatest collections of ancient rock art anywhere in the world can be found in a rarely discussed prefecture of the park known as Horseshoe Canyon. Located far to the west of the park's boundaries, you can't access it from any of the three main districts; instead, you need to come from the San Rafael Swell area. The 8-mile trail features some great desert landscapes and even fossilized dinosaur prints. It is remote, but it's a world-class archeological site.
Before you head out on your next adventure, make sure you have the right gear!
Here's a list of our go-to hiking essentials to get you started:
Hip Belt, Adjustable Torso, Compression Straps, Raincover + Hydraulics LT 2.5L Water Reservoir Included
Cushioned, GORE-TEX, High Traction Contagrip, 15.8 oz
Sun Protective, Moisture Wicking, Quick Drying, Roll-up Sleeves
Waterproof, Calorie Burn Tracker, GPS, Sleep Tracker, Shock Resistant, Speed Tracker, Lap Timer
Aluminum, Adjustable with DynaLock Levers, Four-season Functionality, 20 oz.
Made in USA, Anti-bacterial, Merino Wool, Breathable, Fast-drying
LED, Waterproof, Maximum Beam Distance: 80 m, Takes AAA Batteries
Ultralight, Watertight, Group Size: 1 person, Trip Duration: 1-2 days