Canyonlands National Park is Utah’s largest national park — preserving more than 337,598 acres of colorful canyons, mesas, buttes, fins, arches, and spires. It truly needs to be seen in person to be appreciated.
The good news is that Canyonlands is only about 30 miles outside Moab, Utah, so it’s easy to reach. The bad news is that it is so large, with so much to see, that planning a trip to the park may seem overwhelming.
Here’s some more good news: To help make your trip planning easier, the National Park Service (NPS) has released its “Top 10 Tips for Visiting Canyonlands” as part of its “Plan Like a Park Ranger” series. What’s even better is that the tips were written by the rangers who work at Canyonlands — so they know what they’re talking about.
So let’s get to it. Here is how the rangers themselves would plan a trip to visit Canyonlands National Park.
1. Pack Your Patience
All national parks are expecting high numbers of visitors this year. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that rangers recommend anticipating crowds and traffic.
The rangers also suggest you stay up to date on park alerts and conditions before you visit. You can find information about topics such as fire restrictions, which services and facilities are open, and even roadwork and delays here.
2. Know Which District Is Right For You
Rivers divide Canyonlands into districts, and each one is different from the others. Island in the Sky, for example, “provides short hikes and sweeping views, while The Needles is ideal for long day hikes or backpacking trips in wilderness,” rangers explain. Then again, The Maze “is remote, requiring more time and advanced planning to enjoy.”
Though the districts may appear close on a map, there are no roads linking them directly. Consequently, it requires anywhere from 2 to 6 hours to drive from one district to another depending on traffic.
You can learn more about each of the districts so you can properly plan your vacation here.
3. Plan Activities In Advance
As you would expect, Canyonlands is well known for its hiking, backpacking, camping, climbing, and biking. Plus, since the Colorado and Green rivers flow through Canyonlands, they offer excellent canoeing and kayaking. Below the rivers’ confluence, you can even go whitewater rafting.
As the rangers explain, you’ll need to plan ahead to make the most of your time inside the park because there are so many things to do. You can learn more about various activities in Canyonlands here.
4. Be Ready For The Desert
It’s very common for park visitors to be overcome by heat exhaustion and dehydration. Rangers remind visitors to be prepared for the desert’s summer heat.
Pro-Tip: Pack plenty of water and salty snacks. To stay safe, avoid strenuous activity during midday and afternoon heat.
5. Know The Rules
Rangers recommend spending time in advance to learn what is and isn’t allowed at Canyonlands so your recreation is both fun and responsible.
You can find guidelines for everything from how to preserve the night sky’s darkness to whether or not you can use off-highway vehicles inside Canyonlands here.
6. Leave No Trace
“As we spend time outdoors, in the natural world and in wilderness, it’s important to be conscious of the effects our actions may have on plants, animals, other people, and even entire ecosystems,” rangers explain. “Following the Leave No Trace Seven Principles can help us minimize that impact.”
You can learn more about the Leave No Trace Seven Principles and how you can make sure you leave nothing but footprints here.
7. Activities With Pets Are Limited
Everyone enjoys traveling with their pets. However, as rangers note, “Canyonlands National Park is a designated natural area, and its purpose is to preserve and protect the park’s natural environment, cultural resources, wildlife, and scenic beauty.”
Here’s what that means: Pets are not allowed on any hiking trails or anywhere off-trail in Canyonlands — even if they are carried. They also are not allowed at any overlooks or in the visitor center or any building — even if they are carried. What’s more, pets are not allowed in the backcountry or on river trips either.
You can learn more about pets in Canyonlands, including where they are allowed, here.
8. Explore the Backcountry
To truly experience Canyonlands, rangers say you need to explore the backcountry — whether it’s by foot, bike, or vehicle. You can learn more about backcountry activities here.
Pro-Tip: All backcountry camping requires a permit.
9. Plan (Way) Ahead For Camping
Camping in Canyonlands is only allowed in a designated campsite. Although Canyonlands has several campgrounds, they typically fill months in advance. Rangers urge you to reserve a place to stay before your vacation begins.
You can learn more about camping in Canyonlands as well as how to find public and private campgrounds outside the park here.
10. Do Even More Planning
Rangers suggest you download and print park information before traveling to Canyonlands. You can find maps and guides, trail guides, and other information here. You can also find useful information about everything ranging from places to go and things to do, to where you can eat and sleep here.
As you plan your trip to Canyonlands National Park, be sure to read all of our Utah coverage. You can find all of our national park coverage here, including information on Arches National Park, which is also near Moab, Utah.