Home » 1999 Cross Country Road Trip

Canyonlands National Park, UT

Saturday, August 7, 1999 - 1:00pm by Lolo
80 miles and 2.25 hours from our last stop - 1 night stay


Visiting Canyonlands was frustrating for us. It was awesomely beautiful, like a smaller and much less crowded version of the Grand Canyon. Its labyrinth of red-rock canyons, with the Colorado and Green Rivers flowing through them, appeared like mountain biking and whitewater-rafting heaven. Unfortunately, neither our mountain bikes or our raft was with us this trip because we had flown out to pick up the RV.

Dead Horse Point State ParkDead Horse Point State ParkThere was so much good stuff here, but we just weren't equipped this time to take advantage of it. We had to satisfy ourselves with just peeking over the rim at all the good stuff below. So we drove to one of the few areas of the park that was accessible by car--the Island in the Sky district. At the end of the 20-miled paved road is Grand View Point Overlook which really does have spectacular views down into the canyons. From there we walked the one-mile Grand View Trail along the rim for an awesome view of the Confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers 2,000 feet below. On the way out, we made a brief side trip to nearby Dead Horse Point State Park which to our surprise had even more impressive views than Island in the Sky.

We definitely want to come back here some day and do it the right way--with mountain bikes and a raft strapped to the top of our four-wheel-drive.


Canyonlands National Park, located in southwestern Utah near Moab, is Utah's largest national park, but also its least visited. Its high plateaus and deep canyons carved by the Colorado and Green Rivers are breathtakingly beautiful.

The park is divided into three very distinct districts, each of which is a 100-mile drive from the others. This and the fact that there are only 28 miles of paved roads make it a very difficult park to explore by car. The preferred means of transportation here are four-wheel drive vehicles, mountain bikes, horse, and foot.

The Colorado and Green Rivers flow into this park from the north, meet in the center of the park at a point called the Confluence, and then continue flowing south through the Cataract Canyon Rapids. The rivers, which make up the park's River District, form a Y dividing the park into its three distinct districts.

The Island in the Sky district, which is in the north between the two rivers, is the most accessible part of the park and therefore the most highly visited. The "Island" is actually a large mesa connected to the mainland by a narrow neck of land. A 20-mile paved road leads to Grand View Point Overlook with spectacular views down into the canyons. The easy one-mile long Grand View Trail takes you along the rim to views of the Confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers 2,000 feet below.

The Maze district in the west is only accessible by four-wheel-drive roads and hiking trails. Therefore, very few people visit this region and it contains some of the wildest country left in the United States.

The Needles district in the southeastern portion of the park has 8 miles of paved road. The rest of the region is reachable only by backpacking or four-wheel-driving. This district is named after its colorful rock spires. It also contains impressive arches, grassy meadows, and the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers. It is the best place in the park for backpacking.

River running on the Green and Colorado Rivers provides one of the best ways to experience the park. The waters above the confluence are fairly calm and can be done with kayaks, canoes, rafts, or even jet boats. However, the river below the confluence is serious white water, where you should either have a guide or plenty of experience.

Another spectacular way to explore the park if you are in good shape is to mountain bike the 100-mile White Rim Trail in the Island in the Sky District. The White Rim Trail is on a precarious road 1,000 feet below the park's rim and 1,000 feet above the confluence. Most bikers take 3 or 4 days to complete the trip.

Summer temperatures get into the 100s, so hikes and bike rides should either be done very early or very late in the day, and much water should be brought along.

Canyonlands National Park location map in "high definition"

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