5 Reasons Why You Should Explore Canyonlands National Park

Fewer people, more space, and darker skies.

By: Hillary + Matt + Save to a List

Containing some of the rawest and most rugged land in the lower 48, Canyonlands National Park, some might say, looks no different than in 1869 when Maj. John Wesley Powell first traveled through it on his Colorado River expedition. Neatly carved into three main districts, the park’s arterial heart lies at the Confluence, where the Green and Colorado rivers meet.

Maybe it’s because of its proximity to some of the country’s most famous national parks or perhaps it’s because it’s so vast that some of the most intriguing parts can be a real pain to get to. Whatever the reason for Canyonlands’ ability to fly just under the radar is, it’s just one of those places you need to see to believe. And here’s why:

1. This is the Great American Outback.

One of the reasons that makes Canyonlands so inaccessible, is also what makes it so desireable: its ruggedness. Here, the Green and Colorado rivers have transformed some 527 square miles of ancient land into a maze of colorful canyons, arches, needles and standing rocks, which appeal to car-hopping tourists and backcountry hikers alike. What’s particularly interesting about Canyonlands, though, is its “districts”: the Needles, Island in the Sky, the Maze and the rivers themselves. Each area assumes a unique personality that’s begging to be explored, but here’s the kicker - you can’t get from one district to another unless you leave the park. There are no bridges or roads connecting them.

Backpack into the Needles District | Photo: Hillary + Matt

2. The chance to sleep at thousand-star hotels.

Forget four and five-star accommodations. In Canyonlands - specifically in the Maze and Needles districts - you’ve got the entire cosmos at your disposal. In fact, the night skies in Canyonlands are so pristine that the International Dark-Sky Association designated it a Gold-Tier International Dark Sky Park in 2015. As a result, visitors from all over the world descend on the national park just to attend night sky ranger programs or get a place at once of the few primitive campgrounds where they can experience the dark skies they never see at home.

3. ...But if you think it’s crowded, think again.

Just under 500,000 people flock to Canyonlands’ three main districts each year. And while that may seem like a lot, consider this: the nearby Grand Canyon sees upwards of 4.8 million visitors while Zion National Park attracts an estimated 3.5 million visitors annually. Add in the fact that Canyonlands is more than double (sometimes triple!) the size of many of its other national park counterparts, and you’ve essentially got an equation that will keep you away from the selfie sticks and the whining kids for as long as you want.

Hike to False Kiva | Photo: Hillary + Matt

4. An opportunity to walk back in time.

Hiking through slickrock gorges on backcountry terrain offers breathtaking scenery in its own right, but coupled with the fact that Canyonlands has some of the most fascinating unrestored ruins in the Southwest just makes this place even more epic. You might stumble upon faded panels of rock art or stand beneath the kivas and granaries of the Ancestral Puebloans - both of which are truly awe-inspiring sites one needs to experience to appreciate.

5. There’s something for everyone.

A family of five road tripping in their Subaru? The most intrepid of travelers armed with a compass and topographic map? It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’re searching for - Canyonlands has got you covered. From its Island in the Sky District, where motorists can enjoy incredible views for very little effort; the Needles District, where hikers can lose themselves among the surreal spires and wandering canyons; to The Maze, about as remote as it gets in the American West and takes some nerve to explore, there is something for anyone with the time and the curiosity to go out and find it.

Photo: Hillary + Matt

Discover more adventures in Canyonlands National Park.

Cover photo: Hillary + Matt

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Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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