Utah's largest national park, Canyonlands is a rugged high desert of rock, with spectacular formations and gorges carved over the centuries by the park's primary architects, the Colorado and Green rivers. This is a land of extremes, of vast panoramas, deep canyons, steep cliffs, broad mesas, and towering red spires.
The most accessible part of Canyonlands is the Island in the Sky District, in the northern section of the park between the Colorado and Green rivers. A paved road leads to sites such as Grand View Point, overlooking some 10,000 square miles of rugged wilderness. Island in the Sky also has several easy to moderate trails offering sweeping vistas of the park. A short walk provides views of Upheaval Dome, which resembles a large volcanic crater but may actually have been created by the crash of a meteorite. For the more adventurous, the 100-mile White Rim Road takes experienced mountain bikers and those with high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicles on a winding loop tour through a vast array of scenery.
The Needles District, in the park's southeast corner, has only a few view points along the paved road, but it offers numerous possibilities for hikers, backpackers, and high-clearance 4WDs. Named for its tall, red-and-white-striped rock pinnacles, this district is home to impressive arches, including the 150-foot-tall Angel Arch, as well as meadows and the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers. Backcountry visitors to the Needles District will also find ruins and rock art left by American Indians some 800 years ago.
Most park visitors don't get a close-up view of the Maze District, which lies on the west side of the Green and Colorado rivers, but instead see it off in the distance from Grand View Point at Island in the Sky, or Confluence Overlook in the Needles District. That's because it's inhospitable and practically inaccessible. You'll need a lot of endurance and at least several days to see even a few of its sites. In 1 day, hardy hikers can visit Horseshoe Canyon, where they can see the Great Gallery, an 80-foot-long rock art panel.
The park is also accessible by boat, which is how explorer Maj. John Wesley Powell first saw the canyons in 1869, when he made his first trip down the Green to its confluence with the Colorado, and then traveled farther downstream, eventually to the Grand Canyon. River access is from the towns of Moab and Green River; local companies offer boat trips of various durations.