There are campgrounds but no lodgings, restaurants, or stores inside the park. Most visitors stay in Moab.
Avoiding the Crowds
Although Canyonlands does not get as crowded as other major national parks -- usually just a bit over 400,000 visitors annually -- the more popular trails can be busy. Spring and fall see the most visitors, but summer has recently become popular, despite scorching temperatures. Those who seriously want to avoid humanity should visit from November through February, when the park is practically deserted, though some trails and 4WD roads may be inaccessible. College spring-break time (usually mid-Mar through Apr) can be especially busy, and any other school vacation usually brings more visitors as well. Hiking in the early morning -- often the best time to hike anyway -- is a good way to beat the crowds any time of year.
One thing that makes the backcountry experience here especially pleasant is that the number of permits for overnight trips is limited (and permits often sell out well in advance). If you're willing to hike, bike, or drive far enough, you're almost guaranteed that you won't be sharing the trail or road with a lot of other people.
Fees & Permits
Entry into the park (for up to 7 days) costs $10 per private vehicle or $5 per person on foot, bike, or motorcycle. A $25 annual pass is also available; it's good for Canyonlands and Arches national parks, as well as Natural Bridges and Hovenweep national monuments. The camping fee at Squaw Flat Campground in the Needles District is $15; camping at Willow Flat Campground in the Island in the Sky District costs $10.
Backcountry permits, available at either visitor center, are required for all overnight stays in the park, except at the two established campgrounds. Permit reservations can be made in advance (tel. 435/259-4351; www.nps.gov/cany/reserve.htm). Permits for overnight four-wheel-drive and mountain-bike trips are $30; for overnight backpacking trips, $15. The permit for white-water boating through Cataract Canyon is $30 per group plus $20 per person; flat-water boating costs $20 per group plus $20 per person.
There is a $5 day-use fee for those taking four-wheel-drive vehicles into the Needles District.
Special Regulations & Warnings
Backcountry hikers must pack out all trash, and wood fires are prohibited. Canyonlands National Park is not a good place to take pets. Dogs, which must be leashed at all times, are prohibited in public buildings, on all trails, and in the backcountry. This includes four-wheel-drive roads -- dogs are not permitted even inside your vehicle.
The main safety problem at Canyonlands is that people underestimate the hazards. It's important that you know your limitations, as well as the limitations of your vehicle and other equipment. Rangers warn hikers to carry at least 1 gallon of water per person per day, to be careful near cliff edges, to avoid overexposure to the sun, and to carry maps in the backcountry. During lightning storms, avoid lone trees, high ridges, and cliff edges. Four-wheel-drive-vehicle operators should carry extra food and emergency equipment. Also, anyone going into the backcountry should let someone know where they're going and when they plan to return. Traveling alone in Canyonlands is not a good idea.
Seasons & Climate
Summers here are hot, with temperatures sometimes exceeding 100°F (38°C). Winters can be cool or cold, dropping below freezing at night. The best time to visit, especially for hikers, is in the spring or fall, when daytime temperatures are usually from 60° to 80°F (16°-27°C) and nights are cool. Late summer and early fall visitors should be prepared for afternoon thunderstorms.
Tips from a Park Ranger
"A wilderness of rock" is how Paul Henderson, Canyonlands' chief of interpretation, describes the park, adding it contains some of the most remote country in the Lower 48. "There's some wonderful opportunities here to find solitude that don't exist in too many other places," Henderson adds.
"Island in the Sky District receives the highest visitation and has the most extensive front-country road system, so it's a place where folks that aren't equipped for a backcountry adventure can still get a good feeling for what this park is all about," he says. "There's a paved road system, and you can have a really good experience in half a day."
Henderson says that Island in the Sky is not only for the pavement-bound. "The premier opportunity at Island in the Sky is the White Rim Road," he says. "A network of old mining roads and cowboy trails that make about a 100-mile trip -- it's one of the premier mountain-biking trips in the country."
The Needles District is not a good place to cycle, but has first-rate options for hiking, backpacking, and four-wheeling. "Needles is pretty rough country, with some classic four-wheel-drive roads that, for the most part, are not for novice four-wheel-drivers," he says. "I cringe when I see somebody in a brand-new $35,000 rig and it's probably the first time they've locked it into four-wheel-drive."
The park's third district, the Maze, is very rough backcountry, Henderson says, and not for everyone. It is a great destination if you don't want to see many people. In one recent year, there were about 40,000 people at Island in the Sky, about 20,000 at Needles, but only 546 at the Maze.
You'll find a fascinating mixture of mountain and desert animals in Canyonlands; it varies depending on the time of year and your location. The best times to see most wildlife are early and late in the day, especially in the summer, when the midday sun drives all Canyonlands residents to search for shade. Throughout the park, you'll probably hear, if not see, coyotes, and you'll likely spot white-tailed antelope, squirrels, and other rodents scampering among the rocks. Watch for the elusive bighorn sheep along isolated cliffs, where you might also see a golden eagle or a turkey vulture soaring above the rocks in search of prey. In the pools of water that appear in the slickrock after rainstorms, you're likely to see tadpole shrimp -- 1-inch-long crustaceans. Among the cottonwoods and willows along the rivers, you'll find a variety of wildlife: deer, beaver, an occasional bobcat, and various migratory birds.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.