The park is a Mecca for hikers. The Joint Trail is a particularly famous trail due to the unique terrain through which it passes, although nearly all of the park's trails lead through unique geological areas.
Islands in the Sky District
• Aztec Butte Trail (2 mi / 3 km round-trip). This trail ascends 225 ft / 69 m up a slick rock dome to some ancestral Puebloan granaries and outstanding views of Taylor Canyon.
• Grand View Point Trail (2 mi / 3 km round-trip). This trail offers an easy walk out to the very end of the Island in the Sky mesa, including panoramic views.
• Mesa Arch (0.5 mi / 0.8 km round trip). A mild walk out to an arch perched right on a cliff edge. A great sunrise hike.
• Upheaval Dome Overlook Trail (1 mi / 1.5 km round-trip to first overlook). Good view of a very intriguing rock formation. Hiking to the second overlook adds 1 mi / 1.5 km.
• Whale Rock Trail (1 mi / 1.5 km round trip to main overlook). Starting near the Upheaval Dome parking area, this trail climbs steeply up Whale Rock. Good views of upheaval dome area.
• Lathrop Canyon (17 mi / 27 km round-trip). This trail leads from the canyon rim to the Colorado River. After crossing grasslands on the mesa top, this trail descends via steep switchbacks to a boulder-strewn wash that leads to the White Rim Road.
• Murphy Loop (9 mi / 14 km round-trip). A few miles of hiking on the mesa top leads to a steep descent down a cliff face to a bench where the trail divides. One fork continues along Murphy Hogback, a slim mesa with great views of the White Rim Formation and the surrounding canyons. At Murphy camp, hikers follow the White Rim Road south for about a mile, then follow a rock-strewn wash back up onto the hogback.
• Syncline Loop (8 mi / 13 km round-trip). Starting from the Upheaval Dome Trailhead, this strenuous trail follows the washes on either side of Upheaval Dome, forming a loop that provides access to both the crater and the Green River near its midpoint. Total elevation change is roughly 1,300 feet. The north side of the loop passes through a riparian area where water and shade are usually available. There is one designated campsite along the trail.
• Taylor Canyon (20 mi / 32 km round-trip). Starting from the Alcove Spring Trailhead, the trail descends via steep switchbacks to a rocky wash that leads into this broad, steep-walled canyon. Hikers can follow the four-wheel-drive road to the Green River. Four at-large camping permits are available. Groups may encounter significant traffic on the roads as well as on the river. Returning to the trailhead via Upheaval Canyon reduces the round-trip mileage.
• Cave Spring Trail (0.6 mi / 1 km round-trip). Trail features a historic cowboy line camp and prehistoric pictographs. Two wooden ladders must be climbed.
• Pothole Point Trail (0.6 mi / 1 km round-trip). Uneven slick rock surface. Trail leads to pothole communities and views of the Needles.
• Roadside Ruin Trail (0.3 mi / 0.5 km round-trip). Trail features an ancestral Puebloan granary.
• Slickrock Trail (2.4 mi / 4 km round-trip). Uneven slick rock surface. Several viewpoints and sometimes bighorn sheep.
• Chesler Park Loop / Joint Trail (11 mi / 18 km round-trip). Starting from the Elephant Hill Trailhead, the trail leads three miles to a saddle overlooking Chesler Park, a scenic expanse of desert grasses and shrubs surrounded by colorful sandstone spires. The loop around Chesler is fairly level and winds through an unforgettable series of deep, narrow geologic fractures called the Joint Trail. Five backpacking sites. No water.
• Elephant Canyon / Druid Arch (11 mi / 18 km round-trip). Starting from the Elephant Hill Trailhead this trail offers one of the most spectacular views in the Needles. It follows the Chesler Park access trail to Elephant Canyon, then travels along the canyon bottom across a mixture of deep sand and loose rock all the way to its upper end. The last 0.25 mile is a steep climb involving one ladder and some scrambling. Three backpacking sites. Water available seasonally.
• Confluence Overlook (11 mi / 18 km round-trip). Starting from the Big Spring Canyon Overlook, this trail traverses mostly dry, open country along the northern edge of the geologic faults that shaped the Needles. Trail ends at a cliff overlooking the junction of the Green and Colorado rivers. At-large camping only. No water.
• Big Spring to Squaw Canyon (7.5 mi / 12 km round-trip). From the Squaw Flat Loop "A" Trailhead this trail offers a good introduction to the landscape of the Needles, connecting two canyons for a loop across varied terrain. The route between the canyons climbs steep grades that are dangerous when wet and may make people with a fear of heights uncomfortable. Two backpacking sites in each canyon. Water available seasonally.
• Lower Red Lake Canyon (18.8 mi / 30 km round-trip). From the Elephant Hill Trailhead this strenuous hike leads to the Colorado River, changing 1,400 feet of elevation in the process. There is little shade along the way as the trail climbs in and out of the Grabens and then descends the steep talus slope of Lower Red Lake Canyon toward the river. This trail is recommended as a multi-day hike. At-large camping only. No water before reaching the river.
• Salt Creek Canyon (22.5 mi / 34 km one-way). From Peekaboo or Cathedral Butte the trail follows the main drainage of the canyon past cottonwood groves, through thick brush, and down an old four-wheel-drive road. The trail is often obscured by dense vegetation. Many archaeological sites and arches can be seen. Four designated campsites in upper section. Lower section (along the old road) is at-large camping only. Water is usually available.
Trails in the Maze are primitive and lead into canyons and to various viewpoints. Due to the nature and depth of Maze canyons, access to them is limited. Routes into the canyons are cairned from mesa top to canyon bottom, but routes through washes are often unmarked. Many of the canyons look alike and are difficult to identify without a topographic map. The Maze Overlook Trail and other routes in the district require basic climbing maneuvers in order to negotiate sections of steep slick rock and pour-offs. A 25-foot length of rope is often essential for raising or lowering packs in difficult spots. Many routes may make hikers with a fear of heights uncomfortable.
Most trailheads start from four-wheel-drive roads. Visitors with two-wheel-drive vehicles may park at the North Point Road junction, approximately 2.5 miles southeast of the Hans Flat Ranger Station, and hike 15 miles to the Maze Overlook. Depending on the vehicle, hikers may also be able to negotiate the 14-mile road to park at the top of the Flint Trail switchbacks.
This park is more rugged and remote than most, with the Maze District in particular being renowned as one of the most remote backpacking destinations in the lower-48.
The park offers some of the most challenging four-wheel drive roads to be found in the United States. Check with rangers about road conditions on the roads you plan to explore -- some "roads" are little more than nearly undriveable rocky trails that will be unpassable to all but the most skillful drivers in vehicles with high ground clearance.
• White Rim Road. The 100-mile White Rim Road loops around and below the Island mesa top and provides expansive views of the surrounding area. Trips usually take two to three days by four-wheel-drive vehicle or three to four days by mountain bike. All vehicles and bikes must remain on roads. ATVs are not permitted. Under favorable weather conditions, the White Rim Road is considered moderately difficult for high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicles. Permits are required for all overnight trips along the White Rim. During the spring and fall, demand for permits frequently exceeds the number available.
• Elephant Hill Road. Located in the Needles District, this road is one of the most technical four-wheel-drive roads in Utah, with steep grades, loose rock, stair-step drops, tight turns and backing. Over the hill, equally challenging roads lead to various features, as well as to BLM lands south of the park.
• Colorado Overlook. A moderately difficult road in the Needles District requiring high clearance, this route begins near the visitor center and leads to an overview of the Colorado River. There are large rocks and stair-step drops in the last 1.5 miles which visitors may avoid by parking on the road (leave room for others!) and walking to the overlook.
• Horse Canyon / Peekaboo. Also located in the Needles District, this road travels along canyon bottoms where deep sand, deep water and quicksand are common. Prehistoric rock art may be seen at Peekaboo, while there are several arches and Tower Ruin along the Horse Canyon road.
• Lavender Canyon. A road through a canyon in the Needles District where deep sand, deep water and quicksand are common. There are two major creek crossings with steep banks. Many arches and archeological sites may be viewed from the road.
• Flint Trail. This road is the most commonly used road in the Maze District, traversing slopes of clay that are extremely slippery when wet. The Flint Trail is often closed during winter. Drivers on this road should be capable of making any necessary vehicle repairs.
• Teapot Camp to the Land of Standing Rocks. Another 4WD road in the Maze District that is considered very difficult under any conditions and involves considerable risk of vehicle damage. Drivers on this road should be capable of making any necessary vehicle repairs.
Nearly any of the park's 4WD roads can be traversed by mountain bike, with the exception of the Horse Canyon Road which can be too sandy for mountain biking; inquire with rangers. Bikers should carry plenty of water, and be aware that permits are required for all overnight stays. In addition, many of the park's backcountry roads connect to BLM lands outside of the park, making for interesting itinerary possibilities.
Rafting on the rivers is popular, although all visitors must have permits. Guided trips are offered by the following companies:
• Adrift Adventures of Canyonlands, (800) 874-4483, (435)259-8594
• Adventure Bound, (800) 423-4668, (970) 245-5428
• Colorado River & Trail Expeditions, (800) 253-7328, (801) 261-1789
• Don Hatch River Expeditions, (800) 342-8243, (435) 789-4316
• Holiday River Expeditions, (800) 624-6323, (801) 266-2087
• Moki Mac River Expeditions, (800) 284-7280, (801) 268-6667
• Western River Expeditions, (800) 453-7450, (801) 942-6669