When you hear about Utah National Parks, it’s always about Zion, Arches and Bryce, but others are less crowded and dare I say, maybe more beautiful. Canyonlands is one of those.
It may not be on your shortlist because of those other parks, but after visiting for a day, I’d say, depending on the kind of person you are, Canyonlands should top your list.
I spent two nights in Moab, the small town in between Canyonlands and Arches, and visited both parks. My favorite, by a long shot, was Canyonlands. Why? For several reasons. Because I like the solitude of nature and being out moving around in it, because Canyonlands less crowded, you can enjoy the park versus battle the crowds.
To get to Canyonlands, I drove 30 miles down a side road off the highway. I was the only car for miles. At the start of the road, it is open desert land without much to see, but after about 10 miles, the landscape begins to change.
Canyonlands is known for its dramatic desert landscape carved by the Colorado River. There the rock mesas are so giant and towering I thought they were like elephants as I drove in. surrounded by canyon rock mountains on either side. It’s like driving in the middle of the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Not that you could do that, which makes this park even better. I made frequent stops at the pull-outs on the roadside to take pictures and marvel at the panoramic beauty of the massive red and orange mesas around me.
At the Visitor’s Center, they said the park was very crowded, that they’re having a record-breaking year, like all the national parks. But it didn’t seem that crowded.
I drove around for a while to get my bearings and decide where I would hike. They gave me a good map at the center outlining the hikes, but I like to see what the trailheads look like. I drove past a huge, flat-topped mesa called Island in the Sky and by the towering rock pinnacles known as the Needles.
The formations are layers of red and white, providing a mesmerizing landscape that seems hard to figure out and impossible to stop staring at.
It was so hot and dry. There is a heatwave and drought in Utah, and traveling solo, I usually opt for a series of short hikes versus the longer ones. Because there is little dirt among the rocks in the Canyonlands, there aren’t any traditional trails wore into the ground. Instead, rangers mark the path with cairns – stacks of rocks – to show the way.
I did a few short hikes, grateful for the breaks in between in my van air conditioning.
On the way leaving the park, I was along on the long road and drove slowly, admiring the miraculous view. I stopped at Newspaper Rock, so named because there are a bunch of petroglyphs carved into it. It was once a stopping place to write and share news, though of what, nobody knows. But the pictures are interesting to ponder. It’s also sad to see that more recent humans have graffitied a good portion of it.
All in all, if you’re looking for a beautiful Utah park, this is it. With many of the same spectacular features as some of the more popular parks, Canyonlands is a great place to visit.
Canyonlands National Park is usually open year-round, 24 hours a day. Find it off UT 313, about 22 miles southwest US 191 near Moab, UT 84532.