Backcountry Camping

Two tents are illuminated under the night sky in the backcountry of Canyonlands
Tents with the Milky Way.

NPS Photo/Emily Ogden

 

Planning Your Trip

A trip into the backcountry requires advance planning. Download the backcountry trip planner for more details. All backcountry camping requires a permit.

The rugged backcountry roads of the park offer a unique opportunity to experience the park by four-wheel-drive vehicle, motorcycle, and mountain bike. These roads embody the wild character of the park’s backcountry. A high-clearance, low-range four-wheel-drive vehicle is required along with experience driving rough roads, and proper planning (OHVs/ATVs are not allowed). Due to the remoteness, towing costs will exceed $1,500.

Backpackers should be prepared for extreme temperatures, lack of water sources, and difficult to follow, and sometimes technical routes. Having the skills to navigate using a topographic map and compass of GPS, along with a knowledge of the trails is a must for a safe and fun backcountry experience.

When planning a backcountry camping trip in Canyonlands National Park, backpackers should expect to travel no more than 2 miles per hour, and plan to carry a minimum of 4 liters (1 gallon) of water per person per day. Add additional time and water to your backcountry trip when temperatures exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Four-Wheel-Drivers and mountain bikers should plan to travel less than seven miles per hour. Due to the difficult terrain and need for route-finding, travelling in the backcountry after dark is not recommended.

 
 

Permits

All backcountry camping requires a permit, which can be reserved online at recreation.gov. Overnight Backcountry permit reservations will be available at four months in advance for each of the following seasons and will close two days prior to the trip start date. On the opening dates, permits are released at 8:00am Mountain Time. The season dates are:

  • March 10 - June 9 (opens November 10)
  • June 10 - September 9 (opens February 10)
  • September 10 - December 9 (opens May 10)
  • December 10 - March 9 (opens August 10)
 

Fees

There is a non-refundable reservation fee for each permit, whether they're reserved in advance, or in person at a visitor center.

Activity

Fee

Island in the Sky
Group Size Limit (Per Permit)

The Needles
Group Size Limit (Per Permit)

The Maze
Group Size Limit (Per Permit)

Overnight Backpacking

$36 Permit Reservation fee (includes $6 Recreation.gov fee)

7 people

7 people

7 people

Overnight
Four-Wheel-Drive / Mtn. Bike

$36 Permit Reservation fee (includes $6 Recreation.gov fee)

15 people/
3 vehicles

10 people/
3 vehicles

9 people/
3 vehicles

Day Use
Four-Wheel-Drive / Mtn. Bike

$6 Reservation Fee (each vehicle/bicycle must have a permit)

3 vehicles/
15 bicycles

3 vehicles/
12 bicycles

Vehicle limits include motorcycles and trailers.

You must pay a park entrance fee for Island in the Sky and The Needles at a park entrance station, visitor center, or online via pay.gov. Each vehicle, motorcycle, and individual entering the park by foot or bicycle must pay an entrance fee.

General Regulations

  • You must have a permit for all bicycle, motorcycle, and four-wheel-drive day-use trips on White Rim, Elephant Hill, Lavender Canyon, and Peekaboo / Horse Canyon roads.
  • Permits are valid only for the dates, areas and number of people listed.
  • All vehicles, motorcycles and bikes must remain on designated roads. Roads may be deemed impassable and temporarily closed for multiple reasons. Check road conditions.
  • ATVs/OHVs are not allowed.
  • Wood campfires are not allowed. You may cook with a charcoal fire in a firepan at vehicle campsites; you must pack out all charcoal residue.
  • You must remove all garbage, including toilet paper, from the backcountry.
  • Store all your food securely to prevent animals from gaining access to it.
  • Keep all camping activities within campsite boundaries at designated sites. Camps in at-large zones must be one mile from a road and in low-impact areas like slickrock.
  • Camp activities may not be heard outside of the campsite. At no time should audio devices be audible outside of a vehicle or campsite. Quiet hours are from 10 pm to 6 am.
  • Operation of generators in the backcountry is not permitted. An exception may be made for generators needed for medical purposes if prior approval of the district ranger is obtained.
  • Camping within 300 feet of an archeological site, historic site, or water source is not allowed.
  • All natural objects and cultural artifacts are protected and must be left where they are found. Touching rock art and drawing graffiti is not allowed.
  • Pets, discharging firearms, hunting, and feeding wildlife are prohibited.
  • Caching food, water, or supplies is allowed with written notification of the district ranger. No damage to resources may occur and all items must be removed.
  • Swimming or bathing is only allowed in the Green and Colorado rivers.

For Your Safety

  • Variable terrain, extreme high and low temperatures and few reliable water sources can affect your backcountry experience. Many trails have stretches that are marked only by cairns. Come prepared and plan ahead.
  • Water is a limiting factor for most backcountry trips in Canyonlands. There are a few springs scattered throughout the park, mostly in canyon bottoms. In some large areas, such as The Grabens at The Needles and the entire White Rim bench at Island in the Sky, there are no reliable water sources. Obtaining drinking water from the Colorado or Green rivers is difficult as the water is very silty and hard to purify. Backpackers should plan to pack in water whenever possible. Many springs marked on topographic maps may no longer exist or may dry up during periods of drought.
  • At-large backpacking zones should NOT be reserved as a last-minute backcountry trip. Many of these areas require cross-country routes and may have no trails to or through them. If you wish to camp in these zones, please make sure you have a plan in place for navigating these remote areas before reserving a permit.
  • High temperatures may cause heat related illness; hike during the cooler parts of the day, eat salty snacks, and drink plenty of water.
  • In the winter, even a few inches of snow can make trails impassable with ice and hide trails. Temperatures can drop well below freezing. Hypothermia is a hazard in late fall, winter and early spring. Be prepared to spend the night out if necessary.
  • Always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return. There is no reliable cell service in the backcountry.

Avoid Crowds

During the most popular months, particularly March, April, May, and October, trailhead parking areas fill early. Parking on natural vegetation results in permanent damage to plants; violators will be ticketed. In paved parking lots, parking illegally will also result in a ticket. An early start will help you avoid parking problems.

Last updated: March 4, 2021

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

2282 Resource Blvd.
Moab, UT 84532

Phone:

435-719-2313

Contact Us