Canyonlands has hundreds of miles of hiking trails which explore the park’s natural and cultural features. Both Island in the Sky and The Needles provide ample opportunities for short walks, day hikes and backpacking trips. Due to its remoteness, The Maze is primarily a backpacking destination.
Trails are usually marked with cairns (small rock piles) and have signs at intersections. Many remote trails do not receive regular maintenance and may not be adequately marked. All backcountry hikers should carry a topographic map.
Island in the Sky Trails
Several short trails explore the mesa top with minimal elevation change, enjoying canyon views from above. Moderate trails involve elevation, such as climbing a sandstone feature or descending partway into a canyon. Long trails at Island in the Sky begin on the mesa top and descend via switchbacks to the White Rim bench, or beyond to one of the rivers. All are considered strenuous, with an elevation change of 1,000-2,000 feet, and require negotiating steep slopes of loose rock as well as sections of deep sand.
All trails are marked with cairns (small rock piles). Water is scarce; bring at least 1 quart (1 L) of water per person for short trails, and up to 1 gallon (4 L) for long trails. Avoid hiking during peak heat on summer days. Carry a flashlight, map, and basic first aid equipment.
Protect Your Park - Keep off the Arches. To promote visitor safety and the opportunity to view natural features undisturbed, climbing, scrambling, walking or standing upon, or rappelling off any arch is prohibited in the park.
A short but steep trail leads to a clear view into Upheaval Dome. Exhibits at the end of the trail discuss this unique geologic feature. One-hundred-foot elevation change (30 m). Hiking to second overlook adds 1 mile (1.5 km) and 50 feet (15 m) elevation change.
This trail leads up the side of a sandstone dome, ending with broad views of Island in the Sky. Be careful: steep drop-offs. Elevation change: 100 feet (30 m)
The trail follows a sandy wash, then splits. The eastern fork to your right ascends Aztec Butte for spectacular views. The western fork on the left climbs the smaller butte then drops below the rim to two ancestral Puebloan structures. Both trails require scrambling up to slickrock and ledges. Entering, touching, or climbing on archeological sites is strictly prohibited. View structures from a distance to protect fragile walls. Elevation change: 225 feet (68 m)
to Canyon Rim
This trail crosses open grasslands, ending in spectacular views of Airport Tower and the Colorado River.
A walk back in time, this loop trail passes historic ranching features and two springs where cowboys watered cattle. With minor elevation changes, this trail is a great way to see some varied plant life. Elevation change: 300 feet / 91 m
Island in the Sky's steepest trail rapidly descends 1,400 feet (427 m) to the White Rim bench. Rough switchbacks cross sheer cliffs and scree slopes. Step carefully, and don't forget to look up to take in the view. Elevation change: 1,400 feet / 427 m
This challenging trail follows the canyons around Upheaval Dome and requires navigating steep switchbacks, climbing and scrambling through boulder fields, and a 1,300-foot (396 m) elevation change. Most park rescues occur on this trail. Carry a map, extra gallons of water, and a flashlight. Hike this trail clockwise for more afternoon shade.
A great full-day hike, this trail drops off the side of the mesa top for a 1,400-foot (427 m) elevation change. The trail offers vast views from the Murphy Hogback, then returns up a wash.
After descending 1,300 feet (396 m) past a large alcove, the trail meanders in a wide canyon to the base of the notable Moses and Zeus towers.
A primitive trail with steep switchbacks drops 1,600 feet (488 m) into a long, sandy wash. Follow the wash to the White Rim Road. No shade.
to White Rim Road
Trail crosses open grassland, then drops 1,600 feet (488 m) into the canyon below. Enjoy views of the La Sal Mountains and fanciful sandstone knobs on this varied and challenging hike to the White Rim.
Trails along the White Rim Road —You cannot reach these trails from the mesa top.
Along White Rim Road. This short walk ends abruptly at an overlook of a meandering gooseneck bend in the Colorado River. Note the rock layers distorted by salt pushing up from below.
Fort Bottom Ruin
Along White Rim Road. Exposed trail crosses a narrow mesa to a high point in a bend of the Green River. A tower structure marks the historic home of ancestral Puebloan people. Entering, touching, or climbing on archeological sites is strictly prohibited. View structures from a distance to protect fragile walls.
Moses and Zeus
Along Taylor Canyon Road. Trail ascends 500 feet (152 m) to the base of prominent sandstone spires. No need to climb the technical routes on Moses and Zeus towers to enjoy stunning views of Taylor Canyon.
The Needles offers over 60 miles of interconnecting trails as challenging as they are rewarding. Many different itineraries are possible, but some of the more popular ones are listed below.
Four short, self-guided trails along the paved scenic drive highlight different aspects of the park's natural and cultural history. Surfaces can be uneven. Trail guides are available at the visitor center and at the trailheads.
Conditions of other trails are more primitive, traversing a mixture of slickrock benches and sandy washes. Longer trails are especially rough and require negotiating steep passes with drop-offs, narrow spots, or ladders. Water in the backcountry is unreliable and scarce in some areas. Trails are marked with cairns (small rock piles). Although most trails can be hiked in a day by strong hikers, many form loops and may be combined with other trails for longer trips. Net elevation change is generally several hundred feet or less, except for the Lower Red Lake Trail, which drops 1,400 feet to the Colorado River.
Protect Your Park - Keep off the Arches.
To promote visitor safety and the opportunity to view natural features undisturbed, climbing, scrambling, walking or standing upon, or rappelling off any arch is prohibited in the park.
This short loop leads to a historic cowboy camp and prehistoric rock paintings and peckings. You will climb two ladders to complete the route.
This trail features expansive 360-degree views. Geology guide available. Trail crosses uneven surfaces.
Big Spring to *Sq___ Canyon
A great 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.
*Sq___ Canyon to Lost Canyon
A wonderful loop hike with some difficult sections climbing between the two canyons. Riparian areas in both canyons attract birds and other wildlife. Route in Lost Canyon passes through dense vegetation and may be very wet. One ladder must be climbed. Similar to the Big Spring to Sq___ Canyon loop, but travels deeper into a canyon. Three backpacking sites. Water reliably available.
Unlike other Needles hikes, this trail traverses 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 1,000 (304 m) feet below.
This trail crosses both Sq___ and Lost canyons on its way to Salt Creek Canyon, passing along high slickrock benches with spectacular views. Steep slopes and nearby cliff edges make this a challenging route. Two ladders must be climbed. View prehistoric rock paintings at the end of the trail near Peekaboo camp.
Chesler Park / Joint Trail
This trail provides many great panoramas of the Needles formations. The Joint Trail winds through deep, narrow fractures in the rock.
This trail offers one of the most spectacular views in The Needles. It follows the first part of the Chesler Park trail, then branches off to travel along the bottom of Elephant Canyon through deep sand and loose rock. The last 0.25 mile at the upper end is steep with one ladder and some scrambling.
Starting at Cathedral Butte, the trail follows drainage often obscured by dense vegetation. Many archeological sites and arches. Four designated campsites in upper section. Lower section is at-large camping only. Water is usually available.
*A new place name to replace the derogatory term "Sq___" is under consideration. Back to top