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The Best Hikes in Canyonlands NP National Park

108 Triplog Reviews in the Canyonlands NP National Park
Most recent of 39 deeper Triplog Reviews
3.68 mi • 600 ft aeg
After our morning hike to the confluence overlook we opted to check out the Peekaboo Trail. This can be hiked to from Lost Canyon on the west end, or from the Horse Canyon/Salt Creek 4x4 road on the east end. This road is gated closed and you must get a permit from the visitor center to gain access to the gate code. The reason why is you'll need a beefy 4x4 vehicle that can handle deep sand, and especially deep water. There are numerous water crossings in the 2.5 miles of driving and one stretch of a couple hundred yards where the water is 30" deep. Keep your foot on the gas and whatever you do, don't stop, and you'll be fine! :)

The old Horse Canyon road is now closed, so continuing upstream to a variety of archaeological sites now requires foot travel. I'm not sure if the road opens in other seasons, it looked to be pretty permanent.

Once we arrived at the trailhead, we quickly headed up to the arch and adjacent petroglyph site before errantly continuing down into Salt Creek. We realized our error and backtracked to the Peekaboo trail which traversed around to the coolest break we encountered on the whole trip. The NPS has installed a ladder in a narrow crack of rock that you climb 25 feet to reach the next level.

From here, the views open up revealing endless varieties of red and white sandstone geology, intermittently cut by green vegetated canyons. We proceeded in, out, and around a few drainages and peninsulas before deciding to call it a day and head back to the truck.

We did see one other group on this hike, but it's a bit of a haul from the paved trailheads, so I don't think Peekaboo gets much visitation. But it would be a great out n back dayhike for anybody backpacking in Lost Canyon or Squaw Canyon for sure.
10.98 mi • 1,763 ft aeg
After backpacking we set up camp at nearby Indian Creek and headed out the next morning on a hike to the confluence.

This is a great trail with excellent views, more amazing geology, and the added bonus of seeing where the Green River joins the Colorado. With spring snowmelt in full swing, the mathematics of art was fully at play. Not only does Red + Green = Brown, but Brown + Brown = Brown too! It might be fun to see this when the colors of the rivers were significantly different, but it was an impressive viewpoint nonetheless.

I might have to make a point of visiting more Colorado River confluences along it's course. :-k

It's an out n back hike, so we turned around and returned the way we came, passing 2 or 3 other groups who were similarly impressed that a maintained NPS trail with paved access saw so little hiker traffic.
10.76 mi • 1,708 ft aeg
After our three day backpacking trip, Chumley and I car camped in Indian Creek. Our plan for today were two day hikes and then exit the park and head south to Goosenecks for car camping. We drove over to the parking area and started hiking around mid-morning.

The trail drops a couple hundred feet into a wash and immediately climbs up the other side. We knew this would be a chore on the return. The next couple of miles are a mix of trail and following cairns over slick rock. There are several very cool geologic sections and several pot holes had water from rain two days earlier. Prepare for a dry hike, we got lucky. We set a moderate pace and made good time. The trail becomes much easier roughly 3-4 miles in and we found ourselves at the overlook soon after.

The views of the confluence of the Green River and the Colorado River was a real treat. Both rivers were slightly brown but you could see the mix. It was really cool in person. We tried a couple of different viewpoints and took a short break. From there we cruised back to the trailhead and headed on to a different hike.

I'm really glad we spent the time to do this hike. The hiking is rugged but not overwhelming. Keep an eye on high temps this would be a tough hike when it's over 90 degrees.
8.07 mi • 750 ft aeg
After we had set up camp for night 2, I decided to knock off a few hours in the afternoon with a day hike. There was a direct trail from camp back to our original backpacking trailhead at Squaw Flat that was not on our itinerary, and it was only 3 miles long. I figured a 6 mile round trip would be an ideal hike.

The best part is that it would bring me to the truck where I could grab a few beers to enjoy at camp later on! :y:

After 9L made me carry 0.75 ounces of trash he didn't want to carry out himself [-( I headed north on the Squaw Canyon trail. This was a super-highway compared to other trails we had been on. It's entirely flat, and really a little boring by Cairnyonlands NP standards. Don't get me wrong. It would be a top--10 Sedona hike for creekside hiking and red rock scenery. But this isn't Sedona and we had been spoiled by two days of absolutely unbelievable views on every trail and in every direction. So if you're going to do a loop from Squaw Flat, I'd recommend any of the options that don't include Squaw Canyon. But that's just me!

Anywhoo, I made it to the truck in about 50 minutes, took advantage of the restroom at the trailhead, grabbed a few beverages, and decided that I had plenty of time to explore a different route back to camp. It would involve about a mile and a half of trail I had previously hiked as part of the backpacking loop and add about 2 miles to my planned out n back, but I had plenty of time to meet the time I had assured 9L I would be back by.

So... Big Spring Canyon ... yes! :) This one is a real gem, and absolutely worth it. I'm so glad I headed back via this route. The afternoon sunshine and poofy clouds provided great light, and views to the La Sals which were still getting hit with snow. The climb up to the pass between Big Spring and Squaw was a highlight, as all the passes/divides here seem to be. After dropping down into Squaw, I had to retrace a little bit less than a mile to get back to camp, where I was able to immediately crack open an ice cold beer! A fantastic afternoon hike with a tasty reward! :D
31.5 mi • 3,000 ft aeg
Canyonlands Needles Backpack
I spent some time in the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands back in early 2016 and wanted to return to check out the Needles District. I scored permits in early 2017 and the months blurred by. Chumley was able to join me for this trip and we left after work on Wednesday afternoon. We car camped by Mexican Hat and completed the drive into Canyonlands and started hiking after a quick stop at the Visitor Center. Our plan is three days backpacking followed by car camping and day hikes and then returning to Phoenix the following Monday afternoon.

Thursday - April 19, 2018
We parked at the Squaw Flat Campground and started our hike to Chesler Park. The first mile is over a traditional trail and then you climb up onto slickrock and follow cairns. This will be the story of our hiking over the next three days. Following cairns is critical to not getting lost. Fortunately there are a lot of them and we also had Route Scout loaded with our GPS Route. This kept us on track. We continued hiking and were blown away by the views! Pictures don’t do this park justice! The hiking is also rugged with lots of easy to moderate obstacles to negotiate. The heavy overnight pack made things more difficult and my knees took a pounding!

After a few hours we arrived to Chesler Park and headed over to our campsite in CP2. It’s a nice site situated between several large boulders. It was a very windy day and this boulders helped as a wind break. After camp was set up, we put on day packs and headed for the Joint Trail. We made quick time and had a quick look from above before heading in. The Joint Trail is world class! The walls are roughly two feet apart and there are several side cuts that run for hundreds of yards. Several of these require you to turn your body sideways and shimmy through. I’m not the claustrophobic type but I felt it in here. We spent some time exploring and eventually exited on the far side where we connected onto a dirt road which we followed north for a bit before joining a single track that led back to Chesler Park and our camp. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing around camp and eating dinner. It was very windy which was annoying but manageable.

Friday - April 20, 2018
We woke on day two and checked the skies for precipitation. There appeared to be rain clouds to the north. We packed up camp and started our hike for Squaw Canyon. Along the way we’ll make the side detour to Druid Arch.

The first mile was relatively easy going and we dropped our packs at the junction with Druid Arch. From there it was two miles north to the Arch. Along the way we stopped by the spring which had lots of water. I filtered a quick liter and we continued on. There is good trail for most of this hike with a few obstacles mixed in. There is also an NPS ladder as you near the Arch. It aids the climb out of the canyon. Once we reached the arch we took our time and took a variety of pics. During this time the clouds moved in and some light snow flurries started to fall. Surprisingly the temps were pleasant and we enjoyed the snow! After we had our fill we started our return. The wet rock made things interesting but was not an issue. After some time we arrived at the spring and filtered more water and took another break. From there we returned to the junction and put on our overnight packs. By this time the snow/rain had stopped and the sun came out. The area dried up quickly!

Once we had our overnight packs on, we continued hiking towards Squaw Canyon. The trails conditions were similar to the day before where we follow cairns as we climb into and out of canyons. We also encountered two more ladders which were a lot of fun. With some effort we arrived at Squaw Canyon 2. All campsites are specific in this part of the park. We set up camp and Chumley headed north to get some beer from the car. I chilled out at camp for a bit before doing my own short hike up Squaw Canyon as well. We met back at camp around 6pm and settled in for the evening. This time with beer! Thanks Chumley!

Saturday - April 21, 2019
After a light rain fell the night before, we packed up and started our exit. We opted for a longer hike through Lost Canyon and this was a great option! Lost Canyon was a lot of fun and featured several fun obstacles and had plenty of water after the rain the night before. Before long we dropped down and connected onto our exit trail that would take us back to the car. The last few miles blurred by and we were back to the car around early afternoon. The first part of our backpack was complete. We would car camp in Indian Creek and then day hike to the Confluence the next day.

Final Thoughts
Water can be an issue. We got lucky. Our first night in Chesler Park was dry. We then had plenty of water north of Druid Arch and more water near our second nights camp in Squaw Canyon. Lost Canyon also had some pools.

We got lucky with the weather. We started our hike with cool temps with overcast and lots of wind. The wind held up all evening and was annoying but manageable. We had rain & snow flurries on our second day but it was actually enjoyable and never got super cold. We had sunshine on our final day.

Campsites are designated sites. I scored these permits back in early January. There is a website that shows real time availability. Securing the permit was quite easy.

I'm guestimating my AEG. There were a lot of short ups & downs. We didn't have any major climbs. I think the biggest one was 400ft.

I really loved the Needles District! I would even say it instantly became one of my favorite National Parks! The terrain is rugged and challenging while the views are jaw dropping. There are lots of hiking options especially if you start looking at off trail options. I will be back! And thanks Chumley for driving!
5.97 mi • 750 ft aeg
Joint Trail Chesler Park Loop
After setting up camp in Chesler Park, we decided to do an afternoon hike on the Joint Trail, and then loop around back to camp.

This is an A++, 100 kokopelli rated hike!

The trail takes you through an incredibly narrow "joint" in the surrounding rock, and there are "intersections" along the way, where you can head off trail into other cracks that lead elsewhere. These slots are over 100 feet deep and as narrow as a foot wide. Sections required turning sideways and removing our daypacks to squeeze through. South Mountain's "Fat Man's Pass" is a 4-lane highway compared to this area! And these cracks are so much deeper, and go on for hundreds of yards at a time. It's just one of the most fun areas I've ever hiked!

The Joint trail ends at a rarely used dirt road that we hiked along for a short stretch before connecting to another trail that took us back to Chesler Park. This second half of the loop was more traditional Needles geology, but despite being totally different from the Joint, no less amazing. Between the Joint and Chesler Park, this loop hits the crown jewels of the Needles district.

:)
19.06 mi • 3,100 ft aeg
Canyonlands Needles Backpack
So John had been pining to hike the Honaker Trail since about 2014, and while that one is an absolute gem, it's still a bit far to drive for a 5-6 mile hike. So we decided to tag on this extra hike while we were near the neighborhood.

The forecast called for windy conditions with snow showers Thursday night and Friday morning, and then rain showers Friday afternoon and night. And while not a washout by any stretch, it made us both pile a few extra pounds of clothes and gear into our packs to be prepared. There are no campfires permitted in the backcountry, so cold evenings at camp are especially chilly. On top of that, there are scarce water sources (and the NPS flatly told us to carry all we need and not count on finding any), and it's a poop-free zone, so wag bags were required too. The result was both of us heading out with unusually heavy 45lb packs!

Thursday
Squaw Flat to Chesler Park CP2
6.67 miles / 2:45

This was an incredible introduction to this spectacular park. The trail jumps right into the thick of things. Despite gray skies above, the colors, contrasts, and geology were amazing. Every little hill climbed and corner turned provided another indescribable scene. After a relatively short first day hike, we quickly found our assigned campsite in Chesler Park and set up camp as the afternoon wind kicked up sand and dust.

CP2 is a fine site, but I would rank the sites in order CP1, CP4, CP2, CP3, and finally CP5. You really can't go wrong camping in Chesler Park, but for views, geology, space, shade, and wind protection, that's how I would rank them.

Joint Trail [ photoset ]

Friday
Chesler Park to Squaw Canyon SQ2
5.42 miles / 2:27

This short day started with an easy hike to the junction of the Druid Arch trail where we dropped our packs for a side trip. We managed to get packed up and out of camp before the snow showers, but it wasn't very cold. I'd think it was close to 45 degrees, pretty ideal for hiking! After the trip to the arch, the skies cleared and the sun warmed things up considerably. We enjoyed finally seeing blue skies contrasting the geology here.

Both forks of Elephant Canyon were fantastic. Along the way, we found a lost Dane and admired the elevated EC3 campsite which would be a joy to camp at. The trail climbs up a canyon before crossing a pass and dropping into Squaw Canyon. We learned that these pass/saddle crossings were a highlight whenever we encountered them.

The trail took a couple of ins n outs around geologic obstacles before dropping to the bottom of Squaw Canyon where we immediately encountered enough water to dissuade any fears we had of a dry camp on night 2. With camp set up, sunny skies and plenty of daylight remaining, we each added another day hike to our afternoons before heading back to camp to enjoy the pleasant evening.

Not ten minutes after crawling into our tents, it somewhat unexpectedly started to rain. It continued steadily for a couple of hours providing a peaceful sound on the rainfly to sleep to.

Druid Arch [ photoset ]
Big Spring - Squaw Canyon Loop [ photoset ]

Saturday
Squaw Canyon to Squaw Flat via Lost Canyon
6.9 miles / 2:45

Our exit day started by exiting Squaw Canyon in another geology-rich side canyon, wet from the overnight rain. After crossing another divide, we dropped down into Lost Canyon, which was a wider canyon with a flatter bottom than some of the others. But the canyon meandered wildly. Some stretches of trail were in sand, but not enough to get annoying. While there had been pools of water in the highest stretches of rocky canyon, the bottom was mostly dry until the camp LC2, which would have been another excellent place to camp.

LC1 was an anomaly, in a thick grove of oaks which so far had not sprouted and left it exposed. In a month, however, it might be the shadiest site in the park! LC2 was set amongst a couple of huge boulders, one of which provided a sheltered cave large enough for one tent. LC3 was a nice site set in some junipers, but it was nearly a mile to water.

From the LC1 site, which is also the trail junction for the west end of the Peekaboo Spring Trail, it's about 3 miles back to the trailhead. We were surprised at the number of ups and downs because the topo map looks fairly benign compared to the rest of this loop. But the variations in topography provided a pleasant hike with inspiring views that continued until we reached the parking lot!

Conclusion
Three 5-7 mile backpacking days aren't that difficult and allow for plenty of time to do some sightseeing and side hikes. While there are constant ups and downs, there are no big climbs. One 400 foot climb -- but mostly not more than 200 feet, so the terrain is generally what I would consider to be easy. More than half of the hiking is on bare rock and all the trails are marked with endless cairns. I actually decided the place should be called Cairnyonlands. #dadjoke. @bobp could retire and live out his days here. He would not run out of subjects to practice his art! ;)

In a nutshell, you should plan a trip here. It's unlike anything anywhere and needs to be seen to appreciated. Photos simply don't capture it. I don't think there is any glacial drift in the geologic history here, but 9L was quoted three different times saying this is his new favorite national park. And that's saying something.
5.5 mi • 800 ft aeg
Canyonlands - Island in the Sky District
Claire and I had half a day to do some exploring in the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands. We made the drive in from Moab on a cloudy day and stopped at the visitor center. From there we headed over to Upheaval Dome and headed out to the two lookouts. It is a very cool geological feature. After that we stopped at some viewpoints as we worked our way south heading for Grandview Point. We made the easy one mile hike to the point and were in awe of Canyonlands. There is so much to explore in The Maze & Needles Districts. I wanted to see more! We returned to the jeep and had some lunch at the Buck Canyon overlook and then stopped by the iconic Mesa Arch. It was really cool seeing in person. Several people were around but it wasn't crowded. We got our pics and then headed back to Moab. We're planning on camping in Gooseneck State Park to break up the drive back to Phoenix. This was a nice day in Canyonlands but left me wanting more. A trip to Needles District is on the radar for later this year.
0.75 mi • 123 ft aeg
Island in the Sky District offers some breathtaking views, and if this trailhead is your first stop once entering the park you won't know where you're at until you're there:) This is a mild loop hike culminating with epic views at the arch. Standing at the arch it takes a moment to digest the scale that extends out beyond the cliffs - stay for a minute. Just make sure this isn't your only stop at Island in the Sky.
2 mi • 60 ft aeg
This is part of our Mighty Five Trip 2016. We did 5 parks in 5 days in Utah.

Day 4: Canyonlands National Park. Our next stop in Canyonlands was Grandview rim trail. This was a good one. a pretty easy going hike along the slick rock on the rim of the canyon. At a certain point the trail crosses over the "island" and you are now walking on the other side rim. You get great views all around. It also makes me want to plan a white rim overnight trip at some point.

Video: https://youtube.com ... 1wK0
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