Canyonlands: A sprawling area of hiking, walking and riding

Looking out onto the Airport Tower and the White Rim from under Mesa Arch in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park, Utah.



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Looking out onto the Airport Tower and the White Rim from under Mesa Arch in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

Canyonlands National Park is a sprawling landscape of canyons, mesas and buttes, a 527-square-mile playground that encompasses three districts and two rivers.

Don’t let its size intimidate you.

While portions of the park are among the most remote in the United States, and the 100-mile White Rim Trail challenges the most avid mountain bikers and off-road enthusiasts, much of Canyonlands is easily accessible.

Here’s a breakdown of the park by districts:

ISLAND IN THE SKY

The easiest section of the park to access, you can stay for just a few hours navigating the paved scenic drive and lacing up your hiking boots for a stretch-your-legs peek at the sandstone formations.

Or you can linger for several days, exploring miles-long trails and four-wheel-drive roads.

The Grand View Point Trail is an easy, 2-mile roundtrip walk out to the edge of the Island in the Sky mesa that concludes with panoramic views.

If you prefer a daylong or multi-day excursion, many of the longer trails begin on the mesa top and descend via a series of steep switchbacks to the White Rim bench. A few trails continue down to either the Colorado or Green rivers. There are campsites along most of the longer trails.

THE NEEDLES

This district forms the southeast corner of Canyonlands, and its extensive trail system provides many opportunities for long day hikes, overnight backpacking trips and more than 50 miles of challenging backcountry roads.

There are four short, self-guided hikes along the scenic drive. Or you can venture out on a longer hike, but be prepared for primitive conditions. Most trails cover a mixture of slickrock benches and sandy washes and require negotiating steep passes with drop-offs, narrow spots or ladders.

THE MAZE

The least accessible district in Canyonlands forms the western boundary of the park and requires more travel time and greater self-sufficiency.

According to the National Park Service, visitors rarely spend less than three days in the Maze.

The Hans Flat Ranger Station is two and a half hours from Green River, with drivers taking Utah Highway 24 south from Interstate 70, then a two-wheel drive dirt road just beyond the turnoff to Goblin Valley State Park.

The canyons of the Maze are another three to six hours from the ranger station and are accessible only by high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Entrance fees, which are good for seven days, are $5 for individuals or $10 per carload. Visitor center hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. in Island in the Sky and 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Needles, with extended hours March through October. The Hans Flat Ranger Station in the Maze is open daily 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

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SEE IT, DO IT

When you think of Moab, Arches and Canyonlands national parks probably jump to the forefront of your mind. But there’s so much more to this desert city.

Where to bike: The trails are almost too numerous to mention. There’s Slickrock, Klondike Bluffs, Gemini Bridges, Poison Spider and dozens of others. This is the mountain bike capital of the world. Go to http://www.discovermoab.com for information.

Where to camp: Whether you want the comforts of an established RV park or the quiet and pitch-black sky afforded by a Bureau of Land Management campsite, camping areas abound. Go to http://www.moabadventurecenter.com for a detailed list.

Where to hike: Arches and Canyonlands national parks offer a plethora of trails, but the national parks aren’t the only game in town. Negro Bill Canyon and Fisher Towers are among several great trails that don’t draw huge crowds.

Where to golf: The Moab Golf Course, 2750 South East Bench Road, is 4 miles south of town.

Where to fish: The La Sal National Forest southeast of Moab has eight lakes offering a break from the scorching summer heat.

Where to raft: The Colorado and Green rivers. Book a guided trip or set out on your own.

Don’t miss this: The Moab area boasts several locations of Indian rock art dating back several hundred years. All are accessible by car and a short hike. Go to http://www.discovermoab.com for information.

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