Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Island in the Sky - Canyonlands National Park

View from the Buck Canyon overlook, Canyonlands National Park

We started our spring break trip with a morning drive to Canyonlands National Park.  "Vast" is the word that came to my mind as we drove through the park.  Canyonlands is very large (527 square miles) and is divided into districts by the rivers that cut through it.  The districts are the Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze, and the rivers themselves.  The Island in the Sky  and the Needles are the two districts most accessible by passenger car.

As is typical for me on a road trip, my itinerary was too full, so the eliminations began early.  The first day, we visited the Island in the Sky area of Canyonlands.  As we had about 3-4 hours, we decided to drive to the Grand View Point, with a stop to hike to Mesa Arch along the way.  We paid our fee and stopped at the Visitor's Center.  There are restrooms at the Visitor's Center, and two picnic tables right by the parking lot.  We had a great picnic lunch and then headed out to explore the park.

Near the entrance of Canyonlands are two rock formations named after ironclad Civil War ships:  Monitor and Merrimac.

Monitor and Merrimac face off in the desert of Canyonlands National Park.

On our drive through the Island in the Sky, we stopped at several overlooks.  The first overlook we passed was Shafer Canyon.

View of Shafer Canyon from the Overlook.

We could see hiking trails and dirt roads down below.  Looking down into these canyons made me understand the origin of the name "Island in the Sky."  We were high up, and could see the vast canyons nature cut into this "island" plateau.

Buck Canyon Overlook

Buck Canyon stretched off to the side, its imposing red walls dropping steeply down to the floor below.  It was beautiful, even in the glaring light of midday.

Canyon stretching across the plateau at the Buck Canyon Overlook.

With a detour to Mesa Arch (which I will cover in the next post), we continued on to the Green River Overlook and the Grand View Point.  When we stopped to see the Green River curving and carving far below us, it was very windy at the overlook.  The only birds out were some hardy crows who cavorted in the strong winds, folding their wings and diving at alarming speed toward the earth, then spreading their wings and soaring on the wind, higher and higher across the canyon

Green River Overlook, Canyonlands National Park

Despite the wind, I enjoyed seeing the meanders the Green River has etched through this land over thousands of years.   

Grand View Point, Canyonlands National Park

From the Grand View Point, you can see the park stretching out to the Needles district, and you can also see the LaSal Mountains and the Abajo Mountains in the distance.  The brochures state the the Grand View Point is the best place to see the park.  We pulled off at an overlook thinking we were in the right place, and were definitely not impressed with the view.  Returning to the car, we consulted our map and continued on until we found the Grand View Point.  It was a much better view of the park, and quite pretty.  

Purple flowers growing at Canyonlands National Park

I have found that each of Utah's national parks has its own feel and beauty, and I enjoyed Canyonlands.  I would love to return to do more hiking and really see the park, but if you only have a few hours, the drive is paved and quite pleasant.

Planning a Trip to Canyonlands
DO start your trip planning with a visit to the Canyonlands website.  Here you can peruse information about things to do, view and print maps and brochures, and more.  It was a great help to me in planning my itinerary on this vacation.  The park website makes suggestions for your visit depending on how long you have to spend in the park and has sample itineraries varying from a couple hours to a few days.  As with other national parks, there is an entrance fee.

Leaning rocks on the drive into Canyonlands National Park.
If you go:
From Salt Lake City drive south on I-15.  At Spanish Fork, take US-6/US-89 east.  Continue heading southeast until you come to I-70.  Take I-70 east.  Pass the town of Green River and continue for several miles until you see the turn-off toward Moab, UT.  Take exit 182 toward Moab (US-191). Drive south on 191 until you see the turn-off to Canyonlands.  It will be on the left (west).  It is approximately 240 miles from Salt Lake to Canyonlands.  Plan on 4 to 4-1/2 hours driving time to get there.

Note:  Canyonlands has vault toilets.  They were the nicest vault toilets I have ever used, and several even smelled fresh!  That being said, it was April, and things may be different in the summer heat and at the height of tourist season.


  1. Awesome trip. Now I get to choose what to paint...decisions...decisions...

  2. Moab - little pieces of heaven, right here on Earth!! <3
    Danielle -

    1. I agree, Danielle. Moab is a beautiful place!

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