Canyonlands National Park is huge, in fact 527 square miles of some of the most colorful landscape in the world. The Island in the Sky District located closer to Moab and covered with the Moab hikes. Now we’ll discuss the other two more remote Districts, the Needles and the Maze. These two regions encompass canyons that are too numerous to count plus arches, buttes, and mesas. You will see breathtaking views so don’t miss these opportunities.
The Needles District
The Needles District forms the southeastern corner of the park and is named for the colorful spires of Cedar Mesa Sandstone that are prevalent throughout the area. Long day hikes and overnight backpacking trips are the rule here. It is remote and Highway 211 is the only paved road in the District. Foot trails and four-wheel drive roads take you to the premier hikes and features so be prepared.
You can drive 40 miles south of Moab on Highway 191 or north from Monticello 18 miles to Utah Highway 211 and travel for about 35 miles to the west to reach the Visitor Center. The Visitor Center is open year-round from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm with extended hours from March through October.
The Squaw Flat Campground makes a good base camp to launch day hikes to primer destinations. Backcountry permits are required for all overnight travel in the Park.
The Adventure Guide provide the details on hiking the Needles. There are some short pull offs that provide great views. The primary day hikes launch from the Elephant Hill parking area or the Squaw Flat Campground. These hikes can range from 8 to 12 miles in length.
The Needles day hikes are challenging, lengthy, and robust. The Chesler Park trails are accessed from the Elephant Hill parking area. The road should normally be accessible by high clearance vehicles but we suggest checking in with the Visitor Center.
There some great hikes that are accessible from the Squaw Flat Campground. There are sections of these trails that are exposed slick rock that can be treacherous when wet or icy. There are also some sections that require slick rock scrambling.
The Maze District
The Maze District is very remote and the least accessible district of Canyonlands. The remoteness and the difficulty of roads in the Maze District will require more time in addition to having a greater level of self-sufficiency than other regions of the park. Typically visitors will spend an extended period of time from 3 days to a week exploring the Maze. Back country permits are required in Canyonlands for all overnight camping and travel within the park.
Most visitors will access the Maze from Utah Highway 24 which is adjacent and just past the entrance to Goblin Valley State Park. The turn is 24 miles south of Interstate 70. After making the turn, the ranger station at Hans Flat is a 46 mile drive on dirt roads. The canyons to the east are another 3 to 6 hours drive by high-clearance 4WD vehicles. There is another access to the ranger station from the Hite Marina which will take 3 plus hours on 4WD roads.
Horseshoe Canyon contains the Great Gallery, which includes life size pictographs and designs. The trailhead to Horseshoe Canyon is reached by traveling 30 miles on graded dirt road from Highway 24 or from Green River on 47 miles of dirt road. There is a 4WD road from the Hans Flat Ranger Station to the trailhead. The Adventure Guide provides the details on this hike.
The hike to the Great Gallery is 6.5 miles round-trip with a descent of 750 feet into the canyon and typically will take about 6 hours. Group sizes are limited to 20 people. The pictograph panel is stunning with figures up to 7 feet high.
Aside from the Great Gallery, the hiking options in the Maze are abundant. The problem is the remoteness and the difficulty of roads and trails accessing the trailheads. It is important to realize that you are a hundred miles from nowhere where 4WD vehicles crawl at 5 mph.
It is possible to reach Spanish Bottom on the Colorado River via a jet boat shuttle from Moab. There is a trail that ascends 1,000 feet to the Doll House.
While the Hans Flat Ranger Station is open year-round from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. it is essential to realize that there are no amenities, food, gasoline, or potable water. The Maze is a remote area so be forewarned.