A Photographer's Guide to the Canyonlands National Park

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A Photographer's Guide to the Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands is one of the more remote parks. It is divided into 3 parts: Needles, Island in the Sky, and the Maze
The 3 parts are not connected within the park. We visited only Needles and Island in the Sky because the Maze is difficult to reach if you don‘t have a 4x4 car. Needles offers some nice but long hiking and mountain biking trails. Islands in the Sky has some magnificent Viewpoints to offer.

Park maps for Island in the Sky and Needles district retrieved from the Nationalpark Service website can be downloaded here for Needles and here for Island in the Sky

Camping: There is only one campground within the park and Willow Flat Campground has only 12 sites so you have to be lucky or early or find someone sharing his site with you if you want to pitch your tent here. We arrived at 10 in the morning in the National Park and we had no problem finding a site.


Cheslar Park and Druid Arch Trail

We decided to walk one of the long trails, to see more of the Needles. So we first walked to Chesler Park, then to Druid Arch and back. Although it was quite strenuous and we nearly ran out of drinking water, it was really nice. As you will see in the National Park Hiking Map there is a big trail net through the Needles district. We followed the trail from Squaw Flat Campground to Chesler Park. The whole path is quite flat but long. The first part leads you through some sandy grounds. From there you can already see the red pointy needles in the distance. Then you reach a more stony part of the trail. From here the trail becomes more interesting as you approach the heart of Needles. You walk through and along some little Canyons before you finally get the view over Cheslar park full of red Needle stone formations. That view is quite stunning.

view over cheslar park needles canyonlands
View over Cheslar Park

Here we took our lunch break with the couple we met at the campground. As we were fascinated by the colores and stone formations we decided to continue our hike. Our destination was the Druid Arch at the end of Elefant Canyon.  After a nice walk through the canyon, we reached the Arch and were happy that we did the walk. The Arch is really big and looks cool in the surrounding canyon.

druid arch needles canyonlands
Druid Arch

After another break in the shadow we had to walk the long way back to the Campground.

hike in needles district canyonlands

Newspaper Rock

For those who are into cave art Needles has to offer a big rock completely covered in ancient rock carvings and paintings. This site is called Newspaper Rock, it is along the road into Canyonlands Needles district and can easily be approached by car.

Island in the Sky

Shafer Canyon Overlook

Shafer Canyon Overlook is the first Viewpoint when you enter the park. From here you can see the Shafer Trail an off-road road leading down into the canyon. That’s also where I took this nice picture of Mo.

Shafer Canyon Overlook Island in the Sky

Mesa Arch

Maybe the most famous sight of the Canyonlands Nationalpark is Mesa Arch. The Arch is best to be photographed by sunrise. The sunrise here is truly magical as the sun rises directly behind the Arch. When you plan to take a photo like that one I would recommend you to come to the Arch very early to get one of the good spots from where you can take the best pictures. We arrived at 4 am in total darkness and there was already one guy we met on the short trail. At sunrise the spot in front of the Arch was completely packed with photographers and their tripods!

mesa arch sunrise island in the sky

Upheavel Dome

Upheaval Dome is a crater-like landscape colorized in various colors from red over yellow to grey. There is a trail that leads all around the crater but you get good views from the first and even better ones from the second overlook, too.

upheavel dome island in the sky

Green River Overview

The viewpoint is located near Willow Flat campground. From there you have nice views into the Canyon especially at sunset.

green river overlook island in the sky

Grand Viewpoint, Whiterim Overlook and Buck Canyon Overlook

These three Viewpoints offer nice views over the Canyon with the Colorado River. You reach them all from the road that ends at Grand Viewpoint Overlook.


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