I visited Canyonlands National Park while I was on my 4 Day Trip through Utah in 2018. It was a last minute trip, and in the 4 days I was able to visit 5 National Parks located in Utah, nicknamed “The Mighty 5”.
Exploring Canyonlands happened on the 3rd day of the trip. I had come into Moab the night before. When I went to bed, it was not snowing but I woke up the next morning to a covering of snow and it wasn’t letting up. I had big plans for the day so I wasn’t going to let the snow stop me in my two wheel drive car.
The drive from Moab Canyonlands in Toyota Camry was a white knuckler. I was so nervous on the windy roads that continued to rise in elevation, especially because the snow was quite slippery. This was also during the government shutdown so most roads in the parks were not being plowed and the visitor’s stations were not open. I entered the park after what felt like hours and it was still a snow fog.
I drove the road up on the plateau through one of three sections of the park called Island in the Sky. This section sits about 1,000 feet above the valley. There’s a 34 mile round-trip scenic drive through this section. You can hike to the Mesa Arch from this road which took me about 30 minutes to get out and back through the snow. I only saw about 5 other people the entire time I was in the park. You can also view the Shafer Trail from a lookout along this road. Overall, I spent about two hours in the park before driving to Dead Horse Point State Park which is right next door.
The other three sections of the park are called The Needles, Horseshoe Canyon, and The Maze. The Needles has a scenic drive that’s 6.5 miles long . This road will lead you to the Pothole Point, Cave Spring, and Roadside Ruins trails. Horseshoe Canyon is separate from the rest of the Canyonlands area but was added to the park in the 1970s. It is known for its rock art and the Great Gallery Trail. The Maze section is much more secluded with all roads being unpaved and there is not any services, food, gas, or drinkable water in the area. Each section has various offerings so come prepared for wherever you’re headed.
Leaving the park from Dead Horse Point was also a white knuckle drive. The snow hadn’t let up and was continuing to lay. When I was leaving the park, they had closed the entrance due to not being able to snow plow the roads. As I was heading toward the highway, I heard and could feel an issue in my tires. It was like there was something caught in the wheel wells. After pulling over, I realized there were huge ice balls that had formed in the wheel wells. I couldn’t get my hand in between the spokes, so I used a plastic bag (to avoid getting wet), my camera tripod, and a book to make a contraption to break up the ice and get it out. It was an adventure.
After getting out of Moab, I heard that it was a huge snow squall that had hit Moab but nowhere else had received snow. The morning was a crazy experience but it was another lesson that I can always figure it out and that traveling solo is a lesson in confidence and ingenuity and this time, I passed.
I want to go to Canyon land National Park, but most likely not in the winter.
If you’ve never been before, I think Spring, Summer, or Fall would be the best times to visit. Winter is a doozy out there with unexpected snow!