What is great about travelling through National Parks at off-peak times is that you can feel like you are somewhere truly remote without the distraction of others spoiling the allure. We found this benefit most apparent during our visit to Canyonlands National Park.
The park was our second in Utah, and was just a short drive from our last stop at Arches. Moab is your best bet for a quick stopover to stock up on food/fuel/post-hike beers, and after passing through you continue through some nice scenery (perhaps getting a glimpse of some pretty authentic looking cowboy ranches we were way too impressed by).
Not even the ranger station/info centre was staffed at this time of year, and there were no fees collected for entry nor for camping. We were therefore left to our own devices to work out from the maps provided which walk we would take on for the day before settling in the campground.
Canyonlands is really equally as visually impressive as its neighbour Arches, and hugely colourful. Rivers divide the park in to a few different sections. We were to explore ‘Needles’, named for the spires of ceda mesa sandstone that tower over the series of canyons and grasslands. The geological formation of this landscape is best described on the NPS website and essentially involved the erosion of sandstone that had uplifted around 20 million years ago. A thick layer of salt called the paradox formation in the subsurface also has a role to play.
We settled on the ‘Slick Rock Trail’ to best experience this magnificent landscape. It is a loop walk that comes in at 2.4 miles/4 km, its 2 hour recommended duration fitting nicely into the time we had available before sunset. The trail starts at the slickrock carpark and is marked out by a series of cairns. We picked out this trail because it stayed high overlooking the canyons, giving a good perspective of the entire region of the park. There are a number of set ‘viewpoints’ across the course of the trail, but it is guaranteed that you will be gasping at the views throughout the hike.
A lesson was learnt here not to follow rogue cairns! Despite recommendations against the practice many hikers seem to feel the need to erect their own little piles of rocks, and while I’m sure this brought them plenty of joy at the time it did cause us to be led astray of the trail for a little! Luckily a solid sense of directions brought us back on course, and just in time as we arrived back at the campsite (which was one of our favourites) just in time to nab one of the last remaining spots (which perplexed us given the lack of fellow hikers we had encountered).
Given its proximity to other spectacular parks, Canyonlands is definitely not to be written off on any USA roadtrip, and offers a variety of longer hikes if you have the time. Next post will take us just down the road again to Bridges National Monument, yet another of Utah’s ridiculously majestic parks.