Prepare for your backcountry hiking or backpacking trip in Canyonlands National Park. Helpful tips and advice provided in this video will help you plan your trip and Leave No Trace while out in these pristine areas.
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General Backpacking FAQs
Much of Canyonlands is undeveloped land, and the park has become an increasingly popular destination for backcountry travel. You will need a permit for all overnight trips in the backcountry. During the spring and fall, permit availability is highly competitive. If you plan to visit Canyonlands during peak season, you may have to reserve your permit up to four months in advance.
Where can I camp?
Park staff have divided the backcountry of Canyonlands into campsites and zones, and access to each is limited. Backpackers in heavily traveled areas stay in designated campsites, primarily at The Needles. Most backpackers at Island in the Sky or The Maze stay in at-large zones and may choose their own low impact campsites. Contact the Backcountry Permit Office ([email protected]) for a map of these campsites and zones.
I am camping in an at-large zone. How do I pick a campsite?
It is essential that you choose an area on bare rock, in a sandy wash, or other areas devoid of biological soil crusts. You must locate your campsite at least 1 mile from a road, and at least 300 feet away from an archeological site, historic site, or water source.
Where can I find drinking water?
Water is a limiting factor for most backcountry trips in Canyonlands. There are a few springs scattered throughout the park, mostly in canyon bottoms. In some large areas, such as The Grabens at The Needles and the entire White Rim bench at Island in the Sky, there are no reliable water sources. Obtaining drinking water from the Colorado or Green rivers is difficult as the water is very silty and hard to purify.
We encourage backpacking groups to pack in water whenever possible. Many springs marked on topographic maps may no longer exist or may dry up during periods of drought.
Can I use a packraft to cross the river?
Yes, but you will need the appropriate permit. You will need extra required equipment. Read more about packrafting.
Check the sections below for information on camping in each district of the park.
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Backpackers in The Needles
Backpacking at The Needles
The Needles is the most popular backpacking destination in the park. You can access most trailheads with a two-wheel-drive vehicle. You may find water seasonally in many of the canyons east of Chesler Park.
Permits are required for all overnight trips into the backcountry. During the spring and fall, demand for permits is very high. If you plan to visit Canyonlands during peak season—especially during spring break (March)—you may have to make a reservation four months in advance.
Most places to camp in the Needles are named campsites in designated locations. All of these campsites require campers to carry out all solid human waste in a commercial human waste disposal bag. In areas where there are no established campsites, backpackers can camp in at-large zones that must be reserved also. Campsites in the Salt Creek area require the use of approved hard-sided food storage containers (e.g. bear canisters).
Most long trails at Island in the Sky have elevation changes of 1,000-2,000 feet, and require negotiating steep slopes.
Backpacking at Island in the Sky
Island in the Sky is a challenging place to backpack. The landscape below the mesa top is a mixture of talus slopes and vast basins without any reliable water sources. Some trails lead below the White Rim Road to the rivers, but river water is silty and difficult to purify. All overnight routes involve a descent of over 1,000 feet, except Murphy Point which is on the mesa top and is an ideal destination for single-night trips.
Backpackers camp in an at-large zone unless traveling along the Syncline Trail where there is a designated site. A permit is required for all overnight trips.
Backpacking at The Maze
Trails in the Maze are primitive and lead into canyons and to various viewpoints. Due to the nature and depth of Maze canyons, access to them is limited. Routes into the canyons are cairned from mesa top to canyon bottom, but routes through washes are often unmarked. Many of the canyons look alike and are difficult to identify without a topographic map.
The Maze Overlook Trail and other routes in the district require basic climbing maneuvers in order to negotiate sections of steep slickrock and pour-offs. A 25-foot length of rope is often essential for raising or lowering packs in difficult spots. Many routes may make hikers with a fear of heights uncomfortable.
Permits are required for all overnight trips in the backcountry. During the spring and fall, demand for permits frequently exceeds the number available. If you plan to visit Canyonlands during peak season, it is recommended that you make reservations well in advance. Backpackers stay in at-large zones. There are several reliable springs in the canyons of the Maze, and the status of these springs is available at the Hans Flat Ranger Station.
Getting to Trailheads
Most trailheads start from four-wheel-drive roads. Visitors with two-wheel-drive vehicles may park at the North Point Road junction, approximately 2.5 miles southeast of the Hans Flat Ranger Station, and hike 15 miles to the Maze Overlook. Depending on the vehicle, hikers may also be able to negotiate the 14-mile road to park at the top of the Flint Trail switchbacks.
Another popular way for backpackers to reach the Maze is via jet boat shuttle from Moab. A two-hour shuttle provides access to Spanish Bottom on the Colorado River. From there, a foot trail climbs over 1,000 feet to the Doll House. Jet boat shuttles are available from two companies:
(877) 662-2839 or (435) 259-5101
- Canyonlands River Tours: (800) 394-9978, (435) 259-5261
A backpacker at The Needles
Having a first aid kit when you are hiking or camping is essential. If you end up really needing it, you’ll be glad you brought a complete kit for the outdoors.
Imagine this. You have arrived at the campground and sent the kids off to play by the lakeshore while you set up camp. You are pitching the tent and organizing the camp kitchen. The kids find some rocks to skip in the water and are running back and forth on the shore. A simple trip and fall can bruise and cut a knee, which might not seem that bad, but when you add in some dirt, things change. A bee sting or allergic reaction to a stinging plant might not feel good, but can be easily remedied with some medication.
It is during these blissful moments at the campground that we tend to get excited and somewhat prone to those little mishaps, like scrapes and minor cuts, while moving all the gear and setting up equipment. If you are planning on spending time outdoors, you'll want to make sure to bring a few camping first aid essentials. Be prepared for camping accidents with a well-stocked first aid kit.
If you are looking for a complete camping first aid checklist, you found it. You can create your own wilderness first aid kit with a few items, or buy a basic first aid kit from your local pharmacy and add a few items specific to your camping adventure.
A Well-Stocked Basic Kit
- adhesive bandages of various sizes
- butterfly bandages
- gauze pads of various sizes or gauze roll
- antiseptic creams and ointments
- sterile wipes and rinse solutions
- pain and anti-inflammatory medicine
- hydrocortisone cream
- tweezers, scissors, safety pins, and knife
- sunburn relief spray
- anti-diarrhea medicine
- antihistamine for allergic reactions
- eye drops
- triple antibiotic ointment
- hand sanitizer
- duct tape
- super glue
- prescription medicines
- emergency blanket
So what kind of accidents should one anticipate while camping? Well, there are always the occasional cuts, scrapes, and scratches. Common camping chores can be hazardous. Hiking through the brush, thorn bushes, or cactus; cooking outdoors or around campfires; and exposing ourselves to the elements and insects are just some examples of the outdoor activities that require our attention. Be prepared and know what to do in a wilderness emergency.
To remedy cuts, scrapes, and scratches, include a variety of bandages, and also have some antiseptic wipes and antibiotic cream on hand. Hydrogen peroxide comes in handy for washing out cuts, and a saline solution is a great relief for washing out eyes should you happen to sit too close to a campfire and get ashes or cinders in them.
Q-tips and liquid pain relief solutions come in handy for bug bites or small cuts and scratches. Tweezers come in handy for removing thorns and splinters, and scissors or a knife will help to cut tape and bindings. Don't forget Tylenol and aspirin for headaches and internal pain relief, and for intestinal problems include some Imodium or other anti-diarrhea medicine.
Other items to consider might be sunburn relief spray, preferably an Aloe Vera solution, Chapstick for the lips, zinc oxide for skin protection, burn cream, and where appropriate, a snakebite kit. A Leatherman multi-tool comes in handy for just about any situation and can also be a nice addition to your kit.
As a final tip, be sure to check your first aid kit annually and replenish any exhausted or outdated medicines and supplies. And don’t forget always to take a well-stocked first aid kit whenever you go camping. Now that you have a camping first aid kit ready for your next adventure, revisit the rest of our complete camping checklist, so you don’t leave any essential items at home.
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