20 Fun Canyonlands National Park Facts

This list of Canyonlands National Park facts includes things about location, history, geology, and weather!

Use this Canyonlands National Park guide to learn more about the park before you visit.

fun facts about Canyonlands National Park

We also share important things to know to help you plan your Canyonlands National Park Vacation: what to pack, things to do, and where to say.

Here are a few Canyonlands itineraries based on the time you have available to spend at the park:

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A Photo Tour of Canyonlands National Park

Take a visual tour through Canyonlands National Park (and Dead Horse Point) to see the stunning landscape in the parks!

Canyonlands National Park Facts

It’s always fun to learn the various facts about US National Parks before you visit.

Located in southeastern Utah, Canyonlands is split up into a few different areas, including the Island in the Sky (northern and central), the Needles (southern), and the Maze (western).

Canyonlands National Park is known for its colorful landscape and countless canyons, mesas, and other structures created by the Colorado River,

Here are facts about Canyonlands National Park that you might not have known! These facts are great for brushing up on your park knowledge or preparing for an upcoming trip to Canyonlands National Park.

Basics About Canyonlands National Park

First, let’s start with the basics of Canyonlands:

  • Location: Southeastern Utah north of Moab
  • Canyonlands was designated a National Park in 1964
  • Acreage: initially 257,640 – expanded to 337,598 acres in 1971
  • Number of Visitors: Over 700,000 in 2019
  • Highest Elevation: Cathedral Point (7,120 feet)
  • Lowest Elevation: Cataract Canyon on the Colorado River (3,700 feet)
  • Elevation at Visitor Center: Island in the Sky 5,920 feet; Needles 4,960
  • Average Rainfall: 9.2 inches (Canyonlands National Park weather)
  • Average Snowfall: 13.9 inches

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Canyonlands Has Four Separate Districts

The Green and Colorado Rivers have divided Canyonlands into four unique districts:

Island in the Sky is the most accessible and offers panoramic views of the park along the Island in the Sky scenic drive.

The Needles district is a remote, backcountry experience with an assortment of natural geologic formations that can only be reached by using one of the many Canyonlands Needles hikes or four-wheel driving trails.

Here’s a good article we wrote detailing Canyonlands Island in the Sky vs Needles!

The Maze district is VERY remote and requires a bit more time and self-reliance to explore all the fascinating natural formations in this area. The nearby Horseshoe Canyon Unit, which sits just northwest of The Maze and is a common day-use area where guests can see a wide array of amazing, American Indian rock art panels.

The Rivers usually involves two or more days of boating to experience Canyonlands in a unique way.

Aztec Butte granaries at Canyonlands Island in the Sky
Aztec Butte granaries

People Have Been Living in Canyonlands for Over 10,000 Years

Canyonlands has been home to many people for over 10,000 years. You can see remnants of these people at various locations in the park. Be sure to check out the granaries, ruins, pictographs, and cowboy camps in the park along many Canyonlands hikes:

Native Americans: Many nomadic groups of hunter-gatherers called this area home in 8,000 BCE to 500 BCE.

  • Aztec Butte granaries in Island in the Sky
  • Roadside Ruin granary in Needles
  • Cave Spring Trail pictographs
  • Horseshoe Canyon Archaic rock markings

Miners and Rangers: From 1880-1975, this area was home to local ranchers for their winter pasture:

  • Cave Spring Trail “Cowboy Camp” – tables, benches, and other equipment

Famous and infamous people in the Canyonlands area:

  • John Wesley Powell was the first person to raft Cataract Canyon on the Colorado River. In 1869 he led this successful rafting expedition in wood boats!
  • Butch Cassidy’s Robber’s Roost hideout is located near the Maze District of Canyonlands!
Canyonlands Green River Overlook
Canyonlands Green River Overlook

Canyonlands Has a Variety of Species of Plants and Animals

It’s surprising the number of plants that are found in this southwest national park. Some of these species include:

  • Cactus
  • Cottonwoods, Tamarisks, and Willows along the river
  • Grasses
  • Wildflowers

You can also find a wide variety of wildlife at Canyonlands too:

  • 60 species of mammals
  • 273 species of birds
  • Reptiles
  • Amphibians
  • 14 species of fish
milky way over Mesa Arch
Milky way over Mesa Arch

Canyonlands is a Dark Sky Park

Canyonlands National Park was announced as an International Dark Sky Park in 2015. The Gold-Tier certification recognizes the exceptional quality of the park’s night skies.

The best time for stargazing at Canyonlands is when the sky is darkest — during the week of the new moon or the week prior to the new moon. 

Canyonlands is a popular destination for astrophotographers so you won’t be alone in the park at night. Be sure to use a headlamp with a red light!

upheaval dome at Canyonlands Island in the Sky
upheaval dome at Canyonlands Island in the Sky

Upheaval Dome Is a Geologic Mystery

You’ll find a geological formation in the Island in the Sky district called Upheaval Dome. It’s an area three miles across where the rock layers are pushed up in the center like a dome. Around the dome it’s a sloping layer of rock.

Geologists aren’t sure what caused this, but there are two theories: a “salt bubble” rising to the surface, or a meteor impact.

Canyonlands in the Movies

If you’re looking for one movie that takes place in Canyonlands National Park, look no further than “127 Hours” starring James Franco. This incredible movie is about Aron Ralston who got stuck in a slot canyon in The Maze district. He had to self-amputate his arm to get free!

Also, the famous ending scene of “Thelma and Louise” was filmed above the Colorado River in Canyonlands.

Sunrise at Grand View Point Canyonlands
Sunrise at Grand View Point

Tips for Visiting Canyonlands National Park

As you’re planning your Utah National Park road trip, check out these tips and activities for visiting Bryce Canyon.

Canyonlands is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year, even on holidays! Be sure to check the NPS website for the most updated information for the Canyonlands visitor center hours and closures when you plan to visit.

You will need a National Park pass to enter Canyonlands. The annual park pass can be purchased online or at the park entrance booth. If you purchase a digital pass be sure to print or save it on your mobile device since connectivity is limited in the park.

snow at Canyonlands in the winter
Snow at Canyonlands in the winter

Best Time to Visit Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands is part of the Colorado Plateau “high desert”. This area has large temperature fluctuations, sometimes up to 40 degrees in a single day!

The best time to visit Canyonlands National Park is during the most temperate seasons in the spring (April through May) and fall (mid-September through October). The spring and fall daytime highs average 60º to 80ºF and lows average 30º to 50ºF .

Summer temperatures often exceed 100ºF! Outdoor activities should be limited to the cooler morning and evenings. Late summer monsoon season brings violent storm cells which often cause flash floods that affect Needles Canyonlands.

Winters temperature highs average 30º to 50ºF and lows average 0º to 20ºF. So it’s cold! Large amounts of snow in the park are uncommon, but even small amounts of snow or ice can make the park trails and roads impassable. Be prepared with the right winter clothing and gear!

Winter is a wonderful time to visit, but you need to monitor the Canyonlands website for updated closures.

BUY AT AMAZON: Arches and Canyonlands Guides and Maps:

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Plan Your Canyonlands Vacation

Where to Stay Near Canyonlands

There are no lodging facilities in the park, but there are campgrounds:

  •  Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Moab – we enjoyed our stay and highly recommend this hotel due to its location close to Canyonlands.
  •  Purple Sage – our all-time favorite place to stay in Moab – walking distance to shopping, full kitchen, and only 8 units so you don’t feel lost in a large hotel.
  •  Red Cliffs Lodge – rooms up to 6 people – located 17 miles from Moab, this lodge is known for its beautiful location, winery and activities like horseback riding, fishing and more!
  • Townhomes south of Moab – we really like the townhomes in Spanish Valley with kitchen, washer and dryer in the unit and a swimming pool/hot tub (just a 5 minute drive south of Moab).
  • Rent an RV – have it dropped off at your vacation destination!
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