The Utah Scenic Points of Interest Section, Part 2, of the Canyonlands & Four Corners Travel Guide features the regions highlights: Arches National Park and famous Delicate Arch; and Canyonlands National Park, including its three sections: The Needles District, the Island in the Sky, and the Maze. Information is provided on Moab-area attractions such as Behind the Rocks and Canyon Rims Recreation Area. Also included are Dead Horse Point State Park, Goblin Valley State Park, Fisher Towers Recreation Site, and the San Rafael Slot Canyons (Little Wild Horse Canyon and Bell Canyon).
This guide offers descriptions of many points of interest, links to many references, travel itineraries, and suggested visit times.
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Guide to Southeast Utah Points of Interest
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Utah Scenic Points of Interest, Part 2, Below <Part 1> <Utah Indian Artifacts Sites>
Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park offers one of the world's most unusual landscapes, featuring 2,000 natural stone arches, the largest concentration in the world. This includes Landscape Arch (right), the world's longest arch, and world-famous Delicate Arch (below, left). Unlike natural bridges which are created by stream erosion, arches are created by the erosive power of weather on thin rock formations known as fins which are common here and very scenic in their own right. Maze-like formations of fins can be seen on the moderately strenuous ranger-guided hike (reservations advised) in the spectacular Fiery Furnace.
The 2.5 mile hike to Delicate Arch, also moderately strenuous, is a "can't miss". Climbing a hillside, you enter a world composed entirely of rock. Delicate Arch itself is located atop an enormous stone bowl. There is a sheer dropoff of hundreds of feet right behind the arch. This is one of the great vistas of the world. It is most photogenic right around sunset. For those who do not hike, the park roads are highly scenic with numerous vista pull-offs and easy strolls to points-of-interest.
The park is exceedingly popular. During the busy season, spring to fall, there can be long traffic lines at the entrance station. Try entering early or late in the day. The small campground can fill up by early morning. Limited reservations are available, and are strongly advised. Private camping and motel lodging can be found in nearby Moab. The park entrance is off of US-191 north of Moab. Visit time: you can do a drive-through in a day, but at least two days are recommended. Note that it is very hot during the summer.
Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Canyonlands National Park offers perhaps the most varied and unusual array of erosional rock formations in the world, including mesas, canyons, needles, arches, spires, and more. The park generally encompasses the drainages of the Colorado and Green Rivers with the confluence of the two rivers right in the center of the park. Unlike the relatively narrow Grand Canyon whose walls are about a mile apart, the walls here are about thirty miles apart, and the canyons are filled with unusual formations as noted above. The confluence divides the park into three separate districts: the Island in the Sky to the north, the Needles to the east, and the Maze to the west.
The Island in the Sky is accessed off of US-191 north of Moab. This high mesa seems to be an island because it is connected by a narrow neck of land to the other uplands. The Island towers over 2,000 feet above the rivers and is noted for its spectacular views of the rivers below. About mid-way from the top of the mesa to the river, the White Rim almost completely encircles the Island. The White Rim Trail is 100 miles long and follows the rim. The trail is exceedingly popular with four wheel drivers and mountain bikers due to the spectacular views off the rim and the endless encounters with exciting rock formations. Excursions of two to four days are required to complete this challenging route, and permits are required. Permit reservations are strongly advised especially spring and fall. The small campground on the mesa is first-come first-served and extremely difficult to get into.
The Needles District is accessed from US-191 about 15 miles north of Monticello. The district is noted for its namesake needle formations and many others. It offers an excellent network of hiking trails and four wheel drive (or mountain bike) routes, including many areas of slickrock. Infamous Elephant Hill has challenged generations of four wheel drivers. It is the main entry into the Needles backcountry by vehicle. (Commercial jeep trips are available.) Also, Ancestral Pueblo - or Anasazi - ruins are very common in this area. Again, backcountry permits are required for overnight stays, and reservations recommended. The Needles car campground is first-come first-served and almost always full. Reservations are available for group campsites.
The Maze District is accessed by a network or dirt roads to the west from Utah-24 and Utah-95. Entry into the park is by difficult and remote four wheel drive routes only. It is an area recommended only for very experienced and self-sufficient drivers. The reward is a region that is very uncrowded and full of very exotic scenery.
Raft trips are also popular on the rivers, the most popular activity being guided white water trips through rugged Cataract Canyon on the Colorado River. More casual, smooth water trips are also possible, such as on the Green River above the Confluence. Visit time to Canyonlands: if you want to spend only a day or part of a day, drive to the Island in the Sky and visit the scenic overlooks. To hike or bike or jeep in the backcountry, expect to spend several days. Again, it is very hot in the summer, and there's not much shade.
Moab, Utah and Nearby Sites
Moab, Utah, is the center of activities for the Canyonlands area. Complete tourist services are available, including camping, lodging, stores, restaurants, etc. It is also the headquarters for most of the region's guides and tourist companies. You can sign up for scenic flights, white water raft trips, jeep tours, mountain biking, horseback riding, guided hiking trips, canoeing, even cross-country skiing in season. The town also has local tourist activities such as a Canyon Country Museum, a water park, and chuckwagon dinners. Other nearby sites:
- Colorado River Scenic Byway. Utah-128 leaves US-191 just north of town and follows the Colorado River through a steep and scenic canyon. Recreation sites are available along the river. Scenic Fisher Towers is a short distance east of here.
- Behind the Rocks is a scenic area of huge sandstone fins south of Moab. There are routes which make for challenging four wheel driving and are popular for mountain biking. Routefinding skills are recommended for hikers. Access is gained from the Moab Rim Road, Hidden Valley Trail or Pritchett Canyon Trail.
- Canyon Rims Special Recreation Management Area is a diverse region east of Canyonland's Needles District. It is largely primitive, undeveloped, and highly scenic. There are three nice BLM campgrounds and two spectacular overlooks of the canyonlands. Activities include four wheel driving, mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing, and scenic driving. Less crowded than the national parks and a better chance of getting a camp site.
Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah
Dead Horse Point State Park is adjacent to Canyonland's Island in the Sky District. It is most noted for the spectacular view of the Colorado River 2,000 feet below Dead Horse Point. There is a modern campground and a picnic area. Water is limited. The park is reached by a spur road off of Utah-313 which goes to the Island in the Sky. Visit time: most people make a brief stop here to take in the view. A possible camping alternative if campgrounds in Canyonlands are full.
Fisher Towers, Utah
Remote Fisher Towers Recreation Area offers sandstone monoliths which have eroded into unique tower shapes. There are three BLM camp sites here and a short, but rather exciting trail to the base of the towers. The site is off of Utah-128, east of the Colorado River Scenic Byway. Visit time: drive the scenic byway and take a short hike to the towers in half a day or less. A nice place to stay overnight in an off the beaten path area.
Goblin Valley State Park, Utah
Some of Utah's most bizarre scenery can be found at remote Goblin Valley State Park. The first impression is a valley full of stone mushrooms. This unearthly-looking place was in fact used to represent an alien world in a 1999 movie, the sci-fi spoof, Galaxy Quest. While there are a few formal trails, the openness of the area makes it easy to stroll anywhere in the valley without getting lost. In fact, it is an excellent park to bring young kids. A modern pavillion is excellent for day-use. There is also a small campground. The park is off of Utah-24 about 40 miles southwest of Green River. Visit time: a few hours or overnight.
San Rafael Swell Slot Canyons
The San Rafael Swell is a large region of uplifted land - essentially a dome - north of Goblin Valley and west of the town of Green River. It is noted for many geological oddities, including numerous sandstone canyons and a number of highly exotic slot canyons. Several are easily accessible and offer very fascinating day hikes. Little Wild Horse Canyon and Bell Canyon are easily hiked and close to Goblin Valley State Park. You can take a short hike up either canyon, or make a larger 8 mile loop through both canyons, which would take a full day. There is free, at-large camping in the area. Directions: follow signs to Goblin Valley off of Utah-24. Where there is a turnoff for Goblin Valley, continue straight on the paved road which soon becomes dirt. There is a small parking area and trail map at the trailhead for both canyons.
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