Go with a Guide - Canyonlands National Park

Posted On
Apr 08, 2010
Southern Utah

Utah is home to five spectacular and diverse national parks. The largest, at a massive 337,570 acres, is Canyonlands. Arguably, it is also the most rugged, mysterious and primitive.

Canyonlands National Park preserves an immense wilderness of rock at the heart of the Colorado Plateau. Water and gravity have been the prime architects of this land, cutting flat layers of sedimentary rock into hundreds of colorful canyons, mesas, buttes, fins, arches and spires. At center stage are two great canyons carved by the Green and Colorado rivers that have their confluence in the heart of the park, Cataract Canyon. Surrounding the rivers are three vast regions: Island in the Sky, the Maze and the Needles. Although unique to themselves, the three share a common primitive spirit and wild desert atmosphere. Each also offers its own special rewards. Throughout its 527 square miles roam desert bighorn sheep, coyotes and many other species native to this land.  Few were familiar with these remote lands and rivers when the park was established in 1964. Prehistoric Native Americans, cowboys, river explorers and uranium prospectors dared to enter this rugged corner of southeastern Utah, but few others did. To a large degree, Canyonlands remains untrammeled today. Its roads are mostly unpaved, its trails primitive, its rivers free-flowing.  Canyonlands is wild America.

But it is also one of the country's premier recreation playgrounds.

Today, those seeking a true backcountry adventure can enjoy Canyonlands with experienced guide services provided by the Utah Guides & Outfitters Association, aka UGO and several independent operators.  Name your pleasure, mountain biking, river running, yoga, backpacking, jet boating, hiking, rock climbing, hot air ballooning or 4WD trips and a company is available to lead you safely into and out of this fascinating wilderness.  Here are some trip summaries from the experts.


Cataract Canyon

Breathtaking views of sculpted sandstone deep within Canyonlands National Park only scratches the surface of Cataract Canyon.  Carved below the confluence of the Colorado and Green rivers, hikes to ancient Puebloan cliff dwellings to view primitive pictographs and granaries, cascading waterfalls in side canyons and the surreal Dollhouse high above the river are but a few of the adventures that await.  Cataract Canyon boasts some of the premier whitewater runs in the west, 26 rapids in all! Experience the famed Big Drops, Little Niagara and Satan's Gut on this Class IV – V rapids during the late spring run off. The trip concludes in the upper canyons of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area with the departure destination of Hite Marina. Wilderness River Adventurestrips accommodate children as young as 10.  The company offers 2 – 4 day motorized trips and 5 day oar trips through Cataract Canyon.  The outfitter can customize your group adventure to meet your itinerary needs. www.riveradventures.com
Holiday River Expeditions combines two of their most popular trips into one of the finest multi-sport adventures in the west.  The White Rim Trail – Cataract Canyon 7-day Combination trip.  The first three days, the trek begins on your mountain bike.  You'll pedal 65 miles of trail through Canyonlands National Park, winding through seemingly endless mesas before dropping into Cataract Canyon and gliding down onto its white sandstone benches. Here you'll meet your rafts for the start of four days bucking the rapids of the Colorado River.


The famed White Rim is the quintessential mountain bike trail and is one of the best ways to truly experience the grandeur of Canyonlands National Park.  The route winds 90 miles through the desert vastness, far away from the crowded "front country."  Holiday's guides take you past Mussleman Arch, Monument Basin, Turks Head, Candlestick Tower and White Crack, along with countless other geologic wonders created by nature through the millennia.   Then, stow your bikes, grab your river bags and head off for the Colorado River through Cataract Canyon.  Ride the rugged Colorado for four days as it cuts through the heart of southern Utah's Canyonlands and you'll discover Pueblo ruins that those confined to cars and tour buses simply miss. This stretch of water is the most precipitous on the Colorado River and qualifies as an intermediate whitewater experience during low water flows with Class I, II, III and IV rapids, while high water generates Class V rapids suitable for experts. www.bikeraft.com
Western River Expeditions goes low and high to deliver the ideal guided experience in Canyonlands National Park with a river and return flight on each of their two Cataract Canyon options: 4-Day Cataract Classic and 2-Day Cataract Express. The river picks up speed where the Colorado River and Green River meet in a majestic setting called "The Confluence." Bolstered by the Green, the mighty Colorado doubles its force carving a deep 100-mile-long chasm through the heart of Canyonlands. Here you'll experience the total thrill of class III-V Colorado River whitewater. Cataract Canyon is the perfect balance of adventure, discovery and relaxation in an unbeatable setting. "Cat" is rated as one of the best rafting trips in America with nearly 30 world-class Colorado River whitewater rapids. Discover absolute relaxation on calm stretches of river that wind through soul-stirring canyons and dazzling geologic formations. Go back in time as you explore ancient Native American ruins and fascinating pictographs. Finish your adventure with a stunning flight over Canyonlands National Park as you return to Moab.




Hot air balloon flights have grown in popularity throughout the world and the reasons are numerous.  The sensation of complete freedom, tranquility, adventure and romance are but a few.  While these feelings are part of every balloon flight, the truly unforgettable ones combine the magic of ballooning with a spectacular landscape.  The canyonlands of southern Utah provides this ingredient without question.  Canyonlands Ballooning will take you drifting thousands of feet above arches, stone towers and slickrock or floating only inches above unexplored buttes.  It will become obvious why the canyonlands are so coveted by adventurers and the movie industry alike.  Similar to the great rivers that formed this geologic wonderland, wind flows around and through the landscape.  Wind speed may increase in the narrow canyons only to fade away in the open plains.  Sandstone rocks and towers allow currents and eddies to form and these subtleties can adjust the final destination of a flight.   The air currents may move in perpendicular directions or reverse course altogether.  Ultimately, Mother Nature is the acting air traffic controller and the pilot controls direction by changing altitude.  Although each day provides a unique adventure, one thing can be predicted on a regular basis - your perspective of ballooning and this incredible landscape will be forever changed.  Only by taking to the skies can you appreciate the beautiful intricacies of the two national parks in this area.   Your mind and camera will be filled with images that will last a lifetime! www.canyonlandsballooning.com


The morning sun stretches warm fingers into the sky and the Needles of Canyonlands National Park rise to meet them. We stuff our sleeping bags into themselves to make a zafu to sit on. We breathe deeply and follow the meditation that opens our hearts to the desert and all the individual reasons one may backpack into the Needles for yoga, meditation and silence with Moab Yoga on the Rocks.


The silence of the desert makes one want to shake one's head just to hear something rattle. The wind stirs the junipers, but other than that the land sits vast and quiet. As I sit atop a rock, I wonder "how do you tell someone in the city about real silence?" -- A void where your ears actually ring because they can't pick up another sound and your primary sense becomes visual with the texture and color of geologic journaling. Orange, caramel, cream and chocolate cliff bands, pillars, hoodoos, mushroom rocks, caves and arches –these are the forms that fill the space. And the silence, when broken, is the swoosh of a raven wing, so loud it's a big dog panting somewhere near, the wind hustling the leaves and nothing else.


Moab Yoga on the Rocks allows only five backpackers per trip. They keep the group intimate and strive for incorporating yoga into the lives of the participants rather than an all-consuming approach. Come to seek silence, solitude, self, and solidarity. Guiding trips since the spring of 2008, the company specializes in yoga, meditation, and individualized instruction. It slows us down. It brings body, spirit and mind in sync with one another. So good to breathe, balance, and be here in the Needles District of Canyonlands. www.moabyogaontherocks.com


Simply stated, the Maze is like nothing else. Legends of the old west tell stories of outlaws escaping into its wildly remote and inaccessible canyons.  The Maze District of Canyonlands National Park remains one of the most remote places that you can access with a durable, high clearance vehicle or mountain bike and thanks to intrepid uranium prospectors for the 4WD road system that the park maintains.  Committing to a journey into the Maze demonstrates a certain tenacity and seriousness about the place and your intention to get there.  You will want to be prepared with backcountry travel skills, proper gear, plenty of water and an excellent map.


It's no wonder that many modern explorers prefer to hire a local and knowledgeable outfitter to lead them into this land beyond Robber's Roost.  Rim Tours has been leading 5 and 6 day mountain bike tours into the Maze since 1987.  Included is at least a full day of hiking into the canyons to discover and view their treasures, including artistic remnants from inhabitants of ancient times.   Tours are designed to immerse you in the many facets that put the Maze on many "Top 10" lists.  Highlights include camping at the Maze Overlook and biking the challenging terrain that connects the landscape on which you stand to the towering rock skyline in the distance.  You will delight in learning the fascinating history of this place which has threaded its magic through up to 10,000 years of human experiences here. www.rimtours.com





Mountain Biking, National Parks, River Trips, Hot Air Ballooning, Yoga