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Photograph of a double rainbow taken in Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

As Utah’s largest national park, Canyonlands is a spectacular showcase of geologic formation whose diversity staggers the imagination. Its vivid landscape has been eroded into thousands of canyons, mesas, and buttes by the Colorado and Green Rivers, which divide the park into four distinct districts, each unbelievably scenic, each with a character all its own.

The Island in the Sky district offers spectacular views of the diverse Canyonlands landscape. Resting atop sheer sandstone cliffs anywhere from one to two thousand feet above the Green River to the west and the Colorado River to the east, this aerial peninsula provides easy access to many breathtaking overlooks, each contributing a different perspective on the incredible panorama below.

The River district coils around and between the other districts, formed by the Colorado and Green rivers which come together in a “Y” at the southernmost tip of the Island in the Sky. Above this confluence the rivers are tranquil and inviting. Below it, their combined waters gush into the thunderous rapids of Cataract Canyon with astonishing speed and power, creating fourteen miles of world-class white water.

The Maze district, on the western bank of the rivers, ranks as one of the most remote and inaccessible areas in the United States. Described as a 30-square mile puzzle in sandstone, the Maze is carved into an intricately confusing network of steep-walled canyons, making it an ideal destination for serious backpackers.

The Needles district, east of the river confluence, is named for its multitudinous sandstone spires jutting into the sky, though the area is also characterized by an incredible diversity of terrain, including arches, canyons, grabens, and beautiful sculpted rock formations.

Canyonlands also contains some of the most noteworthy Native American rock art in North America. These intricately designed, life-size anthropomorphic figures adorn the walls of Horseshoe Canyon, and are believed to date back to AD 500 or earlier.

The diversity of ecosystems within Canyonlands play host to a unique melange of plants and animals. Yuccas, mosses, junipers, and other drought-tolerant flora carpet the canyon floors, while water-loving vegetation thrives on the river borders. Almost 50 species of mammals live here, including desert cottontails, kangaroo rats, mule deer, bighorn sheep, coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, and beavers. Hundreds of bird species can be found within the park, including turkey vultures, white-throated swifts, juncos, white-crowned sparrows, blue grosbeaks, yellow-breasted chats, spotted towhees, canyon wrens, great blue herons, Cooper’s hawks, western meadowlarks, pinyon jays, scrub jays, juniper titmice and black-throated gray warblers.