You’re looking for a fantastic backcountry experience at Canyonlands National Park—and with this Canyonlands National Park Camping Guide, you’re sure to have it! We’re here to provide the resources and information you need to have the best possible adventure at this breathtaking gem within Utah. Let’s dive in and learn more about it!
What to Expect At Canyonlands National Park
A sweeping portrait of backcountry glory located not far from Moab, UT, Canyonlands sprawls across a whopping 337,598 acres of land and water and offers a truly thrilling camping experience for both the well-seasoned and newer camper. Bisected by the Colorado and Green Rivers, this park’s three land districts—Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze—vary in challenge, but all boast a rugged beauty, host a plethora of vegetation and wildlife, and promise an unforgettable camping experience!
The Complete Guide to Canyonlands State Park Camping
Open 24 hours a day, every day, with very few exceptions, Canyonlands is the sort of place you’ll want to visit more than once! Since no roads cross the rivers to connect Island in the Sky, The Needles, or The Maze—making it about a 2-to-6-hour car trip to travel between them—you’ll likely want to plan a visit to just one, maybe two districts per trip. Luckily, there are fantastic camping options all around!
Best Camping Spots
Canyonlands offers two primary camping experiences—one at Island in the Sky (Willow Flat) Campground and the other at The Needles’ campground.
At Island in the Sky, you’ll find 12 first-come, first-served campsites near the picturesque Green River Overlook. Amenities include toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings, with drinking water provided outside the visitor center from spring through fall. The nightly camping fee is $15 per site.
At The Needles, you’ll find 26 individual sites—5 of which are tent-only—and 3 group sites in different locations around this scenic district. Amenities include toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings. Some individual sites can be reserved from spring through fall, while others are first-come, first-served. Group sites can be reserved for nights between March and November. The nightly camping fee at the individual sites is $20 and varies at the group sites (see below under “Park Fees”).
Within the third district, The Maze, there are places for backpackers to make camp. However, this is only recommended for experienced and well-prepared campers, as this rugged backcountry can be dangerous for those unequipped to handle the isolation of the harsh wilderness.
To book one of the 11 reservable sites in Loop B inside The Needles, you can reserve online here or call Recreation.gov at 1-877-444-6777. Bookings are available up to 6 months in advance for dates within peak seasons (March 15-May, and September-October). Group sites are open March 15-November 15 and may also be reserved up to six months in advance. Please be aware when booking that group sites are closed in winter.
Things To Do At The Park
There is so much to do at Canyonlands, all spread between the three districts, that you may find it difficult to fit all your adventures into just one trip!
You can explore the backcountry on foot, horseback, by auto-touring, and more! If you’d like to get out on the water, there are plenty of opportunities to launch a shallow-water craft on the Colorado or Green Rivers; or if you’re feeling more adventurous, try a white-water experience! Sandstone towers beckon rock climbers to test their skills, while those fascinated with astrology often flock to the dark plateaus for an individual or ranger-guided tour of the night sky!
If you’re coming with your little campers, there are several hiking trails perfect for younger adventurers, and the visitor center offers Explorer Backpacks with kid-friendly tools to help make the experience truly engaging and memorable!
Though undeniably rugged and often seeming barren, this spectacular park is home to a wide variety of Utah wildlife. During your daytime activities, you’re most likely to see squirrels, chipmunks, lizards, snakes, hawks, and eagles flitting around; at sunrise and sunset, you may glimpse mule deer, coyotes, porcupines, and more! And if you’re out soaking up the beauty of the park at night, keep a lookout for skunks, foxes, bobcats, mountain lions, and ringtails.
(Note: You may also encounter various animals more or less often depending on the season of your visit, as some go into daily torpor or switch their active times during the colder months.)
Vegetation / Geography
Home to some of the most stunning desert growth you’ll ever lay eyes on, Canyonlands boasts a variety of species including various cactus and succulents, desert lichen, hardy brush grasses, trees and shrubs such as Utah juniper, neatleaf hackberry, and even the occasional fir, as well as an abundance of gorgeous wildflowers.
You’ll find all of these dotted among the most breathtaking rock formations, including towers and balanced rocks, and through the heart of it all carve the gorgeous Colorado and Green Rivers, their twists and oxbows creating an eye-catching contrast to the ruddy landscape all around!
Make Sure To Bring
For your Canyonlands National Park camping trip, you’ll want to come very prepared. This is a rugged wilderness without frequent services, so you’ll want to ensure all camping gear, first aid kits, compasses, maps, etc. are up-to-date, well-stocked, and in good repair.
Double-check that you have good sun protection including your sunblock of choice, a hat, and clothing appropriate for the climate. You’ll also want to make sure you have a quality sleeping bag when camping, as desert nights can get very cold, particularly during the winter months.
If you plan to do a lot of hiking, rock-climbing, and backpacking, make sure your footwear and all gear including ropes, backpacks, harnesses, etc. is sturdy and in good repair. If using 4WD, ATVs, etc., please ensure you have enough fuel to make it to and from the backcountry; and you’ll want to make sure that wherever you’re heading within the park, you have enough supplies with you to make it through a couple of days if anything goes awry.
If you’re planning to boat, kayak, canoe, or raft, please ensure all equipment is in good repair and check out the boating guidelines for Canyonlands to ensure you have the proper permits, sanitation, and knowledge for your trip.
If camping at one of the sites in Island in the Sky Campground, there is a nightly fee of $15. For the various individual and group sites within The Needles, fees are as follows:
- The Needles Campground Standard Fee: $20.00
- Dutch Oven Group Sites Nightly Fees: $90.00-$125 (based on group site size).
- Wooden Shoe Group Site Nightly Fee: $70.00-$115 (based on group site size)
- Split Top Group Site Nightly Fee: $70.00
Park entrance fees are as follows:
- Private Vehicle – $30.00 (Admits one private, non-commercial vehicle and all occupants up to 15 individuals).
- Motorcycle – $25.00
- Per Person – $15.00 (Typically used for bicyclists, hikers, and pedestrians.)
Holding an average 4.5 out of 5 stars rating, the biggest complaint about this park by and large seems to be its popularity – the campsites fill up fast! But campers have plenty to say about its gorgeous views, exciting recreations, and the wonderful camping experience all around.
Wrapping Up Camping in Canyonlands National Park
We hope you find this Canyonlands National Park Camping Guide a great help in planning your adventure! What activity are you most looking forward to at this spectacular, scenic park? Let us know in the comments!