Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Everything the RV Renter Needs to Know
Everything the RV Renter Needs to Know
Canyonlands is a must-stop on your RV trip through Utah. Near the town of Moab, the Canyonlands are a colorful landscape of carved rock and earth that are unlike most other places in the world. The canyons, mesas, and buttes make it a top recreational location for many RVers, vacationers, and locals alike.
Canyonlands is divided into four primary regions: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze, and the Green and Colorado Rivers—which are responsible for many of the canyons and plateaus you’ll see inside the park. With so much to see and do inside the park, it’s easy to spend an entire vacation here, alone. When you combine it with other areas inside Utah, you’re bound to have a trip you’ll remember in your rental RV.
There are literally hundreds of miles of hiking trails inside Canyonlands National Park. Two primary areas, Island in the Sky and Needles, are primarily day hiking areas. Many of these trails are easily accessible and vary in length and difficulty. Longer trails are almost all considered strenuous and can rise between 1,000 and 2,000 feet in elevation.
Trails around the Maze are pretty remote, so those are mostly considered backpacking destinations. It’s unlikely you’ll be doing that given that you’ll have rented an RV, but if you are, know that you’ll need a backcountry permit that you can apply for online.
There is a total of 18 trails from Island in the Sky and 12 in the Needles. Plan your treks in advance to make sure you’ve got plenty of water, food, and appropriate gear for the mileage of your hikes. They range from under a mile to more than 20 in length.
Utah loves its auto touring, and for good reason. There’s plenty you can see in Canyonlands National Park from the comfort of your vehicle or rental RV. Island in the Sky, for example, has a 34-mile round-trip loop that takes you by many of the canyons. There are many overlooks on the way out to Grand View Point, and you can easily spend an hour or longer on this one trip.
If you feel like four-wheeling (and have the appropriate vehicle to do so), there are many unpaved roads in Canyonlands. These trails mostly require four-wheel drive, and in some cases, technical efficiency. If you’re not used to driving in rocky areas, take extra caution. And please note: your rental RV is not a four-wheel drive vehicle. You’ll need a truck, Jeep, or similar type of vehicle to make most of these trips.
The Colorado and Green Rivers helped shape the landscape of the Canyonlands. Today they’re still an important part of recreation in the area. The rivers merge near the center of the Canyonlands. Before that, there are miles and miles of calm waters that are perfect for canoes, kayaks, and other watercraft.
Below the confluence, there are several Class III to Class V whitewater rapids stretching for about 14 miles. These should be navigated with a guide if you’re not comfortable with rapids or used to the area. Private river trips also require a permit that can be obtained online. Guided trips can last for half a day or up to a week. You’ll see unique areas and get a one-of-a-kind view of much of the canyons from the water.
Feeling overwhelmed by all of your recreational options? Don’t worry—there are plenty of local organizations that are happy to take you out to see it all however you most want to see it. Only approved guides are permitted to take tours through the Canyonlands.
Depending on the outfitter, there are tours available both day and night. Night tours give you a chance to stargaze, as there aren’t any cities nearby and the lack of light pollution lets the stars shine clearly. Otherwise, these tours can range from educational (where you learn about the rock formations and the history of the park) to more adventurous as you navigate Class V rapids.
The park is a great location for viewing wildlife in its natural habitat. Many mammals roam the park, and given its desert climate, you’ll also see birds and reptiles. In fact, there are eight species of snakes that you might find throughout the park. One of those is a rattlesnake, so watch your step.
Some of the most common animals spotted by visitors are mule deer and desert cottontails. Some birds include several species of hawk, bald eagles, ravens, herons, and hummingbirds. In fact, there are so many species of bird that even if you aren’t a birder, you might become one by the time you leave. Remember, never approach a wild animal.
Other animals you may come across:
Island in the Sky sits on top of a mesa that juts up into the sky. It’s the area of the park that’s closest to Moab, so it’s also one of the most popular areas. This campground (also called Willow Flat) is first-come, first-served. There are also only 12 total sites, so it may be a challenge to find a spot for your RV. Plan ahead and be ready to try out another spot if you’re not able to fit your RV there. Note that this campground does not have any water available—whatever is in your tank is all you’ve got.
If you’re looking to camp on the more comfortable side of things, consider Moab Valley RV Resort. You’ll get full utility hookups plus cable and Wi-Fi. There are shower facilities, but much more beyond that. Bring your bikes and give them a clean and tune-up at the bike wash and repair station. Play life-size chess or relax in the hot tub. There’s also a community barbecue where you can whip up some grub.
The second campsite inside Canyonlands is in the Needles district. This campground has a total of 24 sites that can fit your RV—plus five more that are tent-only. In the spring and fall, you can reserve your spot ahead of time. Otherwise, it’s first come, first served. There’s potable water, campfire rings, and flush toilets—all available for anyone camping here.
In Canyonlands Campground, there’s more focus on fun. In addition to your standard utility hookups, you’ll also have access to a sparkling pool and splash pad. An onsite store keeps you stocked up, and you’ll find a barbecue pit at every site. Cable TV and Wi-Fi are also both available. This campground is more in the metro area, putting you right in the hot spot for Moab’s best features. And still, you’ll have all of the beauty of the surrounding landscape.
You’ll find a ton of beautiful scenes in the sites at Portal RV Resort. It’s minutes from downtown Moab and offers some of the largest sites in the area. These full-service sites also offer full utility hookups, as well as access to a pool, spa, cable, and Wi-Fi. Plus, you can enjoy a walk through the nature conservancy and a sandy beach.
There aren’t any restaurants inside the park. That doesn’t mean you can’t eat well, though. Plan on stocking your RV’s refrigerator before you leave and plan your meals ahead of time. After a nice, long hike, a good home-cooked meal from your RV’s kitchen will really hit the spot. You can even research some meals that can be cooked right over (or in the coals of) your campfire.
Most of the dining options you’ll find outside the park will be in Moab. Moab is a small city, but they’ve got plenty of good restaurants. Its southwestern nature lends well to plenty of Tex-Mex and Mexican-inspired foods. You’ll also find barbecue joints, family-friendly pizza places, and a few bakeries, cafés, and diners for good pre-hike breakfasts.
Many of the best restaurants in Moab are right off US Highway 191, so they’re easy to find. Cruise downtown to see everything they have to offer. You might even find a craft brewery or two if you’re looking for a place to unwind between hikes.