Nestled close to the Colorado border, Utah’s Canyonlands National Park is the closest you’ll ever get to walking through a rainbow. With rusty, layered rocks, emerald waters and bright blue skies and pastel sunsets, you’ll experience a more vibrant perspective of life. With how many color changes park sees from dark to light, you’ll want to set up camp for a few days to experience the whole show.
Despite its appearance, Canyonlands National Park is teeming with lifeforms, large and small. As a part of the Colorado plateau, the area stands tall above the surrounding terrain. Subject to both uplift and erosion over thousands of years, the landscape seems friendly to only spiny and thick-skinned organisms. But actually, the Canyonlands are home to hundreds of organisms from the tiny beings in biological soil crust to more recognizable creatures like bighorn sheep and mule deer. With how many animals, plants and micro-organisms call the area home, it’s no wonder so many of us want to spend a night here, too.
Of Utah’s national parks, the Canyonlands tends to be a bit more remote and further removed from civilization than Arches, Capitol Reef or Zion. Because of this, you’ll get greater views of the stars at night, but you won’t have quite as many options for lodging. Still, there’s a wide range of experiences to choose from, and all of them give you a front-seat view to the park’s best attractions.
Lodging in the Park
The most popular lodging options for Canyonlands are the ones within the national park’s borders. There are two campgrounds where you can stake a tent, or you can explore the backpacking sites. Either way, you’ll find that the Canyonland camping areas are fairly remote with only a few amenities. So, if you prefer more luxurious ways to explore the western national park, you might want to consider lodging around the park.
When staying within Canyonlands National Park, you’ll want to be sure you have lots of extra water. While both Island in the Sky and The Needles District campgrounds have potable water, these are seasonal sources that may dry up depending on how much precipitation the area sees.
Island in the Sky (Willow Flat) Campground
- Location: Island in the Sky/Willow Flat Campground, Canyonlands National Park, Green River Overlook Rd, Moab, UT 84532
- Price: $15 per night
- Number of sites: 12
- Months open: year-round
- Nearby attractions: Aztec Butte Trailhead, Mesa Arch Trailhead, Green River Overlook, Candlestick Tower Overlook, False Kiva Trailhead, Whale Rock, Syncline Loop Trailhead, Upheaval Dome and Overlook
- Sites are first-come, first-serve
Located beside the Green River Overlook, the Island in the Sky campground is among the more popular options for lodging at Canyonlands National Park. Not only is it close to one of the most stunning overlooks in the entire park, but the campground itself is a picturesque destination of its own. With wide, open terrain, you can watch nearby, massive geological formations cast unending shadows as the sun sets, giving way to a shower of stars above.
As a limited development campground, the area has little amenities and no hookups for RVs or campers, though they are permitted. Island in the Sky has no cell reception and no drinking water available but does have vault toilets and picnic tables. Drinking water is available at the visitor center spring through fall, and you’ll have to bring your own firewood if you plan on starting any campfires during your stay.
The Needles District Campground
- Location: The Needles District Campground, UT-211, Moab, UT 84532
- Price: $20 per night
- Number of sites: 26
- Months open: year-round
- Nearby attractions: Squaw Flat Trailhead, Wooden Shoe Arch and Overlook, Elephant Hill Trailhead, Pothole Point Trailhead, Big Spring Canyon Overlook, Cave Springs Trailhead
- Reserve a Needles District site here
Similar to Island in the Sky campground, the Needles District is equally as beautiful and remote. Here, you’ll experience a bit more greenery in your Canyonlands backdrop with Russian olive trees and Utah junipers filling the sandy soil in between jutting boulders and smooth slabs.
The Needles District has both flush and vault toilets as well as seasonal, potable water. There are also a few picnic tables and fire rings, but you won’t find any cell reception here, either. This campground is a bit more ADA-friendly compared to the Island in the Sky as it has wheelchair accessible bathrooms and ADA-approved campsites. Be aware, though, that with the sandy, it may be more difficult to maneuver a wheelchair.
Backpacking Through Canyonlands National Park
Much of the activities and lodging at Canyonlands National Park feel like a choose-your-adventure kind of experience. You can elect for an established campsite or just a spot in the sand all in the same spots. Both Island in the Sky and the Needle District have traditional camping and backpacking capabilities, so if you’re feeling more adventurous or perhaps a bit homesick for comfort, you can upgrade your experience.
And these two campgrounds aren’t the only options for backpackers. There are plenty of backpacking campsites located throughout the park for those that prefer a bit more seclusion during their visit to the national park.
Here are some guidelines for backpacking through the Canyonlands:
- Camp on sandy surfaces or bare rock. In order to preserve the delicate brush that thrives in the Canyonlands, the park asks that backpackers keep their tents and gear on sandy wash or bare rock and away from areas with “living soil” like lichen, mosses, green algae, microfungi and cyanobacteria.
- Stay at least a mile away from roads and trails. This is another rule that helps preserve the life forms on the national park’s grounds. By keeping at least one mile from these roads and pathways, you’re helping ensure the seclusion of the surrounding area for both human visitors and animal residents.
- Also, keep 300 feet between your camp and any archaeology sites, historical sites and water sources. This one’s kind of obvious, but it still needs to be said. Canyonlands has plenty of important sites, including vital water sources, so you’ll need to be aware of your surroundings before you decide to settle down for the night.
- We said it before, and we’ll say it again – bring lots of water. It’s also a good idea to check with Canyonlands rangers to see how the water levels are in the park.
Lodging Outside of Canyonlands National Park
If you’d rather experience Canyonlands National Park with a bit more comfort at the end of the day, you’re in luck. There are quite a few options outside of the park, from bare necessities to luxury living. Even with the more budget-friendly venues, you’ll still feel connected to the national park and the cultures that have influenced the area.
There is one consideration while picking a venue outside of Canyonlands National Park, though. All hotels, inns and luxury campgrounds are located at least half an hour away from the park’s entrance. So if proximity to the attractions is high on your list of must-haves, you might want to stick with the options inside of the park’s borders.
The good news about the distance is that these venues make a great midpoint between Utah’s other national parks, including the Arches and Capitol Reef, as well as Dead Horse Point State Park. This gives you the option to explore more red rock beauties throughout the state, even if you have to endure a bit of a longer drive.
Moab Under Canvas
- Location: Under Canvas Moab, 13784 US-191, Moab, UT 84532
- Price: $229-$559
- Months open: March to October
- Nearby attractions: Marlboro Point, Shafer Trail Viewpoint, Aztec Butte, Mesa Arch, Moses and Zeus rock formations, Whale Rock, Syncline Loop Trailhead, Airport Tower, Dead Horse Point State Park
- Reserve an Under Canvas tent here
Consider Moab Under Canvas the exact opposite of the campgrounds that you would find within Canyonlands National Park. Still with a backdrop of red rocks, these tents have all the amenities you could hope to find in the front-country, minus air conditioning, of course.
All tents at Under Canvas have cozy beds, linens, private bathrooms and organic toiletries inside. Available for the entire campground are fire pits, s’mores supplies, onsite dining and family-friendly activities. And yes, there is cell service here. This is the ideal option for couples or families that hope to experience adventure and luxury during their trip to the Canyonlands.
- Location: Aarchway Inn, 1551 N Riverview Dr, Moab, UT 84532
- Price: $168 to $331 per night
- Number of rooms: 97
- Months open: year-round
- Nearby attractions: Thelma & Louise Point, Marlboro Point, Shafer Trail Viewpoint, Aztec Butte, Mesa Arch, Moses and Zeus rock formations, Whale Rock, Syncline Loop Trailhead, Airport Tower, Dead Horse Point State Park
- Reserve an Aarchway Inn room here
Located beside the Colorado River, Aarchway Inn brings a rustic, cozy feel to your stay near Utah’s national parks. Like Under Canvas, the hotel has plenty of amenities on site without taking away from the scenic, red rock experience. Within the inn, you can find a general store, office spacess, coffee shop, laundry room, bike storage room, fitness room and a complimentary hot breakfast bar.
In between adventures at the Canyonlands, you can catch your breath or entertain your little ones with the outdoor amenities, including an outdoor pool, hot tub, horsehoe ring, splash pad, playground, electric car chargers, river walkway, basketball courts and grills.
Incan Inn Moab
- Location: Incan Inn Moab, 570 N Main St, Moab, UT 84532
- Price: $50 to $135 per night, depending on season
- Months open: year-round
- Nearby attractions: Fielder Natural Arch, Marlboro Point, Shafer Trail Viewpoint, Aztec Butte, Mesa Arch, Moses and Zeus rock formations, Whale Rock, Syncline Loop Trailhead, Airport Tower, Dead Horse Point State Park
- Reserve an Incan Inn room here
For those looking for comfort on a budget, the Incan Inn in Moab still provides plenty of front-country comforts without breaking the bank. Complimentary breakfast and an all-day coffee bar is available to guests. In the rooms, you can find a mini-fridge, cable TV, AC/heat, a microwave and high-speed charging ports. Not too far from the Aarchway Inn, the Incan Inn is the choice for those that prefer to spend their vacation funds on the recreation rather than the rooms.