Canyonlands National Park
People travel to Arches National Park and visit Canyonlands National Park out of convenience. The two parks are about 30 minutes apart, and yes, it’s very convenient. If you do the same, you’ll discover that Canyonlands is a beautiful and adventurous land. The park is aptly named as the territory is a canyon within another vast canyon. But, it’s so much more than that. The park includes arches (Mesa Arch being the most famous), hikes atop buttes, and trails across the grasslands. Of course, there are the cliffside trails that dangle visitors over the canyon.
First thing on my itinerary was to visit the very popular Grand View Point Trail. Always wary of the high number of people who visit this view point in comparison to the limited parking space, I arrived early and had no problem in getting a parking spot. Being there early did have its draw back as the landscape was covered in morning haze. The parking lot view point had a beautiful view of the canyon below. I knew that once I had completed the 2 mile hike, up and back, the haze would dissipate. The Grand View Point Trail starts from the parking lot view point and it’s a hard rocky trail. It follows the edge of the cliff and wanders from onside of the canyon to the other side.
The trail ends at a rocky point directly in front of Junction Butte. If you want the best view, climb the rocky point make your way to the ledge. I’m not going to lie to you, I crawled the last few feet. It is extremely high but the view is magnificent. At this point, It’s almost a 360 degree view of nothing but canyon as the point reaches out like a peninsula stretches out in the ocean. The trail is an easy 2 mile hike, don’t let my photos and video scare you. If you stay away from the ledge, you won’t have anything to fear. But, if you want that dramatic cliffside photo, then carefully make your way the edge. The trail took much longer than the guides suggest as I couldn’t get enough of the amazing views. I made several stops to and from the view point and that consumed two hours of my morning.
I finally made my way to my next stop, Aztec Butte. This would be another easy two mile hike, or so I thought. The trail also has another point of interest, an ancient Pueblo granary tucked away in an alcove.
It’s a mostly flat trail until you get to the base of Aztec Butte. This is when the fun begins. There are no switch backs, just a steep climb to the top. The trail is not marked as it is on the rocky butte, just follow the cairns that mark the trail. The higher you get, the steeper it is and some points may require four points of contact. The reward is an amazing view of the canyon below. The butte is very steep and slippery near the top which is difficult to climb and it’s even more difficult to ascend so beware. In fact, it was so steep and slippery that I stopped at about twenty feet from the top. I was so close but I didn’t want to risk an injury.
Green River Overlook is near Aztec Butte so I drove to the overlook. It’s another amazing vista of the Green River cutting through the canyon. A spot where you can admire the persistence of the river in carving this huge canyon. Mesa Arch is also in the area so I made another pass to the parking lot, it was full on an earlier pass. It wasn’t meant to be, the number of visitors had increased, cars were now parked along the main Grand View Point Road. After seeing some incredible arches on the previous day at Arches National Park, Mesa Arch wasn’t a priority.
On my earlier drive to the Grand View Point Trail, I had noticed a trail through a grassy plain that caught my attention. It was Lathrop Trail and the sign said it would take you to the Colorado River. It was a long trail of over 10 miles.
I made my way down the trail not expecting to do the whole trail but hoped to do a portion and maybe get a distant cliffside view of the river. It wouldn’t work out that way. A mile into my hike, hunger pains had set in, I don’t know why but I hadn’t eaten lunch yet. I guess I was having to much fun.
I decided to drive back to the visitors center and have lunch there. On the way, something else caught my eye. It was the Shafer Canyon Overlook. It had some amazing views of the canyon below. I decided to have lunch here so I cracked opened the cooler and devoured the sandwich I’d packed. There’s no trail here but you can scramble your way to the edge that overlooks Shafer Canyon Road.
It resembles a road that would belong on the TV show World’s Most Dangerous Roads. It’s a steep dirt road, made up of switch backs, that meanders to the bottom of the canyon. The wide portions of the road can accommodate two vehicles but at some spots you’ll have to find a turn out and allow the other vehicle to pass. The cliff hear is extremely high and it still scares me as I look at my pictures.
I knew very little of the park but as I left I had I smile on my face. I had discovered a beautiful land full of adventure. I felt like I could have stopped at any of it’s turnouts and trails and I would have discovered something amazing. Canyonlands had far exceeded my expectations. If I compared it to that other, more famous canyon, I had more fun here than the Grand Canyon. The landscape was more diverse than the South Rim. If you get past the hype of the Grand Canyon you might agree.