Backpacking in Canyonlands National Park – What to Expect and What to Bring

For lifelong backpacking enthusiasts and beginners alike, Canyonlands National Park is the place to plan your next backpacking experience. This surreal desert landscape encompasses the beauty and rawness of the American Southwest with red mesas, canyons, ravines, and colorfully layered mountains, sculpted by millions of years of nature. You will need a permit and a reservation to backpack in the park overnight. Some permits can be on a walk-in basis, but it’s highly suggested to get a permit as far in advance as possible to make sure you get the trip you want. Due to high popularity, some places fill up fast. You can reserve your permit as early as four months in advance and as late as two days before the date you want to go.

Island in the Sky, Canyonlands

The three main areas for backpacking in the Canyonlands include:

The Needles – the most popular Canyonlands backpacking experience. If The Needles is on your bucket list, it’s on a lot of other people’s, too. That’s why it’s important to reserve your permit as early as four months in advance to get in, especially during the spring and fall, when this area is the most popular. Campsites are set up along the backpacking trail.

Island in the Sky – a stunning mesa that sits over 1,000 feet above the rest of the red desert terrain of the Canyonlands, this is more difficult than The Needles but less difficult and remote than The Maze. Murphy’s Point is perfect for an overnight backpacking trip, but the water at Island in the Sky is difficult to purify.

The Maze – The most remote backpacking area of the Canyonlands. This is the most difficult area of the park to traverse, making most trips to this area shorter than three days. For a sense of seclusion and beauty, this backpacking trip is great for you if you’re up for the challenege. There are no services, food, gas, or potable water sources in The Maze, and quoting from, ‘Visitors must be prepared for self-sufficiency and the proper equipment or gear for self-rescue’.


A few important tips to know for backpacking in the Canyonlands (via

You can’t camp within 300 feet of a water source, archaeological site, or historic site.

Wood campfires aren’t allowed, but you can still cook with a charcoal fire in a firepan at vehicle campsites.

It is required to remove all garbage (including toilet paper) from the backcountry.

Permits are valid only for the dates, areas and number of people listed.


For more info on Canyonlands National Park, click here.


Basics to bring:




First-aid supplies

Firestarter (including matches/lighter)


Bug spray

Compact stove

Water filter

Extra supplies (water, clothing, food)


Sleeping pad/sleeping bag


Clothing to bring (based on the time of year)

A light long-sleeved tee shirt to protect from the sun and bugs, wicking underwear, wicking tee shirt, waterproof jacket and pants (or pants that dry quickly), a hat (to shield your head and face from the sun), and, for cold weather, rainwear, cap, gloves, and fleece jacket. Bring clean cotton clothes for sleeping and extra socks.


Prep yourself for the trip

Go with a partner or in a group. The more the merrier with backpacking trips, and oftentimes, the more the safer. If you’re a beginner, go with an experienced backpacker to get ahead of the learning curve. Also, more people traveling in the group means that various items (such as a stove or cooking supplies) can be distributed amongst the group, and means less weight to carry individually.

Don’t choose a route that’s too far out of your skill range. If you’re a beginner, research thoroughly into the trip to see if it’s something you think is in your skill range.

Make sure your backpack is comfortable to wear. Take it on a test run with considerable weight in it to see if it weighs on your hips or shoulders too much.

Condition your body for the trip. Carry a pack on your back on shorter hiking trips and build the primary climbing muscles in your legs. Be prepared for shortness of breath in altitude differences.

Make sure your hiking boots fit properly. Lightweight boots with good traction are the best. Wear them out before the trip to avoid getting painful blisters on your feet that can ruin the trip.

Backpacking Utah's National Parks