Summer Road Trip – Canyonlands National Park
The last stop on our tour of Utah’s national parks was Canyonlands National Park. We did this one a little differently, deciding to book a tour instead of self-driving. Canyonlands is so vast and undeveloped, we figured we could see more with some professional help. There are a number of operators in Moab who will take you into the park. We decided to go with Navtec, based on good online reviews and the fact that they offered a combination calm-water rafting and 4×4 trip.
On the Way to Canyonlands National Park
After meeting our guide and the rest of our group at the Navtec office, we completed our paperwork and met our guide, then piled into the 4×4 vehicle. On the way to the park we drove downUtah Scenic Hwy 279, which we had explored by ourselves a couple of days earlier. We got another chance to see the petroglyphs, this time in morning light which was a bit better for photos.
Rafting on the Colorado River
As it was shaping up to be a very hot day, our guide decided that we would do the rafting portion of our trip first. One of the reasons we chose this trip was because it included calm-water rafting, not whitewater. We didn’t think Lachlan would enjoy rafting the rapids, as he doesn’t like amusement park rides. When we got to the tour company office to check in, they had a whitewater rafting video playing, and when Lachlan saw it he said “I want to do that!” Lesson – actually ask your kid what activities he wants to do on vacation, don’t assume.
The water was very calm and relaxing, but even early in the morning it was starting to get hot.
As we got deeper into the canyon, the view of the cliffs got more spectacular. This is a perspective you can only get from on the water.
We made a couple of stops along the way which gave us a chance to stretch our legs and see some sights, including some petrified wood (it didn’t quite live up the the promised status of “petrified forest”, but it was interesting all the same).
4×4 into Canyonlands National Park
After a few hours on the water, we were ready to have some lunch, then get in our (mercifully air-conditioned) vehicle for the second half of our tour. The 4×4 road into Canyonlands National Park started right next to the boat ramp, so it wasn’t long before we were into some pretty spectacular scenery.
Once we gained some altitude there were some spectacular views out over the river on which we’d spent the morning.
We were soon on the famous White Rim Trail, which a features precarious drop-off into the canyon. Although you can rent a 4×4 in Moab and drive yourself on these trails, we were happy to have a professional do the driving. He was also able to point out features of the park and describe some of the geology. Unfortunately, I don’t really remember any of the scientific details, just that it was all pretty awe-inspiring.
A highlight of the tour was the spectacular Musselman Arch. Unlike the arches we saw the previous day at Arches National Park, we got to look down at this one (then even further down into the canyon underneath it). Heide was brave enough to walk out onto the arch. As you can see, I took her picture from a safe distance away from the edge.
The tour continued, and we eventually made it all the way to the canyon rim, and a quick stop at the visitors’ center before heading back down into the canyon. Here’s the view from near the top showing part of the road we’d traveled over the course of the afternoon:
We traveled back down a different road, the first part of which was … interesting.
We just managed to squeeze through under the rock. On the other side we found an unfortunate group whose car had overheated coming up the hill. This was a final reinforcement of our decision to go with a tour. We definitely got to see places that we wouldn’t have been able to get to by ourselves.
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As per our previous post, Moab is the place to base yourself to visit Canyonlands National Park (as well as Arches National Park and other scenic attractions) and for a wide range of activities. We stayed at Cali Cochitta Bed & Breakfast, which was great. The service was very friendly, and the atmosphere is nice and laid-back.
We booked our trip into the park with NAVTEC Expeditions, and we’d definitely recommend them. There are other companies in Moab who also offer trips into the park, so there are plenty of options depending on exactly what you want to see and do.
If you self-drive into Canyonlands National Park, you can see some breathtaking canyon rim views. This is definitely worth doing, but if your schedule and budget allows, it’s worth considering a guided trip into the park. We had a great day, and it was a fitting finale to our tour of Utah’s national parks.