Canyonlands National Park
Our stay in Moab allowed us to be able to visit Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse State Park and an epic off-road adventure with a Jeep we rented.
Canyonlands was established in 1964 and it is the largest national park in Utah, covering 527.5 square miles. The park is divided by the Colorado and Green Rivers into three distinct districts; the Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the Maze. Horseshoe Canyon is also part of Canyonlands National Park but is geographically separate.
Please note that this page covers all aspects of our trip through Canyonlands, which includes Dead Horse State Park, Gemini Bridges, driving the Shafer Trail and some information about Moab Utah as well.
- Canyonlands National Park covers an area of 1,366 square kilometers (527 square miles) or 136,600 hectares (337,546 acres).
- The park consists of two portions: the main portion, which comprises the bulk of the park’s area, and the detached and considerably smaller Horseshoe Canyon unit.
- Almost 50 species of mammal are known to live in Canyonlands including black bears, coyotes, skunks, bats, elk, foxes, bobcats, badgers, two species of ring-tailed cats, pronghorns, and cougars.
- The park is 337,598 acres, over 527 square miles in size and is the largest National Park in Utah.
- Effective June 1, 2018, Arches & Canyonlands National Park entrance fee will be $30 per vehicle or $25 per motorcycle. Fees and/or passes can be obtained online at the National Parks Service website. The lifetime pass is still one of the best bargains available.
Since our "home base" was at the Moab Hampton Inn, you can see how convenient a Moab location is for Canyonlands as well as Arches National Parks. We could be off-roading way out at Gemini Bridges, yet we could be back at our hotel within an hour.
Image Credit: The above map image is the property of the National Park Service.
Where is Dead Horse State Park?
This park sits at the edge of the Canyonlands National Park. As this is a Utah State Park and not a National Park you should be aware that your America the Beautiful pass does not work there and so won't cover the Dead Horse State Park entrance fee.
At the Dead Horse Point overlook, you will be 2,000 above the Colorado River and Horseshoe Bend, the highway ends here so it is impossible to miss !
On our drive to the visitor's center & overlook, we stopped at the first pull-out overlook because we could see the canyon below. You can walk right up to the edge of the cliff, so your views of the canyon are unobstructed.
We then drove on to the Visitor's Center and the covered overlook, and the view from that area was fantastic. We did not realize until we looked at a map, that the Shafer Trail that we had driven on the day before, was now "below us" in the canyon. Being above that trail was a unique perspective.
Click here to view our Dead Horse State Park Image Gallery.
Where are Gemini Bridges?
Located north of Moab, in Grand County, in southern Utah, USA, Gemini Bridges Trail is the name of a very scenic journey. You should not attempt this without a serious vehicle that can handle off-roading. If you are looking for the real Moab experience, this is it.
In this image, the parking lot is in the upper left corner of the picture and the walk down to the bridges is perhaps 125 yards or so. Beyond the bridges is a canyon, perhaps 150 feet below where we were standing.
How to Drive to Gemini Bridges from Moab
There is a sign on route 191 indicating where you must turn left to enter Gemini Bridges Road, it is approximately 9 miles north of Moab. The road ascends as it parallels route 191 and then turns southwest into the desert area, where you are going to find sandy washes and large rocks. Be careful, as this is also a mountain biking area !
To reach this off-road trail, you drive north on route 191 from Moab and exit west (left) onto Gemini Bridges Road (118). This dirt road trail will ascend to Court Point (5,699 feet) where the trail will swing southwest. It is not a difficult trail, but it is a continously rough road. You will see very few signs, but watch for the turnout to Gemini Bridges.
Once you reach the Gemini Bridges area parking lot, park your vehicle and walk down (following the blue trail markers) to the natural arches. Unlike most arch viewpoints, this trail leads to the top of the bridges where you can walk across them and see down into Bull Canyon below. These two bridges are named after the Gemini twins of Roman mythology, Castor and Pollux.
Click here to view our Gemini Bridges Image Gallery.
Where is the Shafer Trail?
On the route that leads to the Island in the Sky Visitor Center, you will see a sign for Shafer Trail on your left. This part of the trail almost immediately turns into a descent and the switchbacks begin. It is important to remain cautious on the switchbacks, as there are no guard rails and the pullouts are generally only on each switchback corner.
The switchback section of the Shafer Trail is essentially a one lane trail, however, you will find sufficient room for vehicles climbing the trail to pass as you descend to the canyon below. The trail winds it's way 1,500 feet (457 meters) down colorful sandstone cliff walls.
The road is pretty challenging and a high-clearance 4WD vehicle is required to complete the trip. The road is very steep, hitting a 16% of maximum gradient through some of the ramps. Watch for low overhanging rocks. This is a great trail for someone who is looking for an off road experience, but doesn’t have access a highly modified rock crawler. Virtually any four-wheel drive vehicle will succeed in navigating this well maintained road.
Once you reach the canyon below, you can either take the route back to route 313, or you can turn left onto Potash Road. This will take you past the Potash Ponds and eventually to route 191 where you can return to Moab. The road becomes "Shafer Basin" (route 142) and you will want to stay observant such that you will turn northeast onto "Potash Road" which will bring you to the evaporation ponds. All of this section of the trail is near the Colorado River and you will pass "Thelma & Louise Point" just before you turn northeast onto Potash Road.
Click here to view our Shafer Trail Image Gallery.
We wound up eating out only one night while we were there, at the
Moab Diner. I had one of the best liver & onions
meals I have had in a long time ! An incredibly good meal, the service was prompt, efficient and friendly. Just for the
record, we didn't eat dinner out on the other nights there because we had some nice charcuterie fixins from the Moab
City Market (and a good bottle of red!).
There are other restaurants and watering holes in Moab, click here to view a Google Search Results List for restaurants in Moab.
The Moab Brewery was on our list to visit from our research, but we could not work in a visit that fit into our schedule. We found numerous people who said that it is a good pub. The Trip Advisor reviews vary all over the place, perhaps your experience will be better?
We stayed at the Hampton Inn, because it was close to the center of town and near various restaurants. If you want a complete list of hotels & motels in Moab, then click here for a Google Search Results List.
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