Vast is size, families should focus on Canyonlands’ kid-friendly hikes that are full of plenty of climbing challenges.
Carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries, Canyonlands National Park is an enormous place, divided into four districts: Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze, and the rivers themselves. Because of its vastness, it has a “we’ve got the place to ourselves” sort of feel. On a 30-mile drive to the visitors center, we never passed a single vehicle.
KidTripster Tip: Stop at the visitor center to pick up your child’s Junior Ranger book and loaner Explorer backpack, complete with binoculars, hand lens, naturalist guide, and notebook. Also, make sure to watch the park movie, so you’re primed for your visit.
What to do?
You could easily spend an entire week exploring Canyonlands. But more likely, you’re visiting the park along with several others in southern Utah. If that’s the case, you’ll need to be selective.
For kids, especially younger children, I think the Needles district, named for its colorful sandstone spires, is most ideal for a half-day visit. Here I’d focus on easy but interesting trails. Start with the .6-mile Pothole Point Trail, where kids can inspect the potholes for signs of life. If you’re hiking during the summer, the holes will be dry, but your kids still will enjoy the challenge of scampering up the giant boulders.
KidTripster Tip: Be prepared for the relentless sun with sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat. And bring more water than you think you’ll need.
On the .6-mile Cave Spring Trail, you’ll see the remnants of an old cowboy camp and prehistoric pictographs inside a cave. But again, climbing will be the highlight of this trail. The kids can ascend on two wooden ladders to a slickrock plateau above the alcoves. From here, you’ll have great views of North and South Six-Shooter Peaks and the La Sal and Abajo Mountains.
KidTripster Tip: If you have older kids, you may consider a half-day mountain biking tour on the famous Canyonlands slickrock. If so, make sure that you clearly communicate your family’s skill level when booking the trip. There’s some advanced terrain here that’s not suited for novices.
Where to stay?
In the Needles district, campers can head to Squaw Flat Campground. It has bathrooms, fire grates, picnic tables, tent pads, and water. RVs must be 28-feet in length or less; there’s no hookups. The campground is first-come, first serve; it typically fills every day from late March through June and again from early September to mid-October. Cost: $20/night.
If you’re headed south from Canyonlands, consider Devils Canyon Campground on US-191 near Monticello. Situated on national forest land, this campground is quiet and rustic; picnic tables, fire rings, plus vault toilets and drinking water (no showers) are available. There’s no hookups for RVs. It’s a good spot for a one-night stopover. Cost: $10/night.
KidTripster Tip: Watch out for the small prickly pear cacti on the ground. Trust me, the needles don’t feel good when lodged in your ankle!
Or if you’re headed north for a visit to Arches, try Moab Valley RV Resort and Campground. Located about three miles from Arches Visitor Center and downtown Moab, the park offers tent sites, cabins, cottages, and full hook-up RV sites with cable. There’s a pool, playground, putting green, life-size chess set, and horseshoe pits. Free WiFi. Cost: $31-57/night.