Canyonlands National Park

Island in the Sky

Needle Activities | Maze Activities | Horseshoe Activities


Island in the Sky

A high, level mesa wedged between the Green and Colorado rivers, the Island in the Sky is the park's observation tower. At 6,000 feet (1,828 m), this district gives visitors amazing views of the White Rim, the Needles and Maze districts, as well as the distant La Sal, Abajo, and Henry Mountains. From the Island mesa, lucky viewers may glimpse desert bighorn sheep, as rocky ledges are a favorite habitat of these elusive animals. Trails lead to even more striking vistas, arches and Upheaval Dome, an unusual geological feature of the park.

Hiking & Backpacking

Mesa-top trails lead short distances to overlooks and other interesting features. Longer trails descending from the mesa, with elevation changes of 1,000 to 2,000 ft., offer close observation and are more strenuous. Trails are primitive and marked with small rock piles called "cairns," with signs at trailheads and trail intersections. Washes may not be cairned. All trails are rough, and some require traveling through sections of deep sand or loose rock. Rain or snow may render trails difficult or impassable.

Overnight backpackers camp in designated sites or in at-large camping zones, and must obtain a permit. Hikers and backpackers should carry plenty of water (one gallon per day per person) since there are no reliable water sources on trails.


The Shafer Trail and White Rim roads require high clearance four-wheel drive. These roads are sandy and steep in places, and may become impassable in wet weather. Vehicles must remain on roads at all times; ATVs and ATCs are prohibited. Inquire at the visitor center for up-to-date road conditions.

White Rim Road
This 100 mile (164 km) four-wheel-drive road loops around the Island in the Sky mesa. Access is via the Shafer Trail or Mineral Bottom roads, both of which descend about 1,400 feet through a series of narrow switchbacks. Trips commonly take 2-3 days by vehicle or 3-4 days by mountain bike, though longer trips allow for more leisurely exploration.

Under favorable weather conditions, the White Rim Road is considered moderately difficult for high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicles. The steep, exposed sections of the Shafer Trail, Lathrop Canyon Road, Murphy's Hogback, Hardscrabble Hill, and the Mineral Bottom switchbacks make the White rim loop a challenging mountain bike ride, and also require extreme caution for both four-wheel drives and bikes during periods of inclement weather. For mountain biking trips, a four-wheel-drive support vehicle to carry water and equipment is highly recommended.

Backcountry permits are required for all overnight stays, but are not necessary for day use. Bicyclists and four- wheel drivers must stay in designated vehicle campsites. A total of twenty campsites are arranged in ten locations. The White Rim Road is extremely popular and campsites fill early; visitors are encouraged to make reservations at least six months in advance for spring and fall trips.

Mountain Biking

Bicycles are permitted only on designated roads. Along the White Rim road, cyclists must stay at established campsites; permits are required for overnight trips. Support vehicles are highly recommended on multi-day trips.

Mountain Bike Map Moab, Utah Covers Canyonland and Arches

Rock Climbing

Popular routes exist on Moses, Zeus, Standing Rock and Monster Tower. Sandstone is very soft and crumbles easily. Climbers should be experienced and exercise caution. A backcountry permit is required for overnight use associated with climbing. Climbers are encouraged to check in at the visitor center before beginning a climb.


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