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Canyonlands National Park/USA

Introducing Canyonlands National Park

Covering 527 sq miles, Canyonlands (435-719-2313; www.nps.gov/cany; per vehicle $20) is Utah’s largest and wildest park. Indeed, parts of it are as rugged as almost anywhere on the planet. Arches, bridges, needles, spires, craters, mesas, buttes – Canyonlands is a crumbling, decaying beauty, a vision of ancient earth.

You can hike, raft and 4WD (Cataract Canyon offers some of the wildest white water in the West), but be sure that you have plenty of gas, food and water before leaving Moab. Difficult terrain and lack of water render this the least developed and visited of the major Southwestern national parks.

The canyons of the Colorado and Green Rivers divide the park into three districts. Island in the Sky is most easily reached and offers amazing views. There’s a helpful visitor center (435-259-4712; www.nps.gov/cany/island; Hwy 313; 8am-4:30pm, extended hr spring-fall) and some excellent short hikes (the mile-long trail to Grand View Overlook takes you right along the canyon’s edge). This park section is 32 miles south of Moab; head north along Hwy 191 and then west on Hwy 313.

Needles is on Hwy 211, which heads west from Hwy 191, 40 miles south of Moab; you’ll find more great views here and a smaller visitor center (435-259-4711; www.nps.gov/cany/needles; Hwy 211; 9am-4:30pm, extended hr Mar-Oct). And then there’s the Maze, one of the wildest and most remote areas in the Southwest, accessible by 4WD only. Within Horseshoe Canyon, along the 32-mile road from Hwy 24 to the Maze, you’ll find Great Gallery, with superb life-size rock art left by prehistoric Native Americans.

In addition to entrance fees, permits are required for overnight backcountry and mountain biking camping, 4WD trips, and river trips. Reserve at least two weeks ahead, by fax or mail only, with the Canyonlands NP Reservations Office (435-259-4351; fax 435-259-4285; www.nps.gov/cany/permits.htm; 2282 S West Resource Blvd, Moab, UT 84532), or just show up, although reservations are recommended in spring and fall.