There are five districts of the park, each affording great views, spectacular geology, a chance to see wildlife, and endless opportunities to explore. You won't find crowds or elaborate park facilities—most of Canyonlands  remains a primitive backcountry park.
Admission to the park is $10 per vehicle, or $5 per bicyclist or pedestrian. In addition, fees are charged for backcountry camping, four-wheel-drive exploration, and river rafting. For information on the park, contact Canyonlands National Park (2282 S. West Resource Blvd., Moab, 435/719-2313, www.nps.gov/cany ).
Each of the land districts has a visitor center near the park entrance, but you may find it convenient to stop at the Moab Information Center (corner of Main St. and Center St., 435/259-8825). The offices have brochures, maps, and books, as well as someone to answer your questions.
Island in the Sky  has paved roads on its top to impressive overlooks and to Upheaval Dome, a strange geologic feature. If you're short on time or don't want to make a rigorous backcountry trip, this district is the best choice. The "Island," actually a large mesa, is much like Dead Horse Point  on a giant scale; a narrow neck of land connects the north side with the "mainland." Hikers and those with suitable vehicles can drop off the Island in the Sky and descend about 1,300 feet to the White Rim 4WD Road, which follows cliffs of the White Rim around most of the island.
Colorful rock spires prompted the name of the Needles District . Splendid canyons contain many arches, strange rock formations, and archaeological sites. Hikers enjoy day hikes and backpack treks on the network of trails and routes within the district. Motorists with four-wheel-drive vehicles have their own challenging roads through canyons and other highly scenic areas. Overlooks and short nature trails can be enjoyed from the paved scenic drive in the park. South of Moab , Highway 211 branches off U.S. 191, providing easy access to the Needles District.
Few visitors make it over to the Maze District , some of the wildest country in the United States. Only the rivers and a handful of four-wheel-drive roads and hiking trails provide access. Experienced hikers can explore the "maze" of canyons on unmarked routes.
Horseshoe Canyon Unit , a detached section of Canyonlands National Park northwest of the Maze District, protects the Great Gallery, a group of pictographs left by a prehistoric culture.
The River District  includes long stretches of the Green and the Colorado. River-running provides one of the best ways to experience the inner depths of the park. Boaters can obtain helpful literature and advice from park rangers. Groups planning their own trip through Cataract Canyon need a river-running permit. Flat-water permits are also required, and there's a fee.
Canyonlands National Park  offers hundreds of miles of exceptionally scenic jeep roads. Normally you must have a vehicle with both four-wheel drive and high clearance. Park regulations require all motorized vehicles to have proper registration and licensing for highway use (ATVs are prohibited); drivers must be licensed.
It's essential for both motor vehicles and bicycles to stay on existing roads to prevent damage to the delicate desert vegetation. Carry tools, extra fuel, water, and food in case of breakdown in a remote area. Mountain bikers enjoy travel on many of the backcountry roads, too.
Before making a trip, drivers and cyclists should talk with a ranger to register and to learn of current road conditions, which can change drastically from one day to the next. Also, the rangers will be more knowledgeable about where to seek help in case you become stuck. Primitive campgrounds are provided on most of the roads, but you'll need a backcountry permit from a ranger.
It's possible to reserve a backcountry permit in advance; for spring and fall travel to popular areas (such as Island in the Sky's White Rim Trail  or the Needles backcountry ), this is an extremely good idea. Find application forms on the Canyonlands website. These should be completed and returned at least two weeks in advance of your planned trip. No telephone reservations are accepted.
Books on backcountry exploration include Charles Wells's Guide to Moab, UT Backroads & 4-Wheel Drive Trails, which includes Canyonlands, and Canyon Country Off-Road Vehicle Trails: Canyon Rims & Needles Areas, and Damian Fagan and David Williams's A Naturalist's Guide to the White Rim Trail.
One more thing about backcountry travel in Canyonlands: You may need to pack your poop out of the backcountry. Because of the abundance of slickrock and the desert conditions, it's not always possible to dig a hole, and you can't just leave your waste to sit on a rock until it decomposes (decomposition is a very slow process under these conditions). Check with the ranger when you pick up your backcountry permit for more information.
Vehicle camping is allowed only in established campgrounds and designated backcountry campsites. Except for the main campgrounds at Willow Flat  (Island in the Sky) and Squaw Flat  (Needles), you'll need a backcountry permit for overnight stays ($15 for a backpacking permit and $30 for a vehicle).
Pets aren't allowed on trails and must always be leashed. No firewood collecting is permitted in the park; backpackers need stoves for cooking. Vehicle and boat campers can bring in firewood but must use grills or fire pans.