Utah's Canyon Lands

  • Bryce - intense hoodoos, Fairyland Loop - © William Mackesy
  • Zion - Walkopedia on Observation Point - © William Mackesy
  • Bryce - snaking path - © William Mackesy
  • Bryce - hoodoo heaven, Queen"s Garden - © William Mackesy
  • Bryce - intense hoodoos, Fairyland Loop - © William Mackesy
  • Bryce - © William Mackesy
  • Canyonlands, Upheaval Canyon exiting the Upheaval Dome crater west - © William Mackesy
  • Canyonlands, across Upheaval Dome, crater, late light - © William Mackesy
  • Arches, Devil"s Garden - © William Mackesy
  • Arches - thrilling walk along Devil"s Garden high narrow ridge - © William Mackesy
  • Arches - Landscape Arch - © William Mackesy
  • Arches - Windows Arches area - © William Mackesy
  • Arches - massive yet delicate... arch - © William Mackesy
  • Bryce - ridgetop trail - © William Mackesy

Key information: Utah's Canyon Lands

  • Zion, Bryce, Arches, Canyonlands: in these canyons and areas of weird erosion, views you have met somewhere before greet you at every turn.
  • Stunning, inspiring cliffs, canyons, rock arches and much more. Some of the world’s best walking.

Walkopedia rating

(Top 100)
  • Walkopedia rating95
  • Beauty37
  • Natural interest18
  • Human interest4
  • Charisma38
  • Negative points2
  • Total rating95
  • Note: Negs: Popularity

Vital Statistics

  • Length: Your choice
  • Maximum Altitude: Around 2,700m
  • Level of Difficulty: Straightforward
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Arches - thrilling walk along Devil's Garden high narrow ridge - © William Mackesy

WALK SUMMARY

Zion, Bryce, Arches, Canyonlands: in Utah's greatest canyons and areas of weird erosion, views you have met somewhere before greet you at every turn. Stunning, inspiring cliffs, canyons, rock arches and much more. You can make an unforgettable 7 day+ circuit here, taking the greatest landscapes, adding a few others to taste. 

The greatest:

Zion NP has some of the world’s finest desert-canyon landscapes. Millions of years of erosion of these deep sandstone lands has produced extraordinary scenery of vast, sheer-sided, colourful canyons and an astonishing selection of towers, spires, cliffs and slot canyons cut into high, forested plateau. There is a huge array of splendid and varied walks here, from short canyon-bottom strolls to demanding climbs to remarkable viewpoints, to famous slot canyons, to multi-day yomps.

Bryce Canyon boasts some of the world’s most extraordinary scenery: an extensive area of brightly hued sandstone carved by wind, water and ice into a series of deep amphitheatres in which sit an unimaginable profusion of spires, towers and other excrescences called hoodoos, and arches and other formations. It is reminiscent of Turkey’s Cappadocia; its scenery is arguably even more amazing. The hoodoos can be 200ft (60m) high, and (unsurprisingly) have a fascinating and complicated geological history. The thrilling weirdness of the scenery is enhanced by gorgeous colour and texture contrasts:  the greens of the prevalent ponderosa pines and spruce, and the often-blue sky, compliment the rocks’ oranges-to-pinks beautifully.

Arches NP has a wonderful landscape of eroded sandstone, including over 2,000 natural rock arches. It contains several areas of extraordinary weather-smoothed rocky towers and rows of narrow-backed “fins” of rock, some sharp and shark-like, many in the form of long, thin, smooth-topped ridges. They are a fine setting for their special glory, a selection of beautiful and magnificent rock arches, including the huge, flat-curved, ultra-slender and all-round amazing Landscape Arch, considered the world’s longest rock arch, and the immaculate, free-standing Delicate Arch. Among these rocks, juniper, pine and an assortment of hardy desert vegetation mellow what would be too harsh, and create a beautiful visual harmony.

Canyonlands NP lies at the junction of the Colorado and Green rivers, which, over millions of years, have carved a huge area of superb red sandstone mesas, buttes, canyons, spires and arches. Different layers of rock have interacted with the great forces of erosion to produce a series of flat plateaux and cliffs – the Island in the Sky and other mesas at the top of the heavenly ladder, and the wide mid-level table of the White Rim all around it, both protected by harder pale rock from erosion – but each eaten away at the sides by the gnawing at their softer bases. This has resulted in all sorts of special beauties. The distances are huge: you can see for miles from the Island in the Sky in the clear desert air, gazing across the abyss. Immediately below, the White Rim table land is eaten into beautiful shapes, curves and arabesques worthy of Matisse. Further away are the broken jumbles of the Maze and the Needles. And in the north is the other-worldly weirdness of the Upheaval Dome.

Other delights: do try to fit at least some of these in in passing.

Slot Canyons: Utah possesses probably the world’s finest concentration of slot canyons, deep and often absurdly narrow gashes in the tablelands, their walls brightly coloured and water-smoothed into beautiful shapes. Exploring them is unforgettably exciting.

(Several areas contain some wonderful canyoneeing opportunities. Beyond Walkopedia’s normal remit, but these are wonderful and thrilling experiences, and often combine with walking a slot canyon, so do give this thought. Walkopedia explored wonderful Ephedra’s Grotto on the fringes of Arches NP. Other great options are the Left Fork/Subway and Mystery Canyon off Zion Narrows, in Zion NP.)

Goblin ValleyA truly amazing area, a wide area (valley of sorts) littered with smallish  hoodoos, rocky forms composed of sandstone tops, often eroded into beautiful, abstract, Henry Moore, shapes, above weaker mudstone bases which are eroding at a faster rate, resulting in the look of mushroom, or goblins per someone’s fancy.

Capitol Reef: Capitol Reef must be one of the world's thinnest national parks, a very long slice of heavily eroded sandstone along the Waterpocket Fold, a near 100 mile long fold in the Earth's crust. The best known area is the Capitol Reef, around the village of Fruita. Numerous excellent day walks, and overnighters, including to the famous Navajo Knobs [and to the Cathedral… area.

Grand Staircase-Escalante: This huge area in southern Utah includes sandstone canyons and slot canyons, high plateau and outlandish formations. Some excellent walking.

Monument Valley – if you must.

This can be tough walking in dry, remote mountains with uncertain weather. Come fully prepared, and carry enough water. See detailed pages for some of the risks – flash flood in narrow canyons are a particular problem.

Have a look at TripAdvisor – there are tens of millions of reviews, so you may get good, current views on guides, places to hike and places to stay.

There are excellent books on all these areas. Find relevant books on Amazon.

Our friends and partners Responsible Travel have a selection of walking and other holidays in South-west USA. You should get good ideas, perhaps for something you hadn’t thought of…

Other accounts: share your experiences

Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.

Arches - Windows Arches area - © William Mackesy

Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.

Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.

Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

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Bryce - intense hoodoos, Fairyland Loop - © William Mackesy...
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