Canyonlands National Park in a wheelchair
While browsing through some holiday pictures, I realized I missed sharing one of my most memorable travel experiences with you. It’s about time! In September, before the pandemic, we flew into Salt Lake City, Utah, before traveling to Moab in a rental car. Moab is the closest city to explore Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, and Arches National Park. So, let me show you how wheelchair-accessible Canyonlands National Park is.
Getting to Moab
Salt Lake City International Airport is about 239 miles (385 km) from Moab and its surrounding National Parks. We had booked a small sedan in advance. However, we ended up with a huge Suburban after the rental agent apologized for not having anything smaller. It took us 4 hours to drive to our hotel. Another option for most US airlines is Grand Junction Regional Airport, which is around 114 miles (183 km) northeast.
Where to stay
Firstly, there are plenty of options for all budgets in Moab. My hubby and I chose the SpringHill Suites by Marriott Moab, which is nearest to the parks but quite far from the town center (3 mi/4.8 km). Our accessible suite had twin beds, a scenic view of the pool area, a decently sized sitting area, and… a bathtub. Unfortunately, as I switched to this hotel on relatively short notice, the only room with a roll-in shower was unavailable. Both the pool and jacuzzis are equipped with lifts.
Wheelchair-accessible Canyonlands National Park –
Canyonlands National Park is divided into three districts:
- Island in the Sky (map)
- The Needles
- The Maze
While Island in the Sky is remarkably accessible for wheelchair users, with many places to see and several wheelchair-friendly trails, the Needles district has only little to offer (one accessible viewpoint). From Moab, it is a half-an-hour drive to the Island in the Sky Visitor Center at Canyonlands National Park (30 mi/49 km).
The Maze, however, is challenging to access and not wheelchair-accessible. Therefore, this post only describes the accessibility of the Island in the Sky District.
Scenic drive to Canyonlands NP
After a good breakfast at the hotel, we were ready for the day. Early in the morning, our first destination was Dead Horse Point State Park, which is on the way to Canyonlands. We stopped twice to admire the sheer unreal beauty of the rock formations on State Route 313. There are several parking areas and viewpoints.
Dead Horse Point State Park
Upon arrival, we paid the entry fee of 20 USD for a private vehicle. Dead Horse Point State Park is pretty small, so we spent only half a day there. Handicapped parking and wheelchair-accessible restrooms are available. A short, paved trail leads you directly to the main overlook, offering spectacular views of the Colorado River and the surrounding canyons. Several other, largely bumpy trails give wheelchair users the possibility to see the landscape from different directions. We followed the rim trails and absolutely loved it. Unfortunately, the Potash Ponds viewpoint isn’t accessible, as the path was too narrow for my wheelchair. A bit further along, I still got a magnificent view of the Potash Ponds, though.
Canyonlands National Park in a wheelchair
About three hours later, with sunburn all over, we drove to Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky district. I had dreamed of seeing this park for years, so I was excited to finally visit it. The entry fee of 30 USD per private vehicle is valid for 7 days. First, we went to the accessible Visitor Center and explored the relief map of the park. Accessible parking spaces, wheelchair-accessible restrooms, and picnic tables are right next to the Visitor Center.
Shafer Canyon Overlook
We stopped at the Shafer Canyon Overlook further down Grand View Point Road. Unfortunately, this first overlook is not wheelchair-accessible because of steps leading down to the lookout. I was disappointed at first, but the view out of the car still left me speechless. Finally, as my husband is quite stubborn, he lifted me out of the car into my wheelchair and slowly pushed me down the unregular steps. Within seconds several people came towards us and kindly offered to help. A group of Italians lifted me all the way down.
Back in the car, we passed the Mesa Arch, as the dirt trail to the iconic arch has steps and is not wheelchair-accessible either. That truly is a pity! Such a world-famous spot should be accessible to everyone, able-bodied or not. But, on the other hand, I know very well that nature is often incompatible with accessibility.
At the next crossing, we turned left and went to the Upheaval Dome, where we had lunch under a shady wooden shelter. There are accessible picnic tables and wheelchair restrooms. I absolutely enjoyed being in such a quiet and peaceful scenery with the person I love most.
Green River Overlook
After getting some energy back, we drove to the Green River Overlook and parked in an accessible parking space. A short, paved trail leads toward the lookout. Once arrived, my jaw dropped open, and tears of joy filled my eyes. What a phenomenal view! Canyons and the green-colored Colorado River as far as the eye can see. The accessible Green River Overlook is and will be my favorite spot on earth. We sat there, overwhelmed by the surroundings, and two hours passed without noticing it.
Buck Canyon Overlook
Another accessible viewpoint following Grand View Point Road was Buck Canyon Overlook. A short, paved trail leads to the overlook providing stunning views of Buck Canyon. Make sure to come in the late afternoon, as the light is fantastic with deep contrasts and shadows. Goosebumps guaranteed!
Grand View Point Overlook
Lastly, we headed to the Grand View Point Overlook. The entire area is paved and fully wheelchair-accessible. Parts of the rim trail are also accessible. However, it can be pretty scary if you approach the edge too closely. We had the chance to watch the sunset with only a few other visitors around. What an unforgettable experience!
In summary, Canyonlands National Park is very wheelchair-accessible. In addition, the most beautiful vantage points, such as the Green River and Grand View Point Overlook, are all easily accessible for wheelchair users and offer a fabulous view of the rocky red ravine landscape. Regarding scenery and wheelchair accessibility, I slightly preferred Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park to Arches National Park, which was overly crowded for my taste. Canyonlands is clearly on top of my list of accessible National Parks. If you are a wheelchair user who loves being out in nature, go for it!