[This is part of my vanlife series. I've spent 7 months and 25kmiles on the road in 2 years, exploring and rock climbing around the US]
Ahh, the last stop of our 2016 road trip! If you're in the Moab / Indian Creek / Arches NP area, you'd be hard pressed not to go the 30min more to Canyonlands NP.
Canyonlands National Park is located Southwest from Moab, UT. There's two main entrances: the northern entrance to the Island in the Sky area, just 30min from Moab, and the southern entrance to the Needles area, about 60min from Moab. Both are beautiful and very different--I highly recommend seeing both! They can each be done in a day if you move quickly.
Island in the Sky District
The Green River and Colorado River merge in a "Y" at the center of the park and divide the park into 3 distinct areas. Island in the Sky, in the northern part of the "v" shape, is the easiest to access for short trips and has the most well-known views of sheer cliffs upon cliffs. It's the closest to Arches NP and has numerous overlook pullouts, including Mesa Arch.
[above: East view at Mesa Arch, just a 0.7mi walk. The Colorado River runs in the background.]
[above: Mesa Arch. It was surprisingly small for how it's photographed. It's only about 10ft tall!]
[above: View from Upheaval Dome, a 2mi there-and-back flat hike. On the right side of the fingers you can see an unpaved road that you can drive on.]
[above: View from Upheaval Dome hike.]
[above: Storm rolling through from Buck Canyon viewpoint. It rained in patches, always with some blue sky.]
[above: Sunset over the Green River Overlook. You can see the Green River in center photo. The Colorado River runs to the left and joins the Green River in a "Y," continuing to flow south.]
While we only did the short whirlwind tour this trip, Canyonlands is on our revisit list to do a 100mi offroad vehicle trail that circles Upheaval Canyon in Island in the Sky. While you're hiking, you can see cars driving right along the rim of the canyon fingers, sometimes 20ft from the cliff edge! It's a 2-3 day remote tour with no gas, no water, no cell signal. I've heard many people also mountain bike it.
The Southeastern part of Canyonlands, or the right side of the "Y," is the Needles District, which is characterized by tall spires. You need to drive back outside the park, south through Moab, and then west through Indian Creek to enter the Needles. There's quite a bit more hiking in this district and a lot of backcountry camping.
[above: Hike to Chesler Park, Needles District, 6mi there-and-back.]
[above: The Needles from Chesler Park viewpoint. You can continue with permits for backcountry activities.]
[above: Looking back out over the mushrooms along the Chesler Park hike.]
[above: The biological soil crust of cyanobacteria that covers most of the Canyonlands area. Hikers are urged to stay on existing trails, as walking on the crust damages the ecosystem.]
[above: The Needles district has some of the gnarliest trees I've seen. The dried juniper trunks were fascinating in how many different ways the bark formed, some lengthwise, some circling around the trunk, some perfectly smooth, some jagged. The one in the upper right looked like a muscled bicep or leg reaching up!]
The third district, the Maze, is in the Southwestern part of the "Y" and only accessible to 4WD vehicles. We didn't get to see any part of it. Legitimate rock-hopping 4WD is needed.
There's only a single campground in the Island in the Sky district, Willow Flat, with a handful of sites. It was pretty empty in the mid-week in late fall, but will fill up. The Needles district is much less crowded and may be easier to nab camping. Indian Creek is another option, since you drive through it on your way to the Needles--it's all BLM land, primitive camping with no water and only pit toilets, but very well maintained. There's a ton of other camping and RV parks in the Moab region.
Amenities: Showers, Cell Service
Check out http://discovermoab.com/shower.htm to find a shower.
We got spotty cell reception in the park. We picked up Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile at the Island in the Sky visitor's center and almost no reception at Willow Creek Campground or anywhere else in the park. The Visitors Centers have free Wi-Fi.