Canyonlands National Park is one of the wildest national parks in the Lower 48.
In recent years popularity of packrafting in the park has soared, and with good reason. It is a landscape so vast that it might seem immune to human impact, with terrain that makes it an ideal playground for packrafters. In reality, the natural environment of the park is both fragile and unpredictable. Traveling in this high desert landscape comes with great rewards, but requires a great deal of preparedness and responsibility.
Park managers have recently developed new policies to streamline the process for packrafters looking to experience the undeveloped character of the park. If you’re planning a trip to Canyonlands, we’ve got all the resources you need to set out on your adventure with up-to-date information!
Canyonlands is one of the most packrafter-friendly national parks. The park’s backcountry rangers know packrafting well, and their impression of the packrafting community overall is good. Still, they frequently encounter incidents where packrafters in the park ignore or skirt regulations to fit their preferences. Packrafters are a small but rather visible community. Well-planned, low impact trips are critical in expanding our opportunities to enjoy packrafting on public lands. Conversely, poor choices made by just one group of packrafters can leave a lasting impression on the landscape, land managers, and other visitors. All the more reason to be in the know, and role-model responsible backcountry travel!
In years past there were certain seasons where Canyonlands National Park allowed turkey basting pans as a substitute for fire pans. In an effort to eliminate confusion and streamline river rules, the park recently revised their policies such that turkey basting pans are no longer considered appropriate for fire pan substitution. Instead, try an inexpensive, lightweight cake pan for a packrafting trip (such as these 12 ounce or 13.3 ounce pans). Suspicious Devices also make a mean ultra lightweight fire pan that fits the requirements for the park: “A rigid, durable metal fire pan that is at least 12 inches in diameter with a 2½-inch lip around the edge” Put a thin layer of dirt or sand in the base, and only burn things you can break by hand and which don’t hang out of the pan and, viola! A lightweight and compliant fire pan suitable for packrafting trips.
One key feature of your permit are the specifics of where you will be sleeping each night. Here’s the crucial part: you need to actually stick to your permit itinerary. Packrafters often transition from hiking to boating and vice versa. River campsites above the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers are first come, first served. If possible, leave larger sites available for larger parties. River parties travelling through Cataract Canyon reserve campsites at a register box near the confluence. This is one situation in which a poor choice is highly visible to both land managers and other visitors! Camp spots in “at large” backpack camping zones in Canyonlands also need to be at least 1 mile from any trailhead or road, and 300 feet from water sources or archeological sites.
Bikes aren’t allowed off of designated roads, period — even strapped to a packraft on a river during a bikerafting trip. Some bikerafters have said that they won’t use their bike until they are on a designated road, but park rangers have found that’s not always the case. Just keep it easy and pick another place to plan your trip if you’re interested in taking your bike.
Packrafters who spend a good portion of their time traveling on trails have been known to overlook the park’s requirement of carrying out human waste while on the river. Whether you’re a packrafter or not, there’s not much worse than stumbling upon someone else’s muck in the river corridor. Please go prepared with an appropriate method of carrying your human waste out when you plan your Canyonlands trip. [commercial, landfill safe waste bags, i.e. RestStop II or CleanWaste in hard-sided containers or heavy-duty, waterproof bags labeled “Human Waste.”]
The backcountry rangers at Canyonlands are a very friendly bunch, and assist visitors in making their trip to Canyonlands the best possible experience. Some of the park’s rangers are packrafters, so they understand the sport first hand. Please take advantage of this valuable resource when planning your trip! You can contact the Canyonlands rangers at firstname.lastname@example.org / 435-259-4351
The Park Service maintains a webpage covering all the relevant planning tips, rules and regulations for packrafting in Canyonlands at this link. If you plan a trip in Canyonlands this year, remember you’re representing not just yourself but the packrafting community as a whole. Please be a role model for packrafters and others — your choices could help packrafters find a warm welcome on other waterways on public lands in the future!