Canyonlands National Park is the largest National Park in Utah and the most untrammeled one, with its colorful canyons, mesas, buttes, and arches spread across 338,000 acres of beautiful wilderness. The park has so much to offer in its four districts, that visitors can spend one day to one entire week exploring each of its corners. If you want to visit this park, read on for a guide to Canyonlands National Park.
Understanding Canyonlands National Park
First, let’s understand Canyonlands! The park is divided by 2 rivers – Colorado River and Green River – which form the River District. These rivers divide Canyonlands into 3 other districts – Island in the Sky in the north, The Maze in the west, and Needles to the east.
To sum up, the four districts of Canyonlands National Park are: River, Island in the Sky, The Maze, and Needles.
Each district has its own distinct character and offers unique opportunities for exploration. However, since they are not all connected, visitors must leave the park to go from one section to another. Therefore, if you are planning on visiting more than one district, make sure to add plenty of time for your drives as travel between them requires from two to six hours by car.
So, if you don’t have enough time in the park (more than 2 days), I recommend going straight to the Island in the Sky district. For this reason, in this post, you’ll find the best activities in the Island in the Sky area.
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Where is Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park is located in the southeast part of the state of Utah, 30 miles away from the city of Moab.
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Getting to Canyonlands National Park
The closest big airport to Canyonlands National Park is located in Salt Lake City, which is 240 miles from the park. Once you fly into Salt Lake City, you can drive to Moab where you can set up a base to visit both Canyonlands and Arches National Park.
Additionally, if you are on a Southwest road trip, here are the main distances from other points of interest in the region:
- Las Vegas, NV to Canyonlands National Park: 460 miles
- Phoenix, AZ to Canyonlands National Park: 460 miles
- Zion National Park to Canyonlands National Park: 350 miles
- Arches National Park to Canyonlands National Park: 25 miles
- Grand Canyon National Park to Canyonlands National Park: 300 miles
- Capitol Reef National Park to Canyonlands National Park: 150 miles
- Bryce Canyon National Park to Canyonlands National Park: 260 miles
The entrance fee to Canyonlands National Park is valid for 7 consecutive days and costs US$ 30 per vehicle, US$ 15 per person, and US$ 25 per motorcycle.
Now if you are planning on combining this trip with other National Parks in Utah, then you should consider purchasing the America the Beautiful – The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. This pass costs US$ 80 and allows you to visit all of the national parks you want during a 12-month period (starting from the date of purchase)
Hotels near Canyonlands National Park
The best hotels near Canyonlands National Park are located in Moab, the best base for visiting the park, and others in the area. Here are my favorite options for you to choose from:
Restaurants near the park
There are no restaurants inside Canyonlands National Park, so consider packing snacks or lunch to maximize your time in the park. However, you’ll find many places to eat in Moab, where my top picks are the delicious Moab Diner and the food truck Quesadilla Mobilla.
Now when you need a coffee break after the hikes, head to Moab Coffee Roaster or Love Muffin Café. And if you are in the mood for a beer, then Moab Brewery is your best bet.
Weather and best time to visit
Summers can be very warm in Canyonlands, with temperatures reaching 100 0 F, while winters have highs averaging from 300 to 500 F, and lows from 00 to 200 F.
All things considered, the best time to visit Canyonlands National Park is during the Spring (April and May) and Fall (September to October).
I visited the park at the beginning of November and had perfectly cool temperatures (and, as a bonus, the park was relatively empty).
Best things to do in Canyonlands National Park
Considering Canyonlands National Park is immense and spread across 527 square miles, and divided into four districts, a great deal of time is required to explore the entire park in one trip. So, I recommend choosing one district and focusing on it while visiting the park. For this post, I will focus on the Island in the Sky District.
Additionally, the Island in the Sky district can be reached via a short, easy drive from Moab (approximately 40-minute drive) and Arches National Park, and it offers many pullouts, with spectacular views, along the paved scenic drive.
Hike to Mesa Arch
Mesa Arch is one of the prettiest and easiest hikes in Utah, and one of the best things to do in Canyonlands National Park. Getting here requires a half-mile flat walk (round trip) that leads to the edge of a cliff where Mesa Arch stands, with stunning views of the mountains nearby.
This is a very popular hike for photographers, as it’s a classic sunrise spot where you can capture the sun framed perfectly in the arch at this time of the day. However, even if you hike Mesa Arch for sunrise, stay for a couple of minutes after the sunrise as most visitors leave immediately, and then you can have the whole place to yourself for a few minutes.
If you are short on time when visiting Canyonlands and can only do one hike, Mesa Arch is the one should do.
Grand View Point Trail
The Grand View Point Trail is a 2-mile hike (round trip) in Canyonlands that meanders along the canyon edge and offers one of the most epic views of the Island in the Sky.
From the top, you can see part of the 100-mile White Rim road along which visitors with four-wheel-drive vehicles take to explore the wilderness of the park.
Tip: If you don’t want to walk the 2 miles, you can just admire the landscape from the Grand View Overlook.
Green River Overlook
At Green River Overlook you will have spectacular views of Canyonlands and be able to gaze upon the Green River. While standing in this spot, you can also see a little bit of The Maze district and the White Rim Road below.
Green River Overlook is also one of the greatest spots for catching the sunset at Canyonlands.
White Rim Overlook
White Rim Overlook is another excellent option to soak in the views of Canyonlands National Park. After 1.8 miles of hiking (round trip), you’ll have stunning views of the Colorado River, Monument Basin, and the La Sal Mountains.
Upheaval Dome Trail
Upheaval Dome is an interesting geological feature where the rocks in the center of the structure have been pushed up on all sides forming a circle, and the area around the dome has been pushed down forming another natural circle.
There are 2 trails in the Upheaval Dome area: the one that leads to the first overlook (0.8 miles round-trip) and the one to the second overlook ((1.8 miles round trip). While the views of the first trail are already impressive, don’t forget to visit the second one for an even better view.
Goosenecks Overlook is another great, short hike at Canyonlands because it’s only 0.6 miles (round trip) and provides a unique view of a meandering gooseneck bend in the Colorado River.
If you are short on time, you can make your way along the 34-mile Scenic Drive (round trip) that passes through Canyonlands National Park. Here you can drive and stop to see the overlooks and take some short hikes.
Right at the beginning, close to the visitor center, you can stop at Shafer Canyon Overlook to have a sense of the stunning views the park has to offer. This is an impressive place because from here you can see the twists and turns of Shafer Trail Road.
Additionally, from the Scenic Drive, you can also visit the overlooks I mentioned above: Green River Overlook and Grand Viewpoint Overlook.
White Rim Road
If you have more time in Canyonlands National Park and are equipped with a four-wheel-drive vehicle with high clearance, then by all means take the scenic White Rim Road that is right below the cliffs of the Island in the Sky.
The White Rim Road stretches over 100 miles, and although easy during favorable weather conditions for visitors with a proper vehicle, it can still take most visitors from two to four days to complete.
Check out the requirements for the White Rim Road before embarking on this journey.
If you have time to explore a little bit of the Needles district and just want to have a glimpse of it, then head to the Needles Overlook.
There’s no hike in the Needles Overlook, and you can just walk around the area near the parking lot that provides you incredible views of the Needles district.
Pro tip: the overlook is in between the Island in the Sky district and Monument Valley, so it’s a great option to check out more attractions in the Southwest.
Dead Horse State Park
While Dead Horse State Park isn’t in Canyonlands National Park, both are so close to each other (separated by 12 miles) that a quick stop in this state park is almost mandatory.
The overlooks found in Dead Horse provide awe-inspiring panoramic views of the red-colored rock formations forming an infinity landscape.
Please note that the entrance fee to Dead Horse State Park is charged separated (not included in the America the Beautiful Pass) and costs US$ 20 for three days.
How to spend one day at Canyonlands National Park
If you’re planning on spending one day in Canyonlands, here’s an itinerary to see the best of the park:
Wake up early to catch the sunrise at Mesa Arch, Hike Grand View Point, drive along the scenic drive and stop at the overlooks. When leaving the park, stop for sunset views at Dead Horse State Park. And if you are headed to Monument Valley afterward, then Needles Overlook is a great stop along the way.
Best Tours near Canyonlands
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE TO READ: The Ultimate Utah National Parks Road Trip Itinerary
Where to go from Canyonlands
From Canyonlands, you can visit the nearby Dead Horse State Park, one of the best state parks in Utah, and Arches National Park. From here, you can also continue your Southwest road trip to Monument Valley.
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- Capitol Reef National Park: Everything you Need to Know to Visit Capitol Reef and The Best Hikes in the Park
- Bryce Canyon National Park: The Complete Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park
- Rocky Mountain National Park: First-Timer’s Guide to Rocky Mountain National Park and 3-day Itinerary to the Park
- Zion National Park: Best Hikes in Zion National Park
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