*All photos are protected by copyright and the property of Briana Nickas unless otherwise noted.
Canyonlands… sounds like an amusement park, doesn’t it? Well, it could be considered a type of natural amusement park for outdoor lovers. Canyonlands National Park in Utah has plenty to do including hiking, a scenic drive, and amazing overlooks of the canyon created by the Colorado River below.
Surprisingly, Canyonlands doesn’t get much credit compared to the other National Parks in Utah. But it’s definitely still worth seeing, especially since it’s practically right next to Arches National Park (one of my faves)!
With over 300,000 sprawling acres, Canyonlands National Park is divided up into 4 districts by the Colorado River and its tributaries. The districts are Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and the rivers themselves. You can learn more about each of them here.
Most of the districts are challenging to reach. Island in the Sky is the closest to Moab, UT, and the most accessible. For these reasons, it’s the most popular district to visit.
With this 1-day itinerary for visiting the Island in the Sky District, you’re sure to have a full day of awesomeness hitting up the best things to do at Canyonlands National Park in Utah!
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Info for Canyonlands National Park in Utah
Canyonlands National Park is located about 40 miles southwest of I-70 making it easy to reach from the I-15 in Utah or from Utah’s eastern neighbor Colorado.
Just 30 miles northwest of Moab, UT, it’s also close to another one of the Utah National Parks – Arches National Park. This makes Moab a perfect place to stay to visit both National Parks!
Location: Moab, UT
If you’re going to be RVing to Canyonlands National Park, here’s the information for the RV park we stay at in Moab, UT when we visit…
Spanish Trail RV Park in Moab, UT
This is one of the few campgrounds with grass (period let alone at the RV site). Our dog likes her grass! It can get noisy from the highway, so try to get a site in the back.
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1-Day Itinerary of the Best Things To Do at Canyonlands National Park in Utah
You’re going to need to wake up before the sun does to get a super early start to the day! This is because you’re going to want to be at Mesa Arch for sunrise. It’s a must!
Watching Mesa Arch start to glow as the sun lights up the canyon below will be the highlight of your day in Canyonlands National Park. You’ll take a short easy trail to reach the arch.
Mesa Arch Trail
Distance: 0.5-mile roundtrip
Difficulty Level: Easy
Hiking Time: 30 minutes
Trail Access: Mesa Arch Trailhead
PRO TIP: Make sure you get to Mesa Arch early before sunrise so you can get a good viewing spot. It can get crazy crowded at dawn and you may be fighting for a view of the arch.
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After spending some time taking in the view at Mesa Arch, go on a scenic drive of Canyonlands National Park. There are many pull-outs you can stop at along the way with dramatic views of the Park, including Green River Overlook, Buck Canyon Overlook, and Grand View Point Overlook.
Be sure to walk to Grand View Point for stunning panoramic views! There’s a short paved trail to the viewpoint. You can also continue past the viewpoint along the cliff edge for another mile to a second viewpoint.
Then you can hike to Upheaval Dome. The first overlook is only 1-mile roundtrip, or you can keep hiking to the second overlook for another mile. You might also want to hike one of the other Island in the Sky Trails.
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After you’re done exploring Canyonlands National Park, end the day at Dead Horse Point State Park for a gorgeous view of the sunset. From Dead Horse Point Overlook, you’ll have a dramatic view of the Colorado River winding around the canyon below.
Even though Dead Horse Point State Park is not technically in Canyonlands National Park, it’s only about 20 minutes away (14.4 miles) and completely worth the short detour!
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Wrapping Up Canyonlands National Park in Utah
There’s enough to do in the Island in the Sky district to keep you busy for an entire day in Canyonlands National Park:
- Starting early in the morning to watch the sunrise
- Taking in the views along the scenic drive
- Doing some hiking
- Catching the sunrise at the end of your day
You’ll be cramming a lot in and hitting all the highlights. Perfect if you’re short on time!
If you’re feeling more adventurous and haven’t gotten your fill of Canyonlands National Park, you may want to visit the other, more remote districts. Be aware though that there are no roads connecting the districts to one another.
So reaching the other areas will require 2-6 hours of driving. You can then explore the backcountry by backpacking, biking, or 4-wheel drive. NOTE: you may need a permit. You can figure out if you’ll need a permit here.
Have you visited the different districts of Canyonlands National Park in Utah? I’d love to hear about them! Tell me which one was your favorite and why in the comments below.
Are National Parks your jam? If your goal is to visit all 62 National Parks in the USA, be sure to grab your free U.S. National Parks Checklist to keep track of them!
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