Moab is callingAnonymous
About the Park
Canyonlands National Park is gigantic and filled with open vistas, canyons, mesas, arches, hiking trails, and fantastic overlooks. It is broken down into five districts (Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, Colorado, and Green Rivers, along with Horseshoe Canyon), each with its unique character and attractions. We enjoyed combining our visit with a stop at Dead Horse Point State Park, which is on the entrance road from Moab.
Check out the view from Mesa Arch!
Live it up!
Best Things to do in the Park
- See a spectacular Sunrise at Mesa Arch. This is a not to be missed item
- Drive the Shafer Canyon Road if you like scenic drives (and you don’t mind being scared)
- Visit each of the Overlooks at Island of the Sky for wonder panoramic views of the park
- Go whitewater rafting on the Colorado or the Green river
- See the well preserved petroglyphs Rock Art at Horseshoe Canyon
- Explore the Needles section of the park, which is completely different from Island in the Sky
We had a wonderful one-day visit to Canyonlands National Park and combined it with a stop at Dead Horse Point State Park. This park is for you if you like incredible views of vast western canyons. Our favorite place in the park was Mesa Arch, which was spectacular, but don’t get near the edge!!! Also, see if you can find this mural in Moab and send us a picture of yourself in front of it!
Size of Park
The famous Mesa Arch is actually used as one of the standard Windows 7 desktop backgrounds
Despite being the biggest national park in the state of Utah, Canyonlands is one of the most underrated national parks in the area. It often gets overshadowed by the Arches and Zion National Park and is relatively quiet even during its peak season. Located near the town of Moab, the park has a lot to offer with its 337,598 acres of land.
The park is distinguished by its sheer drop-offs and carved-out canyons. Its landscape was carved by the Colorado River and is divided into four sections; the Needles, The Maze, Island in the Sky, and the Rivers.
The most accessible section to visit in the park is the Island in the Sky, whereas the remote districts of the Needles and the Maze are cut out for more daring people who are looking for adventure, as these sections are difficult to access. On the other hand, the Island in the Sky is more compact and can be covered in a day.
Hundreds of miles of hiking trails in Canyonlands showcase the park’s history and its cultural and natural features. In the Island in the Sky and Needles district, you will find short walks and day hikes, whereas the remote area of the Maze offers plenty of opportunities for backpacking.
The trails in the park have been marked with rock piles and various signs, so you don’t get lost. However, the more remote locations may lack adequate markings, so carrying a map with you can be helpful.
Mesa Arch Trail
If you are visiting Canyonlands National Park, this iconic trail must be at the top of your list. The Mesa Trail Arch leads to the famous Mesa Arch, where you can watch the sunrise. It’s extraordinary!
Located in Island in the Sky, the trail is super short, and it only takes 30 minutes to hike. Once you start at the Mesa Arch Trailhead, a slick rock trail will take you to the final viewpoint at Mesa Arch. The arch forms a window-like structure from where you can look at the La Sal Mountains and the Buck Canyon. The canyon is massive, and it reminded us of the many westerns we watched as kids!
Druid Arch Trail
Located in the Needles, this trail is one of the more challenging trails in the park. The trail is almost 11 miles long. On your way, you will cross deep sand and loose rock where you will have to rock scramble. As you near the trail’s end, the hike will get steep and challenging, but it will be worth it as you will be rewarded with the Canyonlands’ beautiful views and unique rock formations. The Druid Arch Trail is not for beginners or amateur hikers, as it can get pretty difficult, but it is perfect for people looking for an adrenaline rush.
White Rim Overlook
This trail is also located on the Island in the Sky and is relatively easy. The track is almost 2 miles long and only takes an hour and a half to complete. The trail to the White Rim Overlook begins at the top of the canyon at Gooseberry Trailhead, where you can see the Monument Basin, the La Sal Mountains, the Colorado River, and the White Rim Road. The best time to hike on this trail is in the late afternoon, as the sunlight illuminates the entire canyon. There is limited trailhead parking on the overlook.
Shafer Trail is a thrilling backcountry road located on the Island in the Sky. The five mile long trail descends through a massive sandstone cliff and can take up to 8 hours to complete if you are hiking on it. It is also a popular route for scenic driving and mountain biking.
The Shafer Trail has a rich history as the route was initially made by the Native Americans so they could have access to the mesa top. Sheepherders then used the trail to move their flocks during winter. Later, the trail was transformed into a road for trucks carrying uranium to market. Now, the trail is used by adventure seekers who want to take their 4WD down the canyon or those who wish to hike it.
While the Joint Trail is 1.5 miles, it is part of the Chesler Park Loop which is much longer and can take 6 to 7 hours to complete. The trail is located in the Needles district of the park and has an elevation of almost 1900 feet.
The Joint Trail can get pretty challenging, but throughout the hike, you will view of the Needles district. The trail begins at the Elephant Hill Trailhead and twists through a narrow slot canyon before merging with the Joint Trail. Once you are on the trail, there will be opportunities for rock scrambling. There is a steep and short climb halfway through the trail, after which you will have to climb up a narrow staircase into a cave.
Camping in the Park
Canyonlands has two camping grounds open year-round and are located in the Island in the Sky and the Needles regions of the National Park. The individual sites in the Island in the Sky region are available on a first-come, first-served basis, while some of the individual sites in the Needles have to be reserved beforehand.
The Island in the Sky Campground has 12 sites and is located near the Green River Overlook. Camping at night is $15 per site, and toilets, fire rings, and picnic tables are available. Between spring and autumn, the sites can get filled quickly.
The Needles Campground has 29 sites, out of which five sites are tent-only. There are also 3 group sites located at different locations in the district. Nightly camping here is slightly higher as an individual site costs $20 per night. You can reserve some individual and group sites once spring starts, but these sites can be booked on the spot for the rest of the year. The campground has fire rings, toilets, and picnic tables and provides recycling collection services.
Camping options near the park
The entire Moab area near Canyonlands is one of the most popular destinations for people interested in stargazing, mountain biking, or exploring either the Canyonlands NP or Arches NP. While showing up and finding a place to camp might be possible, it is better to plan ahead and find the best camping site for your stay. While we were there, every spot in our RV park was booked. We were thankful we had reservations. We stayed at the Sun Outdoors Arches Gateway.
Most visitors spend their time on the Island in the Sky district as it is easily accessible and has short hiking trails with spectacular overlooks. However, even the park’s remote areas have so much to offer. Here are some of the top-rated viewpoints in Canyonlands that you should visit!
Mesa Arch is the most iconic viewpoint in the park.We stood and looked out over the valley and were amazed at the beauty of this spot. The drop-off behind the arch is daunting, but if you stay clear of it, you’ll be good. The line for pictures is ever present, but we met some fellow travelers who were willing to take our picture and we, theirs. That’s the way it’s done, so make friends and snap away!
Upheaval Dome is a geological structure in the Island in the Sky that is said to be formed by a meteor impact. Some geologists even call Upheaval Dome the most ‘peculiar structural feature in southeastern Utah’. The structure’s deformed layers and gorgeous colors make it a popular viewpoint in the Canyonlands. The direct trail that provides a clear view of the site is 0.3 miles long. However, other overlooks, such as the Whale Rock or the Blowhole, show a broader view of the bull’s eye.
Grand View Point Overlook
If you have time to cover only one or two viewpoints, you should add Grand View Point Overlook to your list because it provides one of the best views of the Canyonlands. Once you enter the park, there is a 6-mile-long road that diverges into Grand View Point Road. After another 6 miles, you will get to the overlook, where you will have a panoramic view of the national park. This trail is suitable for both family and solo hiking.
Horseshoe Canyon became part of the Canyonlands National Park in the early 1970s and is found on a remote piece of land in The Maze district. The human history of Horseshoe Canyon dates back thousands of years. You will find some of the most significant art in the Horseshoe Canyon, including the four ancient Indian pictograph panels. Visitors can have a close-up look at hundreds of large, well-preserved pictographs that tell the story of all those people who used to live here.
Green River Overlook
Located in the Island in the Sky district, this overlook is best if you want a grand view of the Green River twisting and turning in the landscape. Many famous people have traveled through the Green River in pursuit of the Colorado River and have been memorialized through various detailed signs installed in the area. People also often visit this spot for picnics as it is much less crowded than Grand View Overlook and Mesa Arch.
Other popular viewpoints
- Mesa Arch
- Wooden Shoe Arch Overlook
- Pothole Point
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