Canyonlands National Park
Travel

How to Spend One Awesome Day in Canyonlands National Park

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I recently visited Canyonlands National Park on a two-week road trip and I was absolutely shocked that it isn’t one of the more popular National Parks!

People don’t rave about Canyonlands like they do other National Parks, but Canyonlands offers some seriously amazing views. I am so glad it was on the itinerary because it is definitely worth visiting!

Want to learn how to visit this little-known National Park in just one day? Keep on reading!

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If you want more information about traveling to Utah’s National Parks, check out these books.


VIsit Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky District

How to Spend One Day in Canyonlands National Park: Island in the Sky District

Before we dive right into how to spend one day in Canyonlands, let’s go over some fun facts and answer some questions you may have.

Canyonlands FAQs

How was Canyonlands National Park formed?

Canyonland’s 500+ square miles of canyons and buttes were formed over millions of years by wind and water from the Colorado and Green Rivers.

How much does it cost to get into Canyonlands National Park?

$30/car

$25/motorcycle

$15/bicycle or on foot

Southeast Utah Pass is $55 and gets you unlimited access to Arches, Canyonlands, Natural Bridges, & Hovenweep for 1 year.

America the Beautiful Pass is $80 and gets you into ALL of the National Park Service sites for 1 year (<— best deal if you travel a lot!)

Can you drive through Canyonland National Park?

Yes and no. The park is divided into 3 “districts” that are not connected from inside the park. You must exit the park to get to another district. However, you can drive through most of the Needles and Island in the Sky districts. This post will tell you how to drive through and see all the stops/viewpoints in the Island in the Sky district!

sunrise over mountains
Waiting for sunrise at Mesa Arch.

What is the closest city to Canyonlands?

Moab is the closest city and is located 32 miles (about 40 minutes) from the Island in the Sky district.

Can you visit Arches and Canyonlands in one day?

Technically yes, but it’s not recommended. After visiting both parks, my advice is to allow at least one day for each park.

What are the best hikes in Canyonlands?

Grandview Point Trail– easy, 2 miles roundtrip, can see the Maze district from this trail

Mesa Arch– easy, 0.5-mile hike, look down into a canyon that’s 800 feet below, this is MUST-DO for sunrise!

Upheaval Dome– moderate, 1-mile roundtrip to first overlook

Aztec Butte Trail– moderately easy, 2 miles roundtrip, scramble up slickrock to see ancient Puebloan granaries

canyon

Related: Arches National Park in ONE Day!


Canyonlands National Park Map

Map
Map of Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky District from nps.org

The Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands consists of one main road (12-miles) and a side road to Upheaval Dome (5 miles). So if you will be driving to each place/viewpoint in this district, expect to drive about 34 miles roundtrip.

One Day in Canyonlands

Now let’s dive into how to make the most of one day in the Island of the Sky District of Canyonlands!

You can visit the overlooks & do the hikes in any order you prefer, but you NEED to see the sunrise at Mesa Arch. It is 100% worth getting up early & hiking in the dark. If you want to photograph it, get there at least an hour before sunrise. If not, the parking lot will be full & there will be at least 15 people already there with their tripods set up.

Sunrise at Mesa Arch

Watching the sunrise at Mesa Arch is considered a must-do when visiting Canyonlands. While you can technically use your phone to photograph it, I recommend bringing a good DSLR camera (if you have one) with a wide-angle lens. If you arrive bright and early and are lucky enough to get a front-row spot, you NEED a wide-angle lens because of how close you will be to the arch. I used my Canon Rebel T6 with my Canon EF-S 10-18mm lens that I purchased in this lens kit. And if you’re really serious, bring a tripod!

Location: When driving into the park, the parking lot and trailhead are located a little over 6 miles past the Island in the Sky Visitor Center on the left.

sunrise under arch
The underside of Mesa Arch turns a fiery red-orange at sunrise in Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Candlestick Overlook

After spending some time at Mesa Arch, go back to the main road and turn left. Candlestick Overlook will be on your right. It’s not well marked so if you miss it, you can stop on the way back.

canyon overlook mesa
Candlestick Overlook.

After Candlestick Overlook, continue heading south down the main road to the very end of the road. You will pass a few overlooks this way, but catching them on the way back up will keep you from turning around several times. Doing it this way, all the stops will be on the right side of the road.

Orange Cliffs Overlook

At the very end of the road is Orange Cliffs Overlook. If I remember correctly, there is a trail you walk down and along the cliffs to get different views.

canyon desert
Orange Cliffs Ovelrook

Grandview Point Overlook & Hike

Grandview Point was one of my favorite spots in Canyonlands. The 2-mile roundtrip hike gives you views of the Maze district, the Colorado River, and the Green River. If you have children, be careful because there are no railings along the cliff edges.

mountains behind canyons
Grand View Overlook

White Rim Overlook

I somehow can’t find a picture from this overlook. I definitely remember stopping at it. If I find a pic I will update the post!

Buck Canyon Overlook

Another one of my favorite viewpoints was Buck Canyon Overlook. The massive canyons with snow-covered mountains in the background make such a beautiful landscape.

canyon in desert
One of my favorite pictures from this trip, Buck Canyon Overlook.

Upheaval Dome

After Buck Canyon Overlook, head back north on the main road and turn left just past Mesa Arch towards Upheaval Dome. The parking lot has pit toilets, picnic areas, and trailheads for the Syncline Loop and the two outlooks for Upheaval Dome. Lace-up your hiking boots and take the trail to the first overlook (about 1-mile roundtrip) to see it.

Scientists aren’t exactly sure what caused this giant crater. Most think it’s from an eroded salt dome, others think it’s from a meteorite. Either way, it was a strange site compared to the canyons I’d been seeing.

salt crater
Upheaval Dome

Holman Spring Canyon Overlook

Again, I either didn’t get a pic from this overlook or I can’t seem to find it.

Green River Overlook

Almost back to the main road, there will be a road to the right leading to Green River Overlook. Another favorite viewpoint, this overlook did not disappoint!

overlooking a canyon
Green River Overlook.
desert overlook
Green River Overlook

Shafer Canyon Overlook

Turning left back on the main road, Shafer Canyon Overlook will be on your right just before the Visitor Center.

canyon overlook
Shafer Canyon Overlook

Visitor Center

After Shafer Canyon, head back to the Visitor Center to learn more about this amazing park. Don’t forget to get your Passport to Your National Parks book stamped!

Hope you enjoyed seeing what all you can do in just one day in Canyonlands National Park! If you ever get the opportunity to go, you should definitely check it out!

Want to see what else I did on this two-week road trip through Utah and northern Arizona? Check out the links below!

10 Photos That Will Inspire You to Visit Bryce Canyon

Monument Valley: 10+ Inspiring Photos Plus Tips for Visiting

Arches National Park in One Day

melissa of dogwoods & driftwood travel blog
Driving through the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park, Utah! Visit scenic viewpoints, hike some trails, see Mesa Arch & beautiful landscapes!

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