Canyonlands National Park is one of Utah's Mighty 5 National Parks. Nestled next to Arches National Park and the quirky town of Moab, Canyonlands is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. But like it's neighbor Arches National Park, it is prone to tourist traps as well. Keep reading my guide below to balance out your day in Canyonlands between must-see but crowded activities and more serene escapes.
Canyonlands is comprised of three different areas: Island in the Sky, Needles, and the Maze. Island in the Sky and Needles are the most frequented areas of the park. But beware! Although they look geographically close together on a map, driving to each of the sections actually takes a lot of time. If you are stressed on time, I recommend spending your day at Island in the Sky.
One Day Itinerary
Day before: Pack plenty of food and water. There are limited resources available in Canyonlands, including no food. You'll want to be prepared for your entire day there since it's an hour drive to/from Moab.
2 hours before sunrise: Start your day off by checking out the famous Mesa Arch before sunrise. Arches are very popular in the Moab area, so you're likely to run into a crowd wherever you go. The thing with Mesa Arch is that it's so special at sunrise that you really should go then. The arch itself it small and most of the beauty comes from the 10 minutes where the sun pops out behind the arch.
We woke up 2 hours before sunrise and drove the hour long drive from Moab. When we were there on a summer weekday, there were only 3 other people there. 10 minutes before sunrise however, 30 more people came in to watch and photograph the beautiful arch. Luckily for us we were there early and already had our own spot (and carved out some personal space!). The photographers were generally all very friendly and moved around to let others have a shot.
After sunrise: Head to White Rim Overlook, a 2 mile there-and-back hike to a beautiful outlook down to the White Rim Trail. From the outlook, you can see one of the many campsites available on the White Rim Trail. The lookout gives you a 180 degree view and there are canyons for miles and miles as you look out. This is also a good place to have a snack or breakfast.
PS we got the chance to try out a solar umbrella. It looks incredibly dorky but it was super useful for the 100 degree heat. If you don't need both hands to scramble, it's a great add on for your hike!
Last hike: If it's still early enough in the day, you can embark on an unnamed trail to some nice ruins in Island in the Sky. The trail isn't officially marked or on maps, although it is relatively well-traveled and marked with cairns. The hike is a 4 mile there-and-back hike that leads to a giant shaded slick rock that makes for a great lunch or snack spot. Once we arrived, we saw a pamphlet from the NPS asking that blogs don't release the GPS coordinates or trailhead because previous areas have been looted and vandalized (pretty terrible I know!). If you'd like to know specifics about this hike, PM me and we'll work something out! :)
After your hike, it's time to head home! Take a break from the sun by eating at one of the many restaurants on Main Street in Moab (the Quesadilla Mobilla food truck was one of our favorites). You've earned it.
What to pack:
- Osprey 36L Sirrus Pack
- Nike sneakers
- 1L of water per hour of hiking
- Garmin 64st GPS
- A hat!!
- Lots of sunscreen