Looking for a great Canyonlands National Park itinerary? You have come to the right place. In this guide we will detail how to spend 2 Days in one of the best Utah National Parks
Canyonlands is a hidden treasure among American national parks. Spanning nearly 340,000 acres, Canyonlands is the largest of Utah’s Mighty Five national parks and boasts an extraordinary landscape few nature destinations can match.
The park is defined by rugged beauty, including enormous canyons, vibrant cliffs, colorful spires, and prominent buttes. Its proximity to Arches National Park and the outdoor hub of Moab only add to its allure.
This Ultimate Guide To Exploring Canyonlands National Park gives you all the necessary information- including tips, activities, and nearby attractions- to spend a memorable 1-2 days at Canyonlands National Park. The ultimate Canyonlands itinerary here.
Quick Two Day Canyonlands National Park Itinerary
- Open the day with an inspiring sunset at Mes Arch.
- Marvel at rim-side views at the various turn-offs on Grand Viewpoint Road.
- Attain stunning vantage points of the canyons along the 1.7-mile Grand View Point Trail.
- Hike up Upheaval Dome’s first two viewpoints and learn about the natural landmark’s history.
- Enjoy lunch at the Upheaval Dome Picnic Area.
- Scale the slickrock to the top of Aztec Butte.
- Finish the day with a sunset at Dead Horse Point State Park.
- Make the scenic drive south to the park and stop at Newspaper Rock
- Hike the 2.5-mile Slickrock Foot Trail that ebbs and flows through the needles.
- Soak in the history of the district at The Ruins and The Caves Spring Trail
- Admire the views from the Wooden Shoe Arch Overlook and Big Spring Canyon Overlook
- Take the 4WD offroading trail to the Colorado River Overlook
- Spend your final evening exploring Moab
- Head straight to one of Chesler Loop (a partial 5-mile version can also be combined with the itinerary above), the Confluence Overlook, or the Druid Arch Trail and complete the half-day hike.
- Stop at Newspaper Rock on the way back to Moab.
- Spend your final evening exploring Moab.
Depending on who you ask, you may receive a different answer on how many districts Canyonlands is divided into. Many travelers will cite four, with the Green and Colorado Rivers creating the fourth. The National Park system, however, separates the park into three districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze.
Each region is separated from the others by the Green and Colorado Rivers. There is no way to connect between them without exiting the park via one and re-entering through another.
Island in the Sky or Sky District: Island in the Sky, named for its position atop a 1500-foot mesa, is the most visited district in the park and the easiest to access from both Moab and Arches National Park. This area is best known for its stunning vistas over the expansive canyons below.
The Needles: The Needles, named for its needle-resembling sandstone spires, is the next most visited region of the park. Despite the district requiring a longer trek to reach it, it remains a favorite for adventurers seeking longer hikes, biking trails, and off-road opportunities.
The Maze: The Maze is easily the least trafficked of the three districts due to its 4×4 vehicle access requirements and remote location. The Maze will not be covered in-depth in this guide, though you may want to gather more information on it if you fancy remote, multi-day hikes.
The Rivers: The Green River and Colorado River have collectively played a monumental role in shaping the Canyonlands landscape. They are also the site of guided and self-guided tours. More information on those can be found here.
Best Time of Year to Visit Canyonlands
Canyonlands is a four-season park open 365 days a year. However, the majority of travelers visit between April and October.
Spring: Canyonlands’ high desert location means temperatures can fluctuate more than 40 degrees. Spring typically brings sunny, mild days and chilly nights. May is one of the best year-round times to visit.
Summer: Summer is the season of triple-digit temperatures and monsoons. Even so, summer is consistently the busiest time of year at the park. Preparing for the elements and crowds will be crucial to maximizing your park experience during this time.
Fall: Like spring, daily temperatures in the fall are variable. The nights begin to cool in October, with daytime highs in the 70s and nighttime temperatures falling into the high 30s. This is an excellent time of year to visit as crowds continually thin as the season progresses.
Winter: You may be surprised to know Canyonlands’ desert setting is not immune to cold weather. Daily highs during winter often struggle to exceed the freezing mark, and ice and snow are not uncommon. Witnessing a snow-draped canyon is still mesmerizing, and the park could make an appealing trip add-on for travelers skiing in neighboring Colorado.
How Many Days Do You Need in Canyonlands National Park?
One day in Canyonlands will give you enough time to experience the wonder and uniqueness of the park from either Island in the Sky or The Needles. Both districts can be squeezed into a single day, but you’ll need to opt for shorter activities to do so.
Two days in Canyonlands will allow you to dedicate one full day to exploring each of the two primary districts.
One Day in Canyonlands National Park – What to see in Canyonlands in One Day
If you only have one day at the park, exploring Island in the Sky will give you the most sites and activities to explore. An ideal day in Island of the Sky consists of two or three short to moderate hikes with plenty of pull-offs and easily attainable viewpoints sprinkled in.
Mesa Arch: Mesa Arch is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Canyonlands and a favorite for many visitors.
The arch, positioned near the cliff’s edge, provides a picturesque frame for visitors to marvel at the massive canyons below, with the far-off La Sal Mountains creating the perfect backdrop.
For the most awe-inspiring arch experience, start the short hike at dawn to capture the rising sun beaming through the arch window. It is one of the best hikes in Canyonlands without doubt.
Grand Viewpoint: As you continue along the district’s main artery, Grand Viewpoint Road, you will encounter scenic pullouts like Buck Canyon Overlook and Candlestick Tower before the views culminate with one of the most spectacular vistas in the park, Grand Viewpoint.
Marvel at the views from the primary viewpoint or take the easy, 1.7-mile trail that follows the canyon rim. As you distance yourself from the main lookout, you’ll find increasing solitude to take in the sweeping display of beauty.
For a hidden gem hike with equally stunning views, take the White Rim Overlook trail. The trail receives far less foot traffic, so pay attention to the cairns in place to guide you. Just under a mile in, you’ll reach the main viewpoint that features a fantastic look at the white canyon rim and Colorado River.
Upheaval Dome: Upheaval Dome is a fascinating formation that has stumped geologists for years. The leading theory is the 2-mile wide circular depression is an impact crater from a meteorite millions of years ago.
Regardless of how it was formed, the trek up Upheaval Dome is an enjoyable activity that prompts visitors to ponder the history of the landscape. The first viewpoint only requires a third-mile hike, and the second viewpoint can be added to form a mile-and-a-half route.
After appreciating the trail’s beauty and scientific history, enjoy lunch at the nearby picnic area or the comfort of your car’s air conditioning.
Aztec Butte: Aztec Butte is another delightful contrasting activity to the canyon rim trails. The butte, located in the middle of the district, requires a 1.8-mile roundtrip hike and a pair of boots that can handle the slick rock you will need to shimmy up.
After completing the 250-foot ascent, you will have a bird’s eye view of the region, including the surrounding canyons. On the way back down, consider taking a short detour to observe a pair of Puebloan granaries estimated to be a whopping thousand years old.
Finals View and Sunset: Before wrapping up your day in the park, stop at Shafer Canyon for a viewpoint featuring a switchbacking road that winds down to the canyon floor. This drive is open to the public if you desire an extra thrill. Just make sure your vehicle can handle it!
There are many equally incredible settings to enjoy a sunset in Canyonlands. However, many park-goers time a sunset stop at Dead Horse Point State Park, which is on the direct route back to the main highway. The Rim Trail gives visitors plenty of space to stake out a viewing area along the magnificent rim.
Two Days in Canyonlands National Park
A second full day in Canyonlands will allow you to visit the contrasting Needles district 50 miles south of Island in the Sky. The area elevation averages one thousand feet lower, giving visitors a bottom-up perspective of the surrounding canyons.
A Scenic Drive Down and Newspaper Rock: Those staying in Moab will start the day by taking U.S. Route 191 south to reach The Needles, and it’s a captivating drive with plenty to see. Stop at the Newspaper Rock State Historical Monument to see hundreds of petroglyphs carved into the rock, many of which are said to be two thousand years old.
Slickrock Foot Trail: The Needles is best known for its long activities, but the Slickrock Foot Trail is a highly recommended moderate activity suitable for most visitors. The two-and-a-half-mile trail ebbs and flows over slickrock, offering four distinct vantage points to best soak in the surrounding views and photogenic spires the district is known for.
Hikers can peer up at Island in the Sky towering above them and smaller canyons that run alongside each side of the trail.
Longer Hiking Trails: Chesler Park Loop Trail is an 11-mile excursion that joins three shorter trails into one extremely diverse trek. During the hike, you will encounter up-close views of the needle spires, climb between massive boulders, and squeeze through an incredible slot canyon.
Adventurers will also want to consider the Druid Arch Trail, which shares some of the Chesler Park Loop route. The out-and-back climbs nearly 1500 feet and showcases sandstone spires most of the way. The final stretch leading to Druid Arch requires a sand and rock scramble, but take heart knowing the impressive arch views are near.
The Confluence Overlook Trail is another worthy half-day excursion that winds its way to the confluence of the Green and Rivers. The hike is slightly shorter and less demanding than the previous two options but still requires some effort to scramble through several boulder fields. Along the way, enjoy diverse beauty, including an abundance of seasonal wildflowers during the warmer months.
Other Activities to Consider: The Needles may not match the short activity list of Island in the Sky, but there are still several accessible points of interest worth checking out. The Ruins and Cave Springs Overlook Trail will grant visitors a look inside the land’s history. Additionally, Wooden Shoe Arch Overlook and Big Spring Canyon Overlook are fantastic points to take in sensational views of the park.
Spend the Evening in Moab: Moab is an outdoor lovers’ delight, with plenty to see and do. Wrap up your final night by popping into the various souvenir shops, catching live music at the food truck park, and grabbing dinner at one of the delectable eateries.
How To Get to Canyonlands
Closest Airports: The Moab regional airport, Canyonlands Field Airport, is 29 miles from the park and offers daily flights to and from major airports like Salt Lake City and Denver, though prices are typically higher than larger airports. Salt Lake City International is the closest major airport (257 miles), and Denver International Airport (465 miles), Henry Reid International in Las Vegas (479 miles), and Grand Junction Regional Airport (124 miles) are all worth considering depending on your trip’s entire itinerary.
Road Trip Proximity: If Canyonlands is part of a road trip itinerary, nearby popular destinations include Arches National Park (30 miles); Moab, Utah (30 miles); Capitol Reef National Park (156 miles); and Durango, Colorado (190 miles).
Entering the Park: Island in the Sky is accessed by taking U.S. Highway 191 and turning onto the Dead Horse U.S. Scenic Byway 313, which leads directly into the park. The Needles turn-off is approximately 50 miles south on U.S. Highway 191 at the Utah Highway 211 junction.
Getting Around the Park: There are no operating shuttles in the park, so car transit is required to visit all areas.
What to Bring on Your Trip to Canyonlands National Park
Daypack/Dry pack: If you plan to hike in the park, consider bringing a sturdy daypack to store all your essentials.
Water Bottle: Hydration is vital to any successful trip to Canyonlands. Bring a refillable bottle and re-fill at either of the primary visitor centers.
Hiking Boots: The desert is known for unpredictable footing that can easily result in injury without proper footwear. Be sure to wear your most dependable hiking boots when hitting the trails.
Sun Protection: Excessive sunshine can ruin your trip, and many Canyonlands trails have little shade coverage. Consider bringing protective clothing, headwear, and eyewear, and keep a bottle of sunscreen handy.
Layers: Temperatures in the park often fluctuate more than 40 degrees. Beyond sun protection, bring some extra layers to keep you warm during unpredictable seasons.
Binoculars: Consider bringing a pair of binoculars for a more detailed view of the landscape, especially down into the canyon.
Flashlight/Headlamp: If you plan to hike before sunrise or after sunset, you’ll need a portable light to help guide you. Additionally, it never hurts to carry portable lighting should you get stranded. Feeling your way through the dark with sharp canyon drop-offs around you is not a situation you want to encounter.
Cooler: There are no restaurants or food vendors inside the park, so bring a cooler to keep your lunch and snacks nice and cold.
Where to Stay Near Canyonlands
We have a full guide on where to stay near Canyonlands. Here is a brief rundown
- Needles District Campground: The campground is reservation-based spring-fall, but first-come, first-served during the off-season. There are 29 total sites.
- Island in the Sky Campground: The campground is first-come, first-served, with 12 sites open year-round.
- Dead Horse Point State Park: Conveniently located in Canyonlands, Dead Horse Point State Park has two reservation-based campgrounds and also offers yurts.
- Lodging in Moab: There are dozens of lodging options in Moab, ranging from RV parks and quaint motels to highly-rated hotels and luxury resorts. Prices will vary significantly based on the season.
Where To Eat Near Canyonlands
Moab Garage Co. is the ideal morning grab-and-go offering coffee, breakfast burritos, sandwiches, and more.
Jailhouse Cafe serves up hearty morning portions, including pancakes, waffles, and omelets.
Moab Food Truck Park features a variety of food truck vendors with a wide range of offerings, from tacos and street dogs to gelato.
The Blu Pig is a Moab staple that serves delicious barbecue and hosts live music.
Moab Brewery is the beer-drinking go-to in the area, with plenty of local flavors and flare.
Moab Canyon Pizza Co. is a family favorite serving pizza, wings, salads, and more.
The Trailhead Public House and Eatery menu has a diverse menu, including burgers, sandwiches, and salads.
Know Before You Go
- There is no cell phone service in Canyonlands National Park. Download trail maps and anything else you may need before your arrival.
- Fees to enter the park are $30/vehicle, $25/motorcycle, or $15/person.
- Consider purchasing an annual National Parks pass for $80 that will grant you access to every national park for one calendar year from the date of purchase. You can also purchase a $55 annual Arches/Canyonlands pass.
- There are several fee-free days throughout the year found here.
- Pets are restricted to front-country roads, campgrounds, and picnic areas. Find out more about the Canyonlands pet policies here.
- The Island in the Sky and The Needles visitor centers are each open 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily.
- Special-use permits can be found here on the National Park Service website.
- Do you need more time at Arches or Canyonlands? You definitely need more time in Arches National Park. You could spend 4 days in Arches but 2 days in Canyonlands would be plenty.
- Is one day enough for Canyonlands National Park? Yes, Canyonlands National Park in one day is enough time to see the major attractions in the park. If you want to cover the park in more depth, two days is an ideal time.
- Can you do Canyonlands and Arches in the same day? Yes it is possible but it is not advisable as it would be packing too much into one day as there is a lot to do and see at both National Parks. It would be a very busy day.
- Is Canyonlands worth it? Absolutely, it is what we consider a hidden gem in Utah as it is one of the less trafficked National Parks. There are areas of Canyonlands where you can completely beat the crowds.
Road Trip Ideas
Canyonlands National Park is located near several other notable landscapes and destinations, making it an easy add-on to other road trips.
Arches National Park is an ideal destination to pair with Canyonlands, and the outdoor town of Moab serves as a perfect launching point for each. Dead Horse Point State Park, located between Moab and Canyonlands, has many comparable views to the national park and is worth devoting a few hours to while in the area.
If you have a week to travel, consider checking all of Utah’s Mighty Five national parks, which are all within a day’s drive of one another, off your list. For a two-state itinerary, consider flying into Denver and then venturing west through the Rockies on your way to Canyonlands.