Length of stay:1 day
Visited: January 2023
Canyonlands National Park is the largest national park in Utah. Its dramatic desert landscape has been sculpted over time by the Colorado River. It contains countless canyons, rock pinnacles, mesas, buttes, arches and spires. The park consists of four districts: the three land districts of Island in the Sky in the north (the most accessible and visited district), the Needles in the east (filled with backcountry roads and colourful spires) and the Maze in the west (the most remote and rugged district), and the Green and Colorado rivers that divide the park.
We left our hotel near Bryce Canyon National Park first thing in the morning, glad to be leaving (most of) the snow and colder temperatures behind. It was a quiet drive through the countryside and we enjoyed watching the sunrise from the car. Even though we were still in the desert, the landscape changed considerably as we neared Moab as there was less snow and less vegetation.
We planned to spend the day at Canyonlands. Since our rental didn’t have four-wheel-drive, we figured we’d get the biggest bang for our buck at the most popular and accessible district at Island in the Sky. Island in the Sky is a broad mesa nestled between the Green and Colorado rivers. It has a visitor centre that is open every day and offers many overlooks and hiking trails to soak in the sweeping views and vistas.
We started at the visitor centre to pick up a larger map of the park and to refill our water bottles. We then walked across the road to check out a viewpoint of the Shafer Trail, a backcountry road that leads down into the canyon. From here we could also see the snow-capped La Sal Mountains in the background.
We hopped back in the car and continued along the main road to get to Mesa Arch (1km loop, rated easy). There’s a short trail that leads through the sandy desert terrain to an arch that’s perched on the edge of a sandstone cliff that overlooks the Colorado River, Monument Basin and La Sal Mountains. There was a bit of snow on the trail and it was a little chilly outside, but the sun was shining which was warming things up.
We then headed west towards the trailhead for Upheaval Dome where there are a few different trails that connect to form a series of loops. Our plan was to hike to the two scenic overlooks and then turn around, but there are other options to extend the hike into a longer loop. From the parking lot we followed the signs to the first and second overlooks (1.9km round trip, rated moderate). It’s a short trail that’s pretty much straight uphill. At the junction we first turned right to reach the first overlook. We then backtracked and went left to reach the second overlook. This section involved a bit more scrambling up the red rocks to reach the viewpoint which provided a similar view of the crater.
Upheaval Dome is somewhat of a mystery in terms of how it was formed. Some scientists think it was a salt dome that cracked and tilted the rock over time, but the popular opinion today was that it was created by the impact of a meteorite that fractured the rock.
Since we were parked by a picnic table that was partially in the shade (a rarity in the desert), we figured we might as well take advantage of the situation and eat our lunch here.
Afterwards we hiked Aztec Butte (2.3km loop, rated moderate). The first part of the trail leads through a sandy wash towards a junction. We first went right to climb to the top of Aztec Butte. By now we knew to look for the cairns to help with navigation. We scrambled up and across the slick rocks, which for the most part was pretty straightforward. There was just one dicy section that was super steep and required a bit of finagling to find a good hand and foothold to propel ourselves upwards. Once we reached the top, there’s a flat path that loops around the butte, providing sweeping views of the entire area.
Getting back down was much easier as we just slid down on our butts on the steep section. We circled back to the junction and this time we went the other way, which leads to the top of a smaller butte. There’s a short turnoff that dips below the rim that leads to a ledge where there are two ancestral granaries. Hundreds of years ago, the Puebloans scrambled up these buttes to store their harvest in small stone structures sealed with mud.
Once we looped back to the parking lot, we went to the Green River Lookout, located just past the main campground. The overlook provides a panoramic view of the Green River and several interesting rock formations.
We drove to the end of the paved road to check out the Grand View Point Trail (2.9km round trip, rated easy). The trail leads down a series of steps and follows the rim of the canyon, providing sweeping views of the Colorado River Canyon and Monument Basin along the way. The path was easy to follow as it was marked with large rock cairns consisting of three blocks on top of each other, which were hard to miss.
We squeezed in one last hike to the White Rim Overlook (2.9km round trip, rated easy). The trail itself is relatively flat and rather uneventful, but provides a nice view of the desert shrubbery that can survive in such harsh conditions. It leads to another dramatic overlook of the Colorado River Canyon.
And that’s about all the time we had for the day. From Canyonlands we drove towards Moab.
105 thoughts on “Canyonlands National Park”
We haven’t been to this one. Thanks for the photos. A trip to Utah is somewhere in the future, I think. 🙂
Thanks for your lovely comment. We only had a day in Canyonlands so we tried to make the most of it. There’s a nice mix of hiking trails and viewpoints to soak in the scenery. It’s definitely one to add to the list for when you visit southern Utah!
We’ve been to the area several times but never made it to Canyon Lands. It’s on our list for the future. 🙂 More Canada this summer. 😀
That’s awesome!! Canada has some pretty spectacular national parks as well!
Many beautiful Badlands scenes Linda. So glad the weather cooperated for you. I hear you on the lack of 4 wheel drive. We went to one area not far out of Bryce that was just a giant sandy mess. Not sure Avis would have been happy with me for driving there. Thanks for sharing. Have a great Thursday. Allan
It always helps to have clear skies to more fully appreciate the views. It was a bit chilly outside, but at least the sun was shining. We didn’t want to take any risks with our rental car and thought it was best to just stick with the Island in the Sky area, especially since we didn’t have cell reception. No complaints as there were plenty of overlooks and hiking trails to keep us busy. Thanks for reading. Have a wonderful weekend. Linda
Absolutely beautiful!! I need to take Jon to all these parks one day.
For sure. Southern Utah is a great place to take a road trip since there’s so many national and state parks nearby to explore. Even the driving is scenic.
Such stunning rock formations and landscapes!
The scenery at Canyonlands is incredibly beautiful. And I must say, the name of the national park is very fitting!
You did have a great outing, those landscapes are just beautiful 😍 And the details are surely helpful.
For sure. We tried to squeeze in as much as we could for our day in Canyonlands. I’m glad we had such clear skies to appreciate the views and rugged landscape.
I have been hiking in both the Island in the Sky and to the Needles Sections. Want to go back to do the Maze. What a great park. What a wonderful dark sky park.
We only had a day to explore Canyonlands, but we could have easily spent more time in this area. I guess this means we’ll just have to come back someday. The Maze seems like it would be beyond our area of expertise though given how much we struggled with navigation on some of the other trails in southern Utah!
Stunning pictures that really capture that beautiful dynamic landscape of Canyonlands 🙂 It really makes me want to get a ticket back to Utah right now.
Thanks for your kind words. I wish we could have stayed in Canyonlands and southern Utah in general for longer. There are still so many state parks and trails we have yet to explore. I have a feeling that we’ll be back someday!
Such a beautiful place! ❤️
Oh I know! The desert scenery is incredibly beautiful, especially with all those red rocks and interesting formations. I don’t think I could survive the heat in the summer though.
You can with air conditioning! I think that if AC wasn’t available, far fewer people would live here. The summer heat is really brutal.
That’s true. And you eventually acclimatize to the weather. I don’t think I could handle our summers either without having air conditioning!
Such beautiful (Linda) canyons. The colour of the earth against the crisp winter sky is lovely. Maggie
I see what you did there! I love it! Canyonlands seems very aptly named. I’m glad we had clear skies to appreciate the views.
Incredible area with some of the most incredible views in the US. Thanks for taking us there!
You bet. I’m glad we had clear skies and lots of sunshine to more fully enjoy the views and desert landscape. We’ve never been off-roading before, but this looks like a great spot for it (assuming you had the right vehicle and supplies that is).
Another amazing article, Linda. This has all the makings of an epic holiday. What incredible vistas and hiking routes.
Thanksss. Southern Utah makes for an awesome road trip if you’re into the scenery and all things outdoors. And I love how the landscape at all the national parks we visited are so different. Canyonlands seemed very appropriately named. The views were gorgeous.
The trails in Canyonlands NP look superb and that sunrise at the start of your post must have been worth getting up early for. I really need to return to Utah one of these days as your photos are really tempting me.
It was a bit of a struggle to get up so early in the morning, but seeing that sunrise on the drive made it all worth it. The hiking in Canyonlands was fantastic. There’s a nice variety of trails that range in length and difficulty and they were all well-signed. Hopefully you’re able to visit someday.
I love Canyonlands NP! We live in Colorado and take the trip out to Moab every few years… looks like you had a fun time!
That’s awesome that you’re able to visit Moab every few years. I wish we could have spent a few more days in the area. We had a wonderful time at Island in the Sky in Canyonlands. The views and vistas were incredible. I bet it would be fun to explore some of the backcountry roads in the Needles section of the park.
It is a great place to visit. There are so many parks all right there and some fun local eateries.
For sure. We were only in the Moab area for two days and spent one day in Canyonlands and the other in Arches. We went out for dinner at a mexican place in town and it was the best food we ate on our entire trip.
This place looks like endless joy for hiking, with so many different trails to explore and photograph. You did a great job showcasing this park’s different parts with your beautiful photos. My favourite is the Mesa Arch.
Thanks for your lovely comment. We had such great lighting at Mesa Arch. But the best part was that we were the only ones there. We really felt like we were alone in this rugged wilderness, which was pretty cool.
Fantastic overview of Canyonlands, guys! Your photos, with all that red rock beauty make me want to go back. Safe travels!
Thanks! All this talk about the red rocks and desert scenery makes me want to go back too! We had a wonderful time in Canyonlands and could have easily stayed for longer. There never seems to be enough time.
Look at that sunrise. And all of your photos of Canyonlands are just stunning – I really hope to visit one day. There are just too many beautiful places in this world to see 🙂
It can be tough getting up early, but it was so worth it to catch the sunrise. This also meant that we had more time to spend in Canyonlands. I hear yah, there’s so many places left to explore. And the more I travel, the longer my bucket list seems to grow!
Great photos and descriptions. I will have to ad Canyonlands to a future trip.
Thanks for your kind words. The scenery in Canyonlands is stunning. It’s definitely one to add to the list. It’s also super close to Arches, which is one of my favourite national parks.
Arches is on my list to for a future trip. Haven’t been there yet.
I’d love to go back. We only spent two days in the Moab area, which wasn’t nearly enough time.
This is great! Heading to Utah (Mt Zion) in May for a wedding and will travel around for a bit. Thanks for sharing your experiences! Fantastic pictures 🙂
That’s awesome that you’ll be heading to southern Utah this spring! I bet the desert will look gorgeous with all the wildflowers and cacti in bloom. Canyonlands is a bit of a drive from Zion, but if you have the time, it’s definitely worth exploring, along with some of the other national parks nearby like Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef and Arches.
I imagine we will go back another time too. Thanks for the recommendations!
Makes sense. There’s so much to see and explore in southern Utah. We felt the same way about needing to go back another time too.
I don’t know if I said this in an earlier comment, but we’re going to Wyoming in September, so that will be fun too!
That’s so exciting!!! It’s always nice to have a trip or two (or even more) to look forward to. Will you be visiting Yellowstone when you’re in Wyoming?
Oh not sure – we usually don’t travel much but have 2 destination weddings coming up. For each, we decided to add days and make vacations out of them. We’re from the east coast and have been up and down the coast, but not too often to the west, but now that our kids are older and mostly out on their own, we can travel more. 🙂
Another beautiful day out in Utah! I love seeing all the beautiful scenery. What a treat it must’ve been to see the sunrise during your drive and to see the landscape change as your day progressed.
Upheaval Dome seems very interesting and it’s always fun to speculate about how things may have led to the formation.
To have that warm weather right about now!
It’s always tough getting up earlier, but it was so worth it to see a spectacular sunrise. I’m glad we could watch it from inside our car as it was super cold outside. Getting an early start to the day also meant that we had more time to explore Canyonlands. It’s kind of neat how there are still mysteries in this world that have yet to be solved. And yes, it would be nice to have some warmer weather and sunshine! Hope you have your shovel ready for tomorrow! Enjoy the rest of your weekend.
Lovely visit! This is one of my favorite places on earth. We went there to see a meteor shower. I saw my first desert sunrise the next morning. These are among my favorite life memories.
I can easily see why Canyonlands is one of your favourite places to visit. That must have been such an amazing experience to see a meteor shower there. It was a bit too cold for camping when we visited in the middle of January, but I’d love to come back someday. And agreed, those desert sunrises and sunsets are pretty spectacular.
Oh my, that sunrise is something I will never forget. We also watched the sunrise a few times at Arches that week (and they all were gorgeous) but that first is especially memorable .
There’s something so satisfying about watching the sunrise or sunset. This makes me want to go back to southern Utah now!
I completely understand. I would love to go back someday!
There just never seems to be enough time (or vacation days). But we’ll be back someday as well.
There’s never enough time or money for all the things I want to do!
I hear yah. It forces you to prioritize though and be more appreciative of what you have 🙂
This is true! Sadly, some of the best trips have been to places that didn’t sound as wonderful as they turned out to be. There was no way to foresee that either so I just have to keep trying new places!
I know what you mean. It’s funny how that works. Maybe because we don’t have high expectations to begin with for certain places. So much of it also depends on things outside of our control too, like the weather.
Low expectations nearly always work out best for me! Haha. In fact, I don’t recall being too excited about Utah!
I was the complete opposite about Utah, but that’s maybe because we were planning on visiting a few years ago, but had to delay our trip because of the pandemic. So it was a long time in the making. Out of all the national parks we visited, I had the lowest expectations for Capitol Reef because it’s not as popular as the other ones, but it turned out to be amazing.
I had gone through a bad break up a few years ago and a friend called and said “let’s plan a trip to Arches.” I literally had to google it because I didn’t know what she was talking about. I will be forever in her debt for knowing that was the trip I needed.
One of my favourite things about spending time in nature is that it helps me focus on the present and that it improves my emotional well-being. Glad to hear that taking a road trip to Arches was exactly what you needed.
It was perfect. And I know what you mean about restoring that sense of self and emotional well being. I feel stronger and more like me after spending time in nature.
That is such a spectacular part of the world and the hiking is fantastic. Great photos, Linda; you brought back many good memories. Cheers.
It definitely felt like we were on a different planet! The scenery in Canyonlands was pretty amazing, which made for some memorable hiking.
Such gorgeous landscapes! I love how you can see the layers of beautiful Earth in your photos.
I’m glad we had such clear skies to appreciate the views and vistas. The scenery was absolutely stunning.
Such a wonderful places in the earth , so amazing !! So mesmerized Sunrise,
So awesome landscapes, varieties of plants , admiring the two caves like,
All Magnificent view 🙏😍 this place can nice hiking place as well 🌹👌
Your explanation is marvelous 👏❤️ thank you for sharing dear friend 🥰
Thanks for your kind words and for leaving a comment. The landscape in Canyonlands was breathtaking. We had a wonderful time exploring the trails and soaking in the views.
Beautiful sunrise photo Linda! And wow, you really had some dramatic views on these hiking trails – I especially like the one you took through the arch. And the snow capped mountains in the distance in some of your photos are also beautiful. Looks like a great day out in the desert.
Thanks! The sunrise made it worth getting up early for! This meant that we also had more time to explore the trails and scenery at Canyonlands. It was a bit chilly outside, but it was the perfect weather for hiking. And it’s always nice to have clear skies and sunshine to enjoy the views.
Wow, wow, WOW! Your images are stunning. 😊
Thanks!! I was in my element with my camera in hand!
Some spectacular views there, especially as the walks are quite short individually. That means a pretty rewarding effort versus reward ratio!
For sure. The nice thing about hiking a bunch of the relatively short trails was that we were able see more of the park and desert landscape.
Your beautiful photos convinced me that it’s a good idea to visit this national park in wintertime when it’s chilly (and hopefully at the same time sunny) with patches of snow here and there. The expanse of the entire place is just mind-boggling, and to have that with no other people in sight must have been very special.
We were a bit concerned what the conditions would be like on the trails, but it wasn’t too bad. It’s crazy how quickly things warm up once the start is shining. The cooler temperatures were great for hiking. I have no idea how people can hike in the heat, especially since there is zero shade. And yes, it was pretty awesome to have the park mostly all to ourselves. That’s just how we like it.
Even for me who lives in a tropical country hiking in the heat can be very challenging.
And that’s saying something! I don’t think we could have done half the trails we did if we visited in the middle of summer.
You all certainly saw the best in Canyonlands! Such beautiful and vast scenery and your photos are absolutely gorgeous! Glad you got to see the granary – what a great bonus. Love your views of the Green river too!! We floated it in canoes in 2021 and had the best time! I’m loving your trip report!
We only had a day in Canyonlands so we tried to make the most of it. It’s wild how people used to store their food in those hidden granaries. I can’t imagine how much more challenging it would have been to hike up there with all that food! Sounds like quite the adventure to go paddling in the Green River!
What a stunningly spectacular views. Watching the sun creeped out the horizon was a perfect treat! Thanks Linda for sharing, I hope one day, I can visit the place. 😍
It’s always tough to get up early, but seeing that sunrise made it all worth it. It was a perfect way to start the day. We had a wonderful time exploring Canyonlands. Hopefully you’re able to see this beautiful desert landscape for yourself someday.
As usual amazing photos 😍.
Thanks for your kind words. The scenery in Canyonlands is spectacular. I’m glad we had such clear sites to soak in the views.
I can’t get over the vastness of the landscape, just spectacularly stunning views as far as the eye can see. It’s breathakingly beautiful and your photos are incredible. I especially love the photo through the arch. Thanks for sharing 🙂
Thanks for reading and leaving a comment. The desert landscape in Canyonlands is breathtaking. I’m glad we had such nice weather to appreciate the views and explore a few of the hiking trails. And the best part was that it wasn’t very busy.
What a delight to see your photography and such interesting landscapes. I’m a Canadian living on Vancouver Island where the scenery is much different. Looking forward to more of your posts. 🤩😍💕✨
Thanks for your lovely comment. The desert landscape is very different compared to anything we have here in Canada. We visited Vancouver Island last spring and fell in love with the scenery along the west coast with all those ancient rainforests and rugged coastline. We’re actually thinking about doing a road trip along the Oregon Coast this spring.
Wonderful! I’m also considering a road trip through Oregon some day. Happy travels! 💕✨
Great minds think alike! We’re planning on booking our plane tickets this week.
I did a mountain bike trip to Canyonlands many years ago. It’s great to read about the park again.
Sounds like quite the adventure to go on a mountain biking trip to Canyonlands! The desert landscape is incredibly scenic. We had a wonderful time in the Island in the Sky district of the park and I’m glad we had clear skies to enjoy the views.
Looks like I need to add yet another Utah destination to my collection. Even though I’ve been a few times now, my list of what I haven’t seen just keeps growing. You photos from the overlooks are amazing; I like how they really show off the depth of the canyons and crevices.
Oh I know. It’s funny how that works. The more we travel, the longer our travel bucket list seems to grow. There never seems to be enough time (or vacation days) to see it all. Canyonlands is definitely one to add to the list though. The landscape is so vast and incredible.
You show so many places that the regular media doesn’t show
It’s exciting to see
It looks so quiet and reserved for a peaceful trip or picnic
Thanks for your kind words and for leaving a comment. It’s pretty incredible how vast and remote the desert landscape is in southern Utah. I love how the scenery at each of the national parks is so different. And it was nice to visit in the winter when the trails weren’t very busy.
Love it! I don’t regularly see these in the media so with your descriptions and comments I can tell you’re passionate about what you do. Stay blessed!
You are too kind. Take care. Linda
Take care too. Blessings
Wow. Very nice, and I love the step by step.
Thanks for your lovely comment. The desert landscape in Canyonlands is stunning. It felt like we were on a different planet.