13 Amazing Things to Do in Canyonlands National Park

You are on the right page if you want information on what to do in Canyonlands National Park. Go ahead and explore everything you must do before your visit.

Canyonlands National Park is one of Utah’s best places to visit, and its diversity sways our imagination. Utah has four national parks; the largest is Canyonlands National Park.

Moab is the closest town, about 30 miles from the Islands of the Sky and 60 miles from The Needles District. The bonus is that you can also visit Arches National Park nearby.

This means you can visit two incredibly diverse national parks simultaneously! Canyonlands is unique because it is separated into four districts by the Colorado and Green Rivers carving through the canyon. These rivers then meet up at the confluence to continue flowing down south.

Things To Do In Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park Photo by Jakob Køhn on Unsplash Copyright 2020

A Y-shape is formed through the national park by the Colorado and Green Rivers, creating the following:

  • Islands in the Sky to the north
  • Needles District in the Southeast
  • Maze District in the Southwest
  • Rivers themselves

There is no way to move between each district from within the park through the rivers. This is challenging as you have to go out and drive all the way around to get to each district.

Canyonlands is a rugged, untamed land accessible by air or road from Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, and Grand Junction.

If you seek lots of adventure, you will find lots of things to do in Canyonlands National Park.

1. Things To Do in Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park is a huge place that is extremely delightful to explore.

It covers about 337,598 acres of canyons, buttes, mesas, arches, fins, and spires at the heart of Utah’s desert. It offers hiking trails, camping, stargazing, and rock climbing. Established in 1964, Canyonlands National Park preserves a colorful landscape sculpted by the Colorado River, Green River, and its tributaries.

If you are visiting Utah, then make sure you stop by and enjoy all the things to do in Canyonlands National Park

1. Gaze from the Grand View Point

The Grand View Point Trail starts with a close view of the White Rim, a sandstone beach 1200 feet below the Island in the Sky. The rivers are another 1,000 feet below this; you cannot see them as the canyon cliffs overshadow them.

There are two ways to experience this stunning Grand View Point. The easiest way is to take a short walk and enjoy the scenery along the paved roads that are wheelchair or stroller accessible.

The longer route is an unpaved trail that continues beyond the paved trail for about 1 mile. Be cautious as you go along this popular trail, as there is no protective fence, and you will mostly follow the mesa edge almost the entire way.

When you reach the end of the trail at Grand View Point, you can see the Maze and Needles district far away, making it one of the amazing Canyonlands National Park hikes.

Mornings are the best time to enjoy this place better as you can grasp the amazing landscape views created by the river.

2. Enjoy Sunrise at Mesa Arch

One of the most photographed sites at the Park, a visit to Mesa Arch is one of the best things to do in Canyonlands National Park.

The best time to visit Mesa Arch is before sunrise to bask in the sun’s glory, illuminating the bottom of the arch for nearly an hour. This is a spectacular view of a lifetime.

Things To Do In Canyonlands National Park
Sunrise At Mesa Arch Photo by Huper by Joshua Earle on Unsplash Copyright 2020

It is one of the natural arches that you should never miss. Mesa Arch sits on a cliff edge about 1200 feet above the Buck Canyon. Viewing from here is like looking outside a glass window to view the La Sal Mountains and the beautiful White Rim.

It is a short, easy walk to Mesa Arch trail, only about half a mile a round trip suitable for all ages. Hiking is quite popular here, and you can expect people at all times at Mesa Arch.

3. Overlooking the Green and Colorado Rivers

The Green River Overlook is another top thing to do in Canyonlands National Park. The view from here differs from that of the Grand View Point because of the bigger and broader look of the canyons.

It is just a short walk from the parking area and easily accessible. From Green River Overlook, you can see the river sculpturing from the west through the canyon below.

Things To Do In Canyonlands National Park
Green River Photo by Chuck G on Unsplash Copyright 2021

The Colorado River flows east of the Island of the Sky and meets the Green River, located west of the Island of the Sky at the Confluence. Below the confluence, the combined forces of these two rivers make it an ideal place for white water rafting.

Above the confluence, both rivers are slow and smooth, making them ideal places for kayaking or canoeing.

4. Driving the White Rim Road

The White Rim Road is a scenic yet dirty road loop around the Island in the Sky Mesa. If you are an extreme adventurist, driving the White Rim Road is one of the things to do in Canyonlands National Park.

Things To Do In Canyonlands National Park
Overlook Above The White Rim Photo by Michael Olsen on Unsplash Copyright 2021

These are off-beaten and otherwise inaccessible roads, but you should consider exploring them if you are adventurous. The entire loop is about 100 miles and will take more than a few days, so plan your trip accordingly.

Driving this road on any vehicle, whether a mountain bike or a 4×4 vehicle, requires a lot of experience. If you want to enjoy the ride without worries, you should join the high-rated tour conducted by the National Park Service.

5. Sunset at Dead Horse Point

One of the most beautiful places in the Moab area, the Dead Horse Point State Park, is about a 20-minute drive from the Island of the Sky Visitor Center.

It is breathtaking to visit this place during the sunset; consisting of two main viewpoints.

The Meander Overview offers stunning views of the Colorado River’s big curve, similar to the Hore shoe Bend of Arizona. The Dead Horse Point at the end of the road offers phenomenal views that could beat the Grand Canyon views.

Try to visit both these viewpoints as it would end your day with one of the most fantastic trips to the Park.

Sunset at Dead Horse Point in Canyonlands, Moab, Utah #scenicviews

6. View From the Visitor Center

This is the first viewpoint and as well as the last viewpoint that you will see depending on your way in/out of the National Park. It is sitting right next to the Island of the Sky Visitor Center; it has no name, nor is it mentioned on the map.

If there is one viewpoint that you should not miss out on while visiting Island in the Sky, then it is the Visitor Center because the views you get to see from here are commendable!

These stunning views will make you love this place so much that you will be forced to promise yourself to visit this place again.

7. Exploring Maze

If you like to leave behind bustling city life, exploring Maze should be on your list of things to do in Canyonlands National Park. You will find silence, solitude, and many adventures and challenges here to overcome.

It got its name Maze Canyonlands because of the puzzle created by the oddly shaped buttes, mesas, and towers.

This place is on the least reachable side of Canyonlands Park. The roads are difficult to drive in some places, and this area is rugged and remote. So, it would be good if you are someone who has experience driving a 4×4 vehicle on rough terrains!

The Maze is quite a huge area, and it would be good if you plan your trip here for about 2-3 days. You will need to get prior permission to camp in the backcountry. A high-clearance, low-range vehicle is also required per the National Park Service guidelines.

The Maze: Canyonlands National Park, Utah, USA  [Amazing Places 4K]

8. Watch the Rock Art at The Horseshoe Canyon

If you want to see some of the best works of Rock Art in North America, Horseshoe Canyon should be on your list of things to do in Canyonlands National Park.

Some of the artwork found here is more than a thousand years old. The life-sized figures and petroglyphs are well preserved at the Great Gallery.

Getting to Horseshoe Canyon is tricky as it takes a strenuous ride from Moab through gravel roads to reach the Great Gallery.

9. Hiking Up The Upheaval Dome

One of the unique things to do in Canyonlands National Park is to visit the Upheaval Dome. The scenery you get to see here differs from other parts of the Canyonlands National Park.

It is believed that this crater is a result of a meteorite fall, which could be why this huge crater is very peculiar. You get to see unbelievable shades of hues inside the crater!

Things To Do In Canyonlands National Park
Upheaval Dome Photo by Cristina Thompson on Unsplash Copyright 2021

Two viewpoints are accessible through the Upheaval Dome Road. An explicitly marked hiking trail will guide you to the viewpoints.

The first viewpoint is quite close to the parking area, while the second is about 0.5 miles away. But the view from the second viewpoint is undoubtedly better. So, take the extra effort to hike up there to enjoy the views.

10. Visit the Unique Aztec Butte

The Aztec Butte has a dome shape and is one of the unique visits you should include in your things to do in Canyonlands National Park.

It has an elevation of about 250 feet and is a moderate hiking trail that would take about a few hours. You can enjoy several steep open sections and slick rock scrambling here.

While hiking at Aztec Butte, you can have far better views of the Trail Canyon and the Island in the Sky mesa. Ancient Pueblo Peoples’ granaries (to store grains) can be tucked into compartments below the butte around the loop at the top of the Aztec Butte.

There is also a smaller dome where you can find nooks used as granaries.

If you find the Aztec Butte too strenuous, you can also wake up to Whale rock. The Whale Rock is just one mile long and is comparatively easier to climb up to the Slickrock Dome.

Aztec Butte Hike | Canyonlands National Park

11. Drive to the Needles District

The drive to the Needles District will be a beautiful experience worth enjoying. You can see purple wildflowers and cows grazing in the emerald-looking green valley.

Besides this, you can view the orange and red mesas, plateaus of the park, and, in the distance, buttes rising, reminding you of Monument Valley and Valley of the Gods.

As the drive opens up, you can see the dense, large, pin-like sandstone pillars, and this is from where the park got its name – The Needles District.

You can find sculptured rocks, canyons, upheaval domes, arches, and potholes with names like Elephant Hill, Devil’s Kitchen, and Caterpillar Arch. This district is an open-air museum of natural monuments of Canyonlands.

Most arches can be reached only by those who can take up daring adventures in the backcountry canyons. Shortly after entering the Park, you can see the Wooden Shoe Arch from the roadside.

The best thing about Needles District is its environment’s great solitude. The best hiking trails to explore the Needles are a bit longer and, hence, not good for families with young children.

It would help if you had more physical fitness, effort, and time to explore the Needles, so be prepared accordingly when you plan to include this place in your things to do in Canyonlands National Park.

Needles District in Canyonlands National Park, Utah

12. Overlooking the Shafer Canyon and Shafer Trail Viewpoint

The two viewpoints at the Shafer Canyon are the Shafer Canyon Overlook and Shafer Trail Viewpoint. It takes hardly a few minutes to get here and offers one of the best views.

From the Shafer Trail Viewpoint, you can view Shafer Road’s magnificent hairpins that lead down to the Canyon. You can even see the bikes and cars driving through this crazy-looking road.

Consider driving Shafer Canyon Road as it is wider than you thought. This is because it was initially built for mining vehicles.

13. Hike the Chesler Park Viewpoint

If you want to enjoy the views of the sand-stoned spirals of the Needles District, then you should include Chesler Park Viewpoint in your things to do in Canyonlands National Park.

For those who love adventure, Chesler Park Viewpoint has all the content for this. Easy rock climbing, trails crisscrossing between the orange and red sandstone needles, and extensive sight of the La Sal Mountains and the Island in the Sky.

Things To Know Before You Visit Canyonlands National Park

There are a few things to know before visiting Canyonlands National Park.

1. Get Updates 

Before planning your day or overnight trip, visit the National Park Service website to get the latest updates on the park.

2. Weather

Weather conditions are pleasant during the spring and fall months. There will be big crowds flooding the park during the summer. During winter, it is less crowded and likely to snow as the temperatures go below freezing.

3. Days Needed

Ideally, you will need two days to cover your visit to Islands in the Sky and The Needles District. With each additional day, you can enjoy some of the epic adventures of the park.

If you are considering overnight trips, no lodging facilities are inside the Canyonlands National Park. But there are lots of campgrounds in the different districts.

4. You Must Remember

If you are planning overnight trips, you can stay at Moab, where there are hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and grocery stores. Food or gas is not available at the park. So fill up your vehicle before you leave Moab.

Store lots of water, especially if you are visiting during summer. You can get Drinking water only at the Visitor Center. It would be best to have sun protection on your list of things to do in Canyonlands National Park.

5. Entrance Fees

The Park entrance fee is about $30.00 per vehicle and is valid for a week. This entrance fee covers all the areas of the park.

But if you intend to visit other National Parks in the same year, you should take a National Park Annual Pass. It costs about $80.00 for a family and is valid throughout the year.

You can also consider the Southeast Utah Parks Pass that includes the Canyonlands National Parks, Arches Park, and Natural Bridges National Monuments, costing $55.00.

Lifetime passes provide a 50% discount on camping fees at Island in the Sky and The Needles campground.

The only thing to remember is that none of these passes include your visit to Dead Horse Point State Park. It would be best to take a separate pass when you reached the entrance.

Closing Thoughts

Despite being Utah’s largest National Park, Canyonlands National Park is often overshadowed by its more famous counterparts, Arches or Zion National Park.

This National Park has lots to offer and is well worth visiting. Experience tons of adventure and learn more about what to do in Canyonlands National Park.

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