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Friday, March 15, 2024

Canyonlands National Park (Island in the sky) | Guide

  Rajesh Kumar Rana       Friday, March 15, 2024

Canyonlands National Park, UT

Canyonlands National Park (Island in the sky) | Guide 

Canyonlands is the largest national park in Utah and one of the most popular in the United States. We ended up here when we traveled around the USA along this route.

For Americans, this is a well-known location, they go to this park and its surroundings for the whole vacation - the number of various activities allows you not to repeat and come back. Nearby is the popular tourist town of Moab and several US national parks - Arches, Dead Horse Canyon, Canyonlands National Park.

Practical information about Canyonlands National Park

The distance from the town of Moeb is 51.5 km.

How to get to the park from the city of Moeb - we leave for highway 191 and drive 16 km. north to Highway 313, then heading southeast for 35 km. before entering Canyonlands Park.

Opening hours of Canyonlands Park - all year round and 24 hours a day

Entry fee - $25 per car, ticket valid for 7 days, you can also buy a single annual ticket to all US national parks, which costs $80

Visitor center opening hours - despite the round-the-clock and year-round opening hours, the park's information center is closed in winter. Information can be found by phone - (435) 719-2313

Canyonlands National park
Canyonlands National park

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Description of the Canyonlands park in the USA

Canyonlands is Utah's largest national park and the easiest way to see most of it is to drive here to the part called Island in the Sky. It is only 52 km. from the town of Moab. Along this part of the park there is a picturesque paved road that covers all the main locations of Island in the Sky. In addition, the park has four dirt roads for four-wheel drive vehicles and several hiking trails.

The two main rivers of Canyonlands National Park, the Colorado and the Green River, have been driven  by wind and time through the heart of the Canyonlands, cutting through the layered sandstone to form two deep canyons. By the way, both rivers are perfectly suited for rafting on kayaks, canoes and other watercraft.

There are places for camping in the park, there are no hotels and motels in the park. You need to take water and food with you, there are garbage cans for food waste at parking lots and viewing points.

The main location of the park - Island in the Sky  - is literally "Island in the sky", this part of the park is located on a flat plateau rising above the rest of the Canyonlands park at an altitude of about half a kilometer (1500 feet). The length of the paved roads is 32 km., and from the observation platforms of this part of the Canyonlands park you can see the views at a distance of 160 km. in any direction.

Canyonlands National Park
 Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National park map

How to get there

Canyonlands Park is located away from major cities. Public transport does not go to it. Therefore, almost no alternative to how to get to it is a trip by car. We ourselves traveled around the States by car, and for a long time we were looking for where to book cheaper, and in the end we took it at the Los Angeles airport at the lowest price here. You can get to the territory of Canyonlands by interstate 191, and then turn onto one of the roads, depending on which part of the park you want to see:

  • Island in the Sky - turn off US 191 onto UT 313.
  • The Needles - turn off US 191 onto UT 211.
  • The Maze - Take UT 24 to Hans Flat and then unpaved roads start, requiring a high ground clearance 4WD vehicle. After rain, traffic on these roads may be difficult or temporarily restricted.

Distances from the city of Moab to the objects in Canyonlands Park:

  • Visitor Center Island in the Sky - 51 km.
  • Visitor Center The Needles - 121 km.
  • Horseshoe Canyon Unit on I-70 - 162 km.
  • Horseshoe Canyon Unit on State Road 24 - 191 km.
  • Hans Flat - 74 km.

Things to do in Canyonlands Park, from a few hours to a few days

How long does it take to visit Canyonlands? In fact, you can spend from several hours to several days visiting the park, the impressions will be vivid in both cases.

If you come to Canyonlands for a few hours

This is infinitely little, but during this time you can drive along the paved part of the park (Island in the Sky), make a dozen stops, see the famous Mesa Arch and enjoy the panorama of the canyon from above. Be sure to wait for sunset, and even better to get to this park at sunrise and sunset.

If you come to Canyonlads National Park for half a day

In addition to driving along roads and views, you can make a short Trail near such locations as Mesa Arch or Upheaval Dome. Pick up a map from the Visitor Center to better navigate the area.

If you are visiting Canyonlads National Park for the day

In addition to the route described above, it is possible to make a longer track, for example, a circular hike Neck Spring Trail. If you have a 4x4 Jeep or high clearance crossover, you can drive down the Shafer Trail to the White Rim and explore the Musselman Arch. You can also drive down to the Colorado River through Lathrop Canyon. This route requires a daily permit.

You can get a permit at Please study carefully before traveling.

If you are visiting Canyonlads National Park for a few days

If you like loneliness and hiking, or a serious jeep is idle in the garage, then Canyonlands is your place. If you have a few days left, you can cycle through a 100-mile long trail called the White Rim Trail, which winds right under the popular Island in the Sky location.

Reserving a campsite and obtaining a permit (permit) must be done in advance (see above)

Canyonlands National Park
National Park

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Hiking trails in Canyonlands National Park

At the park's most popular location, Island in the Sky, there are several trekking routes, from short and easy ones lasting up to half an hour to a long walk from Mesa Top down to the Colorado River.

All hiking trails are marked with special rock brackets. It is not allowed to destroy (remove) the staples, it is also forbidden to put new staples, the park rangers are watching this and we saw a couple of flying drones.

To pass medium and difficult routes, you need to navigate the maps as little as possible and have a topographic map of the area. There is no drinking water on any of the routes, in summer stock up at least three liters per person for one day.

Canyonlands National park

Canyonlands National Park - Hiking Trails

Light Trails

  • Mesa Arch - Distance 800 meters, passage time 30 minutes, the best time for the hike is early morning
  • Murphy Point – 1.9km trail, 1 hour hike, be sure to get panoramic views from the Henry Mountains
  • White Rim Overlook - trail length 2 km., travel time 1 hour, panoramic view of the road along the edge of the White Rim Road
  • Grand View Point - trail length 3 km., travel time 1.5 hours, awesome panorama of the rocky cliffs.

Medium difficulty Trails

  • Neck Spring  – the length of the trail is 8 km, the passage time is 3-4 hours, the height difference is 90 m.
  • Aztec Butte - the length of the trail is 3 km, the passage time is 1.5 hours, the height difference is 70 m.
  • Whale Rock - trail length 1.5 km., travel time 1 hour, steep canyon panorama
  • Upheaval Dome to main overlook – 1.5 km trail, 30 minutes, worth going for the view of the crater
  • Upheaval Dome to second overlook - trail length 3 km., travel time 45 minutes, view of the crater and canyon

Complex Trails for several hours

  • Lathrop to White Rim Road - trail length 16 km, travel time 5-7 hours, elevation difference - 500 meters, views of the Colorado River and La Sal mountains
  • Lathrop to Colorado River - the length of the trail is 27 km.
  • Murphy Loop (Murphy Loop) - trail length 14 km., travel time 5-7 hours, elevation difference 427 meters, panoramic view of the isoclinal ridge.
  • Gooseberry – trail length 10 km, travel time 4-6 hours, elevation difference 427 meters, panoramic view of the cliffs and mountains of La Sal
  • Wilhite - trail length 16 km., travel time 6-8 hours, elevation difference 488 meters, view of the Slot canyon across the White Rim Road
  • Alcove Spring - trail length 16 km., travel time 6-7 hours, elevation difference 396 meters, view of the Big Alcove and Taylor Canyon
  • Syncline Loop - the length of the trail is 13 km, the passage time is 5-7 hours, the height difference is 396 meters, most of the trail passes in the shade.

Biking- Canyonlands National Park

On a bike you can ride along the 100 mile White Rim Road, which is located on the most popular part of the canyon - Islands in the Sky (Islands in the Sky)

In another popular location of the park - Maze, you can make a multi - day bike trip, keep in mind that the roads in Maze are more difficult than in Islands in the Sky. For overnight stays in tents, you need to obtain a permit (read above). Keep in mind that in spring and autumn the number of people who want to get a permit significantly exceeds the number of permits themselves. Make an order online in advance.

Photography in Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands is a real paradise for photographers. Constantly changing light, angles of incidence of light work wonders and you can get dissimilar shots. I recommend sunrise and sunset and periods with diffused light - spring, autumn.

With ever-changing light, the multi-colored landscape provides limitless photographic possibilities. Often, the difference between an average photo and an exceptional photo is good lighting. The low angles of the sun at sunrise and sunset can add brilliant color to the stone. Scattered clouds can also add depth to the image and the passage of a storm.

How to find cheap accommodation while traveling?

We book on . Why? Because this search engine allows you to find the best options and not pay too much. The search goes through several popular booking systems, we just have to choose the best option.

The most interesting places in Canyonlands National Park

Green River Overlook

The most famous observation deck of the park is located on the territory of Islands in the Sky, a paved path leads to the observation deck. From the top, there is a steep panorama of the canyon and a view of the Green River meandering between rocks and canyons.

Mesa Arch

An arc that every Windows user knows, it is often used as a screensaver. Around it there is an easy track that is accessible to young children. Views like in a fantasy movie.

Shafer Trail

Route for cars with high clearance, it is recommended to find out the current state of the route by calling 435-259-4351

Cataract canyon

Located in the Canyonlands National Park and is 14 miles of rapids of varying difficulty.

Canyonlands National park
Cataract canyon, Utah, Colorado river
image source: Wikimedia

Wild  Flower

A real attraction of Canyonlands National Park that can only be seen in spring and early summer. Indian Paintbrush is one of the most famous wildflowers that fill the canyon in April-June.


Canyonlands National Park is famous for having the dark sky in the States and the most popular location for stargazer's and photographers.

Canyonlands National Park Contact Information

Postal address: Canyonlands National Park, 2282 SW Resource Blvd. Moab, UT 84532

Visitor Center GPS coordinates 38.459798, -109.820675



General information - (435) 719-2313

Backcountry Information - (435) 259-4351

Where to Stay near Canyonlands National Park

The most convenient location  for an overnight stay is the tourist town of Moab. There are dozens of hotels, guest houses and apartments here.

I recommend choosing comfortable accommodation, as you will have to walk a lot. Here are my recommendations for an overnight stay:


Homewood Suites by Hilton Moab 3*

Inca Inn Motel

Motel Moab Downtown

Best Western PLUS Greenwell Inn 3*

Big Horn Lodge 2*

More expensive

Best Western Plus Canyonlands Inn 3*

Comfort Suites Moab 2*

Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriot Moab

Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Moab

Planning a visit to Canyonlands

When is the best time to visit Canyonlands Park?

The territory of Canyonlands National Park is open to the public all year round. However, it is too hot in summer and quite cold in winter. If it snows or it rains, walking on the trails becomes quite problematic. Therefore, the most comfortable months of the year to visit the Canyonlands National Park are the end of April and May, as well as September and October.

Useful advice

Look at the road map of the entrance to the park and the map of interesting places on its territory, check the current weather conditions and read the warnings on the official website of the park. Calculate approximately how long it will take you to visit the park and plan a place to spend the night. Gather suitable clothing and footwear, hiking equipment, camping supplies, and groceries that you will need during your visit to the park. Drive into Canyonlands Park with as much gas as possible so you don't have to leave the park just to fill up your car.

Important information for visitors

  • There are no sources of drinking water on The Maze and Willow Flat.
  • Drinking water can be replenished free of charge at the Island in the Sky visitor center (from March to October).
  • It is recommended to take drinking water with you at the rate of 4 liters per person per day.
  • There are no shops, restaurants, cafes or eateries within the park.
  • There are no gas stations in the park.
  • There is practically no mobile communication in the park.
  • It is forbidden to use drones and any other flying objects without special permission.
  • It is not recommended to leave the trails unless absolutely necessary.
  • In case of meeting with wild animals, it is necessary for safety reasons to keep a distance of at least 30 meters from them.
  • When hiking, you should adequately assess your physical condition and move safely, taking into account the possibility of encountering wild animals, as well as sudden changes in weather conditions.
  • Before starting your journey through the park, find out important information about weather conditions, the state of roads and trails at the entrance to the park or in one of the visitor centers on its territory.
  • Free detailed road and trail maps are available to all park visitors.
  • Topographic maps for multi-day hikes can be purchased at visitor centers.
  • All vehicles, including bicycles, must not leave the road within the park. Off-road vehicle traffic is prohibited in Canyonlands Park.
  • Ordinary city cars are suitable for traveling on an asphalt road only along the northern part of the park - Island in the Sky. Unpaved roads, many of which are quite rough, steep, dusty and deep dry sand, require high ground clearance 4x4 vehicles. In case of good weather conditions, part of these roads can also be driven by a non-4WD vehicle with high ground clearance.

Recommended visits to the park

The official website of the Canyonlands park has recommendations for what to see in each part of the park if you have a certain limited time to visit. We briefly summarise here these recommendations for the most popular part of the park - the Island in the sky.

If you have 2 hours of time - drive along the scenic road and see beautiful views along the way, stop at Grand View Point or Green River Overlook. Hike to Mesa Arch.

If you have 4 hours of time - drive along the scenic road, stopping at the observation decks Grand View Point, Green River Overlook and Upheaval Dome. Hike trails at Grand View Point and Mesa Arch, and visit the Upheaval Dome Overlook.

If you have 8 hours of time, visit all the observation decks Island in the Skymarked on the map of Canyonlands Park. Take a few short hikes on the plateau of your choice or one long hike leading up to White Rim. Grab a bite to eat at one of the picnic spots on White Rim Overlook or overlooking the Upheaval Dome.

If you want to meet the sunrise or watch the sunset in Canyonlands Park, then find out the time of sunrise and sunset in advance on your own or in the visor center. Ride to meet the dawn at Mesa Arch. at sunset, it is recommended to be on Green River Overlook or Grand View Pointto admire the change in the illumination of the canyons by the rays of the setting sun and the onset of twilight. You can also go to one of the hills - to the top of Aztec Butte or to Whale Rock, from where panoramic views of the park and its surroundings open.

Traveling Canyonlands with kids

In the visitor center, visitors with children can be offered various educational and entertainment programs. Depending on the age of the children, they may be interested in participating in the ranger's special children's activities or reading a children's picture book about Canyonlands Park. You can find information about events in advance at the visitor center of Canyonlands Park.

Families with children can also receive the so-called Explorer Pack at the visitor center, which includes fun games and activities, as well as tools to help you keep the kids interested in your trip to the park.

For hiking with children, a hike to Mesa Arch or climbing on the back of a whale on Whale Rock is recommended. Be careful and keep an eye on children, as the trails have unfenced areas with very steep slopes and drop-offs.

Campgrounds in Canyonlands Park

For the convenience of a multi-day visit to Canyonlands Park, it has several campsites located in each of its three parts of its territory. It is most convenient to arrive in pairs in the morning, choose a campsite and take a place in it, and then go sightseeing and go hiking. For camping, you must have your own equipment.

What kind of things to take with you for camping in the park?

The minimum set for spending the night at the campsite is a tent, sleeping bags, equipment for rest and cooking, a lantern, matches, food, drinking water, change of clothes and shoes, hygiene products.

There are only two campsites in the most popular part of the park - Island in the Sky, and the number of places in it is quite small:

  • Willow Flat Campground - 12 spots for $15. Of the amenities - a table, benches, a place for a barbecue, a toilet. There is no water. There are no reservations.
  • Squaw Flat Campground - 26 spots for $20. The amenities are the same, in addition there is water (both in summer and in winter).

On the territory of The Needles there are three simple campsites, without amenities:

  • Squaw Flat Campground - for a maximum of 50 people / 10 vehicles, it is possible to reserve places in case of a group visit (from 11 people or more).
  • Wooden Shoe - for a maximum of 25 people / 5 vehicles, can also be reserved.
  • Split Top - for a maximum of 15 people / 3 vehicles, can be pre-booked per group.

Campsite reservations can be made at, or by calling 877-444-6777, 877-833-6777 (TDD), or +1 518-885-3639 (international).

Campsites in the outback

If you are going on a multi-day hike in the park, you can stop for the night at a suitable place for this, after obtaining a special permit from the ranger.

Read also:

• Arches National Park:  How to plan your trip

• Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah - history, photos, review and useful information


Thanks for reading Canyonlands National Park (Island in the sky) | Guide

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