Best Hikes in Canyonlands National Park – Travel to Utah

THE VIEW OF THE CANYON BELOW THROUGH MESA ARCH

Canyonlands National Park is the largest National Park in Utah. Because of this, it’s divided into three districts. Island in the Sky, Needles, and The Maze district each have their own unique opportunities for adventure. Which district you choose to travel to depends largely on what kind of hiking you’re looking for. I’m sharing the best hikes in Canyonlands National Park. If you’re looking for amazing views, you’re in the right place.

Mesa Arch, Island in the Sky

FAQS

The Best Hikes in Canyonlands National Park

Best Day Hikes in Island In The Sky

We found Island in the Sky to be the busier of the two districts we explored. There are certainly more family friendly hiking experiences to be had here than the other two districts and that may be why. There were a lot of different hiking options; we spent an entire day hiking about 4-5 trails of varying length.

Mesa Arch

DIFFICULTY: Very Easy

DISTANCE: .5 Miles

DESCRIPTION: Mesa Arch is a very popular trail. It’s one of the busiest trails in the park and for good reason! A short hike, this .5-mile stroll over some sand and slick rock will bring you to a crowd of people enjoying the best views of the park! The spires and canyon below through the opening of the arch is just breathtaking. Please do not walk on top of the arch and don’t hog the picture space if it’s busy. Try to arrive at sunrise to avoid some of the largest crowds the park will see.

THE VIEW OF THE CANYON BELOW THROUGH MESA ARCH
One of the Best Easy Hikes in Canyonlands National Park

White Rim Overlook

DIFFICULTY:  Easy

DISTANCE: 1.8 Miles

DESCRIPTION: Enjoy a flat, just under 2 mile hike to an east-facing overlook for views of the Colorado River, Monument Basin, and La Sal Mountains. There is very limited trail head parking, but some really awesome views from just off the parking lot if you’re not down for the hike.

TWO GIRLS WITH BRAIDS ENJOY WHITE RIM OVERLOOK IN CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK

Murphy Point

DIFFICULTY: Easy

DISTANCE: 3.6 Miles

DESCRIPTION: 1.8 flat miles to a gorgeous cliff edge where we enjoyed some rock hopping and a gorgeous sunset despite the smoke pollution from a nearby forest fire. At 3.6 miles round-trip, this is a fairly easy hike with a great pay off! If you hike for sunset, be sure to bring your headlamp and watch out for low flying bats on your return hike.

MURPHY'S POINT FOR A SMOKEY SUNSET
Murphy’s Point is the Best Canyonlands Hike for Sunset

Grand Viewpoint Trail

DIFFICULTY: Easy

DISTANCE: 2 Miles

DESCRIPTION: When you first arrive to the area you’ll notice amazing view points that require very little effort. If you venture past the parking lot, you’ll find an easy trail that leads to beautiful, panoramic views of Canyonlands National Park.

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Upheaval Dome

DIFFICULTY: Moderate

DISTANCE: 2 Miles

DESCRIPTION: A crater-view trail with a couple of different theories on and an opportunity to educate yourself on the mystery. About .3 miles in to the hike, you’ll reach Upheavel Dome Overlook after climbing about 150 feet via stone steps. Thin out the crowds and continue on to the second viewpoint, which will add an additional mile and elevation change to your hike. We had some fun climbing around the rock formations and marveling at what could have caused the different color folds.  

A GIRL SITTING ON THE EDGE OF A CLIFF AT UPHEAVAL DOME, CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK
UPHEAVAL DOME, ISLAND IN THE SKY

Aztec Butte Trail

DIFFICULTY: Moderate

DISTANCE: 2 Miles

DESCRIPTION: Explore ancestral Puebloan granaries and ruins along the edge of a dome shaped butte that rises 225 feet above the mesa. Nestle yourself into the natural alcoves of the rim trail and enjoy some mid afternoon shade with a view of Taylor Canyon. At just under 2 miles, this hike has a steep climb to the top of the butte but otherwise traverses flat, sandy, grassy plains.

CHECKING OUT THE ANCIENT GRANERIES
CHECKING OUT THE ANCIENT GRANERIES

Syncline Loop

DIFFICULTY: Difficult

DISTANCE: 8.6 Miles

DESCRIPTION: From the Upheaval Dome trailhead, take the 8.6 mile Syncline Loop trail. This loop is recommended for very experienced adventurers. Hike around the dome and come in contact with virtually no tourists along the way.

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Best Hiking Trails in The Needles District

We might’ve seen four people all day at Needles and not a single one of those people were found on the trail. Enjoy the canyons and spires of the great american outback in the needles area; peep the folks in the visitor center at opening for the opportunity to feel the ‘Salute Your Shorts’ nostalgia of a trumpet playing while the flag is being raised.

Cave Springs

DIFFICULTY: Easy

DISTANCE: .6 Mile Loop

DESCRIPTION: At only .6 miles this trail was a welcomed easy stroll compared to our previous 10- mile adventure. Although not strenuous, the trail does involve a number of ladders and cave-like overhangs which is exciting! Enjoy a look at a historic cowboy camp & prehistoric petroglyphs on a fun little walk through some interesting terrain.


Pothole Point

DIFFICULTY: Easy

DISTANCE: .6 Miles

DESCRIPTION: About a .5 mile loop over slick rock to a diverse pothole community with an expansive view of the needles. On a clear day you can see for miles, therefore, I suggest this playful loop for families.

Peekaboo Springs

DIFFICULTY: Strenuous

DISTANCE: 10.2 Miles

DESCRIPTION: This long day hike will have you truly exploring canyon country. Follow the cairns through 10 miles of sandy canyon bottoms, over slick rock, up a few ladders, and a few scrambles to a brilliant rock art site. Enjoy crossing Squaw and Lost Canyons, climbing head walls with views of the La Sal Mountains and Six Shooter Peak and climbing through rock openings. Be sure to pack ample snacks and water; you are very exposed on this hike so many sure you are wearing appropriate sun protection.  

Druid Arch

DIFFICULTY: Strenuous

DISTANCE: 10.8 Miles

DESCRIPTION: Druid Arch is another popular, but long hike through the Needles District Backcountry. This trip explores canyons, and involves some light rock scrambling but will provide spectacular views. There are three backpacking sites along this trail and seasonal water.


Hiking the Maze District

Due to the remote nature of this undeveloped land, we did not have the opportunity to explore The Maze guided hikes in horseshoe canyon are offered most Spring and Fall weekends. This section of the park is remote. It is requested that individuals obtain backpacking permits to explore the remote, primitive trails of The Maze.

The Best Drive-Up Viewpoints in Canyonlands

Canyonlands is home o many stunning views! Luckily, all of them don’t require a strenuous hike. Some of them you can simply drive up to!

  1. Green River Overlook
  2. Grand View Point Overlook
  3. Shafer Canyon Overlook
  4. Buck Canyon Overlook

Canyonlands National Park FAQs

Utah is home to 5 beautiful National Parks. Canyonlands is unique in that it has three separate districts, each with its own distinctive landscape. These three districts are not connected and have very different landscapes, which might pose a few questions!

How Long do I need in Canyonlands National Park?

I think this depends on what level of adventure you’re looking for and how much you want to see. The Island in the Sky district is the most visited. You can see this part of the park’s most popular viewpoints on a day trip.

If you’re looking to visit multiple districts and embark on some longer, more time-consuming hikes I would recommend 2-3 days dedicated to Canyonlands National Park. For reference, we completed all of the hikes and visited all of the viewpoints described in this post in two days’ time.

Sunset in Canyonlands National Park

What time of Year is Best to Visit Canyonlands?

This depends on whether or not you mind the heat and the crowds. Canyonlands National Park is busiest in the summer months and can reach temperatures in the high 90s. Although this is the busy season, Canyonlands isn’t known to be overly popular at any time of the year.

Winter and early Spring temperatures may be more tolerable, if not cold. Due to cooler temps and generally, less vacation time, these month’s provide lesser crowds. It might provide a nicer opportunity to complete longer hikes in the park.

Can you Do Arches and Canyonlands in the Same Day?

If you were only driving through and stopping at a few vistas, I’d say you could see both parks in one day. You would most definitely need the full day to see both parks most visited sights. I don’t think this is the ideal way to see either park…

I would allot at least one day for each park. Ideally, you should schedule 2 days in Canyonlands. This would allow you to see both The Needles district and The Island in the Sky district. Due to how far apart these entrances are, seeing both parts of the park in one day wouldn’t be worth it.

All Smiles at Canyonlands National Park

What can you Not Miss in Canyonlands National Park?

It may be the most popular viewpoint in the park, but with good reason. I wouldn’t miss Mesa Arch if you’re traveling to Canyonlands National Park. Additionally, checking out the granaries at Aztec Butte is pretty neat as well! 

I would end any trip at Island in the Sky with a sunset hike at Murphy’s Point. The way the last light of the say lights up the canyon below is spectacular. Make sure you’re prepared with headlamps, snacks, and a layer to put on for when the sun goes down.

Which Part of Canyonlands is the Best? 

This depends on what you’re looking for! If you’re a family looking for a few short hikes and/or viewpoints to enjoy on your trip, I’d suggest Island in the sky. Nothing here is too strenuous and everywhere you look there is a beautiful view!

If you’re someone who wants to ditch the crowds and feel like you’re lost in the desert, I’d suggest the Needles District. We spent an entire day there and only saw a few folks, none of which were on the trail we decided to hike. This part of the park, although not the most remote (the Maze district has earned that title), feels pretty untouched and wild. 

How Should I Spend One Day in Canyonlands National Park? 

If you only had one day to spend in Canyonlands National Park, I would spend it at Island in the Sky. Arrive early, for sunrise even, at Mesa Arch before moving on to some longer hikes. Upheaval Dome is really cool and is an out and back with multiple viewpoints. You can make this hike work for your family, however, it is another incredibly popular spot in the park so be prepared. 

If you have the times, I’d encourage you to explore Aztec Butte. It’s a beautiful little hike, void of most visitors, that brings you to ancient granaries and provides gorgeous views into Taylor Canyon. When the time comes, I would make the trip out to Murphy Point for sunset. It’s absolutely gorgeous! Don’t forget to eat along the way pals – there’s nowhere to buy food in the park so pack it in and pack it out my friends.

Where Should I Stay in Canyonlands National Park?

There are no lodging or dining facilities within the park. Your nearest towns for dining and lodging include:

Town of Moab, northeast of Canyonlands nearest Island in the Sky

Monticello, southeast of Canyonlands nearest the Needles District, and

Green River, North of Canyonlands near The Maze.

The districts each have their own entrances and are hours apart.

There are two campgrounds; one at The Needles where you may reserve some individual and group sites and one at Island in the Sky where sites are first-come, first-served.

Backcountry camping is also available for those who are experienced enough to enjoy the extensive trails designed for backpacking, four-wheel driving, boating, and bicycling.

There are numerous picnicking areas throughout the park that provide shade and tables; we packed a cooler each morning full of water and our food for the day when visiting Canyonlands and utilized these spots. There are water fill-up stations throughout the park; it is important to have a map to know where these stations are.


2-Day Canyonlands Itinerary

Are you looking for a pick-and-choose itinerary for your trip to Canyonlands National Park? Look no further! This Itinerary includes the top hikes, sights, accommodations, and dining for a two-day trip to Canyonlands. If you have two days to spend in Canyonlands National Park, take a look at this itinerary to see if it’s rght for you:

Canyonlands Itinerary by Kaitlyn Fortier

Plan Your Utah Road Trip

If you want to hike the best trails in Utah, you should plan a Utah Road Trip.

  • Day 1: Fly into Salt Lake City, pick up your car rental and hit Lake Blanche Trailhead
  • Day 2: Drive from Salt Lake City to Moab to begin your National Park Adventures!
  • Day 3: Explore Canyonlands Needles District

Check out the full post, complete with mapping, accommodations, and dining suggestions, to plan your two week Utah road trip!

Explorer Kati, Reporting for Duty!

12 thoughts on “Best Hikes in Canyonlands National Park – Travel to Utah

  1. That looked like an epic adventure – well done to you and your gang for doing it. Those shots you took of the sunset are simply stunning!

  2. The adventure looks great. And it is so awesome. The pictures are so darn awesome… The sunset looks beautiful.. And yes it is truly phenomenal!

  3. All of these images are making me ITCH to jump on a plane and go there. Before we moved to Italy, I was trying to squeeze in that trip, but it never happened! When we move back to the states, the visit is definitely going to be on my priority list!

  4. I just went to Utah for the first time two weeks ago for work. Unfortunately, I was busy at a conference that I didn’t get to enjoy the touring the beautiful land. My husband and I are planning on making a trip there to get to enjoy the state. This post is perfect for planning and I definitely will pin this. Love how you included the difficulty of each hike…super helpful!

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