Canyonlands National Park is an extremely fun national park to explore. It’s absolutely huge covering about 337,598 acres of canyons, mesas, buttes, fins, arches and spires in the heart of Utah’s desert. If you’re visiting Utah, Arches National Park or Moab, make sure you stop by at Canyonlands National Park. And, when you do, here’s what to see and what to do in Canyonlands National Park.
The park is split up into several different districts. You can’t reach cross between districts within the park itself due to the rivers – you have to drive outside the park to get to and from them. The most popular district in terms of visitors is the Island in the Sky as it’s the easiest to get to from Moab. Because of this, this list focuses on the Island in the Sky but if you’re visiting other districts of Canyonlands National Park then scroll on down for an overview of those.
What to see and what to do in Canyonlands National Park
1. Watch the sunrise at Mesa Arch
Mesa Arch is one of the most well known features in Canyonlands National Park. It’s supposedly beautiful at sunrise when the sun beams shine through the arch, but it’s pretty great whatever time you visit (we went mid-afternoon).
2. Visit Green River Overlook
From this view point you’ll be able to get a good view of the river that’s caused this amazing landscape. It still surprises e how something so little looking (from up on the top of the canyon rim, anyway!) can creat something so huge and impressive!
3. Gaze out at Grand View Point
This was probably my favourite view in the whole of Canyonlands. If you’re going to Canyonlands National Park definitely put this on your to do list! From the viewpoint you can walk along the rim for a while.
4. Hike to Mesa Arch
Every visitor to Canyonlands should make the short and easy hike to Mesa Arch. It’s only 0.5 miles out and back and you’ll get some great views! It does get busy in the middle of the day but you won’t be queuing for photos like you would at Arches National Park’s Delicate Arch.
5. Hire a 4×4 and drive the White Rim Road
If you own a 4×4, or are interested in hiring one, then the White Rim Road is where to take it. The White Rim Road goes down into the canyon so you’re lower than the Mesa Top where most visitors will be, but not quite down by the river. It looks like a great trail to drive. You’ll need to get a backcountry and 4×4 permit to do so and the whole think (all 100 miles) takes about 3 days.
6. Spend a night in the park
There are a couple of ways to spend the night in the park. You can either book a spot in the park’s campsites (book early; they fill up quick). Or, you could get a back country permit and camp in the wilderness.
7. Hike in the wilderness
Some of the best hikes to do in Canyonlands National Park involve leaving the maintained trails and hiking into the wilderness. You’ll need a permit for this but it’s something you’ll never forget.
8. Go mountain biking
If you’re a mountain bike lover then get yourself an off-road permit and ride your mountain bike along the White Rim Road. That’s sure to be one hell of an adventure!
9. Climb down into the canyons
If you don’t have time (or the inclination) to spend a couple of days hiking, you can still climb into the canyon on some of the shorter trails. See my list of the best hikes in Canyonlands here.
10. Take a hike, any hike!
You can’t come to a National Park and not get out the car – that’s where the best views are! Make sure you do a hike, however small when you come to Canyonlands.
11. Witness the night sky
Many National Parks in the US have fantastic night skies and Canyonlands is no exception. Back in 2015 the park was designated as an International Dark Sky Park which is a pretty big deal.
What will you see? In Canyonlands you can see the Milky Way arching across the sky, millions of stars and you’ll spot satellites too!
Short on time? here’s what to do in Canyonlands with limited time
In two hours you can
- Drive to Grand View Point or Green River Overlook
- Hike to Mesa Arch
In four hours you can
- Drive to Grand View Point, Green River Overlook and Upheaval Dome
- Hike the Grand View Point, Mesa Arch and Upheaval Dome Overlook trails
In 8 hours you can
- Visit every overlook in the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands
- Hike several mesa top trails
- Hike one of the more strenuous trails into the White Rim Trail (see the best hikes to do in Canyonlands)
- Enjoy lunch whilst hiking, or have a picnic at one of the park’s picnic areas
What to do in the other Canyonlands districts
What to do in 2 hours
- Drive to Big Spring Canyon Overlook
- Hike the Pothole Point trail
- Picnic with a view of The Needles
What to do in 4 hours
- Explore the scenic drive
- Hike the Cave Spring, Pothole Point and Roadside Ruin trails or the longer Slickrock trail
What to do in 8 hours
- Drive the scenic drive in The Needles
- Hike to Chesler Park Viewpoint or hike around the Big Spring-Squaw Canyon loop
The Maze is the least accessible district of Canyonlands National Park. You need to have a 4×4 to access it as it’s very remote with bumpy, unpaved roads. However, I’m sure this makes it a lot of fun to explore!
If you don’t have a 4×4 there were plenty of places in Moab renting them. The park rangers reckon it’ll take anywhere from three days to a week or more to explore The Maze district so go prepared for a week in the wilderness; pack plenty of water and food!