The Island in the Sky District in Canyonlands National Park is well-known for it’s deep canyon views as well as its trails with arches, domes and river views. This National Park reminded us of the Grand Canyon (see Grand Canyon National Park Quick Guide) but smaller and with less vibrant colored rock. We recommend spending a day or two in the Island in the Sky District. Here is our quick guide on Canyonlands National Park.
Note: Canyonlands National Park is split up into four districts–Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze and The Rivers. Our quick guide only covers the Island in the Sky District, which is the closest to Moab, Utah, as all four sections are actually quite far (hours driving) apart.
FYI: This post was written based on a trip taken in mid September
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What to Do in Canyonlands National Park
Hike Mesa Arch
0.8 miles round-trip, 85 feet of elevation gain, loop
This trail affords you iconic views of the canyons in the Island in the Sky District looking through the Mesa Arch. You can get the best pictures of the Mesa Arch at Sunrise or Sunset. Try to hike this trail early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the busiest times on this popular trail. This trail is not only popular because of its iconic views but also because it is one of the shortest hikes in the park, very close to the park entrance and does not require much skill level.
Hike Aztec Butte Trail
2.0 miles round-trip, 262 feet of elevation gain, out & back
This trail gives you great canyon views. The first ¾ of a mile of hiking is on a very flat and well marked path through sand, followed by approximately a ¼ mile of scrambling up the side of a slickrock. Make sure to follow the rock cairns to stay on the path. You can also see several granaries (ancient puebloan structures) once on-top of the butte.
Hike Upheaval Domes Trail
1.5 miles round-trip, 300 feet of elevation gain, out & back
This trail has two viewpoints and we definitely recommend going to the second one for the best views (and it is less than a ½ mile further). Here you can see a salt dome in the canyon that looks different than anywhere else in the park. It is unclear how these salt domes came to be (many theories exist) but this adds to the mystique of this unique feature.
Visit Grand Viewpoint
This viewpoint has a mile worth of paths around the area but we would not call it a hike. Rather, it is a stroll around the viewpoint. We encourage you to walk the whole path as you get much different views on different parts of the path.
Visit Green River Viewpoint
The Green River Viewpoint gives you deep and vast, less colorful, canyon views. When we visited, it was exceedingly windy and we felt like we might be blown over into the canyon.
Tip: There are several other viewpoints you can stop at in the park (we did stop at them), but we are only recommending the Grand and Green River Viewpoints as they are, in our opinion, the best views.
Where to Stay while visiting Canyonlands National Park
We recommend staying in Moab, the closest city to Canyonlands National Park. If you set-up a home base here, you can also use it to explore Arches National Park (see Arches National Park Quick Guide) and Dead Horse Point State Park (please see Epic 10 Day Utah National Parks/Southwest Road Trip for more information).
“Star’s Landing” Casita Airbnb
We stayed at a cute casita, “Star’s Landing”, that we highly recommend. This place is off the main tourist drag, tucked away in a quiet neighborhood making it the perfect place to unwind. It is still close enough to the city for any quick trips needed into town. Further, this casita has very nice finishes and a full kitchen/laundry. We were very happy with our decision to book this place.
We hope this quick guide helps you plan your trip to Canyonlands National Park: Island in the Sky District. Please see Epic 10 Day Utah National Parks/Southwest Road Trip for more details on our trip. Please also refer to the Canyonlands National Park: Island in the Sky District website for more information on this park.
Anything you would add to our guide on Canyonlands National Park? We would love to hear your feedback and questions. Please leave us a comment!
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