13 Best Things to do in Canyonlands National Park

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Are you looking for the best things to do in Canyonlands National Park? You’re in luck!

Canyonlands National Park is one of the most unique national parks in the United States. The park is located in southern Utah and is known for its beautiful canyons and rivers.

We first visited Canyonlands in the fall on a Colorado, Utah, and Arizona road trip and instantly fell in love with it. Once you see it in person, you’ll see why everyone says it’s highly underrated.

Keep reading to learn all about the best things to do in Canyonlands National Park.

Catch the Sunrise at Mesa Arch

Mesa Arch is one of the most popular destinations in Canyonlands National Park, and for good reason. The views from the arch are simply incredible, especially at sunrise when the light hits the rocks just right.

This arch has the perfect view of the mountains in the distance. It gets extremely busy as the day goes on, which is why the best time to go is right in the morning. The hike is short at about 0.7 miles and takes only about 10-20 minutes to get there with minimal elevation gain. It does walk you right to the edge of the canyon, so watch your step!

If you’re up for a bit of a hike, Mesa Arch is definitely worth the effort. Trust us; it’ll be one of the best things you do on your trip to Canyonlands. Grab a coffee and breakfast, make the trek, and reap the benefits.

With just one day in Canyonlands, this isn’t a spot you can miss.

Hike Cave Spring Trail

Hiking the Cave Spring Trail is one of the best things to do in Canyonlands National Park for a number of reasons! This easy trail is only 0.6 miles with minimal elevation gain of fewer than 100 feet. It’s short but leads to a fascinating area with prehistoric marks and even an old cowboy camp.

The trail itself is very scenic and relatively easy to hike, making it a great option for families or groups with mixed hiking abilities. For those looking for an easy thing to do in Canyonlands with kids, this is it! However, parts of the trail can be uneven, so you’ll want to prepare yourself and pack wisely; don’t forget hiking boots.

Take in Your Surroundings at Grand View Point

Grand View Point is one of the best places to take in the views of Canyonlands. The panoramic views from here are some of the most beautiful and breathtaking in Utah!

It’s located at the very end of the Island in the Sky scenic drive and looks out to both The Maze and The Needles districts in the distance. Fun talks by the rangers are also held here seasonally, which can be a great opportunity to learn during your trip.

The trail along Grand View Point is fairly long at around 1.8 miles with minimal elevation gain. It’s easy, but can take an hour or two to fully hike. Or, you can just hike a little bit of it and take in the view, because it doesn’t change much the further you go!

Hike the Upheaval Dome Trail

The Upheaval Dome Trail is one of the most popular trails in the park. It is a more moderate trail, and a part of it does cross the difficult Syncline Loop trail, which is something to keep in mind. It’s best for experienced hikers.

There are technically two trails here, the first overlook and the second overlook. The first overlook is pretty steep but is 0.6 miles long and takes about an hour to do. Once you get to the end, there is a spot where you can learn more about the geology of the area.

The second overlook is a bit more difficult at 1.2 miles and 110 feet of elevation gain, taking around 1.5 hours to finish completely. It actually splits directly from the first overlook trail and is super rocky.

Along the trail, you’ll get to take in some of the most epic views of the entire park.

Visit the Island in the Sky Visitor Center

canyonlands national park welcome sign

So, anytime we visit any national park, we always head straight to the visitor center (if it’s open – we tend to get to the park before sunrise to avoid crowds). The visitor center is the place to go if you’re a first-time visitor to the park.

The Island in the Sky Visitor Center is one of the best places to get an overview of Canyonlands National Park. The visitor center has a number of exhibits about the geology, ecology, and history of the park. There is also ranger-led program information available at the visitor center.

This is also where the gift shop is, so you can take the time to purchase some souvenirs. In addition, the only snacks that you can find in the entire park are usually here. We’ve purchased trail mix at this visitor center before.

After exploring the visitor center, walk across the street to the viewpoint there. It will take your breath away, and it’s just a snippet of what you’ll see as you explore more of the park!

Rent a 4×4 and Drive White Rim Road

small dirt road wrapping around a large rock in a canyon

If you’re looking for the best things to do in Canyonlands National Park and you’re up for a challenge, consider renting a 4×4 to drive White Rim Road. Now, this road is not for the faint of heart. In fact, visitors can see it from above near the Island in the Sky Visitor Center, and trust me; it’s super windy and thin.

The White Rim Road is a 100-mile long four-wheel drive road that takes you through some of the most stunning scenery in the park’s Island in the Sky district. Along the way, you’ll have views of canyons, mesas, and rivers. You can also camp along the White Rim Road, which makes it a great option for an overnight trip.

In order to go on the White Rim Road, you do need to make sure that you take the time to get a permit. More information about these day-use permits can be found online.

Go on a Tour on the Rivers

Yes, you can actually go white water rafting in Canyonlands National Park! How cool is that? You can easily see the river snaking through the canyons from above, especially in the Islands in the Sky district.

Consider heading over to Moab to catch one of these tours. There are a few different companies that offer tours on the river, but one of the tour companies is called Canyonlands by Night & Day, and they offer a wide variety of different options.

Just imagine getting a completely different vantage point of Canyonlands National Park. Instead of experiencing the park from above, you can raft through the bottom of the canyons on a river with a guide, who will tell you about the park along the way.

large rock cliff leading out to a vast canyon

Do the Islands in the Sky Scenic Drive

When visiting any national park, one of the best things to do is to go on a scenic drive, especially if you are only visiting with just 24 hours to see the best parts of the park. These drives will usually bring you to all the best vantage points, so you can snap a photo and keep driving while still feeling like you’re seeing a lot of the park.

The Islands in the Sky scenic drive is one of the best things to do in Canyonlands National Park. The drive provides breathtaking views of canyons, mesas, and buttes.

Best of all, the drive is only about an hour and a half long (depending on how many times you stop), making it a perfect activity for those who want to explore the park but don’t have a lot of time. Be sure to grab a map at the entrance, so you know where to pull off along the way.

Hike the Chesler Park Loop

The Chesler Park Loop is one of the best hikes in Canyonlands National Park! Of course, it is fairly long, so if you’re up for a challenge, you get to reap the benefits. On average, this hike can take anywhere from 5 to 7 hours to complete.

The trail has a minimal elevation gain of just over 600 feet, which isn’t too bad. However, the distance is about 10.7 miles, so be sure to come prepared with lots of water, snacks, and your most comfortable hiking boots.

If you’re interested in learning more about The Needles District’s formations, then this is the perfect trail. That’s because you’ll be able to enjoy panoramic views along the way, which will truly take your breath away. Parts of the trail are also really uneven, so be prepared.

Pay a Visit to the Aztec Butte

Aztec Butte is a great place to visit for its incredible views of the surrounding landscape! It’s one of the most well-known spots within Canyonlands National Park, so it should definitely be added to your list.

The trail here is only about 1.4 miles round trip, which takes about an hour and a half to do. Not too bad compared to some of the other trails here! It’s moderate difficulty, with 200 feet of elevation gain, so be sure to catch your breath along the way.

This trail isn’t as well marked as some other ones in the park, but just be sure to follow the cairns, and you’ll be okay. You could also download the trail directly to your phone to be safe. It’s worth it because the view from the top is very rewarding!

Spend the Night & Stargaze

Canyonlands National Park is one of the best places in the United States to stargaze! Every time we visit a park, we always spend our first night there stargazing, but we scout for the perfect place to stargaze that day, so we don’t waste time when we go back at night.

The park has very little light pollution, so you can see the stars much better than in most other places. The best time to stargaze is during the summer months when the weather is warm, and there are more hours of darkness!

Just imagine looking for constellations, spotting shooting stars, and trying to find planets with a telescope. Stargazing is a great activity for all ages, and it’s a perfect way to experience the night sky in all its glory.

red rocky cliff overlooking a canyon

Visit & Explore the Needles District

The Needles District in Canyonlands National Park is a beautiful and unique place that offers something for everyone. Most people opt to visit Island in the Sky and forget about the park, so don’t be like them!

Some great things to do here include hiking the Druid Arch Trail, the Confluence Overlook Trail, and checking out the Wooden Shoe Overlook. Because this district isn’t as popular, you will be able to enjoy a lot of these trails and viewpoints without the crowd of people.

If you are looking for an adventure, then the Needles District in Canyonlands National Park is the perfect place for you. There is something for everyone to enjoy and the scenery is absolutely breathtaking.

Bonus: Catch the Sunset at Dead Horse Point State Park

river running through the bottom of a canyon

Located right by the entrance of the Islands in the Sky district is Dead Horse Point State Park! Most people drive right by here without even stopping, but it’s worth paying the $20 entrance fee to check out this lesser-visited park.

There are many trails here and viewpoints, and truly a lot of the views are similar to those you can get in Canyonlands. However, since nobody really visits here, it’s like a ghost town a lot of the time! If you want to escape people, this is a great place to go.

Consider catching the sunset here. There are spots throughout Canyonlands to catch the sunset, but it’s a lot more peaceful in Dead Horse Point State Park. Don’t forget to also stop by Dead Horse Point at the end of the park!

This post was all about the best things to do in Canyonlands National Park. We hope you enjoy this park as much as we did!

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