Tips for Visiting Canyonlands National Park in Utah

After our time in Arches National Park which you can read about here, our next stop on our Desert Southwest Roadtrip was Canyonlands National Park. What was nice was we were able to stay at the same hotel two nights in a row for the first time on our road trip. We had our base in Moab and then were able to explore Arches, Canyonlands, and Deadhorse Point State Park all from the same area. If you have a limited amount of time in the park, our best suggestions on how to spend your time and what we did while we were there are below.

Where to Watch Sunrise

The most iconic thing to do while in Canyonlands National Park is to watch sunrise from Mesa Arch. Out and back, the total mileage for the hike is about 3/4 of a mile. It is quite short but has the most incredible view out toward Arches National Park and the La Sal Mountains.

We got up early to make the hour or so drive from our hotel in Moab to watch the sunrise at through the arch. There were probably 30-40 other people there taking photos while we were. What’s wild is this is during the off season, so I imagine that the number there for sunrise in the peak months could be over a hundred. While it was an early and very cold morning for us in February, it was a bucket list item that we were able to check off.

Scenic Driving

As you go through the park, there is a main road that splits into two to explore the park. We first explored by going right toward the Upheaval Dome. Along the way are a few places to pull off and hike including Aztec Butte and Whale Rock. The Aztec Butte Trail takes you to two Puebloan structures. The trail to Whale Rock leads you up a dome shaped stone with views of the canyon. There’s also Green River Overlook which sits at 6,000 feet of elevation. From here, you can see the White Rim Road, the Green River, and the Maze District of Canyonlands.

We weren’t really sure if we wanted to hike much in the park since we had hiked quite a few miles the day prior in Arches. We thought about Upheaval Dome, but it’s rated as moderate so we decided to check out the various overlooks instead.

If you head back and then go toward Grand View point, you’ll find the the Buck Canyon Overlook, Orange Cliffs Overlook, the White Rim Overlook, and the Grand View Overlook. There are also a few hiking trails along the way including Murphy Point and Goosebury Canyon Trail. We decided to get out at the Orange Cliffs overlook and enjoyed the views along the way.

On your way back toward the entrance, you’ll find the Mesa Arch parking lot, a pull off for viewing the Shafer Trail and hiking trails for Lathrop and Neck Spring Trails. We pulled off at the Shafer Trail and took in the views along the way before heading back out of the park onto our next destination.

Tips for Visiting

  • There’s not food options within the park, and Moab is about an hour away, so either prepare by bringing food and drinks into the park or be willing to leave the park to drive into town for a meal.
  • The entrance to Canyonlands is up on top of a plateau and is right next to Dead Horse Point State Park. I would recommend seeing both in a day if you don’t want to make the long drive up to the park again.
  • Arches National park is about 35 minutes away, so if you have time, plan a stop there as well.
  • If you don’t already have one, purchase an America the Beautiful Pass for $80. This gets you into all the national parks as well as other recreation areas and state parks. If you decide to do other Utah national parks on your trip, after 2-3 visits, this pass pays for itself.
  • There’s not options for food or drinks in the park, so come prepared. Either bring picnic food into the park or prepare to leave the park and get food in Moab. Make sure to bring lots of water.
  • From around March through October are the busiest times in the park, so be prepared for large crowds. The best way to avoid crowds is to arrive to the park very early in the morning or to visit later in the evening after people have left.
  • Pets are not able to hike with you at Canyonlands but they are allows in the campgrounds.

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