Canyonlands National Park

Location – Utah

Park tally – 4/59

Orientation – Canyonlands National Park has three main sections – Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the Maze. The most popular area of the park, and the easiest to access, is the Island in the Sky section, being only 35-miles from Moab.

Most iconic view – Mesa Arch is the most well-known attraction in Canyonlands, and rightly so. The arch is simple to access and provides stunning canyon views. At sunrise the underside of the arch glows as if it’s on fire – a must-see!

Accessible Activity – The Island in the Sky area of the park has numerous accessible viewpoints and is the best area to visit if you have limited time. You can tour the entire mesa top via a 34-mile round-trip scenic drive.

You will pass picturesque Shaffer Canyon Overlook, Green River Overlook, Buck Canyon Overlook, and finally make it to Grand View Point Overlook. These lookouts have paved parking lots and a couple have vault toilets.

Some easy and scenic hikes along the drive include the 0.5-mile roundtrip to Mesa Arch and the 2-mile roundtrip hike from Grand View Point.

For the adventurous – Those with a four-wheel-drive vehicle should consider exploring the Needles district or adventuring into the remote and rugged Maze region. Keep in mind that high clearance is required in many sections and visitors should be well prepared for rough conditions.

A worthwhile trail in the Needles district is the 6-mile roundtrip hike out to Chesler Park View Point. This scenic trail leads to a pass overlooking sandstone spires and desert vegetation. For those up for even more of a challenge, the Chesler Park Loop/Joint Trail is a 11-mile roundtrip hike that provides many fantastic panoramas of the Needles formations.

Best photo opportunities – Mesa Arch is a popular and extremely picturesque sunrise location, though it can be very crowded. Be sure to get there before first light to secure a spot for your tripod. The sections to the left and right of the arch are also worthwhile compositions if you are wanting to avoid the crowds.

Green River Overlook and Grand View Point are beautiful locations for stunning sunset views over the canyons.

Nearby attraction – Dead Horse Point State Park is definitely worth visiting when in the Island in the Sky region of Canyonlands. On the way from Moab, you will pass the state park 15 minutes prior to arriving at the Island in the Sky Visitor Center. Make sure to drive to the end of the park to check out Dead Horse Point, which is best views at sunset.

Quick facts

  • Canyonlands was established as a National Park on September 12, 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
  • Initially consisting of 257,640 acres, Congress expanded Canyonlands to its present size of 337,598 acres in 1971.
  • In 2016 the park had 776,218 visitors, an increase of 313,976 visitors since 2013.
  • The Colorado River and Green River combine to make up the Rivers district of the park. These rivers divide the park in the other three districts – Island in the Sky, the Needles and the Maze.
  • In 2003, an adventurer named Aron Ralston became famous after he was trapped in a slot canyon near the Maze district in Canyonlands. He had to remove his arm with a multi-tool to get free.