After a full day in Arches National Park, I packed the Prius and set off to Canyonlands National Park. About an hour from Moab, the winding drive to Island in the Sky Canyonlands was as expected – empty, yet beautiful. Below is how I spent one day in Canyonlands.
I wasn’t expecting to arrive at the Visitor Center around 10 am on a Thursday (I got a slow start, plus there was no sunrise due to clouds/snow) and saw it was closed. Unfortunately, they are only open on weekends during the winter.
Many of the Canyonlands National Park hikes in this area are shorter but still pack a serious punch for beauty and views.
One day in Canyonlands National Park
Island in the Sky Canyonlands
With little direction and little cell service, I headed to Upheaval Dome. This was recommended to me by a friend, and at this point, that was all I had to go off of. Once there, I was the only person on the trail. Since driving into the park, I had seen maybe five cars. Pretty wild for a National Park.
Upheaval Dome reminds me of a poor man’s Artists’ Pallete in Death Valley, without the ability to walk down into it. The hike to the overlooks is pretty short – about half a mile to the first and then another half mile to the final. Considering I had all day, I figured I’d do the two-mile round-trip trek. There is a rugged loop around the inner basin, but, unfortunately, it doesn’t give you any view of what’s below. This might be the longest of the Canyonlands National Park hikes in this region.
I spent far too long in this area trying to make it look like my camera shots were drone shots, but it was a good time.
Green River Overlook
Once I grabbed a quick bite to eat, I headed to Green River Overlook. Even though it was only noon, I began plotting my sunset spot. There isn’t much hiking here, but it gives you a fantastic view of the canyon and river before you. Pretty stunning, especially with snow-capped peaks in the distance.
This is an excellent spot at any time of the day. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. Hanging out on the Island in the Sky Canyonlands is phenomenal.
Make sure to get here on your trip.
Grand View Point Overlook
It was now midday as I arrived at Grand View Point Overlook. Again, this is a brief walk from the parking lot. More south and east than the Green River one, this view gives you an idea of the Needles District. There’s also a one-mile walk along the rim.
I headed out and again had the entire area to myself until a couple arrived 20 minutes later. Once back at the car, I decided to lie down, read, and figure out where I wanted to do sunset photos. It had been a whirlwind trip; this was the first time I’d caught my breath in Canyonlands National Park.
I initially decided to stay at Grand View. But, unfortunately, this was a poor decision. The rocks to your right eliminate any sun, and the spires below get dark fast. So I left here a few minutes into the golden hour and returned to Green River Overlook. But I quickly stopped at Buck Canyon Overlook for a few photos.
Related: Explore Arches in one day
Buck Skin Overlook
Temperatures were beginning to drop as the sun went down. I sprinted from my car to the edge to quickly snap some photos while looking over my shoulder to see if any clouds were forming along the horizon. I’m surprised I didn’t biff it as I ran on the icy path. This is an excellent family-friendly Canyonlands National Park hikes that I’d recommend,
I then zoomed (well, does a Prius ever zoom?) back to Green River Overlook and tried not to freeze as I witnessed one of the most incredible sunsets in my lifetime.
Sunset in Canyonlands
It was incredible. The sky lit up and just stayed that way for the longest time. Even though it was sub-freezing temperatures, I had the biggest grin. How could you not while enjoying the free sky magic before you? For my one day in Canyonlands National Park, it was incredible.
This is it for those looking for the best sunset viewing location in Island in the Sky Canyonlands.
Sunrise at Mesa Arch
After the sunset, I headed to Mesa Arch, laid down in my back seat, and went to sleep. Sunrise the following day was about 7:20, which meant I needed to be on the trail by about 6:20. The hike from the trailhead to the arch is 3/4’s of a mile, and if there’s no snow or ice, it is super easy to traverse. Unfortunately, I had to deal with both this morning and only had my headlight. Still, it wasn’t bad, and when I arrived, there was only one other person. Typically, this has dozens of photographers awaiting the sun in the summer.
Even in 20-degree temperatures, I was fortunate to witness this sunrise in Canyonlands National Park without people cramming into the tight quarters.
FAQs about Canyonlands National Park hikes, visiting, and more!
- Can you just drive through Canyonlands? You can’t physically go from A to B, as it deadends, but the drive through Canyonlands is stunning and not that long. Most of the drive is outside of the park, leaving Moab. I would recommend the drive and stop at Deadhorse Point State Park.
- What is so special about Canyonlands National Park? The rock formations, the river cutting through, and the solitude set it apart from others. While most visitors to Moab go to Arches, a lot skip Canyonlands. Due to this, you’ll get a much more natural setting in the National Park.
- How much time do you need to see Canyonlands National Park? For the Island in the Sky Canyonlands section, one day in Canyonlands is enough. If you plan to be at the park around 8 am and stay through sunset, you can knock off every overlook and complete the short hikes. You’ll love the day!
- What is the best time of year to visit Canyonlands National Park? I personally loved visiting Canyonlands in the winter. It can be quite chilly but doesn’t necessarily have snow. If you’re looking for warmer temps, April or May would be perfect before the summer flood of visitors.
- When was Canyonlands National Park established? It was established on September 12, 1964, by Lyndon B. Johnson.
- Is Canyonlands National Park worth visiting? 100 percent it should be visited. As you can see from these photos, the place is breathtakingly beautiful and the Island in the Sky region is very family-friendly with shorter hikes. If you’re going to visit Arches, make time to enjoy some of the Canyonlands National Park hikes.
Wrapping up – Exploring one day in Canyonlands National Park
Overall, Canyonlands National Park is quite incredible, and I only saw a glimpse of what it has to offer. The Needles District to the south has awesome backpacking and hiking opportunities, as does this area – though I sadly didn’t get to do the longer hikes. However, for one day in Canyonlands National Park, you’ll see a heck of a lot!
I recommend making your way to the Island in the Sky Canyonlands National Park, no matter the time of year. It’s truly worth it.
Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.
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