Not far from Moab, Utah and Arches National Park in Southeast Utah is Canyonlands National Park. It is the meeting place of the Colorado River and Green River. It has a very beautiful and unique landscape. There are 4 districts of Canyonlands National Park: Island In The Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and the combined rivers (the Green and Colorado).
In our post we will share the best hikes in Canyonlands National Park, so that you have an unforgettable trip! We really don’t have a favorite hike here since we loved them all. So we recommend doing multiple hikes when you visit. Enjoy!
Table of Contents
- Island In The Sky
- Island In The Sky Hikes
- Island In The Sky Overlooks
- The Maze
- Where To Stay
Correctly named the Island In The Sky, this part of the park is all up high where you are looking down into the Canyon. Our first 2 recommendations are not hikes but things to do before you start hiking to get a good feel for the park.
We always recommend stoping at the Visitor Center to have a look around the small museum area to learn more about the location and landscape; plus it is always good to check in with the rangers on any hikes you want to do to make sure everything is open and good to go. You can also watch the short park movie to help you understand more about the park.
If you have kids with you (or even without – adults can do it too) you can get Junior Ranger books to complete so the kids can get Junior Ranger badges.
Shafer Canyon Overlook
Located right across the street from the Visitor Center is Shafer Canyon Overlook – it is a great place to get your first view of Canyonlands. The trail leads to a beautiful overlook.
Island In The Sky Hikes
There are some great short trails here, so in one visit you can easily do 2-3 hiking trails. There are also a variety of longer hikes that you can tackle too.
A nice .5 mile loop hike that takes you to the Mesa Arch and only takes about 30 minutes. This is a great short hike to start with since it isn’t very difficult. Just be careful once you reach the arch as there is a huge drop right on the other side of the arch!
This is a great location to catch the sunrise. We aren’t early risers so that wasn’t going to happen for us. . . but it is supposed to be amazing!
Distance: .5 miles
A steep trail that takes you to an overlook. You can stop at the first overlook and a beautiful view into Upheaval Dome or you can continue on for more views of the Dome and Upheaval Canyon.
Distance: .8 to first overlook or 1.8 miles for the whole hike.
This trail takes you up the side of a sandstone dome. It is really cool and gives amazing views of the Island In The Sky!
Distance: 1 mile
This was a fun hike but a bit scary. Mainly since we had kids with us. But if you are afraid of heights you may want to just stop at the Overlook at the top and not do the hike.
It is a 2 mile out and back hike that takes you along the rim (hence the name) of Islands In The Sky. The hike itself wasn’t very strenuous, it was just stressful keeping an eye on the kids! No running ahead on this hike.
Distance: 1 Mile
If you are looking for more of a challenge then check out the Aztec Butte trail. There is rock scrambling and ledges so it isn’t for everyone. But if you are up for the challenge you will be rewarded with amazing views and 2 ancestral Puebloan granaries.
Distance: 2 miles
White Rim Overlook
For beautiful views of the Colorado River, Monument Basin and La Sal Mountains check out this hike! You can also sometimes see the jeep driving on the white rim road below. We opted not to do it as parking was limited and we couldn’t get a spot. We will have to go back to try it out.
Distance: 1.8 miles
Island In The Sky Overlooks
As you make your way down the road to the next stop there are multiple overlooks where you can pull over to check out the amazing views. You also get great views while you are driving, so it’s up to you if you want to make the stop and get out of the car.
The entrance to Needles district is a good 90-120 minutes from the Island In The Sky Entrance so it would be really tough to do these both in one day unless you were just driving through. We spent one day at the Island In The Sky and then one day in The Needles.
Like I mentioned above, it is worth it to stop at the Visitor Center and talk to the rangers to check on road or hiking closures before heading out. And to stock up on water.
This shorter hike had us climbing up and down ladders and brings you past an old cowboy homestead area and prehistoric rock paintings. It is perfect for little legs that like to climb. Our kids always love a ladder hike!
Distance: .6 miles
Difficulty: Easy (but have to be able to climb up and down ladders)
A tougher hike that took us over uneven surfaces to awesome 360 degree views! With the hike being 2.5 miles and most of that being exposed to the sun it was hot and harder with kids for that reason. But offered a lot of really cool panoramic views.
Distance: 2.5 miles
Another hike that is recommended that we haven’t done is: Chesler Park Loop. It is a long one at 10.4 miles. But looks like some great hiking!
To really get back to the needles area you have to do a long 6+ mile day hike. With how hot it is here we never attempted to do that. But we were happy with what we did do and see in Needles and feel it was well worth a visit.
The Maze is a very remote area of Canyonlands. In both of our trips here we never made it over to that area. You do need a 4X4 vehicle for most of the roads so it just hasn’t been a fit for us.
It does sound amazing and is called one of the nation’s most remote areas!
This is also where you can check out Horseshoe Canyon. It has some amazing rock art that has life-sized figures with intricate designs.
It would be an adventure to get there. Maybe we will do it in the future since it does sound pretty amazing! You can learn more about it here.
Here are some other awesome activities to consider while you are in Utah!
If off-roading is more your thing, check out these four amazing tours of Canyonlands by 4WD:
- Full Day White Rim Trail Tour
- Canyonlands Half Day Tour
- Full Day Needles Tour
- Full Day Canyonlands Tour by White Water Raft and 4WD
Utah National Parks Tour
Are you in love with the idea of seeing ALL 5 of Utah’s amazing National Parks? This National Parks tour might be for you! Not only do you get to see and hike Canyonlands National Park on your guided tour, but also Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches and Capitol Reef National Parks.
The six day tour includes your lodging and breakfast, lunches at trendy local restaurants and even a couple of dinners! You are driven to the parks and given plenty of time to hike and explore as well as given driving tours of the various parks. This is a fantastic way to see all 5 of Utah’s National Parks in just 6 days, while a local guide to give you lots of history on the parks and take you to the best local places to eat to boot! Click here to learn more about this tour!
Not in Canyonlands but well worth a stop! There will be a $20 entrance fee to get into the park so be prepared for that.
If you have extra time there are some hikes you can do in the park. Or if you are like us and were hoping to make it in time to relax and watch the sunset, just head to the back of the park.
Park your car and head over to find a rocky area to have a picnic dinner (you will need to pack this yourself – we love our Yeti coolor since we can pack it in the morning and it is still cold by the end of the day!) and watch the sunset. We even brought some wine – we were assuming that was OK??
Check out our video on Canyonlands and Deadhorse State Park:
Where To Stay
RV – The Island In The Sky and The Needles both have campgrounds that are first come first serve and no hookups. That is an option but know you most likely won’t have cell or internet service.
RV – There are also a lot of RV parks and BLM land (free boondocking – no hookups) throughout the area and by Moab. If you are interested in boondocking Moab is a great place to do it – the Mavericks gas station has free sewer dump and water! You check out these campgrounds within a few miles of Canyonlands National Park:
Up the Creek Campground (Moab)
After a day of dusty hiking, who doesn’t want a classy, clean hotel to come back to? Check out the Hyatt Place Moab for an evening of relaxation after exploring the Canyons!
Here is great family rental in Moab. Rock climbing wall in the bedroom? Yes, please!
Moab honestly has so many artsy, kid friendly places to stay!
If you are looking for a MUCH more rustic experience, check out this remote bungalow!
Interested in more awesome places to hike with kids? Check out these posts:
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