The Wow Factor at Canyonlands National Park

Summer Road Trip, Days 59 & 60

Nature has a way of making me feel small and insignificant yet powerful and important all at the same time. These feelings consume me as I sit on a mesa overlooking the extraordinary vast landscape. This park has the wow factor times ten and I’m not sure how many more times I can say, “WOW!”

See for yourself…

Here’s a two day itinerary for Canyonlands National Park and everything you need to know for your visit.

Canyonlands National Park Itinerary will take you to Island in the Sky and the Needles.
Taking it all in at Canyonlands National Park

Where is Canyonlands National Park?

In southeastern Utah, Canyonlands National Park is the largest park in the state at 527 square miles. It is broken up into four separate districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze and The River. We visited Island in the Sky and Needles, two of the most easily accessed areas by car.

The Maze is the most remote area and is the least accessible. It is considered some of the most rugged lands in the states and is an off-roading paradise.

We would love to come back and rent a rock crawler, but for now, we hiked through the wild terrain of the other districts on our own two feet which is perfect if you only have a day or two. The entrances are about 100 miles apart so stretching your visit to two days is the best option. If you only have one day and are open to covering some major mileage, it can be done if you start REAL early.


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Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park Itinerary


If you are looking for jaw-dropping views, you'll find it here. Follow this Canyonlands National Park itinerary to find the best things to do on your visit.

Day One – Island in the Sky

The 34-mile roundtrip scenic drive through Island in the Sky is atop the flat mesa overlooking the dramatic canyon. Start early and begin your day at the Island in the Sky Visitors Center, where you get the first glimpse of the 1,000-foot deep canyon.

As you drive around this section of the park there are many pullouts that provide different perspectives on the landscape below. Stretch your legs and take the short hike to the Mesa Arch where you’ll find a gorgeous view of the rocky terrain below. Definitely a must-do in Canyonlands.

At the southernmost section is Grand View Point, follow the paved path to spectacular views of the White Rim and the distant mountains. If you planned for two days and have time, take the 1-mile walk along the cliff edge. It’s short and easy and provides a different perspective into the Maze.

The highlights of the morning also include Shafer Canyon Overlook, White Rim Overlook, and both overlooks at Upheaval Dome.

HOT TIP: The White Rim Overlook is a fantastic spot for a lunch break with picnic tables and restrooms.

Canyonlands National Park Itinerary: Make sure to hike to the Mesa Arch in the Island of the Sky area.
Mesa Arch, a must-do in Canyonlands
The easiest place to navigate and explore in Canyonlands National Park is Island in the Sky. Make sure to add the Mesa Arch to your itinerary.
Mesa Arch, a view you will never forget

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park

Grand View Point Overlook in Canyonlands National Park, Utah.
Grand View Point Overlook

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park


Day Two – The Needles

The Needles District, on the southeast corner of the park, earned its name from the spears of Cedar Mesa Sandstone that stand at attention throughout the district. The drive is on a short paved road leading to 60 miles of interconnecting trails.

It is the most remote area of the park and features extensive hiking trails, incredible geology and vistas galore.

On the way in near the entrance, you’ll notice a turn off for Newspaper Rock, a Utah State Historic Monument. It is one of the largest collections of petroglyphs from over 2,000 years ago.

The highlight of your day includes Roadside Ruin, Cave Spring, Pothole Point, Slickrock and Big Spring Canyon Overlook.

Canyonlands National Park Itinerary: what to see and do.
Newspaper Rock, seen near the entrance of The Needles

Canyonlands National Park

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Canyonlands National Park

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Canyonlands National Park

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Perfect Base for Exploring Canyonlands: Moab

Home base for the week is Canyonlands RV Resort & Campground in the town of Moab, only 3.5 hours from Salt Lake City and 90 minutes from Grand Junction. The town is in an ideal location: 5.5 miles south of the entrance to Arches National Park, 30 miles northeast of Dead Horse Point State Park, 32 miles northeast of Island in the Sky Visitor Center in Canyonlands National Park, and 76 miles east of the entrance to Needles District, Canyonlands National Park.

Moab has many lodging options including hotels, motels, resorts, B&B’s, and campgrounds. It is a gateway to a playground for the adventurous: hiking, four-wheel drive excursions, white-water rafting, canoeing, biking, and horseback riding.


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Know Before You Go

  • $30 per car, $25 per motorcycle, $15 per person on foot/bike.
  • Island in the Sky Visitor Center open 9:00 am – 4:30 pm (March – December).
  • Needles Center open 8:00 am – 5:00 pm (March – November).
  • Maze District – Hans Flat Ranger Station open 8:00 am – 4:30 pm (year round).
  • Leashed pets only in parking areas and campground, not on trails or backcountry areas.
  • Stay on trails to protect fragile soil.
  • Parking is permitted only in designated areas and is strictly enforced.
  • Water is not available in most areas except the Visitor Centers from Spring – Fall.
  • Most excursions for horseback riding, kayaking, biking, rafting, or off-roading depart from Moab.

And so our epic 80 day summer road trip continues – 13 U.S. states, 2 Canadian provinces and 13 national parks.

Miles Driven: 257, Total Road Trip Miles Driven: 9,007, Average Gas Price per Gallon: $2.29

See our full summer road itinerary or start at the beginning here. e.

Up Next on the Road Trip: Driving Off a Cliff

Have you been to Utah? What’s your favorite thing to do?

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Angela E. is a travel writer from the Chicagoland area who has visited all 50 states in the US and has traveled extensively around the world. She is passionate about exploring the great outdoors and hiking in particular. Her love for nature has taken her to some of the most beautiful locations on the planet. She has written extensively about her travels on her own website, Dang Travelers, and has been published in collaboration with other travel websites and multiple visitor bureaus around the country.

18 Responses

  1. Chris Travels

    Your pictures are AMAZING! What more can be said? I am in Utah now and it definately has beautiful, “otherworldly” landscapes, for sure!

  2. Betsy

    You should check out the Amana Colony in Iowa and be sure to take the walking tour. So interesting.

  3. Lisa

    I love love Utah. We are going back in the spring again. Your pictures capture the beauty so well. It is a hikers paradise! North Utah is amazing too.

    • Dang Travelers

      We fell in love with Utah as well Lisa! Cannot wait to go back and visit Zion and Bryce too. Too many places, so little time! Thanks for reading!!

  4. Paul

    Wow the landscape looks so amazing and your pictures really make us want to explore there right now! At least you still have more plans to return to explore the harder to reach places.

  5. Llamateurs

    Wow, I know everybody says that, but photos are completely out from this planet 😀 Wow x 1000 ! 🙂 I would really like to visit this place now! But it is quite far by now…but maybe in the future!

  6. Juliette @ Snorkels To Snow

    Wow what magnificent photos! You’re right, I would feel very insignificant too there! My brother & father did a big US trip some years ago and into Canyonlands National Park and I remember viewing the photos from their trip, in awe.

  7. Nancy

    Wow, at first look at your photo’s I thought this was going to be about Monument Valley but what a surprise to find this is in Utah! The petroglyphs are very cool too.

  8. Vivian Lee

    In my opinion, Canyonland is one of the most beautiful national parks in the States, plus it is not at all touristy. When I was there last summer with my friends, we were the only group wandering around, literally! However it can get quite hot in the summer. Only managed to visit he needles, I’ll be back again! Thank you for your great post!

  9. Alina Popescu

    The photos in this post are simply incredible! I love these views and would like to spend some time here, even if it doesn’t look like the easiest trip ever. The scenery is just too gorgeous.

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