Set in the high desert, the canyons, mesas, buttes, and arches have been slowly shaped by water, gravity, and the elements over millions of years. Canyonlands has a decidedly wild, unrefined feel and the rock formations and desert landscape have a harsher, rougher feel than its nearby neighbor, Arches National Park.
How to Spend a Day at Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park is divided into 4 districts, Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze, and the Rivers. The districts are separated by the Colorado and Green Rivers. Island in the Sky is not an island, but rather a mesa with access to the sweeping landscapes of the 1,000-foot canyon down below.
This section of the park is the most visited. It’s the closest to Moab, just about 30 miles away, and has the most accessible terrain of all the districts. The Needles section of the park is south of Moab by about 40 miles, while the Maze is remote, rugged, and best for those who are experienced in the backcountry. I visited the Island in the Sky.
Canyonlands has its fair-share of heart-pumping outdoor adventures. With the right car, I’d have loved to go off-roading, but our rental car wasn’t going to have it.
Not to worry, though, because Canyonlands reveals its beauty instantly and without hesitation because of its high perch over the canyon and desert below. It makes the perfect spot for inspiration seekers, contemplation, and inward reflection.
Grab your America the Beautiful Pass and let’s explore Canyonlands National Park! 🙂
On the way to Canyonlands sits Dead Horse Point State Park.
Make the detour into the State Park to see the stunning Dead Horse Point Overlook. The Colorado River cuts its way through the rock and carves the horseshoe-shaped bend in the river, as well as the surrounding canyon. Interestingly, though, this is not how the point got its name. Cowboys used the canyon to herd wild horses and take the best of the lot.
After stopping at Dead Horse Point, head into Canyonlands. The Visitor Center marks the start and finish of the 34-mile round trip scenic drive along the top of the Island in the Sky Mesa.
Quite simply, the scenic overlooks are awe-inspiring. Plan to hop out and photograph each one. Unless you’re crunched for time, there’s no need to rush. Savor your surroundings because you’ll have plenty of time to drive the scenic road at a leisurely pace.
If you want to hike, pay careful attention to the tips in the park guide. Many hikes include descending deep into the 1,000-foot canyon, making many of the hikes moderate to strenuous.
Interested in putting that 4-wheel drive to the test? Be sure to get a permit to take your vehicle onto the park’s many dirt roads to explore the backcountry.
Along the scenic drive, stop at the must-see Mesa Arch. The easy trail is about half a mile and should take about 30 minutes round trip. There’s an incline, but it’s gradual and descends back down a bit as you get closer to the arch.
The trees in the desert and along the Mesa Arch trail are weathered and worn characters! The severe conditions create curved, bent, craggy trees that are simply trying to survive in a region that sees less than 10 inches of rain per year!
Reaching Mesa Arch is well worth the view! Climb in and around (not on) the arch to contemplate every possible angle. But do be careful! The ledges are real and don’t have a fence or barrier to keep visitors from falling.
Spots like these in our National Parks help to remind us of our place in the natural order. Canyonlands did this with ease. The landscape inspires and lends itself to quiet reflection with how vast it is!
At the far end of the scenic road is Grand View Point Overlook, as well as the trailhead that winds you out and back along the edge of the canyon. The 2-mile round trip walk is mostly flat and is accurately listed as an easy hike in the park’s guide.
Walking along the canyon’s edge, it’s hard to comprehend how drops of water over so many years have created the natural beauty before you. How could you not wonder, if drops of water can create this canyon, what impact can we have with the right amount of pressure, time, and patience?
Canyonlands, you stopped us in our tracks. Made us take notice and awe at your incredible natural beauty. How inspiring it was to spend a day in your presence…
As you plan your trip, be sure Canyonlands has a place on your Utah National Parks road trip itinerary.
Are you planning a visit to the Utah National Parks? Find out how to save money on park entrance fees!
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