Arches or Canyonlands: Which National Park is Better

Are you trying to decide whether to visit Arches or Canyonlands National Parks? As you’re planning your Utah National Park road trip, this guide lists everything you can see, do and photograph at each park.

These two Utah National Parks are simply stunning. You’ll be treated to amazing landscapes filled with arches, balanced rocks, and fins at Arches National Park. At Canyonlands Island in the Sky you’ll enjoy panoramic views of canyons and the rivers below the mesa.

Arches or Canyonlands Which Park is Better

In order to get the most out of visiting both parks, we recommend at least one day at each park: get up early to see and photograph the sunrise, explore the scenic drive, take a hike or two, photograph the sunset, and enjoy stargazing at night!

If you’re REALLY short on time, we’ve got this itinerary detailing the schedule to see Arches National Park and Canyonlands in One Day as well!

But if you must decide whether to visit Canyonlands vs Arches, this guide will tell you everything you need to know to help you make your decision.

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Arches and Canyonlands National Park Packing Lists

→ DOWNLOAD: Packing list for Utah National Parks

  • Merrell Moab hiking shoes or Oboz hiking shoes
  • Darn Tough hiking socks 
  • Water – carry a hydration pack or a refillable water bottle in your backpack
  • Healthy food that’s portable and filling!
  • Columbia fleece jacket
  • Wicking, quick-drying clothing
  • Lip balm with UV protection
  • Sun protection – sunscreen (even in the winter) and a sunhat
  • UV sunglasses are good for summer and winter
  • Travel hand sanitizer
  • Flashlight or headlamp
  • Canyonlands guide books and maps
  • First aid kit 
  • Insect repellent 
  • Camera gear – DOWNLOAD the free checklist!

Outdoor Gear we recommend! Travel Gear & Hiking Gear

outdoor gear we use

Arches or Canyonlands: The Basics

Let’s break down the basics of these two Utah national parks.

Size: Arches is a small park at 119 square miles compared to Canyonlands at 527 square miles. Canyonlands is also divided into 4 districts: Island in the Sky, Needles, The Maze and The Rivers.

The most popular part of the park is Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky due to its close proximity to Arches and the Moab area.

Needles Canyonlands cannot be accessed from the Island in the Sky. It’s about 1 hour south of Moab.

We wrote an article detailing the differences between Canyonlands Island in the Sky vs Needles you might find helpful as you plan your vacation.

Visitation: Arches gets about double the amount of visitors than Canyonlands. Since it’s a small park, Arches has implemented a TIMED ENTRY pilot program from April through October, during the busy peak season. We’ll detail more about this in the “Visiting Arches National Park” section below.

Hiking Trails: You’ll find easy, moderate and strenuous hikes at both parks. 

Arches National Park Hiking Trails: 9 easy trails and 4 moderate/strenuous. Many hikes are short, paved walks from the parking area to an arch formation. 

Canyonlands Hikes: 7 easy trails and 14 moderate/strenuous. The hiking trails here cover more trail mileage than Arches. 

Cost: The park entrance fee for Arches is $30 per vehicle; the entrance fee for Canyonlands is $30 per vehicle. We highly recommend you get the National Park Pass, especially if you plan on visiting both parks and other national parks within the year. 

Snow on the Skyline Arch Trail at Arches National Park

Best Time to Visit Arches or Canyonlands

When deciding the best time to visit Arches National Park and Canyonlands, it all depends on things you want to do.

It’s important to know the Canyonlands and Arches National Park weather and what to expect when visiting during the spring, summer, fall and winter. 

The weather and temperatures at Arches and Canyonlands Island in the sky are pretty much the same. We’ll share links to specific seasons and months for one park, but know that information applies to both parks.

Spring Weather at Arches and Canyonlands

Springtime weather and temperatures vary quite a bit from month to month. When visiting Arches National Park in the spring, it’s important to pack for all types of weather because you never know when the weather will change.

It is not unusual to get rain or even snowfall in March. We recommend you watch the weather and pack a winter coat, winter hat, and winter gloves when going to Arches in early spring. A fleece jacket, hat, and gloves should be fine later in the spring.

Spring is a busy time so we recommend you get in the park early to see and photograph sunrise at Arches National Park!

Summer Weather at Arches and Canyonlands

At Canyonlands National Park in the summer the temperatures will be HOT! Since the temperatures are brutal this time of year, plan your outdoor activities for the cooler mornings and evenings!

With the hot summer temperatures, you’ll want to protect yourself from the sun by wearing a sun hat, sunscreen and sunglasses. It’s important to stay hydrated and carry a hydration pack or a refillable water bottle in your backpack.

Enjoy the cooler evenings by stargazing at Arches and Canyonlands in the summer. Both parks are popular locations for milky way photography!

Fall Weather at Arches and Canyonlands

The weather at Arches National Park in the fall starts to cool down making it a great time to explore the park because it will be cooler in the mornings and evenings, and the daytime temperatures aren’t too hot compared to the summer.

With the cooler temperatures at night, you will definitely want to bring a fleece jacket, warm hat and gloves for the nights and early mornings. 

Fall is a nice time to be in the park on a sunny day when the air isn’t stifling! It’s a perfect time to explore the Arches National Park hiking trails! The fall months are still busy so hit the trails in the morning or late afternoon.

Winter Weather at Arches and Canyonlands

We love visiting Canyonlands National Park in the winter! But there are some drawbacks to keep in mind. Visitor services are reduced and you’ll need to be more self-reliant in the winter.  

BUT the cold winter weather may not be for everyone.

During the winter it is especially important to dress in layers. We recommend an insulted winter jacket, fleece jacket, warm hat and gloves if you’ll be doing any outside activities. Here’s the full list of the outdoor winter clothing we use!

We enjoy Canyonlands National Park Photography in the winter – check out these awesome photographer gloves and rechargeable hand warmers we use!

A Photo Tour of Arches National Park

Take a visual tour through Arches National Park to see the stunning landscapes you’ll see when you visit!

Visiting Arches National Park

Arches is a small National Park, but it’s jam-packed with cool features: natural stone arches within the park boundaries, pinnacles, fins, windows and balanced rocks that can all be seen from the scenic drive. 

NOTE: Arches National Park now has a TIMED ENTRY pilot program April through October, 2022. Timed entry tickets will be required to enter the park from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and will allow visitors to enter the park during a one-hour specified window of availability. After entering, visitors may stay in the park as long as they wish for the remainder of the day. Reservation holders may exit and re-enter the park on the same day with a correctly validated ticket.

Visitors can book reservations first-come, first-served on Recreation.gov to get the timed entry ticket. The park will release reservations three months in advance in monthly blocks.

You CAN visit Arches without a ticket as long as you enter the park before 6 a.m or after 5 p.m. That’s the best time of day for Arches National Park photography anyway.

Arches National Park in One Day

When people ask us “How Many Days Should I Spend in Arches National Park”, we always recommend at least two days.

But you can still see a lot of Arches National Park in one full day if you’re willing to get an early start in the morning to see the sunrise and stay out until sunset.

For the purpose of this one day guide, plan to enter Arches National Park before 6:00 am if you’ll be visiting during the months of April through October. That way you don’t need to worry about getting an entry ticket for the date you’ll be there!

If you’re interested in photographing sunrise at Arches National Park, plan to arrive in the park at least 30 minutes before sunrise. We detail below the sunrise locations we recommend!

Arches National Park Scenic Drive Map

Use this Google map of the Arches scenic drive points of interest to navigate through the park.

arches scenic drive map

Things to Do at Arches National Park

There are so many things to do at Arches National Park. Here’s a list of activities to consider:

Stop at the Arches Visitor Center

Stopping at the visitor center is the first place you want to stop, especially if it’s your first time visiting Arches! It is open every day in the Spring and is full of so much useful information.

There you can talk with the park ranger, tell them what you are most interested in and ask for recommendations. You can also find out if there are any closures currently within the park. 

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LaSal Viewpoint at sunrise

Arches Scenic Drive

While visiting take the time to explore the Arches National Park scenic drive. It’s a 43-mile road with spur roads. It will take about 2 to 3 hours, but plan more time if you’ll be taking photos or hiking along the way.

There are a ton of Arches National Park photography locations along the drive. You’ll see many arches and landmarks at the various pullouts and parking lot, or by a short walk.

There are some unpaved roads you can take to explore further, but you will want to check at the visitor center for up to date road conditions to see if they are safe to go on during your trip.

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Delicate Arch at sunset

Arches Photography

If you plan to take Arches National Park photos, here are some tips to get great pictures:

Some of our favorite places to catch sunrise at Arches National Park are La Sal Overlook, Courthouse Towers, and the Windows section. If you don’t want people climbing on the rocks in your photos, plan to visit Balanced Rock, Turret Arch (through the North Window) and the Windows in the morning.

Delicate Arch is an iconic location to see and photograph, and the most popular spot for sunset at Arches National Park. It’s hard to get a photo of the arch without people at sunset!

We’ve created a 3 day Arches & Canyonlands Itinerary and Photography Guide that details all the places and times to take pictures!

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Milky way at Arches National Park

Stargazing at Arches

There is a reason why Arches National Park is internationally recognized as one of the best places to stargaze. The skies are clear and with the park in a remote location it allows you to get some of the most breathtaking views of the night sky that you will ever see. 

In the spring, summer and fall you’ll be able to see and photograph the milky way! Good Arches locations for stargazing:

  • Balanced Rock
  • The Windows
  • Garden of Eden Viewpoint
  • Panorama Point

Continue along the trail in the Windows area to access Turret Arch.

Sand Dune Arch photo spot at Arches by Photo Jeepers
Sand Dune Arch is a fun hike for kids

Hiking at Arches

Arches National Park hiking trails are perfect for families, casual visitors who want to explore, and avid hikers that want a real adventure. 

Some of the easiest trails we recommend are Balanced Rock, The Windows, and Double Arch. If you’re visiting Arches National Park with kids, they will love the Sand Dune Arch trail!

If you are looking for a moderate trail we recommend the Delicate Arch hike, Devil’s Garden Trail to at least see Landscape Arch or Park Avenue.

For the more difficult trails you can do any of the primitive trails, Fiery Furnace or Tower Arch.

When hiking it is especially important that you take the proper gear and plenty of water as well as dress in moisture-wicking layers.

Other Activities to do at Arches National Park:

Arches and Canyonlands photography guide

A Photo Tour of Canyonlands National Park

Take a visual tour through Canyonlands National Park (and Dead Horse Point) to see the stunning landscape in the parks!

Visiting Canyonlands

Known for its diverse and dynamic desert landscape, Canyonlands provides visitors with a fantastic assortment of hiking, backpacking, river rafting, photography and camping opportunities that are only amplified by the natural beauty of this amazing national park.

Because Canyonlands is a remote and rugged place, there is no lodging (except several campgrounds), food, or gas services available in the park. However, you can find a range of full services in several nearby towns, like Moab.

That being said, it’s always important to pack everything you’ll need for your visit to Canyonlands since water is only available at the Island in the Sky Visitor Center (except during the winter), and at The Needles Visitor Center.

The Island in the Sky and The Needles Visitor Centers do offer guests public, unsecured WIFI.

Extremely limited call phone service is also available within the Island in the Sky Visitor Center, at scenic drive locations where the La Sal Mountains are visible, along the east side of the White Rim Road, and along the Orange Cliffs Mesa where the La Sal Mountains are visible.

Canyonlands Island in the Sky Scenic Drive Map

Use this Google map of the Canyonlands Island in the Sky scenic drive points of interest to navigate around the park.

Canyonlands Scenic Drive map

One Day at the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands

You can easily see the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park in one day if you don’t plan to do much hiking. A full day at Canyonlands means getting an early start in the morning to see the sunrise and stay out until sunset, and even later for stargazing!

Things to Do at Canyonlands

There are fun things to do at Canyonlands National Park like hiking trails, scenic drives, spectacular views and photo spots! 

Canyonlands Visitor Centers

Visit the Canyonlands Island in the Sky Visitor Center and Needles Visitor Center first thing when you arrive! Check the NPS website for the operating hours for the time you’ll visit.

Green River Overlook at Canyonlands Island in the Sky
Green River Overlook at Island in the Sky

Scenic Drives at Canyonlands

The best views are what you’ll find along the Island in the Sky scenic drive. There are 10 overlooks and viewpoints to enjoy, and photograph, the landscape at this park!

Driving through Needles Canyonlands the views will be much different. Be sure to stop at all pullouts to enjoy the diverse beauty of the stone spires in this part of the park.

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Washer Woman feature seen through Mesa Arch

Hiking at Canyonlands 

Exploring the Canyonlands hikes is one of the best ways to really experience the park. There are hundreds of miles of scenic trails to explore, from easy day hikes to longer and strenuous hikes.

Remember to stay hydrated and carry a hydration pack or a refillable water bottle in your backpack. And since most of the trails are fully exposed to the sun, you’ll need sun protection like a sunhat, sunscreen and sunglasses.

Some of our favorite Island in the Sky hikes include Mesa Arch, Grand View Point, Aztec Butte and Upheaval Dome.

We like the easier Canyonlands Needles hikes like Roadside Ruin, Pothole Point and Cave Spring.

sunrise at Grand View Point Canyonlands
Grand View Point at sunrise

Photography at Canyonlands

Sunrise and sunset are always the best times of day for Canyonlands National Park Photography. Our favorite sunrise spots at Island in the Sky are Grand View Point and Mesa Arch. We like the Colorado River Overlook at sunset.

Stop at all the viewpoints along the scenic drive at Island in the Sky to capture stunning landscapes.

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Milky way over Mesa Arch at Canyonlands

Canyonlands Stargazing

We HIGHLY recommend setting aside one evening to stay after the sun sets and LOOK UP! You’ll quickly see why Canyonlands has the slogan: “Half the Park is After Dark”. We love to photograph the milky way from spring through fall!

Canyonlands is internationally recognized as one of the best places for stargazing because of its remote location, accessibility, altitude and clear skies. It’s a popular destination for astro-photographers so you won’t be alone in the park at night.

Schafer Trail at Canyonlands Island in the Sky
Schafer Trail 4×4 road at Island in the Sky

Canyonlands 4×4 Trails

Another experience of a lifetime is driving the Shafer Trail! It’s a challenging, unpaved backcountry road in Island in the Sky that connects with Moab.

There are also fun 4×4 trail at Needles Canyonlands, but check to see if you’ll need a permit for the trail you want to drive.

High-clearance four-wheel drive vehicles with a low range gear (4LO) are required on all off-road trails in Canyonlands. ATVs, OHVs, or UTVs are not permitted inside the park.

These trails should not be attempted by inexperienced drivers since there is a high risk of vehicle damage that could lead to towing costs in excess of $1,000!

More Canyonlands Activities

Dead Horse Point State Park at Sunset
Dead Horse Point State Park at sunset

Sunset at Dead Horse Point State Park

Dead Horse Point is a must-stop destination on our list of Utah State Parks, especially if you’re already at Island in the Sky.

The stunning views of the bend in the Colorado River, dramatic vertical cliffs and canyons you’ll see at Dead Horse Point State Park cannot be seen from Canyonlands Island in the Sky.

There is a day-use park fee to visit Dead Horse Point. The US National Park pass is not valid here since this is a Utah State Park. But we feel the additional fee to visit this park is well worth it to view this iconic scene!

The best time to photograph Dead Horse Point is at sunset when the landscape gets that red glow.

We have found it best to find a spot along the trail below and to the right of the platform to capture the Dead Horse Point sunset. There may be quite a few people there to watch the sunset, but there is plenty of room along the canyon rim for everyone to have a great view!

BUY AT AMAZON: Arches and Canyonlands Guides and Maps:

Arches Canyonlands guides and maps

Visiting Arches National Park:

Plan Your Canyonlands Vacation

Where to Stay Near Arches National Park and Canyonlands:

There are no hotels in Arches or Canyonlands so most people stay in the nearby town of Moab. There are all types of lodging in and near Moab from budget-friendly hotels to higher-prices resorts. You’ll also find vacation rentals, a hostel, campgrounds and RV parks.

Here are a few of our favorite places to stay in Moab near Arches and Canyonlands:

  • Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Moab – we enjoyed our stay and highly recommend this hotel due to its location close to Arches.
  • Purple Sage – our all-time favorite place to stay in Moab – walking distance to shopping, full kitchen, and only 8 units so you don’t feel lost in a large hotel. 
  • Red Cliffs Lodge – rooms up to 6 people – located 17 miles from Moab, this lodge is known for its beautiful location, winery and activities like horseback riding, fishing and more!
  • Vacation Rentals – we really like rentals with a kitchen, washer and dryer and amenities like a swimming pool and hot tub.

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