Best Photo Spots at Canyonlands Island in the Sky

People ask us often: “Where are the best photo spots at Canyonlands“?

Use this Canyonlands National Park guide to plan a vacation to the park and know the best locations and times of day to take amazing pictures at Canyonlands Island in the Sky!

best photo spots at Canyonlands Island in the Sky

We live just hours away from Canyonlands so we’ve had the experience of photographing the park during every season and all types of weather and light conditions.

Keep reading for a list of Canyonlands National Park photo spots, best times of day to photograph each location, and the camera gear you’ll need to take pictures at this stunning park!

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CAMERA GEAR FOR LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY

DOWNLOAD: Camera Gear Checklist 

  • Camera: check out the compact travel cameras we recommend!
  • Tripod: take a look at these compact and lightweight travel tripods!
  • Camera Bag: protect your camera from sand and water → We use Lowepro camera backpacks for outdoor photography.
  • Neutral density filter: to compensate for variance of light you’ll need to use a neutral density filter.  → Check out the Kase magnetic filters we use!
  • Camera cleaning kit: remove dust or water that WILL get on your lens. NOTE: this is not for cleaning the sensor.  
  • Memory cards: purchase name brand memory cards since you’re trusting your images to the card!  → We use Lexar and Sandisk!
  • External hard drive: copy photos to a portable external hard drive ‘just in case’. 
  • Headlamp: use when taking sunrise and sunset photos!

Camera Gear at Amazon | Camera Gear at B&H Photo

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A Photo Tour of Canyonlands National Park

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

TIPS FOR VISITING CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK

Basic Information for Visiting Canyonlands

When visiting Canyonlands National Park you’ll see exquisite natural canyons, arches, fins, buttes, mesas, and spires that have all been carved out by the awe-inspiring power of the Green and Colorado Rivers.

Because of these two rivers and their natural flow pattern through the park, Canyonlands has been further subdivided into four unique districts.

Canyonlands Four Districts

Canyonlands is subdivided, along the Green and Colorado Rivers, into four unique districts: Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky, Needles Canyonlands, The Maze, Island in the Sky, and The Rivers.

Of all the districts in Canyonlands National Park, we recommend visiting Island in the Sky because it’s the most accessible and offers fantastic, panoramic views of the park along the scenic drive. Take a short side trip to visit Dead Horse Point State Park near the entrance to Island in the Sky. It is a must-see location!

In contrast, when you visit The Needles Canyonlands, you’ll experience a remote, backcountry experience with an assortment of natural geologic formations that can only be reached by using one of the many Canyonlands hiking trails or four-wheel driving trails.

Here’s a good article we wrote detailing Canyonlands Island in the Sky vs Needles!

Best Time to Visit Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands is located in Southeast Utah, part of the Colorado Plateau “high desert”. This area has large temperature fluctuations, sometimes up to 40 degrees in a single day!

The best time to visit Canyonlands National Park is during the most temperate seasons in the spring (April through May) and fall (mid-September through October). The spring and fall daytime highs average 60º to 80ºF and lows average 30º to 50ºF. Sunrise and sunset photography happen at reasonable times of day which is nice!

Summer temperatures often exceed 100ºF! Outdoor activities and photography should be limited to the cooler morning and evenings to avoid the harsh mid-day sun. Keep in mind the sunrise times are really early, sunset times are really late, and the milky way is best photographed in the middle of the night during the summer.

Winters temperature highs average 30º to 50ºF and lows average 0º to 20ºF. So it’s cold! Large amounts of snow in the park are uncommon, but even small amounts of snow or ice can make the park trails and roads impassable. Be prepared with the right winter clothing so you’ll want to be out taking pictures! We recommend photographer gloves and rechargeable hand warmers!

Canyonlands Island in the Sky Photo Spots Map

Take a look at the Canyonlands Island in the Sky photo spots map with the pinned photography locations so you can navigate to each spot in the park.

canyonlands photo spots map

BEST PHOTO SPOTS AT CANYONLANDS ISLAND IN THE SKY

The unique landscape results in jaw-dropping Canyonlands National Park photography!

Most of the Island in the Sky photo spots will be found along the Island in the Sky scenic drive and while exploring the various Island in the Sky Hikes.

Arches and Canyonlands photography guide

If you want a 3-day itinerary for photographing Arches, Canyonlands and Dead Horse Point, check out our Arches & Canyonlands Itinerary and Photography Guide!!

If you want to photograph Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky, here’s a list of the best photo spots we recommend with tip and the best times of day to take pictures at each spot.

sunrise at Grand View Point Canyonlands

Photographing Grand View Point

At the end of the Island in the Sky scenic drive is the Grand View Point lookout. From here, you can see the majestic White Rim as well as The Maze, The Needles, and distant mountain peaks. A short, paved, 300 foot sidewalk leads to a spectacular viewpoint. Just beyond this paved platform, follow the trail down a stone staircase.

From this point the trail is a mix of dirt and slickrock marked by cairns to the second viewpoint which is 2 miles round trip from the parking area. Be careful not to get too close to the edge.

BEST TIMES TO PHOTOGRAPH GRAND VIEW POINT:

Mesa Arch at sunrsie

Photographing Mesa Arch

Mesa Arch is a popular destination for visitors since it is beautiful and takes only 30-minutes to access the iconic arch. The trail is an easy 0.5 mile loop marked by stone cairns and driftwood.

You’ll see the arch on the right side, near the edge of the sheer cliff face and can even spot the famous Washer Woman through the crest of the arch.

Our best tip for photographing Mesa Arch: stay after sunrise! The golden glow on the under side of the Arch continues for quite a while, and you can capture awesome photos when all the other photographers have left.

golden glow under Mesa Arch at Canyonlands

BEST TIME TO PHOTOGRAPH MESA ARCH:

  • Sunrise
  • Morning
  • Night photography

NOTE: Due to the popularity of Mesa Arch, you’ll need to plan ahead and arrive WELL BEFORE sunrise or the appearance of the milky way in order to get a good spot. The area for taking the iconic Canyonlands shot is small.

Green River Overlook at Canyonlands National Park

Photographing Green River Overlook

From the Green River Overlook you can get a breathtaking view of the surrounding canyonlands that extends out for hundreds of miles in every direction. You can even see the Green River meandering through the surrounding canyons in the distance.

BEST TIME TO PHOTOGRAPH GREEN RIVER OVERLOOK:

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Photographing Aztec Butte Ruins

Access the ruins from a spur trail along the Aztec Butte trail. It’s just 0.3 miles from the parking lot and takes you up and through a smaller dome. The reward at the end of this trail are two historic Puebloan granaries tucked in an alcove.

BEST TIME TO PHOTOGRAPH AZTEC BUTTE

  • Morning – when they are in shadow
  • Near sunset – capture the golden light reflecting on the ruins

Buck Canyon Overlook at Canyonlands Island in the Sky

Photographing Buck Canyon Overlook

The overlook at Buck Canyon is wheelchair accessible and illustrates the 1,000 foot tall, dramatic sheer cliffs that form the mesa. From here, you can photograph the cracked sandstone at the bottom of the canyon and the La Sal mountains in the distance.

BEST TIME TO PHOTOGRAPH BUCK CANYON OVERLOOK

  • Morning – try to avoid taking photos during the harsh daylight sun because the vast landscape will be washed out with little detail
  • Night photography

View looking down on Shaefer Trail at Canyonlands

Photographing Shafer Trail Overlook

Driving Schafer trail is not for the faint of heart! There are some narrow sections in the switchbacks that aren’t wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other, which means someone will need to reverse until there’s a space wide enough to pass safely.

To photograph this amazing road from above, explore the area near the Shafer Trail Overlook and various pullouts in the area.

BEST TIME TO PHOTOGRAPH SHAFER TRAIL

  • Morning
  • Evening

It’s also cook if there’s a vehicle or bicycle on the road as well!

upheaval dome at Canyonlands Island in the Sky

Photographing Upheaval Dome

To access Upheaval Dome, you’ll need to hike a moderately difficult trail that has two different viewpoints for you to explore. The first viewpoint is just 1 mile away from the trailhead and takes only 30 minutes to get to.

However, if you want to see some truly fascinating rock formations, then definitely hike to the second viewpoint. Sure, this section adds about a mile to your hike, and a one hundred foot elevation change, but the landscapes that you’ll see along the way are absolutely worth the effort.

BEST TIME TO PHOTOGRAPH UPHEAVAL DOME

  • Morning
  • Late afternoon

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CANYONLANDS ISLAND IN THE SKY NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY

Canyonlands is recognized as an International Dark Sky Park. The park’s accessibility, remote location, altitude and weather are why they say “Half the Park is After Dark”. Definitely take a night for stargazing at Canyonlands National Park!

Photographers from around the world come to Canyonlands to photograph the Milky Way. Here are some tips for capturing the night sky and milky way at Island i the Sky:

PLAN: You’ll see the darkest skies during a new moon or when the moon is below the horizon. Check sunrise and sunset times and moon phases at discovermoab.com.

TIME: It can take 20-30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark. Spend enough time outside away from bright lights to allow your eyes to adjust.

RED LIGHT: White lights from flashlights, cell phones, or vehicle headlights can harm your night vision. A red light won’t impact your night vision as much. Use a headlamp with a red-light feature while stargazing.

BUY AT AMAZON: Arches and Canyonlands Guides and Maps:

Arches Canyonlands guides and maps

Plan Your Canyonlands Vacation

WHERE TO STAY NEAR CANYONLANDS

There are no lodging facilities in the park, but there are campgrounds:

Lists of places to stay near Canyonlands

  •  Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Moab – we enjoyed our stay and highly recommend this hotel due to its location close to Canyonlands.
  •  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!
  • Townhomes south of town – we really like the townhomes in Spanish Valley with kitchen, washer and dryer in the unit and a swimming pool/hot tub (just a 5 minute drive south of Moab).
  • Rent an RV – have it dropped off at your vacation destination!

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