Canyonlands Island in the Sky vs. Needles Canyonlands

Here’s everything you need to know about Canyonlands Island in the Sky vs. Needles Canyonlands.

Use our Canyonlands National Park guide to plan your trip to visit the different districts at this park.

Canyonlands Island in the sky vs the Needles

Canyonlands National Park is divided into three distinct districts: Island in the Sky, Needles, and The Maze. These districts are divided by the Green and Colorado rivers, restricting any mode of transportation to surpass them.  

In this article, find out all about visiting Island in the Sky vs The Needles: services available, directions, things to do, where to stay, and what to pack!

Check out these Canyonlands itineraries:

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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!

Island in the Sky vs. The Needles

Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky is a popular destination for great hikes, spectacular viewpoints and photography. It’s the most popular district to visit because it’s so close to Arches National Park and Moab, about a 30 minute drive.

Needles Canyonlands, on the other hand, takes about an hour and a half to get to from Moab. It has plenty of hiking, backpacking and off-roading trails, making it perfect for adventure seekers.

Directions to Island in the Sky and Needles 

Visiting Island in the Sky and The Needles must be done separately. There are no roads that provide access to each other directly. 

From US 191 north of Moab, UT 313 leads to Island in the Sky and from US 191 south of Moab, UT 211 leads to The Needles. 

Canyonlands National Park Maps

Map of Canyonlands National Park with all four districts
The Needles Canyonlands map

Printable Canyonlands maps. AMAZON: Canyonlands Guides & Maps

Services at Island in the Sky vs. Needles 

When visiting Canyonlands National Park there are only limited goods and services available. Pack enough food, water, and other essentials for the time you’ll spend there since the Canyonlands districts are remote. 

Water at Island in the Sky vs. Needles

Island in the Sky: You can get drinking water at the Canyonlands Island in the Sky Visitor Center: inside (during open hours) or outside (24 hours a day). 

The Needles: Water is available year-round in the Needles Visitor Center.

Food and Gas Near Island in the Sky vs. Needles

Island in the Sky: Moab is the closest town with food and gas about 32 miles from the Visitor Center of Island in the Sky.

The Needles: Monticello is the closest town with food and gas about 48 miles from the Needles Visitor Center. Moab is about 75 miles away.

Lodging Near Island in the Sky vs. Needles 

Island in the Sky: There is no lodging available in Canyonlands National Park. However, there are Island in the Sky campgrounds and campsites as long as you secure your permits and reservations. Here’s a helpful guide of where to stay in Moab near Canyonlands if you’re looking for hotels and vacation rentals.

The Needles: You’ll only find Needles Canyonlands camping options when visiting this district. There are hotels in Monticello, but it’s a small town so the food and shopping options aren’t as good as what you’d find in Moab.

Wi-Fi at Island in the Sky vs. Needles

Island in the Sky: Public and unsecured Wi-Fi is available in the Visitor Center of Island in the Sky. 

The Needles: Public and unsecured Wi-Fi is available at the Needles Visitor Center. However, there are no charging stations so make sure to have a power bank

Network Service at Island in the Sky vs. Needles 

Island in the Sky: Network coverage or cell phone service is available in limited areas on the Island in the Sky mesa. These restricted areas include locations along the scenic drive where the La Sal Mountains are evident.

The Needles: There is little to no service in the Needles. Even the Visitor Center doesn’t have coverage. 


Things to Do at Island in the Sky vs. Needles 

Here is the list of things to do at Canyonlands National Park:

Biking at Canyonlands

You can ride on paved roads at The Needles and Island in the Sky. You must ride single file since there are no road shoulders or bike lanes. Be aware of passing vehicles at all times

Canyonlands is famous for its mountain biking terrain. Here are two popular trails for biking:

Island in the Sky: The White Rim Road at Island in the Sky is considered the “king” of biking terrains. It’s a hundred-mile loop around and below the mesa top that takes three to four days to finish. Permits are required.

The Needles: You’ll find 50 miles of challenging backcountry roads at Needles Canyonlands. Elephant Hill is one of the most technical roads in Utah! Permits are required. Many roads here are unsuitable for mountain biking due to the deep sand.

canyonlands national park utah

Hiking at Canyonlands

Canyonlands hikes are among the most famous trails in the world. Both Island in the Sky and The Needles offer short walks, day hikes, and backpacking trips.

Island in the Sky Hikes:

  • Mesa Arch
  • White Rim Overlook
  • Grand View Point
  • Murphy Point
  • Upheaval Dome
  • Whale Rock
  • Aztec Butte
  • Neck Spring
  • Gooseberry Canyon
  • Syncline Loop
  • Murphy Loop
  • Alcove Spring 
  • Wilhite
  • Lathrop 

Canyonlands Needles Hikes:

  • Roadside Ruin
  • Pothole Point
  • Cave Spring
  • Slickrock 
  • Big Spring to Squaw Canyon
  • Squaw Canyon to Lost Canyon
  • Confluence Overlook
  • Peekaboo
  • Chesler Park or Joint Trail
  • Druid Arch
  • Lower Red Lake Canyon
  • Salt Creek Canyon
Mesa Arch at sunrise
Mesa Arch at sunrise

Photography at Canyonlands

Canyonlands National Park photography is best at sunrise and sunset when the light isn’t so bright and harsh.

CHECK OUT our Arches and Canyonlands Photography Guide that details the best photo spots during the best light!

Some of our favorite photo spots at Canyonlands Island in the Sky

  • Mesa Arch at sunrise
  •  Grand View Point at sunrise
  •  Green River Overlook at sunset
  •  Buck Canyon Overlook late afternoon
  •  Aztec Butte ruins

Our favorite photo spots at Needles Canyonlands:

  • Newspaper Rock
  •  Needles spires along Elephant Hill Road
  •  Needles spires in Chesler Park
  •  Druid Arch
  •  Colorado River Overlook 

Milky Way overhead Mesa Arch at Canyonlands.

Stargazing at Canyonlands

Island in the Sky: Throughout the spring, summer, and fall you’ll find ranger-led stargazing programs around sunset (programs rotate with Arches national Park and Dead Horse Point State Park). The program introduces visitors to the beauty of the night sky through stargazing and telescope viewing. 

The Needles: Stargazing events here begin at the Visitors Center and include a night sky program, followed by telescope viewing.

For either park, be sure to take a chair or a blanket to sit on, as well as a headlamp with a red light or red flashlight (if you have one), and warm clothes.

Ranger Led Programs at Canyonlands 

Ranger-led programs at Island in the Sky and The Needles are subject to availability based on seasonal changes. Schedules and times may vary so check with each visitor center for current availability.

Arches Canyonlands guides and maps

BUY AT AMAZON: Arches and 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:

  •  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 Moab – 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).
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