Canyonlands National Park Activities + Travel Tips

If you love the outdoors, you’ll find a ton of Canyonlands National Park activities to do year-round like hiking, biking, photography, and more!

Use this Canyonlands National Park guide to help plan your vacation: weather, things to do, what to pack, and where to stay.

Canyonlands activities

Canyonlands National Park should be at the top of your list of places to visit in Utah if you enjoy outdoor activities.

Keep reading to learn more about the various districts of Canyonlands Island in the Sky and Needles and all the fun activities you can do at each location.

Check out these Canyonlands Itineraries for 1, 2, or 3 days in the park!

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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!

What to Expect When Visiting Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands is subdivided along the Green and Colorado Rivers into four unique districts, that are known as The Needles, Island in the Sky, The Maze and The Rivers.

Of all the districts, we recommend visiting Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky because it’s the most accessible. It also offers fantastic, panoramic views of the park along the Island in the Sky 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 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.

Check out our article explaining Canyonlands Island in the Sky vs Needles!

There are so many fun ways to explore Canyonlands: hiking trails, scenic drive, rock climbing, offroad driving and photography to name a few.

Use our guides below to help you plan the perfect itinerary when visiting the park.

snow at Canyonlands in the winter
Snow at Canyonlands in the winter

Best Time to Visit Canyonlands

Finding the best time to visit Canyonlands National Park all depends on the activities you want to do, and the type of weather you’ll enjoy.

The Canyonlands National Park weather varies drastically from summer to winter so you’ll need to be prepared for the temperatures during the time you visit.

Spring Weather at Canyonlands – When visiting Canyonlands National Park in the spring, it’s important to pack for all types of weather because you never know when the weather will change.

Summer Weather at 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!

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

Winter Weather at 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.

Canyonlands National Park Activities to Enjoy Year- Round

There are so many fun things to Do at Canyonlands National Park: hiking trails, scenic drive, rock climbing, off road driving and photography to name a few.

This list is also what we recommend for Canyonlands winter activities, with a few slight adjustments we note below.

Canyonlands Visitor Centers

If this is your first time visiting the park, stop at the Canyonlands Island in the Sky Visitor Center and Needles Visitor Center. Check the website for operating hours.

Take time to talk to the park ranger to get information about things you are interested in seeing and doing. Get tips and ideas on other things to do as well! You’ll find exhibits, book and map sales, backcountry permits, picnic area, and general information. Water is available year-round.

canyonlands needles landscape
Canyonlands Needles

Scenic Drives at Canyonlands

Exploring the Island in the Sky scenic drive is a must-do activity! Stop at all 10 overlooks to enjoy and photograph the never-ending views!

You’ll see different views at Needles Canyonlands as you drive through the park. Stop at all pullouts to enjoy the diverse beauty of the stone spires in this part of the park, and see why it’s called Needles.

When visiting Canyonlands National Park in the winter, you may be limited on the things you can do during and after a snow storm if roads are closed.

Due to the remote location of Canyonlands, always be prepared with water, food and proper clothing so you can be self-reliant. After a snow storm, paved roads may close temporarily so crews can plow. Unpaved backcountry roads may be impassible for longer periods of time so check road conditions before you head out!

Services are limited or closed in the winter. Remember there is no gas, food or lodging at Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky or Needles Canyonlands.

Know what Canyonlands winter services are available as well as road and trail conditions before heading into the parks.

upheaval dome at Canyonlands Island in the Sky
Upheaval Dome

Hiking at Canyonlands

Exploring the Canyonlands hikes is one of the best activities to appreciate this park. 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 sunhatsunscreen, and sunglasses.

Island in the Sky hikes: Mesa Arch, Grand View Point, Aztec Butte and Upheaval Dome. And here’s a list of hikes at the Needles district: Roadside Ruin, Pothole Point and Cave Spring.

Canyonlands Needles hikes that are easy: Roadside Ruin, Pothole Point, Cave Spring. There are a few popular difficult hikes as well: Chelser Park Loop and Druid Arch trails.

Before setting out on any Canyonlands National Park winter hikes, we recommend you talk to the Rangers to find out the latest trail conditions. Some hikes may require traction devices due to icy trails

Mesa Arch at sunrsie
Mesa Arch at sunrsie

Photography at Canyonlands

If you love landscape photography, you’re in for a treat with the landscape views you’ll see at Canyonlands!

We focus our Canyonlands National Park photography at Island in the Sky for sunrise and sunset photography.

  • Canyonlands sunrise photo spots at Island in the Sky: Grand View Point and Mesa Arch.
  • Canyonlands sunset photo spots at Island in the Sky: Green River Overlook and nearby Dead Horse Point State Park!

If you’re looking for the best photo spots at Canyonlands Island in the Sky…

check out our 3-day itinerary to capture amazing sunrise, sunset and night photos, check out our Arches & Canyonlands Photography Guide.

milky way over Mesa Arch
Milky way over Mesa Arch

Stargazing at Canyonlands

Stargazing at Canyonlands is another must-do activity. On a clear night, the sky is literally filled with stars. Canyonlands National Park is a Dark Sky Park and they have a slogan that says “Half the Park is After Dark”!

From March through October you can see the milky way. Canyonlands is a popular destination for astrophotographers so you won’t be alone in the park at night. Be courteous to other photographers in the area by using a headlamp with a red light!

jeeping at Canyonlands
Jeeping at Canyonlands

Off-roading at Canyonlands

Another experience of a lifetime is driving the Shafer Trail! If you have the right vehicle, you might want to try this challenging, unpaved backcountry road in Island in the Sky that connects with Moab.

The 4×4 trails at Needles Canyonlands are pretty technical and may require a permit so check with the Park Rangers before heading out on any trail.

High-clearance 4WD 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!

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Camping in Canyonlands

Camping at Canyonlands National Park

You’ll find camping options available at Canyonlands all year. There are some limitations if you plan to do any Canyonlands winter camping.

Island in the Sky Camping: the Island in the Sky Campground is a small campground with 12 sites. It is fully operational all-year-round, but the sites fill quickly.

  • The campground has pit toilets, several picnic tables, and fire rings. However, there is no potable water, so make sure you pack water for your stay.
  • The campground allows pets.
  • The site has a “first come, first served” policy. You can stay for a maximum of seven days.

Canyonlands Needles Camping: there are 26 individual camping sites and three group sites around the Needles district for Needles Canyonlands camping. Be sure to check the NPS website for the most updated nightly fee.

  • Fourteen campsites in Loop A are always on a “first come, first served” basis. 
  • Twelve campsites in Loop B an be reserved in the spring and fall.. and they fill quickly!
  • Group sites are open from mid-March to mid-November. They are closed during the winter. 
  • RVs and trailers are allowed, but there’s a maximum of length of 28 feet. 

If you can’t find a spot in the park, there are many RV parks near Canyonlands National Park where you can camp!

More Canyonlands Activities

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:

  •  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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