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 plan your itinerary of things to see, do, and photograph!

This national park is located in southeastern Utah and draws in adventure-lovers all year. Canyonlands National Park has more than just beautiful views and amazing landscapes. It offers exciting activities that will fulfill your desire for adventure and give you an unforgettable experience.

Canyonlands activities

Living only a few hours away we’re lucky we can visit Canyonlands National Park often. We detail the specific activities you can do at the various districts of Canyonlands Island in the Sky and Canyonlands Needles.

We’ve created some done-for-you Canyonlands itineraries depending on the time you have to spend at the park. Click the graphic below to get a free travel bundle that includes printable daily itineraries. Or click the links below to see detailed itineraries of the best things to do at Canyonlands!

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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, each unique distinct offers captivating experiences that you can enjoy during your Canyonlands National Park itinerary.

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, off-road driving and photography to name a few.

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 in Canyonlands National Park Utah.

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.

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.

  • Canyonlands in March: Highs 59 | Lows 30 degrees F
  • Canyonlands in April: Highs 67 | Lows 37 degrees F 
  • Canyonlands in May: Highs 78 | Lows 46 degrees F

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!

  • Canyonlands in June: Highs 93 | Lows 60 degrees F
  • Canyonlands in July: Highs 100 | Lows 67 degrees F
  • Canyonlands in August: Highs 97 | Lows 66 degrees F

Canyonlands National Park in the fall – it 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.

  • Canyonlands in September: Highs 84 | Lows 51 degrees F
  • Canyonlands in October: Highs 70 | Lows upper 30 degrees F
  • Canyonlands in November: Highs 55 | Lows high 20 degrees F 

Canyonlands National Park in the winter – it’s our favorite time to visit, 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 in December : Highs 45 | Lows 23 degrees F
  • Canyonlands in January : Highs 44 | Lows 22 degrees F
  • Canyonlands in February: Highs 52 | Lows 28 degrees F

Canyonlands National Park Activities to Enjoy Year- Round

Canyonlands is a rugged and remote Utah National Park with a landscape perfect for hiking, camping, and off-road adventures. There are no food or gas services available in the park. Be sure to pack everything you’ll need for your visit to Canyonlands since water is only available at the Visitor Centers.

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

Most activities can be done year-round, but we note any adjustment that need to be made for Canyonlands winter activities.

There are fun ways to get everyone excited before, during and after the trip with National Park activities:

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.

There are fun and interactive Canyonlands ranger-led programs where you’ll learn about the natural and cultural resources at the park. Join a ranger for a talk, hike, or evening program. Check the website for the most updated schedule of events.

If you’re visiting Canyonlands National Park With Kids, the Junior Ranger program is a must!

Canyonlands Passport Stamps

Kids, and adults, will enjoy collecting stamps in their National Park Passport book! Passport booklets and stamp sets are “usually” available at the park visitor centers, but we recommend you get the passport book before the trip, just in case!!

We’ve seen sad kiddos when a visitor center is out of passport books. Rangers can stamp a piece of paper, but it’s not just the same experience!

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! Plan a few hours to drive the 34 miles round trip with stops to capture capture Canyonlands National Park photos! Add more time if you plan to do any hiking.

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. From the Visitor Center, the scenic drive continues 6.5 miles and ends at Big Spring Canyon Overlook.

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.

There are two amazing scenic drives near Needles to see different vantage points of both Canyonlands districts:

We recommend the Canyonlands GuideAlong App to hear fun behind-the scenes stories and local tips that play automatically as you drive, based on your GPS location.

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 sunrise

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.

The golden hours of sunrise and sunset produce a glow on the red rocks that cannot be missed. Here are our favorite photo spots for those times of day:

  • 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!

Mesa Arch is an iconic photo spot at sunrise so you won’t be the only one there. You’ll need to plan ahead and arrive WELL BEFORE sunrise in order to get a good spot. The area for taking the famous sunrise shot is small.

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.

Check out our Arches & Canyonlands Photography Guide and Itinerary if you’re serious about getting the BEST photos! We share the best photography spots at each park for sunrise, sunset and even night time…and give you our favorite 3 day itinerary! 

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!

The Milky Way is visible at these times:

  • March – 3:00 am to 5:45 am
  • April – 1:00 am to 4:45 am
  • May – 11:00 pm to 4:00 am
  • June – 10:30 pm to 3:30 am
  • July – 10:30 pm to 3:45 am
  • August – 9:30 pm to 1:30 am
  • September – 8:30 pm to 11:30 pm
  • October – 8:00 pm to 9:30 pm
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!

If you don’t have the right vehicle, or don’t feel confident driving, we recommend you book a Canyonlands 4WD Tour. A professional guide will will highlight arch formations and other towering landscapes as you drive through the red-rock areas of the park.

Biking on Shafer Trail in Canyonlands
Biking on Shafer Trail in Canyonlands

Biking in Canyonlands

You can ride on any public roadway at The Needles and Island in the Sky. You must ride single file. There are no road shoulders or bike lanes.

You’ll find hundreds of miles of roads for mountain biking for day trips and overnight trips:

If you’ll be riding on 4WD roads, there are no shoulders or bike lanes so be aware of passing vehicles.

Guided Tours at Canyonlands

One of the best ways to get to know the park is booking a Canyonlands National Park tour! Whether you’re looking for a half-day or full-day excursion, there are plenty of Canyonlands tours available to fit your needs: guided hikes, canyoneering, photography, and river rafting!

River rafting Colorado River
River rafting on the Colorado River

River Rafting at Canyonlands

River rafting in Canyonlands provides an exciting adventure that’s tough to beat. As you navigate the wild waters, the beautiful red rock landscapes surround you, giving a special view that you can only see from the river.

During the spring months you’ll find sections with good rapids for river rafting in Canyonlands.

Canyonlands river permit: required for all private river trips through the park. You may reserve overnight permits up to four months before the following seasons and reservations close two days prior to a launch date. Day use permits are available year round.

Guided Canyonlands river rafting trips: local outfitters in Moab offer half-day to week-long guided trips with several nights of camping. Seasoned guides can highlight the geological wonders and historical significance of this breathtaking area, enhancing your rafting journey with stories and facts that bring the scenery to life.

Moab Stand Up Paddleboarding Tour: another fun way to enjoy the Colorado River!

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 Campground: this 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.

Needles Canyonlands camping: there are 26 individual camping sites and three group sites around the Needles district. 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!

To enjoy a more elevated type of camping, check out the options for glamping near Canyonlands National Park!

Lodging Near Canyonlands

If camping isn’t your thing, there are a variety of options so you can find the best place to stay for your travel style and budget near Canyonlands:

Arches Canyonlands guides and maps

BUY AT AMAZON: Arches and Canyonlands Guides and Maps

Things To Do Near Canyonlands

Packing List for Canyonlands

Use our Canyonlands Packing List to make sure you have the right clothing and gear for visiting any time of year! Grab your free printable packing checklist by clicking the image below!

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