Things to Do at Canyonlands Island in the Sky

Canyonlands Island in the Sky is one of three districts comprising the largest National Park in Utah. The other two districts are Canyonlands Needles and The Maze. Some consider the Colorado and Green rivers another district. The diverse landscape of Canyonlands National Park includes towering sandstone cliffs, deep canyons, winding rivers, and stunning vistas.

Island in the Sky is only 32 miles from Moab, Utah which makes it the easiest way to see Canyonlands National Park. There are no roads within the park that directly link any of the districts. They may appear close on a map, but travel time between districts can be two to six hours by car. It’s impractical to visit more than one or two districts in a single trip.

Canyonlands Island in the Sky sits atop a massive 1500 foot mesa. Visitors can often see over 100 miles from the viewpoints along the scenic drive. Other activities here include hiking trails; biking trails; four-wheel-drive roads and backcountry areas for day or overnight trips.

Packing Lists for Canyonlands - Click here to Download


PLAN YOUR TRIP TO CANYONLANDS ISLAND IN THE SKY

Canyonlands Island in the Sky is a remote area with few services. There is no food, lodging, or gas available in this park. 

Pack everything you’ll need during your time in the park. Water is only available outside the visitor center from spring through fall.

Plan ahead and be aware that some areas and activities require a day-use, overnight or river permit.

Canyonlands National Park Maps
Canyonlands National Park Camping
Canyonlands National Park Hiking

Canyonlands is located in a high desert region where the weather can change quickly. Be prepared for a variety of conditions within a single day.

The most popular times to visit are spring (April through May) and fall (mid-September through October), when the weather in Canyonlands is more temperate.

Do not rely on cellular service in Canyonlands. Texting may be an option of communication in areas with limited service near the visitor center and some locations along the scenic drive where the La Sal Mountains are visible.

Remember to purchase the US National Park Pass – it’s a good deal!

DESTINATION GUIDES: Arches NP | Canyonlands NeedlesMoab, Utah



THINGS TO DO AT CANYONLANDS ISLAND IN THE SKY

Mesa Arch

Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Island in the Sky Mesa Arch at sunrise

Mesa Arch is a popular destination for visitors. To access the arch, hike the easy 0.5 mile loop trail across slickrock and dirt.

The trail is marked by stone cairns and driftwood. The arch is right on the edge of a sheer cliff. Be sure to watch children carefully here. You can see the famous Washer Woman rock feature through the arch.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Island in the Sky Mesa Arch sunburst

PHOTO TIPS:  

  • At sunrise be prepared to share the small area with many photographers and other visitors. Practice patience and courtesy with everyone trying to capture the same image.
  • If you want a good spot to photograph the event, you must arrive at least 1 hour before sunrise. Use a headlamp to navigate the trail in the dark.
  • Stay well after the sun rises. The red glow under the arch lasts a long time. Take the time to photograph various angles of the arch. Eventually, you may get the arch to yourself after everyone leaves!
  • March to October you can photograph the Milky Way above Mesa Arch.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Island in the Sky Mesa Arch washer woman

Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Island in the Sky Mesa Arch alternate view with orange glow

Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Island in the Sky Mesa Arch couple

The Milky Way above Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, Utah, USA


Grand View Point

The sweeping scene at Grand View Point illustrates why the park is called Canyonlands.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Island in the Sky Grand View Point white rimmed canyons

The path from the parking area to the overlook is fully paved and accessible for the first 300 feet. 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 for 2 miles round trip. Be careful to not get too close to the edge. Watch children at this viewpoint and along this trail.

PHOTO TIPS:

  • Sunrise photos at this location are magnificent. Capture the sun as it rises to get sunbursts.
  • Focus on smaller sections of the white rimmed canyons.
  • Walk along the rim to find interesting elements to add to the composition.
  • Add people into the scene to show scale.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Island in the Sky sunrise at Grand View Point

Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Island in the Sky white rimmed canyon

Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Island in the Sky photographer at Grand View Point

RELATED POSTS: Why the US National Park Pass is a Good Deal!

 

Green River Overlook

The breathtaking view from this overlook goes on for hundreds of miles to the horizon.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Island in the Sky Green River Overlook

You can see a sliver of the Green River in the distance winding through the canyon it created.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Island in the Sky Green River Overlook

Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Island in the Sky Green River Overlook

PHOTO TIP: The view here is expansive. It’s hard to get it all into one image. Focus in on smaller sections to show more detail.

Buck Canyon Overlook

Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Island in the Sky Buck Canyon Overlook

The overlook at Buck Canyon is wheelchair accessible and illustrates the dramatic sheer cliffs 1,000 feet high that form the mesa. From here you can see the cracked sandstone at the bottom of the canyon, the washer woman rock formation and the La Salle mountains in the distance. Don’t forget to turn around to see the magnificent scenic view behind you as well.


Aztec Butte

Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Island in the Sky view of Aztec Butte

A fun Canyonlands hike is the Aztec Butte trail which is 1.7 miles round trip to the top where you enjoy expansive views. The climb to the top of the butte is steep. There are some difficult sections where hikers should be comfortable ascending steep slickrock pitches and scrambling up and down ledges with some exposure. The trail to the top of the butte is not recommended for anyone with a fear of heights.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Island in the Sky view from Aztec Butte

A good alternative is the spur trail just .3 miles from the parking lot. It’s a shorter and easier hike as it climbs the smaller dome. The reward at the end of this trail are two granaries tucked in an alcove.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Island in the Sky granaries along the Aztec Butte trail

Canyonlands Island in the Sky - two granaries along the Aztec Butte trail

PHOTO TIP: In order to get both granaries in the image along with other elements like the tree and sky – find the small, level ledge just below the tree and photograph from that spot. BE CAREFUL as it’s on the edge of the rock!


White Rim Road

As you visit each overlook in the park, you probably see a dirt road at the bottom of the canyon and wonder who drives the road and where it goes. It’s the 100-mile White Rim Road that runs around and below the Island in the Sky mesa top.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Island in the Sky gooseneck of the Colorado River along the White Rim Trail

Those with a high clearance/4WD vehicle can drive down the Shafer Trail switchbacks to the White Rim Road. Points of interest along the trail include Musselman Arch and the Colorado River Gooseneck.

The complete 100-mile trip usually takes two to three days by 4WD vehicle or three to four days by mountain bike. Permits are required for all day and overnight trips on the White Rim road.

Photography Tour & Workshop

Join us on a photography workshop at some of the most picturesque places around Moab, Utah.

The landscape will include red rock and slickrock formations, arches, the Colorado River, and panorama vistas and canyons with mountains in the distance.




Where to Stay Near Canyonlands

We use Airbnb (here’s a $40 coupon) or Hotels.com to rent accommodations that have a kitchen. Cooking our meals saves us quite a bit of money compared to eating out, and it’s much healthier! If we can’t find somewhere to stay with a kitchen, we find places that have a microwave and fridge at the minimum. You would be surprised the meals you can prepare in a microwave.

CHECK THIS OUT: $40 Coupon for Airbnb | Hotels.com

BUDGET

MID RANGE

CONDOS

  • Purple Sage, Red Rocks Unit – This is our preferred accommodation since it’s walking distance to the Main Street shops and restaurants, it’s newly remodeled and always clean, it has bike storage, laundry, hot tub – and we love having a kitchen to cook our meals to save money!
  • Moab Flats – great condos for the same reasons above.

LUXURY


US National Parks Packing Checklists Click to Download

PIN THIS FOR LATER

Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Island in the Sky - is a beautiful national park in the U.S. It has vast landscape vistas and canyons carved by the Colorado and Green Rivers. Check out our favorite 6 things to see at Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky. We even share some tips on how to take the best pictures in Canyonlands Island in the Sky! You’ll definitely want to read the Island in the Sky guide and save it to your travel board before you plan your trip to Canyonlands.   Plan the perfect trip to Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky, Utah, USA

RESOURCES

If you enjoyed this, please share and let us know your thoughts below.


As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

17 comments

What fantastic photos. I really enjoyed all your tips and tricks for hiking, getting around and photography this area. Will definitely use them on my next trip.

Reply

Thank you, Alice. We share our experiences to help others plan their trip so it’s as enjoyable as possible.

Reply

Wow! The pictures are amazing!
Moreover, I love how detailed and informative the article is! Would be really useful for people planning to visit the Canyonlands National Park.. 🙂

Reply

Prachi, thank you for your comment about our photos. We visit Canyonlands at least once a year and always find something new to see and explore.

Reply

I must say your pictures are so amazing. They make me want to go to Canyonlands right away. Thanks for the tips, especially the one for water. It’s going to be very helpful for someone traveling here.

Reply

Thank you, Neha. Yes, water is SO IMPORTANT at Canyonlands, even in the winter.

Reply

Omg these pics are STUNNING! I never heard of this place! I knew Utah had many gorgeous places….wow. That green river overlook looks fantastic. It all looks fantastic. This is going on my list.

Reply

Cherene, I am lucky to live in Utah so close to this park and others. Yes, the views at every overlook are breathtaking. I am in awe every time we visit, which is often! Thank you for the comment about our photos.

Reply

I want to do a road trip to Utah soon! There are a number of canyons on my list and now I have to add more! Your photos are stunning and I am bookmarking this for your wonderful advice to re-read before I travel!

Reply

We have done numerous road trips to explore Utah and still have SO MUCH MORE to see! The state is full of wonderful places to see. I hope what we share will help you plan your future road trip! Contact us if you want more information about anything!

Reply

Great to know that you need different passes. Your photos are amazing and the light hitting the arch is very striking.

Reply

The main pass gets you into the park. If you plan to do any backcountry camping, biking or jeeping, you will need a pass for those activities.

Reply

Your photographs are amazing! And lots of useful tips for going to the Canyonlands. This is a really good guide!

Reply

Thank you – we enjoy sharing our tips so others can plan the perfect trip there!

Reply

This place looks amazing with some spectacular scenery. I love all your beautiful photos.

Reply

The scenery here is spectacular – we visit at least once a year and never get tired of looking at the view!

Reply

Love Canyonlands! Haven’t been in years, but it’s certainly magical 🙂

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *