Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky

Canyonlands is the largest National Park in Utah. Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky is one of four districts of this park.

Use our Canyonlands National Park guide and the list of things to do at Island in the Sky to plan your vacation.

We share what to pack, where to stay, services available and activities to do at Canyonlands Island in the Sky.

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Canyonlands National Park Packing List

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Visiting Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky

The two most-visited regions of Canyonlands are Island in the Sky and Needles. Here’s an article we wrote explaining what you’ll find at each district of the park: Canyonlands Island in the Sky vs Needles.

Canyonlands Island in the Sky is quite beautiful, but it’s also in a remote area with very few guest services.

You will find no food, lodging, or gas services available within the park. That’s why you must be prepared and pack everything that you think you’ll need during your trip there.

And while most Island in the Sky hikes are marked by cairns, or small rock piles, as well as signs at trail intersections, some remote trails do not receive regular trail maintenance.

Accordingly, these trails may not be adequately marked, making it imperative for all backcountry hikers to carry a topographic map at all times, as well as a flashlight and basic first aid equipment.

Additionally, you cannot rely on cellular service in Canyonlands since the only areas where texting may be an option are near the visitor center and at some locations along the scenic drive where the La Sal Mountains are visible.

Water is also scarce and only available outside the Canyonlands Island in the Sky visitor center throughout the spring, summer, and fall.

YOU MUST plan ahead and bring at least 1 quart of water per person for short trails and at least 1 gallon of water per person for long trails.

To conserve your supply of water, avoid hiking at either midday or on hot summer days. Please also make sure to apply for any necessary day-use, overnight, or river permits if you want to participate in various Canyonlands Island in the Sky activities.

Where to Stay Near Canyonlands Island in the Sky

There are no lodging facilities in the park, only camping.

  •  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).

golden glow under Mesa Arch at Canyonlands

FUN THINGS TO DO AT CANYONLANDS ISLAND IN THE SKY

Viewpoints at Island in the Sky

  • Visitor Center Viewpoint
  • Shaefer Canyon Viewpoint
  • Buck Canyon Overlook
  • Grand View Point
  • Green River Overlook

CHECK OUT all the fantastic stops on the Island in the Sky scenic drive!

Canyonlands Island in the Sky Hiking Trails

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

CHECK OUT all the details for these Canyonlands hikes.

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4×4 Offroad Trails at Island in the Sky

  • Shaeffer Trail
  • White Rim Road

Photographing Canyonlands Island in the Sky

Canyonlands Island in the Sky is filled with stunning photography spots. The colors and light on the natural landscape create truly unforgettable, once in a lifetime images.

We focus our Canyonlands National Park photography at Island in the Sky for sunrise and sunset photography. During the day the full sun creates harsh light that’s not ideal for landscape photography.

These are our favorite photo spots at Island in the Sky:

  • Mesa Arch
  • Grand View Point
  • Green River Overlook
  • Buck Canyon Overlook
  • Aztec Butte Granaries
  • Schaefer Trail Overlook

Check out our Arches and Canyonlands Photography Guide to know the best photo spots and times of day to capture stunning images!

Arches and Canyonlands photography guide

Stargazing at Island in the Sky

On a clear night, make a point to stay in the park after dark and look up to see the sky bursting with stars. Canyonlands is a Dark Sky Park and one of the most popular places for night photography near Moab.

During the spring and fall, we recommend you attend the popular night sky ranger program which includes telescope viewing. Programs at Canyonlands Island in the Sky begin at Grand View Point. Check at the visitor center for details. 

Visiting Dead Horse Point Near Island in the Sky

No article about Canyonlands Island in the Sky is complete without the tip to visit Dead Horse Point.

This Utah State Park is a MUST STOP. The turnoff road to Dead Horse Point is right before the entrance station to Island in the Sky.

POINTS OF INTEREST AT CANYONLANDS ISLAND IN THE SKY

Mesa Arch

Mesa Arch is a popular destination for visitors since it is beautiful and takes only 30-minutes to hike there. To access this Canyonlands Island in the Sky attraction, hike the easy 0.5 mile loop Mesa Arch Trail which is 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. While here though, be sure to carefully watch children since the path can be quite unsteady near the edge.

Grand View Point

Sitting at the southernmost edge 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 and always be sure to keep an eye on children at this viewpoint and along this trail.

Green River Overlook

From the Green River Overlook you can obtain a breathtaking view of the surrounding canyonlands, a view 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.

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 see the cracked sandstone at the bottom of the canyon and the La Salle mountains in the distance.

Before you leave, be sure to turn around and admire the magnificent scenic views that sit behind you as well.

Aztec Butte

Another fun, intermediate level Canyonlands hike is the Aztec Butte trail, which takes roughly 1.5 hours to hike and is 2 miles long, round trip. However, before beginning this Canyonlands Island in the Sky hike, please be aware that the climb to the top of the butte is quite steep. 

Accordingly, hikers will encounter difficult sections where they’ll be forced to ascend steep slickrock pitches and scramble up and down ledges with some exposure. That’s why this Canyonlands hiking trail is not recommended for anyone with a fear of heights. But, the steep climb is worth it since this trail culminates in expansive views of the surrounding landscape. 

However, if you’re a more novice hiker, the Spur Trail is a fantastic alternative to Aztec Butte Trail. Just 0.3 miles from the parking lot, this trail is shorter and easier to hike since it 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.

Murphy Point Trail

Another perfect beginner’s hike through Canyonlands Island in the Sky is Murphy Point Trail.

This hike is 3.6 miles long (round trip), takes approximately two hours to complete, leads park guests past some lovely, historic corrals, and ends with magnificent views overlooking the surrounding area.

Upheaval Dome

This moderately difficult hike through Canyonlands Island in the Sky 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, as well a one hundred foot elevation change, but the landscapes that you’ll see along the way are absolutely worth the effort.

Schaeffer Trail and Potash Road

Schaefer 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. 

But if you’re looking for an off road experience that doesn’t require a highly modified rock crawler, and you can stomach steep dropoffs, then Schaefer trail is one we recommend.

A four-wheel drive vehicle will succeed in navigating this well maintained road. Start at the top near the entrance to Canyonlands Island in the Sky. This way you can enjoy the views as you descend into the canyon. You’ll tackle the Schaefer switchbacks first. At the bottom, you can continue along the White Rim road to see Musselman Arch. 

Or you can turn left onto Potash Road that takes you back to Moab. This road passes by the Colorado River goosenecks, natrual stone arches, and well marked Indian petroglyphs. 

White Rim Road

As you visit each overlook in the park, you’ll probably notice a dirt road at the bottom of the canyon and wonder who drives the road and where it goes? Well, this road is the 100-mile White Rim Road, which runs around and beneath the Island in the Sky mesa top. 

The complete 100-mile trip usually takes two to three days using a 4WD vehicle or three to four days using a mountain bike. Please be aware that permits are required for all day and overnight trips along the White Rim road.

Those with a high clearance/4WD vehicle can drive down the Shafer Trail switchbacks to the White Rim Road and go as far as Musselman Arch if you’re not up to a tackling the multi-day trip to drive the full length of the road. You can then take Potash Road back to Moab.

BUY AT AMAZON: Arches and Canyonlands Guides and Maps:

Arches Canyonlands guides and maps

Plan Your Canyonlands Vacation

Things To Do Near Canyonlands

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16 Comments

  1. 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.

    1. 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.

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

  3. 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!

    1. 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!

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

    1. 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.

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