Guide to Canyonlands National Park Photography at Island in the Sky

One advantage to being a local is knowing all about Canyonlands National Park photography during every season and all types of weather and light conditions.

Use our photo tips below and our Canyonlands National Park guide to plan a vacation with lots of pictures to share!

canyonlands photography guide

Keep reading for Canyonlands National Park photo tips, a list of best photo spots and the camera gear you’ll need to take pictures at Canyonlands!

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Camera Gear for Landscape Photography

DOWNLOAD: Camera Gear Checklist 

  • Camera: check out the compact travel cameras we recommend!
  • Tripod: take a look at these compact and lightweight travel tripods!
  • Camera Bag: protect your camera from sand and water → We use Lowepro camera backpacks for outdoor photography.
  • Neutral density filter: to compensate for variance of light you’ll need to use a neutral density filter.  → Check out the Kase magnetic filters we use!
  • Camera cleaning kit: remove dust or water that WILL get on your lens. NOTE: this is not for cleaning the sensor.  
  • Memory cards: purchase name brand memory cards since you’re trusting your images to the card!  → We use Lexar and Sandisk!
  • External hard drive: copy photos to a portable external hard drive ‘just in case’. 
  • Headlamp: use when taking sunrise and sunset photos!

Camera Gear at Amazon | Camera Gear at B&H Photo

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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!

Things to Know Before Visiting Canyonlands

Basic Information for Visiting Canyonlands

When visiting Canyonlands National Park you’ll see exquisite natural canyons, arches, fins, buttes, mesas, and spires that have all been carved out by the awe-inspiring power of the Green and Colorado Rivers.

Because of these two rivers and their natural flow pattern through the park, Canyonlands has been further subdivided into four unique districts.

Canyonlands Four Districts

Canyonlands is subdivided, along the Green and Colorado Rivers, into four unique districts: Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky, Needles Canyonlands, The Maze, Island in the Sky, and The Rivers.

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

Here’s a good article we wrote detailing Canyonlands Island in the Sky vs Needles!

When to Visit Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands is located in Southeast Utah, part of the Colorado Plateau “high desert”. This area has large temperature fluctuations, sometimes up to 40 degrees in a single day!

The best time to visit Canyonlands National Park is during the most temperate seasons in the spring (April through May) and fall (mid-September through October). The spring and fall daytime highs average 60º to 80ºF and lows average 30º to 50ºF .

The Canyonlands National Park weather varies greatly from summer to winter:

Summer temperatures often exceed 100ºF! Outdoor activities should be limited to the cooler morning and evenings. Late summer monsoon season brings violent storm cells which often cause flash floods that affect Needles Canyonlands.

Winters temperature highs average 30º to 50ºF and lows average 0º to 20ºF. So it’s cold! Large amounts of snow in the park are uncommon, but even small amounts of snow or ice can make the park trails and roads impassable. Be prepared with the right winter clothing and gear!

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Canyonlands National Park Photography

The unique landscape found here makes photographing Canyonlands so fun. You can find amazing landscapes along the Island in the Sky scenic drive.

And be sure to have your camera ready to capture the landscapes while exploring the various Island in the Sky Hikes.

If you want a 3-day itinerary for photographing Arches, Canyonlands and Dead Horse Point, check out our Arches & Canyonlands Itinerary and Photography Guide!!

Arches and Canyonlands photography guide

Canyonlands Island in the Sky Photo Map

Take a look at the Canyonlands Island in the Sky photo map with the pinned photography locations so you can navigate to each spot in the park.

canyonlands photo spots map

Photo Spots at Canyonlands Island in the Sky

Here’s a list of the best photo spots at Canyonlands Island in the Sky. We share tips and the best times of day to take pictures at each spot.

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.

sunrise at Grand View Point Canyonlands

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.

BEST TIME TO PHOTOGRAPH Grand View Point is sunrise to capture the sun coming up on the horizon. It’s also a good night photography location.

Mesa Arch

Mesa Arch is a popular Canyonlands sunrise photo spots at Island in the Sky. It’s a short 30-minute hike to access the iconic arch. The trail is an easy 0.5 mile loop marked by stone cairns and driftwood.

Mesa Arch at sunrsie

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.

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.

golden glow under Mesa Arch at Canyonlands

BEST TIME TO PHOTOGRAPH Mesa Arch is sunrise or night. Due to the popularity of this sunrise and night photography spot, you’ll need to plan ahead and arrive WELL BEFORE sunrise or the appearance of the milky way in order to get a good spot. The area for taking the famous sunrise shot is small.

Green River Overlook

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

Green River Overlook at Canyonlands National Park

BEST TIME TO PHOTOGRAPH the Green River Overlook is sunset where you can track the sun setting to the east. Morning is also a good time due to the soft light.

Aztec Butte Ruins

Access the ruins from a spur trail along the Aztec Butte trail. It’s just 0.3 miles from the parking lot and 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.

Aztec-Butte-Canyonlands-National-Park-Utah-Photo-Jeepers-1

BEST TIME TO PHOTOGRAPH the Aztec Butte granaries is morning when they are in shadow, or near sunset to capture the golden light reflecting on the ruins.

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 photograph the cracked sandstone at the bottom of the canyon and the La Sal mountains in the distance.

Buck Canyon Overlook at Canyonlands Island in the Sky

BEST TIME TO PHOTOGRAPH Buck Canyon Overlook is morning. Try to avoid taking photos during the harsh daylight sun because the vast landscape will be washed out with little detail. It’s also a good night photography location.

Shafer Trail Overlook

Driving Schafer 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.

View looking down on Shaefer Trail at Canyonlands

To photograph this amazing road from above, explore the area near the Shafer Trail Overlook and various pullouts in the area.

BEST TIME TO PHOTOGRAPH Shafer Trail is morning or evening, and even better if there’s a vehicle or bicycle on the road as well!

Upheaval Dome

To access Upheaval Dome, you’ll need to hike a moderately difficult trail that 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.

upheaval dome at Canyonlands Island in the Sky

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, and a one hundred foot elevation change, but the landscapes that you’ll see along the way are absolutely worth the effort.

BEST TIME TO PHOTOGRAPH Upheaval Dome is morning or evening.

Canyonlands National Park Night Photography

On a clear night, linger in the park after dark and look up to see the sky bursting with stars to see why the Moab area is a top night photography spot.

Canyonlands is recognized as an International Dark Sky Park. The park’s accessibility, remote location, altitude and weather are why they say “Half the Park is After Dark”.

Mesa-Arch-Canyonlands-National-Park-milky-way-photo-jeepers-1080x721-1

Photographers from around the world come to Canyonlands to photograph the Milky Way. Night photography capturing the milky way at at Canyonlands can’t be beat! Here are some tips for stargazing at Canyonlands National Park:

PLAN: You’ll see the darkest skies during a new moon or when the moon is below the horizon. Check sunrise and sunset times and moon phases at discovermoab.com.

TIME: It can take 20-30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark. Spend enough time outside away from bright lights to allow your eyes to adjust.

RED LIGHT: White lights from flashlights, cell phones, or vehicle headlights can harm your night vision. A red light won’t impact your night vision as much. Use a headlamp with a red-light feature while stargazing.

Photography Spots in Moab

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).
  • Rent an RV – have it dropped off at your vacation destination!

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