Tips to Take Amazing Canyonlands National Park Photos

Canyonlands in southeast Utah is known for its diverse landscapes. Check out our tips for taking Canyonlands National Park photos of the red rock formations and vast views of the deep river canyons.

In this Canyonlands National Park guide we’ll share some breathtaking photos along with invaluable tips to help you make the most of your visit.

We live just hours away from Canyonlands so we’ve had the experience of photographing the park during every season and all types of weather and light conditions.

tips to take Canyonlands photos

Here’s our list of the best Canyonlands National Park photo spots, best times of day to photograph each location, and the camera gear you’ll need to take pictures at this stunning park!

This guide is based on our experiences over the years capturing Canyonlands photos at Island in the Sky and Needles. We’ve got tips for taking sunrise, sunset, and night photos.

We’ve included a list of camera gear you’ll want for Canyonlands. But also remember that it’s important for YOU as the photographer to have the right clothing to brave the cold or heat depending on the time of year you’ll be visiting the park.

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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Camera Gear for Canyonlands National Park Photography

We have a printed Camera Gear Checklist to help us pack all the equipment we need – that way we don’t forget anything!

  • Cameras for Landscape Photography
  • Lightweight Travel Tripods
  • Camera Backpack: Protecting your camera from the sand and dust in Canyonlands is essential. Using a camera backpack is so nice for hiking too.  
  • Graduated neutral density filter: There can be extreme differences in light around the various rock structures. To compensate for this variance of light you’ll need to use a GND filter. 
  • Camera cleaning kit: You’ll want to remove dust that WILL get on your lens – this is NOT for cleaning the sensor.  
  • Memory cards
  • External hard drive: Don’t forget to copy the photos to a portable external hard drive ‘just in case’.  
  • Headlamp with a red lightFor the best sunrise, sunset or night sky shots, you’ll be navigating in the dark. Use a headlamp to light your way from the parking lot to your spot. Wearing a headlamp allows you to set up your equipment without having to hold a flashlight. Remember to use the red light setting and keep the beam pointed on the ground in front of you to avoid disrupting other photographers in the area taking long exposure shots.

Camera Gear at B&H Photo

camera accessories

A Photo Tour of Canyonlands National Park

Take a visual tour through Canyonlands National Park to see the stunning landscapes you’ll see when you visit!

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.

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!

Canyonlands National Park Weather

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!

Always check the Canyonlands National Park weather for the time you’ll be visiting so you’re prepared for the conditions and temperatures!

SPRING AND FALL – the most temperate seasons are 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. Sunrise and sunset photography happen at reasonable times of day which is nice!

SUMMER – temperatures often exceed 100ºF! Outdoor activities and photography should be limited to the cooler morning and evenings to avoid the harsh mid-day sun. Keep in mind the sunrise times are really early, sunset times are really late, and the milky way is best photographed in the middle of the night during the summer.

WINTER – 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 so you’ll want to be out taking pictures! We recommend photographer gloves and rechargeable hand warmers!

photographer at needles canyonlands
Photographer at Needles Canyonlands

Tips To Take Canyonlands National Park Photos

We’re going to share some of our favorite photographic locations within the park, along with tips and tricks to help you capture Canyonlands in all its grandeur.

Remember the best Canyonlands National Park photography takes place during the blue and golden hours near sunrise and sunset.

Most of the photo spots will be found along the Island in the Sky scenic drive and while exploring the various Canyonlands hikes.

Canyonlands Island in the Sky Photo Spots

We’ve put together this list of best photo spots at Canyonlands. We focus most of our photography at Island in the Sky, but do have some awesome locations at Needles Canyonlands as well!

Remember that Canyonlands photography is best at sunrise and sunset when the landscape is illuminated in golden light! The light at blue hour and golden hour produces stunning photos!

We’ll start with our favorite locations for taking photos at Canyonlands Island in the Sky.

sunrise at Grand View Point Canyonlands
Sunrise at Grand View Point

Grand View Point Overlook Photos

You’ll find this overlook at the end of the Island in the Sky scenic drive. A short, paved, 300 foot sidewalk leads to a spectacular viewpoint where you can see the White Rim, The Needles, and even The Maze and distant mountain peaks.

You’ll see in the image above why this is one of our favorite locations for sunrise photos at Canyonlands to capture the sun along the horizon with the white rim canyons in the foreground!

Grand View Point Overlook
Grand View Point Overlook

If you’re lucky to have a cloudy day to diffuse the usually harsh mid-day light, then you’ll be able to photograph the landscape scene with even light!

Grand View point at sunset
Grand View point at sunset

As the sun sets, the view from this location will get shadows due to the location of the mesa blocking the light to the west.

Photographer at Grand View Point
Photographer at Grand View Point

From this viewpoint, photographers will face the east to see the sun rising over the horizon, making it a better sunrise location.

Grand View Point on a smoky day

If you’ll be visiting Canyonlands National Park in the fall, there’s always the possibility of hazy skies due to smoke from wildfires in the US Southwest. It may not result in the photos you were hoping for, but the haze does produce an interesting element to the picture!

Mesa Arch at sunrsie
Mesa Arch at sunrise

Mesa Arch Photos

Mesa Arch is a popular destination for visitors since it is beautiful and takes only 30-minutes to access the iconic arch.

Due to the popularity of this Canyonlands sunrise spot, 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.

This Island in the Sky hike is an easy 0.5 mile loop trail 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.

Washer Woman through Mesa Arch
Washer Woman through Mesa Arch
Mesa Arch at Canyonlands
Mesa Arch with sunburst

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.

Washer Woman at Mesa Arch
Washer Woman at Mesa Arch

We also light to walk around the area to capture other interesting elements at this location. As you face Mesa Arch and head to the right, you’ll see another view of Washer Woman.

Milky way over Mesa Arch
Milky way over Mesa Arch

Mesa Arch is also a popular milky way photography spot so you may not have the location to yourself.

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

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.

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.

Green River Overlook at Canyonlands National Park
Green River Overlook at Canyonlands

Green River Overlook Photos

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.

Sunset at Green River Overlook
Sunset at Green River Overlook

We like this location for Canyonlands sunset photography because the viewpoint here faces southwest, making it a great location to track the sun as it sets on the horizon.

You’ll also want to capture the red-orange glow of the light as it falls on the landscape.

Green River Overlook at sunset
Green River Overlook at sunset

Look for creative ways to photograph this location like adding a foreground element like this dead tree to the image.

Aztec Butte ruins at Canyonlands Island in the Sky

Aztec Butte Ruins Photos

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.

Aztec Butte granaries

The reward at the end of this trail are two historic Puebloan granaries tucked in an alcove.

The best time to photograph the Aztec Ruins are in the morning when they are in shadow or near sunset to capture the golden light reflecting on the ruins.

Aztec Butte ruins

We like to find different vantage points to help tell a story in photos of the location. This view shows the ruins tucked under the rock on the side of a stone ledge with Canyonlands in the background.

Buck Canyon Overlook at Canyonlands Island in the Sky
Buck Canyon Overlook

Island in the Sky Canyonlands Photos

Buck Canyon Overlook Photos – this location 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 is best photographed in the morning. Try to avoid taking photos during the harsh daylight sun because the vast landscape will be washed out with little detail.

upheaval dome at Canyonlands Island in the Sky
Upheaval Dome

Upheaval Dome Photos – 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.

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.

Needles rock formations
Needles rock formations

Canyonlands Needles Photo Spots

The Needles Canyonlands district is in a remote part of the park that features extensive hiking trails, amazing geology, and relatively few people, making this a fantastic area to explore when visiting Canyonlands National Park.

Needles Canyonlands is a remote area with few services. There is no food, lodging (only camping), or gas available in the park. Pack everything you’ll need during your time in Needles Canyonlands. Water is available at the visitor center year-round. Electric outlets are not available.

Cowboy Camp
Cowboy Camp

Cave Spring Trail and Cowboy Camp Photos

You’ll see cool photo opportunities on this short and easy loop trail that takes between 30 and 90 minutes to complete.

The first point of interest is the Cowboy Camp that dates back to the early 1900’s. Throughout this camp you’ll find remnants of the past like a simple stove, wooden tables, storage chests, assorted kitchen tools, and frying pans.

Cave Springs

Continue along the trail and you’ll see several alcoves in which the cowboys used to sleep. In the final alcove, you’ll find the Cave Spring. Look for some handprints and simple pictographs at the back of the alcove. They were placed here by Indians who arrived long before the cowboys ever did.

Needles formations
Needles formations

Canyonlands Needles Formations Photos

We’ve found quite a few places to take pictures of the rock spires knows as “needles”.

To get a good view of the needles formations in Canyonlands National Park, drive along Elephant Hill road. At the top of the hill you will get a spectacular, panoramic view of the needles. Stop and enjoy the 360 degree view and the geologic processes that lead to the formation of this amazing landscape.

Canyonlands Needles landscape
Canyonlands Needles landscape

If you have the right vehicle, you can also drive the Elephant Hill 4×4 Trail. Drivers are challenged with steep grades, loose rock, stair-step drops, tight turns and tricky backing.

Needles Canyonlands rainy day
Needles Canyonlands rainy day

It was raining when we visited which made the technical trail too dangerous for us to drive. Therefore, we walked to the top of Elephant Hill instead to enjoy the views in this section of the Canyonlands Needles. We found fun ways to capture the rainy landscape in photos!

Newspaper Rock
Newspaper Rock

Canyonlands Needles Photos

Newspaper Rock Photos – this isn’t technically part of Needles Canyonlands. It is a Utah State Historic Monument you pass as you drive the road toward the entrance of the Needles District.

Make sure you stop here to see the rock panel carved with one of the largest known collections of petroglyphs dating back 2,000 years!

Roadside Ruin
Roadside Ruin

Roadside Ruin Photos – take the easy 0.25 mile long loop trail to see a typical Puebloan-era granary, estimated to be around 800 years old, that is tucked beneath a charming rock overhang.

Colorado River Overlook
Colorado River Overlook

Colorado River Overlook Photos – The road to the overlook is a difficult four-wheel drive road. It begins at the end of the visitor center parking lot and starts as an easy sandy road and continues that way for about 2 miles, until you reach the overlook. You can also hike this trail if your vehicle isn’t fit to drive the road.

Arches Canyonlands guides and maps

BUY AT AMAZON: Arches and Canyonlands Guides and Maps

Photo Spots Near Canyonlands National Park

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).

Canyonlands National Park Itinerary

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

Click the graphic below to get your free Canyonlands Travel Bundle to help you plan your vacation based on the number of days you have to spend at the park!

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