Canyonlands Sunrise Photo Spots at Island in the Sky

We get asked often where the best Canyonlands sunrise photo spots are in the park. Here’s our Canyonlands National Park guide that details where to photograph sunrise, plus other tips for capturing stunning pictures to share!

One advantage to being a local is visiting Canyonlands during during every season and all types of weather and light conditions.

canyonlands sunrise photo spots

Use this guide full of photo tips, best sunrise photo spots, and the camera gear you’ll need to take pictures at Canyonlands National Park!

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

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Camera Gear for Landscape Photography

  • 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 B&H Photo

camera accessories

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!

Visiting Canyonlands National Park

You’ll see natural canyons, arches, fins, buttes, mesas, and spires that have all been carved out by the power of the Green and Colorado Rivers.

The two rivers cutting through the park have created four districts. This is important to know before visiting Canyonlands National Park.

The Four Districts of Canyonlands

The Green and Colorado Rivers have divided this park 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!

mesa arch in the winter with snow
Mesa Arch in the winter with snow

Tips for Taking Canyonlands Sunrise Photos

Here are a few sunrise photography tips to help you capture amazing images at Canyonlands:

  1. Take advantage of the compositions provided by moving to different viewpoints of the formations.  
  2. Use a sturdy tripod to maximize clarity and sharpness, and to expand creative possibilities.


  1. From a tripod: ISO 100, Aperture F/11 – F/13, adjust shutter speed to accommodate changing light conditions. 
  2. Handheld: set shutter speed to twice the value of your lens focal length (ex. Lens focal length of 24mm = 1/50 shutter speed). Aperture F/11 – F/13, adjust ISO to accommodate shutter speed.
  3. Expose for the bright sunlit areas.

Check out these awesome SUNRISE AND SUNSET PRESETS at ETSY!

sunrise and sunset presets at Etsy

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

Canyonlands Sunrise Photo Spots

The unique landscape of this area 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!!

Here’s a list of the best photo spots at Canyonlands Island in the Sky for sunrise.

sunrise at Grand View Point Canyonlands
Sunrise at Grand View Point Canyonlands

Grand View Point at Sunrise

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.

It’s also a good night photography location to capture the milky way.

Mesa Arch at sunrsie
Mesa Arch at sunrise

Mesa Arch at Sunrise

Mesa Arch is a popular destination for visitors since it is beautiful and takes only 30-minutes to access the iconic arch. The trail is an easy 0.5 mile loop 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.

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
Golden glow under Mesa Arch at Canyonlands

Due to the popularity of this sunrise and night photography 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.

Mesa Arch is also a popular milky way photography spot.

More Canyonlands Photo Spots

Grand View Point and Mesa Arch are the really the top two Canyonlands sunrise photography spots in the park.

Dead Horse Point State Park at sunrise is also a good choice to capture the sun crossing the horizon with the bend of the Colorado River in the foreground.

Once you’re done taking sunrise pictures, be sure to take advantage of the soft morning light to photograph some of these other photo spots at Canyonlands.

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
Green River Overlook at Canyonlands National Park

Green River Overlook is also a good sunset location where you can track the sun setting to the east.

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
Buck Canyon Overlook at Canyonlands Island in the Sky

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. 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
View looking down on Shafer Trail at Canyonlands

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

Shafer Trail is best photographed in the 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
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.

Upheaval Dome is best photographed in the morning or evening.

Photography Spots in Moab

Arches Canyonlands guides and maps

BUY AT AMAZON: Arches and 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).
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