Things to Do at Canyonlands National Park

If you love the outdoors, you’ll find a ton of things to do at Canyonlands National Park.

Use the list below and our Canyonlands National Park guide to help you plan the activities you’ll do each day.

Keep reading to learn more about the various districts of Canyonlands Island in the Sky and Needles and all the fun activities like hiking, off-roading, photography and more!

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Canyonlands National Park Packing List

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Visiting Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands is subdivided along the Green and Colorado Rivers into four unique districts, that are known as The Needles, Island in the Sky, The Maze and The Rivers.

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

Check out our article explaining Canyonlands Island in the Sky vs Needles!

There are so many fun ways to explore Canyonlands: hiking trails, scenic drive, rock climbing, offroad driving and photography to name a few.

Use our guides below to help you plan the perfect itinerary when visiting the park.

When is the Best Time to Visit Canyonlands

Finding the Best Time to Visit Canyonlands National Park all depends on the activities you want to do, and the type of weather you’ll enjoy.

We’ve written articles detailing what you’ll expect when visiting Canyonlands during the various seasons and months of the year.

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Things To Do at Canyonlands National Park

Here’s a list of the fun activities do at Canyonlands Island in the Sky and things to do at Needles Canyonlands.

Canyonlands Visitor Centers

If this is your first time visiting the park, stop at the Canyonlands Island in the Sky Visitor Center and Needles Visitor Center. Check the website for operating hours in October.

Take time to talk to the park ranger to get information about things you are interested in seeing and doing. Get tips and ideas on other things to do as well! You’ll find exhibits, book and map sales, backcountry permits, picnic area, and general information. Water is available year-round.

canyonlands needles landscape

Canyonlands Scenic Drives

Exploring the Island in the Sky scenic drive is a must-do activity! Stop at all 10 overlooks to enjoy and photograph the never-ending views!

You’ll see different views at Needles Canyonlands as you drive through the park. Stop at all pullouts to enjoy the diverse beauty of the stone spires in this part of the park, and see why it’s called Needles.

upheaval dome at Canyonlands Island in the Sky

Hiking at Canyonlands

Exploring the Canyonlands hikes is one of the best activities to appreciate this park. Remember to stay hydrated and carry a hydration pack or a refillable water bottle in your backpack. And since most of the trails are fully exposed to the sun, you’ll need sun protection like a sunhatsunscreen and sunglasses.

Here’s a list of good Island in the Sky hikes: Mesa Arch, Grand View Point, Aztec Butte and Upheaval Dome. And here’s a list of hikes at the Needles district: Roadside Ruin, Pothole Point and Cave Spring.

Here’s a list of fun Canyonlands Needles hikes that are easy: Roadside Ruin, Pothole Point, Cave Spring. There are a few popular difficult hikes as well: Chelser Park Loop and Druid Arch trails.

Mesa Arch at sunrsie

Canyonlands Photography

If you love landscape photography, you’re in for a treat with the landscape views you’ll see at Canyonlands! We focus our Canyonlands National Park photography at Island in the Sky for sunrise and sunset photography. Our favorite sunrise spots at Island in the Sky are Grand View Point and Mesa Arch. We like the Colorado River Overlook at sunset.

Stop at all the viewpoints along the scenic drive at Island in the Sky and the main road through Needles to capture stunning landscape scenes.

If you’re looking for a 3-day itinerary to capture amazing sunrise, sunset and night photos, check out our Arches & Canyonlands Photography Guide.

Arches and Canyonlands photography guide

Stargazing at Canyonlands

Stargazing at Canyonlands is another must-do activity. On a clear night, the sky is literally filled with stars. Canyonlands National Park is a Dark Sky Park and they have a slogan that says “Half the Park is After Dark”!

From March through October you can see the milky way. Canyonlands is a popular destination for astrophotographers so you won’t be alone in the park at night. Be courteous to other photographers in the area by using a headlamp with a red light!

View looking down on Shaefer Trail at Canyonlands

Canyonlands 4×4 Trails

Another experience of a lifetime is driving the Shafer Trail! If you have the right vehicle, you might want to try this challenging, unpaved backcountry road in Island in the Sky that connects with Moab.

The 4×4 trails at Needles Canyonlands are pretty technical and may require a permit so check with the Park Rangers before heading out on any trail.

High-clearance 4WD vehicles with a low range gear (4LO) are required on all off-road trails in Canyonlands. ATVs, OHVs, or UTVs are not permitted inside the park.

These trails should not be attempted by inexperienced drivers since there is a high risk of vehicle damage that could lead to towing costs in excess of $1,000!

Other Canyonlands Activities

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Plan Your Canyonlands Vacation

WHERE TO STAY NEAR CANYONLANDS

There are no lodging facilities in the park, but there are campgrounds.

Where to stay near Canyonlands – these are our favorite places in Moab:

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

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