Are you planning to spend one day in Canyonlands National Park? While the park is teeming with fun activities, it’s possible to see several tourist attractions in a day.
Whether you’re visiting a few national parks in Utah or just popping by during your vacation in Moab, there are plenty of exciting experiences on offer. Canyonlands is home to impressive desert landscapes, thrilling hiking trails, stunning overlooks, and other natural attractions that’ll leave you in awe.
So how do you choose which activities to add to your itinerary? Let’s take a look at the best things to do, where to eat, and more tips for your trip to Canyonlands.
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Visiting Canyonlands National Park in One Day
Canyonlands is a massive and diverse park divided into four main districts: the Island in the Sky, the Maze, the Needles, and the Rivers.
Many agree that the Island in the Sky is the most popular and easily accessible part of Canyonlands National Park. Here, you can expect awe-inspiring views of the surrounding canyons and mesas. There are a number of popular viewpoints, like Grand View Point, providing vistas that’ll take your breath away. For avid hikers, there are plenty of thrilling trails to tackle too.
The Needles is a remote district located in the park’s southeast corner. Here you’ll come across fewer crowds and some challenging hiking trails. It is home to abundant colorful spires of sandstone and a wide range of outdoor activities. If you plan an extended trip next, you might enjoy backpacking in the Needles.
Situated on the western corner of Canyonlands, the Maze district is the least accessible in the park due to its remoteness and challenging roads and trails. As you may expect, it’s also the least visited area. However, it offers the opportunity to explore the remote and rugged wilderness.
The Rivers district is situated along the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers. These two mighty rivers wind through the heart of the park and offer delightful adventures for all. It’s a great spot to enjoy water activities, like canoeing, kayaking, and white water rafting.
So, which area should you explore when visiting Canyonlands in a day? While each district offers exciting experiences and a number of natural attractions to explore, the Island in the Sky is the best area to visit if you’re planning a one-day trip.
It has stunning overlooks, fun activities, and a mix of easy and strenuous hiking trails. By visiting the Island in the Sky district, you’ll experience a lovely overview of the park.
Map Of One Day At Canyonlands National Park
You can copy and download the itinerary below, but I would also print it because you can’t see the itinerary if you have no service.
Things To Pack For One Day At Canyonlands National Park
- Sunscreen: Super important and it is part of the ten essentials! >Buy Sunscreen
- Chapstick: This one has SPF so your lips won’t get burned! >Check Out This Chapstick
- Hiking Boots/Shoes: If you use tennis shoes, you can easily hurt your toes by hitting a rock by accident (Trust me, I have done it so many times before). Hiking boots helped tremendously in this park. They grip so well on the red rocks. >Check Out My Hiking Shoes
- Hiking socks: Having the correct socks helps prevent getting blisters. Smart Wool is probably my favorite brand out there. >Buy Hiking Socks
- Water Reservoir: Water reservoirs help prevent dehydration while hiking. The great thing about this reservoir is that it doesn’t have a plastic taste. >Here Is My Water Reservoir
- Water: Stay nice and hydrated.
- Sunglasses: It can get sunny in the summer and winter, so make sure to pack some sunglasses. I forgot mine and it was a pain! >Check Out These Sunglasses
- Snacks: The best snacks are jerky, nuts, and energy bars. >>>Check Out These Snacks
- Camera: The Sony A6000 was one of the first cameras I started traveling with. The Sony A6000 is an excellent camera for people that want to start improving at travel photography. >Buy Sony Camera Here
- First Aid Kit: This is one of the first things I bought when I first started going on adventures. It is super portable. >Buy This Awesome First Aid Kit Here
- Day Pack to carry all your things: To carry all your gear, water, and food, you need a good backpack.REI has some great beginner backpacks. >Buy This Great Quality Backpack
- Headlamp: A headlamp is an absolute must in case you get stranded in the dark! It is a lot more portable and easier to use than a flashlight. >Buy A Headlamp Now
- Leggings or Hiking Pants: I always wear leggings while hiking because it is what I feel most comfortable with! >Click For My Favorite Hiking Leggings
- Breathable sweat-wicking shirts: Cotton shirts soak up your sweat when hiking, so make sure to wear something breathable. >Check out this awesome breathable shirt here.
- Mid Base Layer: If you are hiking in the Winter, Spring Or Fall, this might be a great idea. >Check Out My Sweater Here
- Sports Bra: For women. >Check This One Here
- Jacket: I always have a jacket in my backpack, even if it is hot. I do it just in case of an emergency. >Buy My Favorite Jacket
- Rain Jacket: The worst feeling in the world is being wet and cold while hiking. >Check Out My Rain Jacket Here
- Tripod: This is an optional item, but it is excellent for getting the ideal sunset pictures. >Check out this tripod
- Knife: I always carry a knife in my backpack just in case. >Check Out My Knife Here
- National Park Pass: I highly recommend getting a year-long America The Beautiful Pass so you can get into both parks with ease. >Get It Here
- Map And Trail Guide: Start planning your trip with this. >Buy One Here
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Best Time To Visit Canyonlands National Park
The best time to go to Canyonlands National Park is in spring or fall. You’ll get to enjoy pleasant daytime temperatures and cooler nights.
With only 1 day in Canyonlands, it’s important to note that spring and fall are the busier seasons. Fortunately, the park doesn’t get as crowded as other major U.S. national parks. But you’ll still want to get an early start to the day to escape the crowds, avoid the midday heat, and enjoy all the activities on your itinerary.
Tours At Canyonlands National Park
How To Get to Canyonlands
Canyonlands is filled to the brim with fun outdoor activities. So how do you get to all the fun?
For those traveling by plane, you can reach Canyonlands National Park by flying into one of the following airports:
- Canyonlands Field Airport (16 miles from Moab)
- Grand Junction Airport (113 miles from Moab)
- Salt Lake City International Airport (239 miles from Moab)
You’ll then need a vehicle to get to and around the park. And if you’re hoping to drive popular routes like the White Rim Road, renting a Jeep or another high-clearance 4×4 is recommended. You can also take a scenic ride within the park, so be sure to bring your bicycle and gear along.
You’ll be happy to know that the Island in the Sky is the most accessible district, while others may require four-wheel driving, hiking, and boating when touring the attractions.
>>>Rent A Car Here<<<
One Day Canyonlands Itinerary
If you’re short on time, here is the perfect way to enjoy some of the best things to do in Canyonlands.
See the Sunrise at Mesa Arch
Start your day by taking in the breathtaking views at Mesa Arch. Located on the eastern edge of the Island in the Sky district, Mesa Arch is a fantastic spot to appreciate the beauty of a sunrise. It is a haven for photographers, so be sure to bring your camera equipment along.
This 27-foot-long natural arch provides beautiful views of the surrounding canyons and the La Sal Mountains in the distance. The arch was carved out of the rock by forces of erosion and frames the sunrise perfectly.
Sunrise is the best time to visit Mesa Arch, as you’ll get to see the early morning light illuminate the bottom and create stunning views. You’ll be amazed by how the cliff-edge arch glows orange and red and how the surrounding landscape changes as the sun rises higher.
It’s important to note that you may experience crowds during this time as photographers line up with their tripods, ready to capture beautiful shots. For this reason, it’s recommended to arrive before the sun rises.
Visiting Mesa Arch is a great activity for travelers of all ages. The 0.68-mile Mesa Arch Trail is just a short walk to the arch and takes around 30 minutes to complete.
Visit Green River Overlook
After soaking up the views at Mesa Arch, it’s time for more captivating scenery at Green Point Overlook. It’s one of the most popular viewpoints in the Island in the Sky. As you may have guessed by the name, this southwest-facing viewpoint provides the best views of the Green River.
So how do you get there? The Green River Overlook trail is a short and easy walk, accessible to visitors of all ages. This 0.2-mile out-and-back trail takes an average of four minutes to complete. It’s one of the easier Canyonlands trails, and you’ll find the trailhead near the visitor center.
At Green River Overlook, you can experience the power and beauty of the glistening river. From admiring how the river winds its way through the canyons to marveling at the different layers of rocks on the canyon walls, you wouldn’t want to miss this spot.
It’s also an excellent place for photography. And if you’re visiting in the morning (or late afternoon), the light is at its best. During this time, the sun casts a warm glow over the canyon and river that’s a real treat to the eyes.
In addition to the beautiful surroundings, it’s an excellent spot for birding too. So don’t forget to pack your binoculars, as there is a variety of bird species in the park. You may spot a hawk, falcon, or eagle soaring in the sky.
The river below is home to diverse fish species and aquatic life, and there are plenty of fun water activities to enjoy.
Explore Aztec Butte
If you’re hoping to tackle a unique Canyonlands hike, make your way to Aztec Butte. It’s located on a moderate trail that takes around 43 minutes to complete. The Aztec Butte Trail is pretty popular, so you’ll likely see fellow explorers hiking, running, or off-road driving in the area.
The trail is open year-round. However, it’s important to note that there may be snow or icy conditions during winter, so traction devices are recommended. You’ll also want to keep in mind that the route can be rough and uneven at times, and you’ll be required to walk up and down rocky hills and stone steps.
While it isn’t the easiest hike in the park, the endpoint is certainly worth it. The views from this dome-shaped butte are outstanding. You can also explore the fascinating rock structures called granaries. This is where indigenous people once kept food and medicines.
The surrounding area supports a variety of plants and animals, so you’ll have plenty to discover.
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Marvel at Whale Rock
When it comes to what to do in Canyonlands National Park, having Whale Rock on the agenda will not disappoint.
You might be wondering why it’s called “whale rock.” Well, its shape resembles a whale, making it an incredibly unique and fascinating sight. When exploring, you’ll see a myriad of colors and textures on its surface, adding to the beauty of this natural attraction.
And as you would expect, it’s a lovely spot to capture stunning photos. So how do you get to this one-of-a-kind rock formation?
The Whale Rock Trail is an easy 0.8-mile trail that takes roughly 22 minutes to complete. You can also see the rock from the trailhead, which is located near the end of Upheaval Dome Road.
While the rock formation is certainly the star of the show, the surrounding area boasts stunning views and wildlife viewing opportunities. Keep an eye out for birds flapping their wings in the sky or lizards running below.
Admire Upheaval Dome
After soaking up the views at Whale Rock, it’s time to admire another stunning geological structure. The Upheaval Dome spans 3 miles across and features interesting rock layers that are dramatically deformed.
It records chapters in the park’s history and is considered one of the most mysterious features in Canyonlands. Geologists are unsure about the cause of the folds at Upheaval Dome. But it is thought to be a result of a salt dome or an impact of a meteor. One thing that’s for sure is that it is a magnificent sight to behold.
To explore the mysteries of nature, take the 1.3-mile, moderate trail to Upheaval Dome. It’s important to note that there may be snow or icy conditions in winter, so traction devices are recommended.
You’ll come across two overlooks as you walk along the rim of this intriguing feature. There are also illustrated panels at the overlook to describe the theories regarding how it was formed. While you explore the nooks and crannies of this puzzling attraction, see if you can figure out how it was created!
After all those fun activities, you might feel peckish, so it’s time for a lunch break.
There are no dining facilities in Canyonlands National Park. So you’ll have to pack in a delicious meal for the day. Fortunately, there are many excellent places to eat in Moab if you’d prefer to grab something on your way to the park.
Located in Moab, Love Muffin Café is a superb spot to pick up box lunches and an aromatic cup of coffee for an extra kick. They are open only on certain days/hours, so make sure you check on hours before your trip.
Go to Buck Canyon Overlook
After you’ve satisfied your stomach and rested your legs, you can take a short walk to Buck Canyon Overlook. The walkway is paved and wheelchair accessible. This easy trail can be completed in around two minutes, and it’s a great option for families.
Once you get to this east-facing scenic spot, you’ll have panoramic views of the canyons below, so be sure to capture tons of shots.
Visit White Rim Overlook
If you’re seeking more stunning views, make your way to the White Rim Overlook. Like the trail to Buck Canyon Overlook, this easy route is an excellent pick for the entire family.
White Rim Overlook Trail is a 5.6-mile trail that takes around 41 minutes. You’ll come across several different viewpoints along the way. You’ll also experience awe-inspiring views of the Monument Basin, Colorado River, and La Sal Mountains.
For those who are not a big fan of heights, you’ll be happy to know that the White Rim Overlook Trail is less challenging than other hikes in Canyonlands.
If you need a short break, there are many rocks that you can perch up on. Be sure to have your hiking buddy take your picture while you’re at it; the backdrop is impressive!
Take in the Views at Grand View Point Overlook
If you’re up for more Canyonlands National Park hikes and beautiful views, you’re in luck, as the next activity on the agenda offers breathtaking vistas.
It’s no secret that Grand View Point is one of the most impressive in the park. So, where is this gem located? You’ll come across it at the southernmost end of the Island in the Sky scenic drive.
If you want to stretch your legs, take the Grand View Point Trail to the overlook. You’ll have gorgeous views as you explore the canyon edge on this out-and-back trail.
From the Grand View Point, you’ll be able to see across miles of canyons, the White-Rim four-wheel-drive road, The Maze, and The Needles. Rangers also present geology talks sometimes from spring through fall.
Note: Whether you opt to take photos at the viewpoint or hike the 1.8 miles round-trip trail, both can get pretty crowded.
Enjoy Sunset at Dead Horse Canyon
After a day filled with beautiful sights and thrilling Canyonlands hikes, unwinding and admiring the sun as it goes down is the perfect way to end it all. For the best views, take a trip to Dead Horse Point State Park. It’s located just outside Canyonlands, and it takes a 20-minute drive from the Island in the Sky Visitor Center to get there.
Dead Horse Point is one of the most popular viewpoints in the park, and it’s easy to see why. You’ll have beautiful views of the canyon and the Colorado River below, and the park itself is absolutely stunning too.
So if you have a bit extra in the tank, take a drive to Dead Horse Point State Park for an unforgettable sunset experience.
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Where To Stay When Visiting Canyonlands in One Day
When it comes to things to do, Canyonlands National Park has an almost endless list of fun outdoor experiences. With so much on offer, you’ll want to stay nearby to make the most of your day.
Fortunately, there are many superb places to stay in Moab, and it’s within driving distance of the park. Here are a few of the best accommodation options near Canyonlands National Park.
Luxury: Red Cliffs Lodge
If you’re seeking a luxurious stay, the Red Cliffs Lodge is an excellent option. It is set on the banks of the beautiful Colorado River and surrounded by high red cliffs.
The hotel boasts a cozy vibe that makes you feel right at home. There are also a number of amenities for a comfortable stay. Step outside on your private patio and admire the stunning views, or take a refreshing dip in the pool.
Delight your senses further with a delicious meal at the on-site restaurant, or whip up something tasty in your kitchenette. While there are plenty of facilities to keep you busy inside the hotel, like the gym and tennis courts, Canyonlands is approximately a 50-minute drive away. >Check Availability
Luxury: Moab Springs Ranch
If staying in an accommodation nestled amongst cottonwood trees sounds inviting, consider this charming 3-star hotel in Moab. You’ll find it near the Colorado River, just around 30 minutes from Canyonlands National Park.
The hotel offers stand-alone luxury bungalows and townhouses with up to three bedrooms, making it an excellent option for those traveling with friends or family. After spending a day exploring the park, you can head back to the hotel and unwind in the hot tub or laze around in one of the hammocks.
Other amenities include a large private park, an on-site restaurant, BBQ facilities, and free Wi-Fi. >Check Availability
Mid-range: Archway Inn Moab
Situated just off Highway 191, Archway Inn offers budget-friendly accommodation in Moab. While the prices are fair, they certainly don’t skimp on quality.
The rooms are beautifully designed with soft neutral tones. You’ll have everything needed for a pleasant stay, including a flatscreen TV, air conditioning, and free Wi-Fi. Some rooms also have separate seating areas and iPod docking stations.
You can keep up with your fitness routine at the 24-hour gym, do a few laps in the outdoor pool, or simply relax in the hot tub. Although the facilities are a big drawcard, the best part of this accommodation is its ideal location.
You’ll have Arches National Park right on your doorstep (a 6-minute drive away), and it’s just 30 minutes away from Canyonlands National Park. So if you plan to tackle both Arches and Canyonlands in a day, this is a great pick. >Check Availability
Budget: Expedition Lodge
The Expedition Lodge in Moab is a superb pick if you’re looking for more affordable accommodation. It features clean and comfortable rooms, providing excellent value for money.
The décor provides a blast from the past, with vintage records and vibrant pops of color throughout the space. There are several room types to choose from, perfect for solo travelers, couples, and families.
The rooms feature comfy beds, free Wi-Fi, a mini fridge, microwave, and coffee maker to enjoy a cup of joe before exploring the park. The fun activities at Canyonlands are only a 35-minute drive away. >Check Availability
Read More: Where To Stay In Moab
Where To Eat in Moab
When exploring Canyonlands National Park, be sure to bring along enough food and snacks to keep you fueled throughout the day. Here are some of the best places to eat in Moab where you can pick up a delicious meal.
Love Muffin Cafe
Love Muffin Café is a cute little spot to grab some tasty treats. You’ll find it situated on North Main Street in Moab.
What’s on the menu? They offer a range of yummy delights for breakfast and lunch. The homemade sandwiches and salads are delicious. Taking a box lunch on your trip to Canyonlands is an excellent option if you’re not in the mood to prepare something at your accommodation.
Tip: If you want to skip the wait, you can place your order online and collect it before heading to the park.
Antica Forma is another great dining option located on North Main Street in Moab.
If you love pizza, you’re in for a treat. The restaurant prepares its pizzas with high-quality ingredients, and the mozzarella is freshly-made and hand-stretched.
If pizza is not your thing, other options on the menu include salads, pasta, and paninis. There is also a kiddies menu and a range of soft drinks and juices to choose from.
Moab diner is a buzzing eatery on South Main Street. The staff is friendly, and the menu items will have your taste buds tingling.
If you’re traveling in a group, there are several filling platters to nibble on. Other tasty items on the menu include sandwiches, burgers, and hearty soups and salads.
They also offer box lunches to go. It includes a yummy sandwich, bottled water, fresh fruit, a bag of potato chips, condiments, and a candy bar for something sweet.
Nestled in the heart of Moab, Zax Restaurant serves up scrumptious dishes for lunch and dinner.
The restaurant offers burgers, sandwiches, salads, soups, pizzas, pasta, grilled meals, and desserts. You can also change your order by swapping out a few items. If you’re in the mood for something healthy, swap those fries for a side salad. Or perhaps you’d prefer your pizza to be prepared on a gluten-free crust?
There are also vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options and substitutions on the menu.
If you want to grab something for a quick and easy meal at home, the restaurant offers Take & Bake pizzas. You’ll just have to pop it in the oven, and about 15 minutes later, you can enjoy all the cheesy goodness.
Sweet Cravings Bakery & Bistro
Sweet Craving Bakery & Bistro is a charming spot in Moab. Here you can indulge in homemade baked goods and meals prepared with fresh ingredients.
Grab an organic cup of coffee for your caffeine fix, or pick up a meal for lunch. Some of the menu items include strawberry chicken salad, roast beef sandwiches, veggie wraps, and build-your-own paninis.
For sweet tooth lovers, tuck into homemade cinnamon rolls, banana bread, cookies, brownies, cakes, bars, or freshly-baked pies.
Red Rock Bakery & Cafe
If you want a relaxed vibe and tasty food, head to Red Rock Bakery & Café in Moab. The bakery has a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
Here you’ll find a number of typical coffee shop dishes filled with flavor. The restaurant serves delicious ice cream, homemade sweets, breakfast meals, and sandwiches. One of the most popular menu items is the yummy bagel sandwiches.
Tips for Spending One Day in Canyonlands
Now that you have a better idea of what you could do during one day in Canyonlands, here are a few tips to help you plan the perfect day trip:
- Plan ahead: It’s best to research before visiting, so you can make the most of your time in the park and prioritize activities that fit your interest the most.
- Get an early start: With only one day at the park, you’ll want to arrive as early as possible. This way, you’ll have more time to spend and a better chance at avoiding crowds.
- Check the weather forecast: If you’re visiting in summer, keep in mind that Canyonlands can be extremely hot during this time. So be sure to check the weather and plan your outfits accordingly.
- Bring plenty of water and snacks: As there are no dining facilities in the park, it’s best to have enough water and food during your trip.
- Wear appropriate clothing: In addition to dressing for the season you’re visiting in, you’ll also want to make sure that you have proper hiking clothes and gear, as some trails can be rough and rocky.
- Consider a guided tour: If you’re short on time or simply want to avoid the logistics, guided tours are great options. You can see some of the park’s highlights on a half-day tour or visit both Canyonlands and Arches on a full-day tour of the national parks.
- Be respectful to the park: It’s important to always be mindful and follow the Leave No Trace principles.
And lastly, remember to have fun and take plenty of photos! Visiting this national park is an unforgettable experience, so be sure to capture the beauty of Canyonlands while you’re there.
Visiting Canyonlands in a Day: FAQs
If you need more help planning your day trip to Canyonlands National Park, here are some answers to commonly asked questions about visiting the park.
How Much Time Do You Need for Canyonlands?
While two days would allow you to explore different districts and attractions, spending one day in the Island in the Sky district is a great way to experience the park. You’ll be able to see a lot during your time if you stick to the overlooks and shorter trails.
Can You See Canyonlands in Half a Day?
Yes, you can definitely see some of the best attractions in Canyonlands in half a day. However, you’ll have to plan appropriately and check the park’s website for trail and road closures beforehand. As Canyonlands is massive and has several districts, it’s best to prioritize which area you want to see.
Which Section of Canyonlands is the Best?
The Island in the Sky district is the best area to explore for a one-day visit to Canyonlands National Park. It’s the most popular area in the park and offers impressive views of the surrounding landscape, including the other districts.
It is also home to renowned sights, such as the Mesa Arch and Green River Overlook, as well as thrilling hiking trails like the Grand View Point Trail and the Upheaval Dome Trail.
Wrapping Up Your Canyonlands National Park Itinerary
Now that you know what to see in Canyonlands in one day, are you ready to head on your exciting adventure?
The park is filled to the brim with fun experiences, but it’s certainly possible to see some of the best spots in a day. While you won’t get to experience everything, with careful planning, you’ll be able to make the most of your time.
If you’re planning to visit both Arches and Canyonlands National Park, have a look at this guide on the best activities in Arches National Park for some inspiration.