Utah, or the Beehive State, is a hotspot for natural beauty in the western US, with its incredible national parks, wacky rock formations, and vibrant colors.
One terrific park to explore is the Canyonlands National Park, home to many hiking trails, photo opportunities, and picturesque vistas.
That said, there is so much to do in this gorgeous state, especially if you’re on a Utah National Parks road trip, so you may be wondering if you can visit Canyonlands in one day.
As an Arizona native, I’ve driven up to Canyonlands more times than I can count. The park never ceases to amaze me ; however, there are definitely some “must-sees” you need to prioritize if you only have a day.
In this blog, we’ll cover all the need-to-know info, such as what to see in Canyonlands in one day, fantastic things to do in Canyonlands, and what to pack — all based on my experience visiting and living in the Southwest!
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5 Best Things to Do in Canyonlands National Park in One Day
If you’re visiting Canyonlands in a day, it can help you understand what this spectacular park offers.
There are many fun activities here, but we’ve summed up the best of Canyonlands, so you don’t have to stress.
Don’t forget your America The Beautiful Pass!
Be Amazed at Shafer Canyon Viewpoint
You’ll find sweeping views and vibrant sandstone cliffs in the Canyonlands district of Island in the Sky.
One exceptional way to see all this is by taking a short drive up to the Shafer Canyon Viewpoint.
Named after a Mormon pioneer family, this canyon is home to the Shafer Trail.
Throughout its history, the path has been used by Native Americans, sheepherders, and settlers.
It’s a challenging Canyonlands hike that many trek down over 1,500 feet.
It’s much easier to get to the viewpoint, as it’s just past the Island in the Sky Visitor Center.
Once you get here, you’ll be able to see the White Rim and even Dead Horse Point State Park.
Walk to Mesa Arch
Mesa Arch is another fantastic attraction on the Island in the Sky district and one of the top spots in Canyonlands National Park for photos.
Like Arches National Park’s sunrise spots, this spectacular formation is one of the most popular places in Canyonlands for visitors.
That’s because it’s extremely picturesque in the early morning, as the sunrise highlights the bottom of the arch.
To get to Mesa Arch, you’ll have to walk along a 0.5-mile loop trail, which should take around 30 minutes.
It’s not too challenging and is a Canyonlands must-see.
Top Tip: Prefer not to get up so early? You can also visit at sunset, as the park is open 24 hours a day.
Take in Mesmerizing Views at the Green River Overlook
Next, we’ve got the delightful Green River Overlook, where you can understand why this park is called Canyonlands.
It’s one of the most majestic views in the Southwest and even competes with the Grand Canyon.
Why this, you may ask? Well, it’s an awe-striking experience as you take in the beauty of the surrounding canyons and the majesty of the Green River.
You’ll need to take the 0.2-mile out-and-back trail to get to the viewpoint. This should only take 5 minutes, as it’s a flat path.
PS: If you want to experience the park at a more exhilarating level, packrafting Utah’s Green River is an activity you should add to your bucket list.
Hike Aztec Butte Trail
Now, we get to one of the best hikes in Canyonlands, the Aztec Butte Trail.
This 1.6-mile out-and-back Canyonlands trail is a moderate hike and will take 45 minutes to an hour to complete.
However, it’s all worth it for the incredible sights and experiencing the region’s history.
That’s because you’ll encounter two Ancestral Puebloan ruins along the trail’s western fork.
These are known as granaries and were used by indigenous people to store medicines and food.
Along the trail’s eastern fork, you’ll go up to Aztec Butte for some terrific panoramas of the park.
Have a Picnic at Upheaval Dome
So, there are two ways to get to this ancient crater in Canyonlands: hiking or driving.
The trail up to Upheaval Dome is one of the more challenging Canyonlands hikes, as it’s a steep 1.8-mile out-and-back path.
This usually takes around an hour, and it’s not for everyone.
However, what makes Upheaval Dome great is that it also has a picnic area near it, so you can appreciate the views while digging into a fantastic lunch.
Top tip: You’ll want to bring your own food, as the park has no dining facilities. Luckily, Moab has some terrific options to grab a bite to eat.
Packing List for One Day in Canyonlands
Okay, so now that you know where to go, it might be helpful to know what to pack for a visit to Canyonlands National Park.
Here are a few of my favorite things to bring:
- Durable sun hat – to protect against the harsh Utah sun.
- Good hiking boots – to keep your feet supported.
- Sturdy water bottle – to stay hydrated in the desert.
- High-SPF sunscreen – to avoid getting bad sunburns.
- Spacious backpack – to keep all these things together.
The Ideal One-Day Canyonlands Itinerary
Start your Canyonlands National Park itinerary by catching a stunning sunrise at one of the park’s many viewpoints or overlooks.
Additionally, you could walk up to Mesa Arch to get one of the best views in Canyonlands National Park, especially at sunrise.
That said, as it’s such an exceptional vista, you’ll have to get there early, as it gets crowded quickly.
Next, hike the Aztec Butte Trail, full of intriguing sights and ancient ruins.
Another fun option is walking to Whale Rock, another great Canyonlands hiking trail and an interesting rock formation.
If you’re thinking of what to do in Canyonlands National Park around midday, don’t worry; there are quite a few options.
Although, as it’s part desert, it can get quite hot, so make sure to pack enough water and sunscreen.
Also, by now, the park is the most busy. With that in mind, avoid Canyonlands’ most popular attractions, such as Mesa Arch and visitor centers.
Instead, go on one of the best hikes in Canyonlands National Park, to the Upheaval Dome.
Walking along the park’s less busy hiking trails is a great way to avoid the crowds, especially if the weather permits it.
Some other Canyonlands National Park hikes with gorgeous scenery are the 5.4-mile Gooseberry Trail, the 1.8-mile White Rim Overlook Trail, and the 1.8-mile Grand View Point Trail.
After this, however, you might want something to eat, so having lunch at one of the park’s two picnic areas is a terrific idea.
These are found in The Needles and the Island in the Sky districts.
If your legs are tired from walking, relieve them by taking one of the park’s many scenic drives.
The Island in the Sky district is probably best for this, especially the drive along Grand View Point Road and Upheaval Dome Road.
You can easily drive to one of its viewpoints, including Shafer Canyon Viewpoint, Candlestick Tower Overlook, Buck Canyon Overlook, and Orange Cliffs Overlook.
As it gets later into the afternoon, a great plan would be to start heading to one of Canyonlands’ brilliant sunset spots.
The best one, by far, is Grand View Point Overlook.
It’s also the end of the scenic drive and a definite highlight of what to do in Canyonlands. Enjoy a vast array of colors, from deep oranges to azure blues.
The park is open 24 hours a day, so you don’t have to worry about 5 pm closing times here.
This means you can even enjoy Canyonlands in the dark, and it’s undoubtedly a fantastic time to be in the park.
That’s because you can stargaze in Canyonlands National Park, especially in the Island in the Sky and Needles districts.
If you’re an avid photographer, the Mesa Arch is the perfect spot to take some night sky shots.
With the contrast of the night sky and the silhouette of the arch, you can capture the essence of Canyonlands’ nighttime beauty.
Some other terrific places for stargazing are the Island in the Sky Mesa, Big Spring Canyon Overlook, and Green River Overlook.
The park also holds guided full moon hikes from April until August and evening programs from April until November.
These tours are a fun way to socialize, especially if you’re staying at one of Canyonlands’ campgrounds.
Top tip: Prefer to have a more guided stargazing experience? Several parks have ranger-led stargazing programs, including Dead Horse Point State Park, Arches National Park, and Canyonlands.
One Day in Canyonlands at a Glance + Map
- Shafer Canyon
- Mesa Arch
- Green River Overlook
- Aztec Butte Trail
- Upheaval Dome
Top Tips for Spending One Day in Canyonlands
Now that you’ve learned about the best hikes Canyonlands offers and how to spend 24 hours in the park, you might still have some questions.
Luckily for you, here are some brilliant tips to help you out.
Where to Stay When Visiting Canyonlands National Park
After a full day in Canyonlands National Park, you’ll probably feel exhausted and want somewhere delightful to stay with a comfy bed and a spacious room.
There are two campgrounds in the park, but if that’s not your style, here are a few awesome nearby hotels:
- Under Canvas Moab – This property is brilliant for a unique glamping experience just 20 miles from Canyonlands. This spot will refresh you after a long day of exploring, featuring organic toiletries, private bathrooms, and complimentary s’more kits. Check Rates and Availability
- Holiday Inn Express & Suites Green River – Keen to explore the Maze district of Canyonlands? This modern hotel offers all brilliant amenities, including free Wi-Fi, spacious rooms, a complimentary buffet breakfast, and a spa. Check Rates and Availability
- Inn at the Canyons – If you’d prefer to spend most of your day in the Needles at Canyonlands, stay at this fantastic inn in Monticello. It’s got an indoor pool to cool off in after hiking, a complimentary continental breakfast to fuel up at, and a convenience store for any midnight cravings. Check Rates and Availability
- Element Moab – This accommodation will keep you relaxed and comfy for one of the most luxurious hotels near Canyonlands. With its 55-inch flat-screen TVs with Netflix, an outdoor pool, and air-conditioned rooms, you’ll love the simplicity of this hotel. Check Rates and Availability
Best Time to Visit Canyonlands National Park
Now that you’ve sorted out where to stay, you might still be asking, but what’s the best time to visit Canyonlands?
Generally, the best seasons to visit are spring and fall, as the daytime temperatures are more moderate, ranging from 60º to 80ºF.
However, this time can vary depending on your interests and what you want from a visit.
For example, hikers should visit Canyonlands in April, in the middle of springtime.
To avoid the crowds, it’s highly recommended that you visit Canyonlands National Park in the winter, as it’s colder (but still stunning).
Canyonlands Entrance Fees
To access Canyonlands National Park’s trails and idyllic vistas, you must pay an entrance fee online or at one of the visitor centers.
The cost of these varies, with a vehicle pass costing $30, a motorcycle pass costing $25, and a person pass costing $15. These are all valid for one week.
Final Thoughts on One Day in Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park is a joy to see, no matter when you visit it.
From the enchanting hikes in Canyonlands to its otherworldly rock formations, it’s no surprise why it’s one of Utah’s best national parks.