Julie United States 4 Comments

Canyonlands and Arches are two national parks that sit side-by-side near Moab, Utah. Since these parks are neighbors, it is possible to visit both of them in one very busy day. In this guide, we cover the best way to spend one day in Canyonlands and Arches National Parks.

We are frequent visitors to this area and have visited these parks multiple times. There are a lot of things to consider when planning your big day… not only what to do and how to plan your time, but the weather, crowd levels, and the amount of daylight can have a big impact on this itinerary.

There is so much to do in both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks that I highly recommend spending at least one day in each of them, if you have the time. But for those of you with limited time in the area, I will lay out what I think is the best way to spend one day in Arches and Canyonlands.

Let’s get started.

Overview of Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park is both the largest and least visited national park in Utah. It is an underrated gem of a park with many different areas to explore.

With limited time, such as this one day in Canyonlands and Arches itinerary, you will spend your time in the Island in the Sky district. This area of Canyonlands is the closest to Moab and the easiest to visit.

To get from Moab to Canyonlands it is a 35-minute drive. With a half of a day in Island in the Sky, here are the highlights:

  • Mesa Arch
  • Grand View
  • Buck Canyon and the Green River Overlooks
  • Shafer Canyon Viewpoint

To return to Moab/Arches National Park you have the option to drive Shafer Canyon Road to Potash Road.

Overview of Arches National Park

Arches National Park is a relatively small park. It is filled with arches, cool rock formations, fins of sandstone rocks, and mesas. Delicate Arch is the most famous arch in the park, but you can also hike numerous trails to many other arches and in the park.

It takes one very busy day just to visit the highlights of Arches National Park. If you are going to split your time between Arches and Canyonlands, you have about half of a day.

With half of a day in Arches, here are the highlights:

  • Balanced Rock
  • The Windows and Turret Arch
  • Double Arch
  • Devils Garden Trail
  • Delicate Arch

Timed Entry Permit: In order to enter Arches National Park from April 1 to October 31, you must have a timed entry permit.

Window Arch | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches

North Window Arch, Arches National Park

Important Things to Consider

Before we get to the itinerary, there are a few very important things to consider. These will have a big impact not only on how much time you have but also how enjoyable your visit will be.

#1 Time of Year

The time of year that you visit Canyonlands and Arches has a big impact on how much daylight you have.

In winter, the sun rises at 7:30 am and sets at 5 pm. That gives you just under 10 hours of daylight.

Compare that to the summer, when the sun rises just before 6 am and sets at 8:45 pm. That’s 15 hours of daylight…plenty of time to go exploring.

#2 Weather

In the summer months, sure, 15 hours of daylight is awesome, but you will also have high temperatures that can top out over 110°F during the day. Not only is the weather unpleasant, but it’s also dangerous, particularly if you plan to go hiking.

The spring and the fall months are the best seasons to visit Canyonlands and Arches. The weather is mild and you have enough daylight hours to go exploring. In March, the average high temperature is 62°F (17°C) and in April and October, the average high is 70°F.

#3 Crowd Levels

Historically, May is the busiest month of the year to visit both Canyonlands and Arches. Memorial Day is especially crowded. Crowd levels are high all summer, since this is the most popular time of the year for US road trips.

November through February get the lowest crowds but these months also have the shortest days. Both parks can be busy in March, April, and October, but not nearly as bad as the summer months.

VERDICT: This one day in Canyonlands and Arches National Park itinerary works best in March, April, and October, when crowds are manageable and the weather is great. During these months, you get 11 to 13 hours of daylight, which is just enough time to visit both national parks. And of these months, April is my first choice to visit both parks, because the days will be the longest of these three months (in April, the sun rises at 6:45 am and sets at 8 pm which equals 13 hours of daylight).

One Day in Canyonlands and Arches

This itinerary starts in Canyonlands so you can see Mesa Arch at sunrise and Delicate Arch at sunset. Plus, you get most of the driving over with in the first half of the day.

I am listing times on this itinerary as a guide as to how much time to spend at each place. These are just estimates, so if you get a little ahead or a little behind, not to worry.

These times are based on a visit in April (sunrise at 6:45 am and sunset at 8 pm), for reasons mentioned above. If you plan to visit a different month of the year, you can get sunrise and sunset times here. If you plan to follow this itinerary during a month when the days are shorter (for example, October with 11 hours of daylight) you will have to eliminate one or two items on this itinerary. I recommend skipping White Rim Overlook in Canyonlands and/or just doing part of the Devils Garden hike in Arches. 

Canyonlands and Arches Itinerary

5:30 am: Drive to Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park
Sunrise (6:45 am): Mesa Arch
8:00 am: Grand View Point
8:45 am: White Rim Overlook
10:15 am: Buck Canyon and Green River Overlooks
10:45 am: Shafer Canyon Viewpoints
11:15 am: Drive to Arches National Park
12:00 pm: Arrive in Arches National Park
12:30 pm: The Windows, Turret Arch, and Double Arch
2:00 pm: Devils Garden Trail
6 pm: Delicate Arch

Note: If seeing Mesa Arch right at sunrise is of no interest to you, you do not have to get started at 5:30 am. If you leave Moab at 6:30 am, you will arrive at Mesa Arch at 7:30 am and the lighting is still very nice this early in the morning.

How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left hand corner of the map to view the layers (places to go and the driving routes). You can click the check marks to hide or show layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest.
If you click the star next to the title of the map, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.

Morning: Canyonlands National Park

Sunrise (6:45 am): Mesa Arch

Mesa Arch is one of the best sunrise photography locations in the American Southwest.

At sunrise, expect to share the view with many photographers who are trying to capture this iconic view of Canyonlands. As the sun rises, it illuminates the underside of the arch, creating a very beautiful scene.

In order to watch the sunrise at Mesa Arch, and get a space for your tripod, plan on arriving 30 minutes before sunrise. In April, that means you need to be here by 6:15 am, leaving Moab no later than 5:30 am (it’s a 50-minute drive from Moab to Mesa Arch).

If getting here at sunrise sounds too early for you, you can still get a similar effect up to an hour past sunrise. We didn’t like the idea of getting here so early either, but that was because temperatures were in the teens at sunrise (we did this in December). About an hour past sunrise, this was our view (the photo below). Plus, by this time, the photographers had packed up and left, and we shared the view with just one other person.

Mesa Arch | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches

Mesa Arch just after sunrise | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches

If you plan to visit Mesa Arch after sunrise, for example, at 7:30 am, you will be slightly behind on this itinerary. That’s fine. To get back on track, skip the White Rim Overlook hike in Canyonlands.

About the Visit to Mesa Arch: To visit Mesa Arch, you will walk 0.5 miles round trip. The entire visit takes 30 minutes, longer if you get here early to photograph the sunrise.

8:00 am: Drive to Grand View Point

From Mesa Arch, continue the drive down Grand View Point road to Grand View Point (driving time: 15 minutes).

While you are here, you can simply enjoy the view or choose to hike the Grand View Point Trail. This hike is 2 miles round trip and can take up to 1.5 hours. Since your time is very limited today, I recommend skipping the hike.

Grand View Overlook

Grand View Point | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches

8:45 am: White Rim Overlook

The trail to White Rim Overlook is a 1.8-mile round trip hike that takes about an hour of your time. It’s totally flat and offers similar views as the hike from Grand View Point. However, this trail is much less crowded and it was one of our favorite unexpected surprises in Canyonlands.

White Rim Overlook

White Rim Overlook | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches

Getting Here: As you travel north on Grand View Point Road, there will be a right turn for a picnic area. Turn here and then park at either a picnic area or at one of the limited parking spaces near the trailhead. This turn off is located 0.9 miles north of the Grand View Point parking lot.

10:15 am: Buck Canyon and Green River Overlooks

As you drive north on Grand View Point Road towards the Visitor Center, you will get to Buck Canyon Overlook. This overlook gives you a view looking east, over Buck Canyon and to the La Sal Mountains.

Buck Canyon Overlook

Buck Canyon Overlook | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches

Continue north and then turn left onto Upheaval Dome Road. Take the left turn to Green River Overlook, park in the lot, and enjoy the view. Now you are looking west and can see the White Rim and the Green River.

Green River Overlook

Green River Overlook | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches

10:45 am: Shafer Canyon Viewpoints

Drive north on Grand View Point Road to two viewpoints of Shafer Canyon Road.

The first viewpoint is Shafer Trail Viewpoint. This gives you a close-up view of the switchbacks on Shafer Canyon Road.

Shafer Trail | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches

Shafer Trail Viewpoint | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches

Next up is the turn-off for the Shafer Canyon Overlook. This is a much larger parking lot and you get a similar view of Shafer Canyon Road. It’s a short walk out onto the wide plateau. From here the views are amazing, as you can look out across the White Rim and to Dead Horse Point State Park.

Shafer Canyon Overlook | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches

Shafer Canyon Overlook | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches

11:15 am: Drive to Arches National Park

#1 Direct Route

To get to Arches National Park, you have two options to choose from. The faster, more direct route is to retrace the drive back towards Moab on Highway 313 (30 miles, 35 minutes).

If you choose this route, before leaving Canyonlands, park at the visitor center, walk across the street for one last amazing view of the area.

Visitor Center Viewpoint | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches

Visitor Center Viewpoint | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches

#2 Scenic Route through Shafer Canyon

The scenic route takes about 2 hours, covering a distance of 37 miles. Those switchbacks you were just admiring from the viewpoint…you can drive down them, continue along the Colorado River and under Dead Horse Point, to Moab. It’s an awesome drive.

17 miles of this road is unpaved (from the Shafer Canyon switchbacks to the Potash evaporation ponds). The National Park Service recommends that you drive a high-clearance 4WD vehicle on Shafer Canyon Road. A high-clearance vehicle with 4WD is also recommended for Potash Road. However, Most AWD SUV’s will do just fine on this road, as long as it is not wet or snow-covered.

Below are a few photos from the drive, but for many more photos, plus more information about this drive, read our Guide to Shafer Canyon Road and Potash Road.

Shafer Trail Road | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches

Shafer Canyon Road as it runs just under the rim. 


Shafer Switchbacks

On the Shafer Canyon Road switchbacks.


How to Drive Shafer Canyon Road | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches

On the White Rim, looking back up at Shafer Canyon Road and the Island in the Sky mesa.


Potash Road

Potash Road as it runs under Dead Horse Point.

Utah Travel Guide


Afternoon: Arches National Park

12:00 pm: Arrive in Arches National Park

Since most people will take the direct route to Arches National Park, I am using that timing for the remainder of the day. If you choose to take the more thrilling drive on Shafer Canyon Road, add on an hour and a half to the times listed for the remainder of the day. Yes, you lost some time in Arches, but the drive through Shafer Canyon is spectacular and worth the extra time. In Arches National Park, you may have to skip one or two places, such as the Windows or part of the Devils Garden hike. Or, take out the hike to White Rim Overlook, earlier in Canyonlands National Park.

Before your trip, don’t forget to reserve your timed entry ticket if you will be visiting Arches between April 1 and October 31.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: Pack a picnic lunch and eat it on the drive between Canyonlands and Arches. If you go into Moab for lunch, you will lose 30 minutes to an hour and you don’t have time like that to spare today.

As you drive Arches Scenic Drive, make quick stops at Park Avenue and Balanced Rock.

Park Avenue | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches

Park Avenue | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches


Balanced Rock | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches

Balanced Rock | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches

12:30 pm: The Windows, Turret Arch, and Double Arch

Turn onto right onto The Windows Road and park in the lot at the end of the road. An easy, 0.7 mile walk connects three arches: North Window, South Window, and Turret Arch. It takes about 30 to 45 minutes to walk this trail, take your photos, and do a little bit of exploring.

Window Arch | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches

North Window Arch | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches


Turret Arch

Turret Arch | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches

From the same parking lot, you will visit Double Arch. If it isn’t crowded, you can drive to the other side of the parking lot to get closer to the trailhead. But on busier days, it might be best to walk down from the Windows.

Double Arch

Double Arch | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches

Double Arch is the tallest arch in the park and a popular thing to do here is to climb up the rocks that sit under the arch. A visit here typically lasts 20 to 30 minutes.

2:00 pm: Devils Garden Trail

For the next several hours, you will hike part or all of the Devils Garden Trail.

If you hike the entire 7.8-mile loop (3 to 4 hours), you get to see eight arches! Along the way, go rock scrambling, hike along fins of sandstone rock, and enjoy some of the best views of the park.

But you don’t have to go that far. You can simply hike to Landscape Arch, which is a total of 1.6 miles and takes about an hour. Or, go a little farther, and add on Pinetree and Tunnel Arches, which adds a half mile and 30 minutes to your hike.

Devils Garden Trail | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches

Devils Garden Trail | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches


Landscape Arch

Landscape Arch | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches

 Devils Garden Trail

Devils Garden Trail | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches


Devils Garden Arches | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches

Devils Garden Trail | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches


Navajo Arch

Navajo Arch | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches

The Devils Garden Trail is our favorite hike in Arches, since you get to see so many arches and unique rock formations in a relatively short hike. It’s great for kids and it’s great for those who want to see what it is like to hike a “primitive” trail.

Get the full details about all of your options in our Devils Garden Trail Guide.

6 pm: Delicate Arch

End the day with sunset views of Delicate Arch.

In April, sunset is not until 8 pm. If you want to watch the sunset at Delicate Arch, start your hike by 6 pm. It is a 1.5-mile hike one-way to get to Delicate Arch and this takes most people an hour or a little longer.

If you are in Arches National Park from late spring through early fall, the temperatures can be very hot this time of day and there is no shade on the trail. Bring plenty of water.

Watching the sunset at Delicate Arch is very popular, even more so than sunrise at Mesa Arch, so it helps to get here early, not only to get a parking space but also to get a good location in front of Delicate Arch.

Delicate Arch Hike

Delicate Arch in the late afternoon


Trail to Delicate Arch

Trail to Delicate Arch

For more information about the hike the Delicate Arch, and several unique photo locations, read our Guide to Delicate Arch.

If you watch the sunset here, it will be dark on the hike back to your car. Bring a flashlight or a headlamp. The light on your smartphone might not be bright enough to light the way.

9:30 pm: Return to Moab

With sunset at 8 pm, an hour walk back to your car, and a 30 minute drive back to Moab, your day will end at about 9:30 pm.

If that sounds like too long of a day, you can spend one hour hiking the Devils Garden Trail and visit Delicate Arch right afterwards. Seeing Delicate Arch is still very nice in the afternoon so don’t feel like you have to stick around for sunset. If you shorten the Devils Garden Hike, you could be back in Moab by 6:30 pm. This also works well if you are doing this itinerary when the days are shorter.

Modifications to this Itinerary

If you are doing this when the days are shorter (October through March), consider eliminating the White Rim Overlook in Canyonlands, the scenic drive through Shafer Canyon, and/or part of the Devils Garden hike in Arches.

If you are doing this in the summer, when the days are long but the weather is very hot, avoid hiking between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm.

US National Parks List

Helpful Tips for Arches & Canyonlands

Don’t expect the cellular service on your phone to work. Occasionally we got a weak cellular signal on our phone but for the most part they were useless until we were in Moab.

Entrance Fees: It costs $30 per vehicle to enter Canyonlands National Park and $30 per vehicle to enter Arches National Park, for a grand total of $60. That’s a lot to spend for one day in the national parks. For $55 you can purchase a Southeast Utah parks pass, which also gets you into both parks. You can also purchase an annual National Parks pass (called the America the Beautiful Pass) for $80. With this pass you can visit over 2,000 federal recreation sites. This is worth it if you also plan to visit more of Utah’s Mighty 5, including Capitol Reef, Zion, Bryce Canyon, or any other US National Park within the year.

Timed Entry Permit: Don’t forget to purchase your timed entry permit for Arches National Park if you will be visiting from April 1 to October 31.

Road and Trail Closures: Get updates on road conditions and trail closures, as you plan your trip and just before your visit on the National Park Service website for Arches and Canyonlands.

While in Arches and Canyonlands National Park, please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trail, pack out what you bring to the hiking trail, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.

Shafer Canyon | One Day in Canyonlands and Arches

Shafer Canyon, Canyonlands National Park

Where to Stay

There is no lodging inside of Arches or Canyonlands National Parks. You can camp in the Devils Garden Campground in Arches and the Island in the Sky campground in Canyonlands. 

The best place to stay is in Moab. This small town has many hotels and restaurants, as well as gas stations and grocery stores.

UPSCALE: Hoodoo Moab. This is one of the newest hotels in Moab and this is where we stayed on our most recent visit. I have mixed reviews about this hotel. The location is great, right in the heart of Moab with a walk or short drive to most restaurants. The hotel is gorgeous. The décor and the layout are impeccable and our room was very comfortable. However, the walls are paper thin. We could clearly hear our neighbor’s conversations and they weren’t being overly loud. If you are a light sleeper, you might want to consider staying in a different hotel. But if a little bit of noise doesn’t bother you, and you want to stay in an upscale hotel in Moab, stay at the Hoodoo.

MID-RANGE: Homewood Suites. This is another property that gets excellent reviews. All suites have kitchenettes and some suites can accommodate up to six people. There is a small indoor pool and gym onsite.

MID-RANGE: Hyatt Place Moab. This is a newer hotel in Moab and very highly rated. It is located on the north end of town, so from here, it is a very quick drive to enter Arches National Park.

BUDGET: MainStay Suites Moab. Rooms come equipped with a kitchenette. Some suites can accommodate up to six people so this is a great budget choice for families.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is better, Arches or Canyonlands?

The answer depends on what kind of experience you want to have. If you want to see some of the most iconic arches and rock formations in the USA, go to Arches National Park. This park is small and easy to visit. With many short hiking trails to choose from and unique places to photograph, Arches is a great park for families, photographers, and hikers.

Canyonlands is one of the most underrated parks in the USA. The Island in the Sky district is easy to visit, with its overlooks and hiking trails. But the real beauty and adventure of Canyonlands lies beyond the Island in the Sky mesa. Go hiking in the Needles, drive the White Rim Road, go rafting on the Colorado River, and explore the Maze in a 4×4.

Canyonlands is one of our favorite US national parks but you need at least three days to really explore this park and learn what it is all about.

Is one day enough to visit Arches and Canyonlands?

If you only want to see a few highlights in each park, then yes, one day in Arches and Canyonlands is enough time. For a better experience, add one more day to your itinerary, so you can spend one full day in Arches and one full day in Canyonlands.

Where should I get something to eat?

There are no restaurants in Canyonlands or Arches National Park. Moab is the closest place to get food but detouring to Moab can eat up 30 to 60 minutes of your valuable time. The day before visiting Canyonlands and Arches, go to the grocery store and buy food for snacks and a picnic lunch. And don’t forget to bring plenty of water.

What else can I do in the area?

If your visit to Canyonlands and Arches is part of a bigger road trip, there are a lot of cool places to visit near Moab. South of Moab is the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park, where zebra-striped spires create one of the most unique hiking destinations in Utah. To the west of Moab is Little Wild Horse slot canyon (a very cool hike!) and Goblin Valley State Park (hike among short hoodoos that are called goblins). And right next door to Island in the Sky is the jaw-dropping Dead Horse Point State Park.

Julie in Goblin Valley

Goblin Valley State Park

If you have any questions about the best way to spend one day in Canyonlands and Arches National Parks, let us know in the comment section below.

More Information for Your Trip to Utah

UTAH’S MIGHTY 5: Utah’s Mighty 5 is a collection of five national parks in Utah. Learn more about the parks and how to plan your visit in our Guide to Utah’s Mighty 5.

UTAH ITINERARY: In our Utah National Parks Road Trip Guide, we cover multiple ways to road trip through the national parks in Utah.

BEST OF ARCHES: While in Arches National Park, top experiences include the Devils Garden Trail and a visit to Delicate Arch. Get the full list in our Best Things to Do in Arches guide.

BEST OF CANYONLANDS: Top experiences in Canyonlands includes visiting the Island in the Sky district, driving the White Rim Road, hiking in the Needles district. For the full list, check out our Canyonlands Travel Guide.

LITTLE WILD HORSE CANYON: Little Wild Horse Canyon is a narrow slot canyon that is a blast to hike. It can be visited while driving between Moab and Capitol Reef National Park. Goblin Valley State Park sits nearby so these can be combined in the same visit.

BEST NATIONAL PARKS IN THE USA: Looking for your next big adventure? Read our article about the 15 Best National Parks, where we narrow down the long list into 15 must-see parks.


Read all of our articles about Utah in our Utah Travel Guide and the United States in our USA Travel Guide.

Arches and Canyonlands National Park One Day Itinerary


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Comments 4

  1. Avatar for Sue

    you mention some driving, some hiking. Our group will be 71-78 years old. i am hoping to do some low level hiking myself. does this sound doable? i walk 4 miles a day but my husband just walks the golf course….how should i prepare us? my sisters walk like me and hike more. thank you. Sue
    PS your presentation and photos are wonderful! will definitely use them…instead of me hunting the internet! thanks 🙂

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Hello Sue. To limit how much walking you do, visit the viewpoints in Canyonlands and it is worth doing the short walk/hike to Mesa Arch. In Arches, you’ll do more walking. The hike to Delicate Arch can be fairly strenuous but it’s worth it for the view. Do this first and then see if you have more energy to add on a small portion of the Devils Garden Trail. It helps to get some hilly walks in so if the golf course has hills, hike there as much as possible. And I recommend having your husband train so that 4 miles is easy…even more would be a little better, so you can see more in Arches. In Arches, you can see a lot from your car but there are lots of short walks to get closer to the arches and viewpoints. Cheers, Julie

  2. Avatar for Mike

    Hi there, your website is great and has really been a great help in planning many of our family vacations. I noticed that there are no restaurants in Arches or Canyonlands and it is a long trip back to town that would take away from our day. I was wondering what your suggestion would be for lunches in these parks. Thanks for your help.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      You’re right, it is a long drive from these parks (especially Canyonlands) to get food. We go to the grocery store in Moab the day before and put together a picnic breakfast and lunch. We get a very early start, having breakfast in the car as we drive into the park. Have a great time! Cheers, Julie

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