Julie United States 32 Comments

Canyonlands is an enormous National Park. Over 330,000 acres are filled with arches, buttes, mesas, canyons, hiking trails, dirt roads, campgrounds, and overlooks. It would take days, weeks even, to fully explore all that Canyonlands has to offer. However, if you only have one day in Canyonlands, you have just enough time to visit the highlights.

There are several different areas of Canyonlands National Park. If you only have one day in Canyonlands, the Island in the Sky district is the area where I recommend you spend your time. It is easy to get to from Moab, and with the spectacular overlooks and short hiking trails, you get to see and do some of the top sights in the park. And if you are like us, you will be dreaming of a return visit where you can dive deeper into the park.

In recent years, we have visited Canyonlands twice. The first time, we spent two days exploring Canyonlands in late December. More recently, we spent four more days in Canyonlands, hiking in the Island in the Sky District and the Needles, as well as driving the White Rim Road. I took our favorite experiences in the Island in the Sky district and organized them into this one-day itinerary so you can see the best of the Island in the Sky district with just one day. Here’s how to do it.

About Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park is organized into five different districts.

Island in the Sky is the district closest to Moab and the most visited part of the park. Scenic drives, overlooks, and short hiking trails all make the list of the best things to do here. This one day itinerary focuses solely on visiting Island in the Sky. Get the full list of things to do in our Guide to Island in the Sky.

The Needles district features unique sandstone rock formations and some very cool hikes. However, to get here from Moab, it is an hour and twenty minute drive. If you have an extra day in your schedule, consider adding on a visit to The Needles.

The Maze is a remote area of Canyonlands that is only accessible by 4×4. In order to visit this part of the park, backcountry experience is necessary.

The Rivers: The Colorado and Green Rivers carved out the canyons of Canyonlands National Park. You can canoe or kayak the rivers north of Confluence. Both rivers merge at the Confluence and below this, you can go white water rafting in Cataract Canyon.

Horseshoe Canyon is a very small area of the park where you can see rock art and petroglyphs.

Canyonlands National Park Information

One Day in Canyonlands National Park

The overlooks and more popular hiking trails tend to get crowded midday. I designed this itinerary so that you visit the most popular places first, in order to see the highlights with low crowds and minimal parking hassles. However, it will be impossible to visit everything crowd-free, as the park is the busiest from 10 am to 4 pm.

If you are visiting during the summer months, be aware that it can get very hot in the park midday. Between the hours of 10 am to 5 pm, limit your hikes to short distances and make sure you bring lots of water and sunscreen.

How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left hand corner of the map to view the layers (points of interest and the walking route). 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.

Mesa Arch

Start here. When you first drive past the Visitor Center, you will be tempted to stop at the amazing Shafer Canyon Viewpoint, but don’t do it. The lighting will be better for photos later in the day and there are a few things we recommend doing before the park gets too crowded.

Mesa Arch is one of the most popular places to visit in Canyonlands. Its popularity, combined with a tiny parking lot, can make a midday visit here torture. Go here first. And if you can get here at or just after sunrise, you get to see the arch at the best time of day.

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.

If getting here at sunrise sounds too early for you, you can still get a similar effect up to an hour (and maybe a little more) 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. About an hour past sunrise, this was our view. Plus, by this time, the photographers had packed up and left, and we shared the view with just one other person.

Mesa Arch

About the Visit to Mesa Arch: To visit Mesa Arch, you will walk 0.5 miles round trip. The entire visit takes 30 minutes, a little longer if you get here early to photograph the sunrise. From the Visitor Center, it’s a 10-minute drive to get here.

Grand View Point

From Mesa Arch, continue the drive down Grand View Point road to another very popular spot. The parking lot is larger here than at Mesa Arch but even so, it fills up fast.

Tim Rivenbark

While you are here, you can simply enjoy the view or choose to hike the Grand View Point Hike. This hike is 2 miles round trip and can take up to 1.5 hours (but keep reading…there are two more hikes to choose from this morning). If you only choose to visit the viewpoint, a visit here is fast, lasting only about 15 minutes.

From Mesa Arch, it takes 15 minutes to drive here.

Optional: Take Your Pick from Two Hikes

This is optional, but absolutely worth it if you want to go hiking in Canyonlands. Not far from Grand View Point are two trails to choose from.

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 (so only do one…pick between Grand View Point Trail and White Rim Overlook). However, this trail is much less crowded and it was one of our favorite unexpected surprises in Canyonlands.

White Rim Overlook

White Rim Overlook


White Rim

The view of Monument Basin and the White Rim Road.

The Gooseberry Trail is not so easy. It leaves from the same place but it has the notoriety of being the steepest hiking trail in the Island in the Sky district. You will hike from the top of the mesa down onto the White Rim.

Hike Canyonlands in Winter

Hike Canyonlands

It’s only 5.4 miles long, but because of the huge descent down onto the rim and then the incredibly steep hike back up to the parking lot, this trail demands a lot of time and energy. The average amount of time for this hike is 3 hours but it can take as long as 5 hours. It will take up a big chunk of your day but for some people, it may be worth it.

If you are curious, check it out: Hiking the Gooseberry Trail

Getting Here: The White Rim Overlook trail and the Gooseberry Trail share the same parking lot. Parking is extremely limited. 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.

Buck Canyon Overlook

As you drive north on Grand View Point Road towards the Visitor Center, you will get to Buck Canyon Overlook. Even if you hiked the White Rim Overlook Trail or the Gooseberry Trail, this is worth it.

Buck Canyon Overlook

From Grand View Point it is a 6-minute drive to get here. From the White Rim Overlook parking lot, it only takes 4 minutes.

Green River Overlook

From Buck Canyon Overlook, drive north on Grand View Point Road. Along the way, you will pass a very small turn-off labeled Candlestick Tower Overlook on Google Maps (there is no sign for this viewpoint from the road). It’s a nice view and worth a quick stop if the turn-off is empty. Here’s the view.

Candlestick Tower Overlook

Candlestick Tower Overlook

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.

Green River Overlook

Green River Overlook

This view is very similar to Grand View Point, only this time you are looking out over the Green River, Soda Springs Basin, and the Maze district. Two rivers carved the canyons that you see at Canyonlands National Park, the Green River, which you see here, and the mighty Colorado River, which also worked its magic and carved out the Grand Canyon.

Upheaval Dome

From the Green River Overlook, continue on Upheaval Dome Road until it dead-ends at another parking lot. From here, you can hike to two viewpoints over Upheaval Dome.

Upheaval Dome is a large crater that was most likely formed by a meteorite, although there are other theories about its creation. This is a unique spot to explore in Canyonlands because it looks much different from the canyons you see from the overlooks.

To get to the viewpoints you will have to do some hiking. It’s an easy to moderate hike on well-marked trails. There are two overlooks and the second one was our favorite. The entire hike is 1.8 miles round trip and it takes 1 to 1.5 hours to hike the whole thing.

Upheaval Dome

Upheaval Dome Hike

A view along the trail


Best Hike Canyonlands

Aztec Butte or Whale Rock

As you return on Upheaval Dome Road, you have a choice. And if you are running out of energy or time, you can skip these.

There are two short hikes you can do along Upheaval Dome Road as you start to head out of the park.

Whale Rock

Whale Rock is a quick hike where you hike up a huge slab of slickrock for panoramic views over this side of the park. It is 1 mile round trip and takes 30 minutes to one hour. If you are here with kids, they will probably find this to be fun. The parking lot is only about a half mile away from Upheaval Dome.

Whale Rock

Whale Rock View

Aztec Butte

This is similar to Whale Rock in that you get to hike up onto slickrock but you also get to see ancient granaries. It’s 2 miles round trip and takes just over an hour. The parking lot is located on Upheaval Dome Road near the turn-off for the Green River Overlook.

Aztec Butte Hike

Tyler Hiking Canyonlands

Aztec Butte View

Shafer Canyon Viewpoint

Turn left onto Grand View Point Road and head back towards the Visitor Center. Just before you reach the Visitor Center you will come to two overlooks.

The first overlook is a tiny parking lot on the side of the road called the Shafer Trail Viewpoint. This gives you a close-up view of the switchbacks on Shafer Point Road. If this car park is filled, then no big deal. Next up is the turn-off for the Shafer Canyon Viewpoint. This is a much larger parking lot and you get a similar view of Shafer Trail 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 off in the distance is Dead Horse Point State Park (a state park that is well worth the visit and just as stunning as Canyonlands).

Best Things to do in Canyonlands

The plateau of the Shafer Canyon Viewpoint

Visitor Center Viewpoint

Before exiting the park, park at the Visitor Center, cross the street, and walk out to one final viewpoint. You’ll be glad you did. This was one of our favorite views while in the Canyonlands.

One Day in Canyonlands

Stretching out in front of you is a very similar view as from Shafer Canyon Viewpoint, although it seems more spectacular here, for some reason. The canyons, the mesas, the dirt roads, and the La Sal Mountains off in the distance really create a gorgeous view.

Nice way to end a visit at the Canyonlands, don’t you think? 😊

From here, it is a 45-minute drive to get back to Moab.

Alternative Route Back to Moab

Shafer Canyon Road and Potash Road are two dirt roads that connect Canyonlands National Park with Moab. If you like scenic drives and venturing off-the-beaten-path, this is a unique way to return to Moab. On this route, you will drive the legendary Shafer Canyon switchbacks, pass below Dead Horse Point, get a close-up view of the Colorado River, and see a famous movie filming location, Thelma and Louise point.

You do not need a permit to do this drive…just a high-clearance SUV and a great sense of adventure. 

Utah Travel Guide

With More Time

Don’t Miss Dead Horse Point State Park!

Dead Horse Point State Park is often overlooked by many people when they visit Moab. Since it’s a “state park” it doesn’t get the same recognition as the National Parks. But don’t let that fool you. This little state park is amazing!

Dead Horse Point

If you have time at the end of the day, consider stopping by Dead Horse Point State Park on the drive back to Moab. We were here in the morning but I hear it’s a great place to watch the sunset.

What a great day…sunrise at Mesa Arch and sunset at Dead Horse Point.

If you have extra time in your schedule, you can hike through Dead Horse Point in a half a day or less, depending on how far you go.

If you only have one day total for Canyonlands and Dead Horse Point, I think it’s worth saving time at the end of the day to at least see the main viewpoint in Dead Horse Point. With just a little more time (1 to 2 hours) you can even do a little bit of hiking. Just note that it costs $20 to pay the park entrance fee.

The Needles

This is a beautiful section of Canyonlands National Park, and with its huge collection of red and orange sandstone spires, it looks dramatically different than the Island in the Sky district. If you like hiking, backpacking, or unique landscapes, put The Needles on your list. One day is enough time to explore this part of the park. I recommend hiking the Chesler Park Loop or to Druid Arch if you are an avid hiker.

More Hikes in the Island in the Sky District

There are many more hikes to choose from in the Island in the Sky District. The Syncline Loop is another challenging, longer hike to consider. The Murphy Point Trail is another popular pick.

The White Rim Road

The White Rim Road is a 100-mile dirt road that makes a loop around the Island in the Sky mesa. You can either drive or bike this road. Trips by 4×4 take an average of two to three days and for those who prefer to bike the White Rim Road, expect the journey to take between three and five days. It is possible to drive a portion of the White Rim Road or even the full loop in one very long day. Advance planning and permits are necessary to drive and camp overnight on the White Rim Road.

We drove the White Rim Road over the course of two days and it is an unforgettable experience. If you are looking for adventure, solitude, and incredible views, this is a totally different way to experience Canyonlands National Park. 

Arches National Park

Most likely this is already on your list, but Arches National Park is not to be missed. If you have limited time, learn how to visit Canyonlands and Arches National Parks in one day.

Helpful Tips to Have the Best Experience

Get here as early as possible, no later than 7 am during the summer months if you really want to avoid the crowds (although getting here within an hour of sunrise is ideal). Not only will you avoid the crowds, you will also have a spectacular view of Mesa Arch. In the summertime, you’ll get started before the park really heats up.

It takes 45 minutes to drive here from Moab (33 miles).

There are no restaurants in the park. Pack a picnic lunch and eat it while at an overlook or as a break during a hike. Make sure you pack out whatever you bring into the park. Also make sure you bring a lot of water. If you are visiting during the summer months, bring at least 4 liters of water per person.

Don’t expect the cellular service on your phone to work.

Best Time to Go to Canyonlands. The spring and fall months are the best times to visit. Weather conditions are pleasant and you can avoid the big crowds that flood the park in the summer. During the summer months, expect soaring temperatures, large crowds, and difficulty finding parking at many viewpoints. During the winter months, it is much less crowded, but temperatures get below freezing and snow is likely. Snow can close the roads and make hiking more difficult. Check the status of the roads on the official National Park Service website.

Entrance Fees: It costs $30 per vehicle to enter the park and this is good for seven days. For $55 you can purchase a Southeast Utah parks pass, which also gets you into Arches National Park. 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 Arches, Capitol Reef, Zion, Bryce Canyon, or any other US National Park within the year.

While in Canyonlands National Park, please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trails, pack out what you bring to the hiking trails, 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.


Mighty 5Get a Digital Download of this Itinerary

Do you want a printer friendly version of this itinerary? How about an eBook version of this itinerary that can be downloaded onto your computer or mobile device?

Our 10-day Mighty 5 Itinerary eBook includes this one day itinerary for Canyonlands – Island in the Sky. It also includes a detailed road trip itinerary through all five national parks in Utah (Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion), plus Goblin Valley, Little Wild Horse Canyon, and the option to visit Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It is a 21-page itinerary with detailed daily schedules, insider tips, and travel planning resources that you can download to take with you or print at home.

To see the full 10-day Mighty 5 itinerary, click here.

Click here to purchase the eBook on Etsy.com.


Where to Stay

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.

If you have any questions about how to spend one day in Canyonlands National Park, let us know in the comment section below. 


Where Are You Going Next?

If your visit to Canyonlands is part of a bigger road trip through Utah, find more travel inspiration and planning advice in these articles.

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, and hiking the Syncline Loop. For the full list, check out our Canyonlands Travel Guide.

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.

UTAH ITINERARY: If you need ideas on how to plan your road trip through Utah, check out our 7 to 10 day Mighty 5 Itinerary, our Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef Road Trip, and our 14-day American Southwest Itinerary.

SLOT CANYONS: Here is our list of the best slot canyons to explore in the American Southwest.

USA ROAD TRIPS: Planning your next big adventure in the USA? Check our our USA Road Trip Guide for travel ideas and sample itineraries.

NATIONAL PARKS: In our Guide to the US National Parks, get the full list of national parks with important travel planning information, such as things to do in the parks and sample itineraries.


Are you planning a trip to the United States? Read all of our articles about the USA in our United States Travel Guide.



Canyonlands One Day Itinerary

Canyonlands One Day Itinerary


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Comments 32

  1. Avatar for Nikki B
    Nikki B

    Thank you for the itineraries! We drove in from CO and entered Arches at 12:30pm. We hiked to delicate arch. Amazing! It was hot but had lots of water for all. We had horseback riding reservation at 6pm at Hauer Ranch. Beautiful ride! On the way we picked up burgers at Milt’s (best burgers and great prices!)

    The next day we went for sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands. Spectacular! We followed your one day itinerary for Canyonlands. We did the white Rim hike as well. It was great to have details on timing and high points to visit. Our family was so grateful for your post!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
  2. Avatar for Susan V
    Susan V

    We just got tickets for a ranger-led hike at Fiery Furnace in Arches the morning that we planned to spend the day at Canyonlands. Would you just recommend we start the day after lunch at Mesa and go in the same order OR work backwards and end the day at Mesa for sunset? We are going next week and I know it will be hot but we live in the south and deal with lots of heat/humidity! I might be able to squeeze in Mesa Arch at sunrise on another day, but I’m not counting on that at this point. Would love your opinion! Thanks for providing such a great resource for your fellow explorers!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      I honestly don’t know what Mesa Arch is like at sunset. I have been there at sunrise and midday and both were great. I think it would be better to do this itinerary in order, starting with Mesa Arch. The days are really long right now, so you should have plenty of time to see just about everything listed here, except for the hikes, if you move fast. If you don’t mind another park entry fee, you could potentially add on sunset at Dead Horse Point State Park, if you are super speedy. Cheers, Julie

  3. Avatar for Rachel Moll
    Rachel Moll

    Hi Julie, just wanted to say thanks so much for these amazing itineraries. My husband and I are visiting from the UK and we spent a day in Arches followed by a day in canyonlands. Your itineraries were spot-on for both, and we felt like we saw all the highlights whilst avoiding the crowds and seeing the sites at the best time of day. Thank you so much for helping us make the very best of our vacation. Rachel.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Hello Rachel. Thank you for writing in! We are happy to help and happy travels to wherever you go next. Cheers, Julie

  4. Avatar for Andi Jacobs
    Andi Jacobs

    Love your website, thanks for all of your guidance! Planning a trip to Canyonlands and The Arches in September, staying in Moab. Would it be possible to hike Islands of the Sky half day, starting early in the morning, and then doing the Schafer Canyon Rd. scenic drive in the afternoon?

    Thank you!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Yes, that works very well. You can either drive Shafer Canyon out and back or driving it one way and taking Potash Road back to Moab. For full details on how to do this, read our post about Shafer Canyon + Potash Road, if you haven’t seen it yet. Cheers, Julie

  5. Avatar for Belle Davis
    Belle Davis

    Hi there!
    I’ve been reading y’all’s articles about hiking the Southwest for a few years (plague, road trip postponed, blah blah blah) and have only recently gotten to visit some of the incredible places I learned about through your blog. I just wanted to say thank you so much for what you’ve shared! Having y’all as a resource has made a big difference in my adventuring. I’ve seen some really cool sights I wouldn’t have known about if not for you guys, and have been able to make decisions about how to divide my time much easier. Yesterday I did Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Gulch, and it was one of my favorite hikes of all time! I have 2 days in Moab, so today I’m doing Dead Horse State Park, and tomorrow I’m doing Canyonlands. I’m gonna save Arches for another time. Anyways, just wanted to say thank you! 🙂 I’ll definitely keep reading.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
  6. Avatar for Joshua Hauser
    Joshua Hauser

    Hi Julie, I have another question for you, please. Is this a doable plan?

    Leave Moab before 8 AM (late September). Drive to Dead Horse, walk the 1 mile loop trail. Drive to Mesa Arch and visit there. Walk the White Rim trail and see the Grand View & Buck Canyon viewpoints. Drive down the Shafer switchbacks (we’ll have a Nissan Pathfinder) and visit Thelma & Louise point. Finish with a hike to Corona Arch and then back to Moab around 5-6 PM.

    Or is it too aggressive/tiring/leaving something out? Upheaval Dome doesn’t appeal to me much.

    Thanks again!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      I think that sounds great! Parking might be an issue at Mesa Arch and the White Rim Overlook. If you can’t get parking at Mesa Arch when you get to CNP, you could save it for the return drive back towards the visitor center. I don’t think you are missing much by skipping Upheaval Dome. The biggest wow factor of Island in the Sky is in the viewpoints you have listed and driving Shafer Canyon. Cheers, Julie

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