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Canyonlands National Park - Island in the Sky

The largest national park in Utah, with diversity that staggers the imagination.

  • Take a short hike to this spectacular view of Mesa Arch. The arch provides a natural frame for the La Sal Mountains and Washer Woman Arch.
  • The La Sal Mountains appear to float on a layer of clouds as seen from the Island in the Sky.
  • Walk out to Grand View Point to see sandstone monoliths in Monument Basin, two thousand feet below.
  • 20 miles of paved roads will take you to all of the major viewpoints and trailheads within the park.
  • Look out over thousands of square miles of rugged canyon country from Grand View Point.
  • Indian Paintbrush is just one of the many wildflowers that populate the Island in the Sky in the Spring.
  • Ride the 100 mile White Rim Trail around the Island in the Sky. This multi-day mountain biking ride is a classic Moab mountain bike tour.
  • The crater-like Upheaval Dome is thought to have been caused by a meteor impact.
  • The Island in the Sky is located just 32 miles from downtown Moab.
  • Canyonlands National Park is a showcase of geology. Visitors can see the remarkable effects of millions of years of erosion on a landscape of sedimentary rock.

Distance from Moab 32 miles (51.5 km)
Directions from Moab Take Highway 191 10 miles (16 km) north to Highway 313, and then drive southwest 22 miles (35 km).  Driving time to the visitor center from Moab is roughly 40 minutes.
Park Hours Open year-round, 24 hours/day
Entrance Fee $10/vehicle - Good for 7 days (Subject to change)
Visitor Center & Hours Canyonlands is open year-round, 24 hours a day. Visitor center operating hours vary depending on the season.  The visitor center is closed on December 25th and January 1st. (435) 719-2313

Canyonlands is the largest national park in Utah, and its diversity staggers the imagination.  The easiest way to see the park is with a visit to the Island in the Sky district, only 32 miles (51.5 km) from Moab.  The Island in the Sky offers many pullouts with spectacular views along the paved scenic drive.  Hiking trails and four-wheel-drive roads access backcountry areas for day or overnight trips.

The Island in the Sky sits atop a massive 1500 foot mesa, quite literally an Island in the Sky.  Twenty miles (32.2 km) of paved roads lead to many of the most spectacular views in Canyon Country.  From these lofty viewpoints visitors can often see over 100 miles (161 km) in any given direction, resulting in panoramic views that encompass thousands of square miles of canyon country.   Take a short day-hike or spend a relaxing late afternoon enjoying the sunset. Whether you have a few hours to spend or a few days, the Island in the Sky provides an unforgettable Canyon Country experience for the entire family. 

Island in the Sky
The La Sal Mountains appear to float on a layer of clouds as seen from the Island in the Sky.

Suggested Activities

AVAILABLE TIME SUGGESTED ACTIVITIES
A Few Hours Drive the park’s 20 miles (32.2 km) of paved roads and enjoy the spectacular views.  Sunrise and sunset are particularly beautiful times of day to enjoy these lofty panoramic views of canyon country. 
1/2 day Drive the paved scenic drive and hike some of the shorter trails, such as the Mesa Arch or Upheaval Dome Trails.  A recent theory suggests that Upheaval Dome was created by a meteor impact.
Full Day Drive the paved scenic drive and hike some of the longer trails in the park, such as the 5 mile (8 km) round trip Neck Spring Trail.  Those with high clearance/4WD vehicles can drive down the Shafer Trail to the White Rim and explore Musselman Arch, or drive all the way down to the Colorado River via Lathrop Canyon.
Several Days Backpackers can experience the solitude of Canyonlands by hiking some of the trails from the mesa top to the White Rim (steep & strenuous) and spend the night in the backcountry.  4-wheel drive enthusiasts or mountain bikers may want to travel the 100 mile "White Rim Trail" which loops below the Island in the Sky mesa.  Reservations for White Rim campsites and backcountry permits are required.  (435) 259-4351

Location

Take Highway 191 10 miles (16 km) north to Highway 313, and then drive southwest 22 mi (35 km).  Driving time to the visitor center from Moab is roughly 40 minutes.

Hiking

The Island in the Sky offers a wide variety of hiking trails ranging from short 30 minute walks on the mesa top, to overnight expeditions all the way down to the Colorado River.

Trails are marked with cairns (small rock piles). Please do not disturb existing cairns or build new ones. Signs are located at trailheads and intersections. All trails leading below the Mesa Top are primitive and rough; carry and know how to use a topographic map. No potable water is available along any of the hiking trails. During the warmest months always carry at least one gallon of water per person, per day.

 

Mesa Top (Easy Trails)
Trail Round Trip Distance
Round Trip
Time
Elevation Change Notes
Mesa Arch    0.5mi / 0.8km  30 minutes 100ft / 30m Mornings are best - Beautiful Arch on cliff edge.
Murphy Point    1.3mi / 1.9km  1 hour 100ft / 30m Panoramic view with Henry Mountains.
White Rim Overlook    1.5mi / 2.0km 1 hour  25ft / 8m View of potholes & White Rim Road.
Grand View Point    2.0mi / 3.0km 1.5 hours 50ft / 15m  Panoramic view along cliff edge.
Mesa Top (Moderate Trails)
Trail Round Trip Distance
Round Trip
Time
Elevation Change Notes
Neck Spring    5.0mi / 8.0km 3 - 4 hours 300ft / 91m Springs - Evidence of ranching.
Aztec Butte   2.0mi / 3.0km 1.5 hours 225ft / 69m  Steep slickrock to top - Granaries.
Whale Rock    1.0mi / 1.5km 1 hour 100ft / 30m  Bare slickrock - Good views.
Upheaval Dome
to main overlook 
1.0mi / 1.5km 30 minutes  50ft / 15m  View into crater
Upheaval Dome
to second overlook  
2.0mi / 3.0km  45 minutes  200ft / 61m View of crater & upheaval canyon.
Mesa Top to White Rim (Steep & Strenuous Trails)
Trail Round Trip Distance
Round Trip
Time
Elevation Change Notes
Lathrop
to White Rim Road   
10mi / 16km 5- 7 hours  1600ft / 488m Views of Colorado River & La Sal Mountains
Lathrop
to Colorado River    
17mi / 27km overnight 2000ft / 610m River access - Cottonwoods
Murphy Loop  9mi / 14km  5 - 7 hours  1400ft / 427m  Panoramic view from hogback.
Gooseberry    6mi / 10km 4 - 6 hours  1400ft / 427m Views of cliffs & La Sal Mountains.
Wilhite    10mi / 16km  6 - 8 hours 1600ft / 488m Slot canyon across White Rim Road.
Alcove Spring   10mi / 16km  6 - 7 hours  1300ft / 396m Large alcove, views of Taylor Canyon.
Syncline Loop  8mi / 13km  5 - 7 hours  1300ft / 396m Canyon hiking - some shade.
Syncline Loop:
Upheaval Crater Spur   
3mi / 4km 2 hours  350ft / 107m Some scrambling over rocks.
Syncline Loop:
Upheaval Canyon Spur    
6mi / 10km 2 - 3 hours 400ft / 122m Sandy hike along wash bottom.

 

Biking

Biking on the White Rim in Canyonlands
Mountain Biking on the White Rim Trail

Canyonlands is famous for its mountain biking terrain, particularly for the 100-mile White Rim Road at the Island in the Sky. The Maze also offers some multi-day trip possibilities, though the logistics and roads are more difficult (for the support vehicles, not the bikes). Many of the roads in the Needles travel up wash bottoms and are unsuitable for bikes due to deep sand and water. Permits are required for all overnight trips in the backcountry. Permits are not required for day rides. During the spring and fall, demand for permits frequently exceeds the number available. If you plan to visit Canyonlands during peak season, especially to camp along the White Rim Road, it is recommended that you make reservations well in advance. These permits can be reserved starting the second Monday in July for the next calendar year.

The Rivers

Colorado Rover in Canyonlands National Park

The Colorado and Green rivers wind through the heart of Canyonlands, cutting through layered sandstone to form two deep canyons. Both rivers are calm upstream of the Confluence, ideal for canoes, kayaks and other shallow water craft. Below the Confluence, the combined flow of both rivers spills down Cataract Canyon with remarkable speed and power, creating a world-class stretch of white water.

Photography

Sunset at Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands is a paradise for photographers. Under conditions of constantly changing light, the varicolored landscape provides limitless photographic opportunities. Often, the difference between an average photograph and an exceptional photograph is good lighting. Low sun angles at sunrise and sunset can add brilliant color to the rock. Scattered clouds can also add depth to an image and a passing storm can provide extremely dramatic lighting.

Camping

  • Willow Flat Campground - Located at the Island in the Sky, the Willow Flat Campground is a short walk from one of the finest sunset spots in the park: Green River Overlook. Twelve sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Sites include picnic tables, fire grates and vault toilets. No water. Maximum RV length is 28 feet. Group size limit is 10 people and 2 vehicles. Fee is $10 per night. Willow Flat typically fills every day from late March through June and again from early September to mid-October.
  • Backcountry Camping - Primitive backcountry campsites and at-large backpacking zones exist in each district of Canyonlands. These sites may be accessed by foot, 4WD vehicle or boat. Permits are required for all overnight trips and may be reserved in advance.

Park Publications

The following National Park Service publications are identical to the ones that you will receive at the entrance station to the park.

Canyonlands
Newspaper
Canyonlands
Map

Park Updates

Park Highlights

Green River Overlook

Green River Overlook
The Green River meanders beneath the Island in the Sky, as seen from the Green River Overlook. A paved walkway leads right up to the overlook.

Mesa Arch

Mesa Arch
A great hike for families with small children, the .5 mi (.8 km) round trip hike to Mesa Arch rewards visitors with a naturally framed view of canyon country.

Shafer Trail

Shafer Trail
The Shafer Trail descends from the Island in the Sky to the White Rim. A high clearance vehicle is strongly recommended. For current conditions check at the visitor center or call 435-259-4351.

Cataract Canyon

Cataract Canyon

Cataract Canyon
Located in Canyonlands National Park, Cataract Canyon contains fourteen miles of rapids ranging in difficulty up to Class V.

Spring Wildflowers

Indian Paintbrush
Indian Paintbrush are just one of the many wildflowers that populate the Island in the Sky in the Spring (April-June).

Night Sky

Night Sky
Canyonlands National Park, which contains some of the darkest night skies in North America, is a popular destination for stargazers. Click here for the latest sunrise/sunset and moon phase information for Moab.

Park Contact Information

Mailing Address
Canyonlands National Park
2282 SW Resource Blvd.
Moab, UT 84532

Website
www.nps.gov/cany/

Phone

  • General Info
    (435) 719-2313
  • Backcountry Information
    (435) 259-4351

Where to Stay

No lodging is available within the park. The closest lodging is located within the town of Moab, just 5 miles south of the entrance to the park.

Moab has hotels & motels, bed & breakfasts, resorts and a large variety of guest houses and condos. Several property management companies can even take the hassle out of finding the right accommodations. Click here for a complete list of all the lodging options available in the Moab area.

Nearby Campgrounds

In addition to the campground located within the park, there is a great selection of additional campgrounds in the surrounding area. Moab has many commercial campgrounds with RV hookups in addition to a huge assortment of BLM public campgrounds in extremely scenic locations. Click here for a complete list of all the camping options available in the Moab area.

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