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If you only have one day in Island in the Sky at Canyonlands National Park, then check out this step-by-step one-day itinerary with maps and tips to Island in the Sky at Canyonlands, that ticks off all the major things to do and see.

Make sure to visit The Needles District at Canyonlands! It is one of the best places to escape the crowds and find some solitude among the stunning landscapes of the spires (needles): One Day at The Needles in Canyonlands (8 Things You Can’t-Miss on Your Visit)

If you are heading to Arches next, then read: 16 Best Stops on Scenic Drive in Arches National Park (Map+Practical Tips). If you are short on time and can only spend a day in Arches, then read 8 Things You Can’t-Miss on First Visit to Arches National Park which ticks off all the major attractions.

Make sure to add Dead Horse State Park to your itinerary, it is located between Canyonlands and Arches National Park and the views at Dead Horse Point are off the charts! How to Spend One Day at Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

Lastly, are you thinking of visiting any other Utah National Parks? How about getting inspired by this Epic 7-Day Road Trip Through Utah National Parks?

Best Time to Visit Island in the Sky at Canyonlands National Park

Spring or Fall are the best times of the year to visit Canyonlands National Park. The temperatures are mild, the crowds are low, and you can find some solitude in the park.

Late April, May, and October are my favorite months to visit Canyonlands. March and November are not bad either, although, be prepared for some chilly conditions (wear lots of layers) and maybe even some snow.

Summers are hot with temperatures well into the 100’s F making it rather uncomfortable to explore the park. Winters are cold with freezing temperatures and snow.

One Day in Island in the Sky at Canyonlands

Weather averages in Island in the Sky District in Canyonlands National Park.

One Day in Island in the Sky

One Day in Island in the Sky at Canyonlands National Park

Island in the Sky District in Canyonlands National Park.

One Day in Island in the Sky

Where to Stay When Visiting Island in the Sky at Canyonlands

I always stay in Moab, Utah whenever I am visiting either Arches National Park or Canyonlands. The location is perfect and there are lots of choices of where to stay and where to eat.

  • Moab, Utah to Arches National Park – 5.5 miles (about 20 minutes)
  • Moab, Utah to Island in the Sky, Canyonlands – 32 miles (about 40 minutes)

Here are some places that I stayed. They are not anything fancy, but all of them have clean rooms and comfortable beds. Their location is good as well.

My first choice is La Quinta by Wyndham Moab. I stayed at this place a few times and I have no complaints. It is clean, well managed, and it is conveniently located. If La Quinta is all booked, then my recommendation is to try Mainstay Suites Moab.

The last time that I visited Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, I stayed at Element Moab, and I liked it a lot. It is modern, yet simple, and it has a full kitchen, which is very convenient.

How to Get to Island in the Sky at Canyonlands

If you plan to fly to visit Canyonlands, the best airports would be either Salt Lake City (SLC), Denver (DEN), or Las Vegas (LAS). All major airlines fly into these airports. You will still need to rent a car and drive:

Salt Lake City, Utah: 4 hours (249 miles)

Denver, Colorado: 6 hours (391 miles)

Las Vegas, Nevada: 7 hours 30minutes (453 miles)

There are some smaller airports that you can fly to as well. The flights might be more expensive, however, if you are short on time, then it might work:  Canyonlands Field (CNY) (11 miles from the park entrance), and Grand Junction Regional Airport (GJT) (109 miles from the park entrance).

How to Get Around in Island in the Sky at Canyonlands

There is no shuttle bus service at Island in the Sky District in Canyonlands National Park. You will need to either rent a car or drive your own to get around or look into joining a tour to take you to the top sites.

The downside? Parking. Finding a parking spot can be challenging especially if you are visiting during the summer months.

My recommendation is to start your days early to avoid circling parking lots waiting for someone to leave. Get to the trailheads by 7:30 am to ensure parking availability.

One Day in Island in the Sky at Canyonlands National Park

Island in the Sky District in Canyonlands National Park.

One Day in Island in the Sky 

How Much Does It Cost to Visit Island in the Sky at Canyonlands

It costs $30 per vehicle, to enter Island in the Sky at Canyonlands National Park. The entrance pass is good for 7 consecutive days.

You can either pay at the entrance gate (credit cards only) or buy a digital pass in advance to show when you get there. If you buy the digital pass, make sure to take a screenshot of it, as there is barely any cell service in the park.

If you are visiting several national parks, then you should buy America the Beautiful – The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. It costs $80 and covers more than 2,000 federal recreation sites.

What You Need to Know About Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park offers visitors breathtaking views of mesas, buttes, spires, and fins carved out by Colorado and Green Rivers. Hiking, stargazing, camping, and rock climbing are just a few of the activities, that you can enjoy at the park.

Established in 1964, Canyonlands National Park preserves 527 square feet of land in southern Utah.

One Day in Island in the Sky at Canyonlands National Park

Island in the Sky District at Canyonlands National Park.

One Day in Island in the Sky

There are four districts within Canyonlands National Park. And, even though, they are all in Canyonlands National Park, they all look completely different from each other as if they are separate national parks:

  • Island in the Sky

Island in the Sky District is the most visited section of Canyonlands National Park. It is conveniently located no more than a 40-minute drive from Moab, UT making it the most easily accessible district in Canyonlands. It is well known for its Mesa Arch, an incredible rock formation. In addition, it has a picturesque scenic drive with many viewpoints and overlooks, as well as short and easy hikes along the way, making it a great destination for the entire family.

  • The Needles

The Needles District is located about a 1-hour and 20-minute drive from Moab making it a more remote destination than Island in the Sky. It gets its name from striped spires that look like they are jutting from the ground. If you are an avid hiker, then The Needles is definitely for you. You will find plenty of long and strenuous day hikes, as well as many multi-day backpacking trips.

  • The Maze

The Maze is the most remote and off-the-beaten-path district of Canyonlands National Park. It is only accessible by a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle. It takes 2.5 hours from Green River, Utah to reach the ranger station. Then, from the ranger station, the canyons of The Maze are another 3 to 6 hours. The Maze is perfect if you are into multi-day backpacking trips. Rarely do visitors spend less than three days in the Maze, and the area can easily absorb a week-long trip.

  • Colorado and Green Rivers (The Rivers District)

The Rivers District is a very popular spot for all kinds of water sports. Both Colorado and Green Rivers are calm upstream of The Confluence, and it is a perfect section for kayaking and canoeing. The rivers merge at The Confluence and spill down Cataract Canyon creating a world-class stretch of whitewater. Launch locations on the Green River include Green River State Park, Ruby Ranch, and Mineral Bottom. On the Colorado River, boaters typically use the Potash or Moab ramps. There is no vehicle access to the rivers near the Confluence or in Cataract Canyon.

  • A fifth region, Horseshoe Canyon, was added in 1971.

Horseshoe Canyon is home to the Great Gallery, a historic panel filled with petroglyphs. Most visitors access Horseshoe Canyon from the west. Two-wheel-drive vehicles can usually travel the 30-mile graded dirt road from UT 24 (near Goblin Valley State Park), or the 47-mile dirt road traveling south from Green River. Driving time is roughly 2.5 hours from Moab or 1.5 hours from Green River.

These districts may look like they are close to each other if you are looking at their location on the map. However, there are no roads that directly connect one district to the next, and traveling between them takes from 2-6 hours.

How Long Should You Spend In Canyonlands National Park

  • If you only have half a day to spend at Canyonlands National Park – then I think, you need to just focus on the just the highlights of Island in the Sky.
  • If you have one day to spend at Canyonlands National Park – the Island in the Sky District is where you should spend your time.
  • If you have two days – then, spend one day exploring Island in the Sky, and spend the second day in The Needles.
One Day in Island in the Sky at Canyonlands National Park

Island in the Sky District at Canyonlands National Park.

One Day in Island in the Sky

What to Bring to Island in the Sky at Canyonlands National Park

I have seen many people hiking in their flip-flops, without any sun protection, and above all with no water. So, here is a reminder to make sure you are prepared for a visit to Canyonlands National Park:

1. Appropriate footwear Trail shoes are great; hiking boots are even better since they offer more support. You’ll want sturdy, comfortable hiking boots with solid traction. Don’t forget to break in your shoes before bringing them to Canyonlands National Park. Also, do not forget merino wool socks. They will keep your feet dry, and protect you from blisters.

2. Plenty of water – without enough water, your body’s muscles and organs simply cannot perform as well. Consuming too little water will not only make you thirsty but susceptible to hypothermia and altitude sickness. I have been using Yeti Rumbler 26 oz insulated, stainless steel bottle, and I am highly recommending it!

3. Food – food will help keep up energy and morale. I like RXBAR. It is a high-protein bar, gluten-free, and it is super yummy! Make sure to get a variety pack to keep it interesting.

4. Rain gear and extra clothing – the weatherman is not always right. Be prepared for unannounced rain or a cold spell. Dress in layers. It will allow you to adjust to changing weather and activity levels. Two rules: avoid cotton (it keeps moisture close to your skin) and always carry a hat. I have had my North Face Women’s Osito Triclimate Jacket for years, and I love it. Also, I am highly recommending these Patagonia moisture-wicking hiking shirts and Patagonia warm fleece pullovers.

5. First aid kit – prepackaged first-aid kits for hikers are available at any outfitter.

6. Knife – a knife or even better, a multi-purpose tool is always good to have. These enable you to cut strips of cloth into bandages, remove splinters, etc.

7. Protect Yourself from the Sun – if you are visiting Canyonlands National Park in the summer, keep in mind that all the areas are unshaded, so it’s important to protect yourself from the sun. Sunscreen is essential, however, a lightweight long sleeve shirt is a must! My favorite are sun shirts by Columbia. Also, it is a good idea to wear lightweight long pants to protect yourself from the sun and bugs!

8. Wear sunglasses with UV protection. Sunglasses are an important part of your sun-protective wardrobe. When purchasing sunglasses, always look for lenses that offer UV protection.

9. A wide-brimmed hat is a simple and effective way to cover up your face and neck. When selecting a hat, choose one that has a wide brim, which will protect your ears, as well as your head and neck. Avoid baseball hats or straw hats with holes, as these are not as effective in protecting you outdoors.

10. Apply an effective insect repellentinsect repellent is an important step against mosquitoes and ticks that can spread diseases like West Nile and Lyme.  When selecting an effective insect repellent, do not look at the brand names, but rather, look at the concentration of the active ingredients. Concentrations of DEET at 25 to 30% are the best to keep you protected.

11. Daypack/backpack – you need something you can carry comfortably and has the features designed to keep you hiking smartly. Don’t forget the rain cover; some packs come with one built-in. I have Osprey Daylite Daypack and it is perfect for day hiking.

12. Camera!!! – Canyonlands National Park is a photographer’s dream! If you are like me, you will be taking hundreds, if not thousands, of photos. The scenery is just breathtaking and constantly changing. I have a Nikon COOLPIX P1000 Super Telephoto Camera that I bought a couple of years ago and I really like it. Make sure to have a spare battery for your camera. I think there is nothing more frustrating than knowing that you still have half a day ahead of you, yet your camera’s battery is gone.

13. Tripod – if you are taking photos during the golden hour (shortly after sunrise or before sunset) when the light is softer, a tripod is essential for long exposure shots. Also, I like a tripod since it gives me more stability when taking close-ups of wildlife. I have Manfrotto Befree Live Carbon Fiber Tripod with Fluid Head. It is only 3.0 pounds and it fits nicely in my backpack.

14. Binoculars! – if your camera does not have a good zoom, then binoculars are a must.

15. Trash Bag – this will make sure that the trail will stay beautiful for generations to come. A zip-lock bag is a great option as well for keeping the trash you pick up along the trail separate from the rest of your gear.

Map of Island in the Sky at Canyonlands National Park

Map of Island in the Sky at Canyonlands National Park

Map of Island in the Sky District in Canyonlands National Park. Image Source: NPS

How to Spend One Day in Island in the Sky at Canyonlands National Park

Island in the Sky is a mesa with 1,000-foot sandstone cliffs. It sits between Colorado and Green River, giving it its name ‘island in the sky’. If you only have one day in Island in the Sky at Canyonlands National Park, here are the best places you need to see:

NUMBER 1

Mesa Arch Viewpoint and Trail

Once you enter the park, drive directly to Mesa Arch (a 10-minute drive from the Visitor Center). It is one of the most famous and popular places in the Island in the Sky at Canyonlands National Park. The arch forms a window overlooking Buck Canyon and the distant La Sal Mountains.

My recommendation is that you want to get there before sunrise to secure the parking spot (a very small parking lot) and catch Mesa Arch at the Blue Hour when the sun is still deep below the horizon and sunlight takes on a mostly blue shade.

Mesa Arch in Island in the Sky at Canyonlands

Mesa Arch at the Blue Hour when the sun is still deep below the horizon and sunlight takes on a mostly blue shade.

One Day in Island in the Sky

Don’t expect any solitude at this place. You will share this place with many other photographers. And, from my experience, everyone will start arriving right before sunrise and will be gone right after.

So, another suggestion is to stay a bit longer after the sunrise. Everyone will be packed up and gone, so you will have the place to yourself. What you will see is that as the sun rises, it beautifully illuminates the underside of the arch, creating very dramatic contrast between the foreground and the background.

Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park

Mesa Arch at sunrise in Island in the Sky District in Canyonlands National Park.

One Day in Island in the Sky

The trail to Mesa Arch is short and easy. It starts right off the small parking lot at Grand View Point Road. The trail is mostly dirt and slickrock.

  • Distance – 0.6 miles round trip (loop)
  • Elevation – 56 feet
  • Time – 30 minutes
  • Difficulty – easy

NUMBER 2

Grand View Point Overlook and Trail

Next, from Mesa Arch drive south (6miles) all the way to the end of the road where Grand View Point Overlook and Trail are located.

The trail starts right at the overlook and then follows the rim of the canyon. The views are off the charts!

  • Distance – 1.8 miles round trip (out and back)
  • Elevation – 73 feet
  • Time – 1-1.5 hours
  • Difficulty – easy
Grand View Point in Canyonlands

Views from Grand View Point in Island in the Sky at Canyonlands. 

One Day in Island in the Sky

NUMBER 3

White Rim Overlook and Trail

At White Rim Overlook and Trail you will get to catch awesome views of the Colorado River, Monument Basin, La Sal Mountains, and the famous White Rim Road.

One Day in Island in the Sky at Canyonlands

Views from White Rim Overlook and Trail in Island in the Sky at Canyonlands. 

One Day in Island in the Sky

The trail is easy with very little elevation change and it will give you different panoramic views.

  • Distance – 1.8 miles round trip (out and back)
  • Elevation – 159 feet
  • Time – 1-1.5 hours
  • Difficulty – easy

Intrepid’s Tip:

If your time allows, come back to this viewpoint at sunset. Since the viewpoint faces east, the sun will be behind you illuminating the canyon.

Also, right next to White Rim Overlook and Trail is the Gooseberry Trail (these two trails share the same trailhead). Gooseberry Trail is one of the steepest trails in the Island in the Sky at Canyonlands National Park. Basically, you hike from the top of the mesa all the way down to the White Rim. The elevation change is 1,529 feet and it takes at least 5-6 hours to complete this trail. The views are stunning along the way. This trail might not fit into one day at Island in the Sky at Canyonlands itinerary, however, you should add it to your bucket list for the next time you visit Island in the Sky.

NUMBER 4

Buck Canyon Overlook

Buck Canyon Overlook is another great stop. You need no more than 15-20 minutes to catch awesome views of the cliffs. If you are lucky to be visiting on a cloudless day, you will be able to see the La Sal Mountains in the distance.

Buck Canyon Overlook in Canyonlands

Views from White Rim Overlook and Trail in Island in the Sky at Canyonlands. 

One Day in Island in the Sky

NUMBER 5

Murphy Point Trail

The next stop is Murphy Point Trail. It is a great trail that follows the rim of the mesa with perfect views of the famous Candlestick Tower. You will have the Green River below you and in the distance will be an iconic White Rim Road.

It is an easy trail with little elevation change, however, it is about 3.4 miles round trip. It should take you about 2 hours to complete this trail.

  • Distance – 3.4 miles round trip
  • Elevation – 142 feet
  • Time – 2 hours
  • Difficulty – easy

Intrepid’s Tip:

It is a great hike to do at sunset. As the sun sets (and the weather cooperates), it will illuminate the entire area.

One Day in Island in the Sky at Canyonlands

Views of the famous Candlestick Tower in Island in the Sky at Canyonlands. 

One Day in Island in the Sky

NUMBER 6

Green River Overlook

Next, continue north to Green River Overlook. When you reach Upheaval Dome Road make a slight left and then left again to Green River Overlook.

This is another very popular spot to photograph and you will always see people around this spot at any time of the day trying to get that perfect picture. The views are great with the Green River, Soda Spring Basin, and The Maze District in the distance.

Sunsets can be stunning at this spot. If time allows then make sure to stop by on the way out of the park. Even, if it is after the sunset, you still might get some incredible photos during the Blue Hour. The sun will be deeper below the horizon and the light will have a nice bluish color.

Green River Overlook in Canyonlands

Green River Overlook at sunset in Island in the Sky at Canyonlands. 

One Day in Island in the Sky

NUMBER 7

Aztec Butte Trail

When you are done at Green River Overlook hop back into your car and head back to Upheaval Dome Road and continue north. On your left side will be a small parking lot and a trailhead for Aztec Butte Trail.

The trail follows a sandy path to a junction. One fork goes to a viewpoint from Aztec Butte, and the other to ancestral Puebloan granaries.

  • Distance – 1.4 miles
  • Elevation – 222 feet
  • Time – 1.5 hours
  • Difficlulty – easy/moderate

Intrepid’s Tip:

If you are short on time, then my recommendation is to skip this trail. The views are nice, but not staggering. There is another hike similar to this one just down the road, however, the views are so much better.

NUMBER 8

Upheaval Dome Overlook

Continue north all the way to the end of the road. There is a small parking area and hopefully, you can find a spot. From the parking lot, you can hike to two viewpoints over Upheaval Dome.

Upheaval Dome is a massive crater apparently formed by a meteorite.

First Overlook (the view into the crater)

  • Distance – 0.6 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation – 115 feet
  • Time – 1 hour
  • Difficulty – moderate

Second Overlook (crater and Upheaval Canyon view)

  • Distance – 1.2 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation – 114 feet
  • Time – 1.5 hours
  • Difficulty – moderate
Upheaval Dome Overlook in Canyonlands

Upheaval Dome Overlook in Island in the Sky at Canyonlands.

One Day in Island in the Sky

NUMBER 9

Whale Rock Trail

Whale Rock Trail is located right next to Upheaval Dome Overlook. You will need to hike over a unique rock formation that kind of looks like a whale. The views are great once you get to the top. You will pretty much be able to see the entire Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands, as well Colorado and Green River.

  • Distance – 0.8 miles
  • Elevation – 141 feet
  • Time – 1 hour
  • Difficulty – moderate

NUMBER 10

Shafer Canyon Viewpoint

After Whale Rock Trail, hop back into your car and head back in the direction of the Visitor Center.

However, before you get to the Visitor Center, you will reach one of the best viewpoints in Island in the Sky, Shafer Canyon Viewpoint.

Shafer Canyon Viewpoint is famous for excellent views of Shafer Trail with all of its switchbacks, Dead Horse Point State Park (an incredible place with stunning views!)

Shafer Canyon Viewpoint

Upheaval Dome Overlook in Island in the Sky at Canyonlands.

One Day in Island in the Sky

NUMBER 11

Visitor Center Viewpoint

Right next to Shafer Canyon Viewpoint is the Visitor Center. The views are stunning from that spot as well! You will see canyons, mesas, and the La Sal Mountains in the distance. It is just picture perfect!  Make a quick stop and enjoy the views.

Intrepid Scout's Tips for One Day in Island in the Sky at Canyonlands

  • There are some great yet strenuous hikes in Island in the Sky District. If you are an avid hiker, then I am definitely recommending Syncline Loop. The total distance is 8.6 miles and the elevation change on this hike is 1,630 feet. It takes about 6-7 hours to complete this hike. It is one of the most challenging trails in the Island in the Sky at Canyonlands. You will hike around Upheaval Dome, brave some steep switchbacks and climb more than 1,600 feet.
  • Just a reminder that there is no cell phone service in the park. So, make sure to download Google off-line maps, and make screenshots of the digital entrance pass.
  • Also, there are no restaurants or snack bars in the park. So, pack your lunch and all the snacks for the day and lots of water.
  • Do not miss a visit to Dead Horse Point State Park! It gets lost between the famous Arches and Canyonlands National Park. It is a hidden gem that you should explore. It is located right between the two parks and could be done as a half-day trip or an all-day adventure.
  • If you are visiting Arches National Park, then check out my post: 16 Best Stops on Scenic Drive in Arches National Park (Map+Practical Tips)

Now, It Is Your Turn, I Would Like to Hear Back from You!

Are you planning your trip to Canyonlands National Park?

Please let me know! Drop me a quick comment right below!

Click on any of the images below to get inspired and to help you with the planning process for your trip to Canyonlands National Park!

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