One Day in Canyonlands National Park – Island in the Sky District

May 4, 2022

Canyonlands quickly became one of my all-time favorite national parks during my road trip through the Southwest USA last year. I during my road trip I spent 2 days in Moab (giving myself one day for Arches National Park and one day for Canyonlands), and if my PTO had allowed it I would have stayed longer. Even if your time is limited like mine was, spending one day in Canyonlands National Park is completely worth it, especially if you plan on sticking to the Island in the Sky district. 

From stunning views, a scenic drive and miles of hiking trails, Canyonlands National Park has a lot to offer and you can pack a lot into a one day itinerary.

Below I’m sharing how to spend one day in Canyonlands National Park, including all the best viewpoints & hiking trails in the Island in the Sky District. 

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Visiting Canyonlands National Park

Entrance Fees

Entrance fees for Canyonlands National Park are like the rest of the national parks: $30/vehicle, and your pass is good for 7 days. 

If you plan on hopping around to different national parks like I did, I suggest getting the America the Beautiful annual parks pass instead. After all, Canyonlands of one of Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks, and Arches National Park is only 30 minutes away! 

You can pick up your park pass at the Island in the Sky visitor center or on the National Park Service website

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Best Time to Visit Canyonlands

The best time to visit Canyonlands is in the shoulder seasons of Spring and Autumn. You’ll beat the busy season during the summer and the colder, snowy months in the winter. (I visited during the month of September and it felt like I almost had the entire park to myself.)

Accommodation Options for One Day in Canyonlands

The Island in the Sky district in Canyonlands has very minimal camping within the park – 1 campground with 12 spots. Otherwise, there’s plenty of accommodation options nearby in Moab, only a 45 minute drive from the park entrance. 

I opted to stay at: Moab Valley Inn in Moab

The Different Districts of Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands actually has 3 very distinct districts. Each offering something for different hiking and camping experience levels:

  • Island in the Sky: Island in the Sky is the most easily accessible district in the park, and where the majority of the popular spots are. If you only have one day in Canyonlands, I would suggest sticking to this district, (which I’ll cover in more detail below). This area has one main scenic road (34-miles roundtrip) that takes you to all the stops in the district. 
  • The Needles: The Needles district is a bit more difficult to get to and offers more moderate hikes. 
  • The Maze: The Maze district is the least-accessible area of the park, and is better suited for the more experienced adventurers. 

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

Canyonlands National Park has a lot to offer. But even so, there’s a lot of hiking trails and viewpoints that are not time-consuming, so you’re able to see a lot in just one day in Canyonlands.

Below I’m sharing the best options for making the most of your time in Canyonlands in one day – Feel free to use these options to plan out your day or create your own itinerary for the park!

Dead Horse Point

Dead Horse Point State Park is actually located outside of Canyonlands National Park, but you will drive past it while heading into the park from Moab, so it’s worth adding to the list. You could even wake up early and start your day catching the sunrise here!

The view at Dead Horse Point is only a 20 minute drive from the entrance to Canyonlands, and there’s no hiking required to get to this viewpoint as it’s right along the main road. 

Also note that since it’s a state park there’s an extra cost for visiting – the entrance fee is $20. If you have more time in your day, there’s more hiking trails and viewpoints here that are worth a visit!

Approximate time requirement for Dead Horse Point: 20 minutes

Shafer Canyon Overlook & Shafer Trail

Shafer Canyon Overlook was my first stop in Canyonlands and is the first viewpoint you see driving into the park. It’s hard not to stop by when you see it – the incredible views took my breath away. 

There’s no hiking required to get to Shafer Canyon Overlook – It’s right along the main road in Canyonlands National Park.

From the viewpoint you can see Shafer Trail – an iconic unpaved backcountry road that takes you down through the sandstone cliffs and is said to be an exhilarating driving experience. It’s highly recommended that you do not attempt driving it without a high-clearance vehicle with 4WD (such as a Jeep). Completing the drive takes about 1 hour, so it’s definitely doable if you only have one day in Canyonlands.

Approximate time requirement for Shafer Trail: 1 hour 

Grand View Point

Grand View Point is another popular viewpoint in Canyonlands National Park. You can stop and enjoy this amazing view right from the viewpoint’s parking lot, or you can opt to hike the Grand View Point Trail. It’s an easy 2 mile out and back hiking trail that leads to some stunning views of the canyon.

Approximate time requirement for Grand View Point Trail: 1.5 hours

Mesa Arch

Mesa Arch trail is a quick hike and is one of the more popular spots in the park. Everyone suggests to come here to catch the sunrise, although I’ve heard that popular sunrise spots like this tend to get crowded since its so widely suggested. (This may have been my original plan, but I got distracted at Shafer Trail Overlook instead… And honestly, I’m not complaining). 

The views at Mesa Arch are just as incredible throughout the day. I visited around 10am during my trip and was still having to wait for my chance to get photos of the views. So I can only imagine how busy it was for the sunrise. However, the entire hike to Mesa Arch only takes about 30 minutes roundtrip, making it really easy to get to. 

Approximate time requirement for Mesa Arch: 30 minutes

Green River Overlook

Green River Overlook is another spot that offers panoramic views of the Green River Basin and of The Maze district. From the main road it’s a quick and easy 0.2 mile hike on a paved road to the viewpoint (which also makes this wheelchair-accessible). You can find this spot just past the Willows Campground in the Island in the Sky district. 

Approximate time requirement for Green River Overlook: 10 minutes

White Rim Overlook

White Rim Overlook trail is an easy 1.8-mile out and back hike that leads to more stunning canyon views. It’s one of the longer hikes on this list, but it’s a great option if you’re looking to do more hiking and exploring than driving. The trail itself is completely flat and the viewpoint is a great spot to take a picnic lunch to.

Approximate time requirement for White Rim Overlook: 45 minutes

Upheaval Dome

Upheaval Dome is a moderate but quick 1-mile hike that takes about 30 minutes to complete, making this a great hiking option if you only have one day in Canyonlands.

Approximate time requirement for Upheaval Dome: 30 minutes

Tips for Making the Most of your One Day in Canyonlands National Park

  • Wake up early for the sunrise to maximize your time!
  • Pack everything you need ahead of time for your one day in Canyonlands, so that you won’t need to leave the park mid-day.

What to Pack for One Day in Canyonlands

How would you spend one day in Canyonlands National Park? Share your favorite viewpoints and hiking trails with me in the comments below!

————— Read More —————

Best Hikes in Arches National Park – 5 Easy Trails You Can’t Miss

Canyon Overlook Trail in Zion National Park: A Hiking Guide

The Best Southwest USA National Parks Road Trip Itinerary


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About the Author

Hi I’m Rylie – Welcome to my corner of the internet!

I’m a solo traveler & photographer based in Southern California, on a mission to explore the world and inspire you to do the same.


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