Canyonlands National Park is located in the southwest U.S. state of Utah preserving 337,598 acres of colorful canyons. This guide will help you plan your one day in Canyonlands National Park. The park preserves a wilderness of rock at the heart of the Colorado Plateau. Water and gravity cut flat layers of sedimentary rock into hundreds of canyons, mesas, arches, spires, and buttes. But Shafer Canyon canyons carved by the Green and Colorado rivers steal the show.
In February 2023 Logan and I went on a national park road trip through Utah. We spent one day in Canyonlands National Park exploring all that we could, going hiking, and exploring scenic roads. Here is how to visit Canyonlands National Park in one day!
How to get to Canyonlands national park
Just a short 4-hour drive puts you at the closest airport to Canyonlands National Park in Salt Lake City International (SLC). The next closest is 7 hours from the park at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas (LAS). I recommend flying into Salt Lake City and renting a car to reach the park.
Where to Stay in Zion National Park
Canyonlands is located just outside the city of Moab, Utah where there are plenty of places to stay. On our visit, we stayed at the Element Moab and really enjoyed it. They offered a freshly made breakfast, and cathedral ceiling rooms, so you won’t be disappointed. And If you’re looking for unique places to stay near Canyonlands National Park, here are some really cool accommodations near Zion that you must see.
Canyonlands national park
Canyonlands National Park preserves 337,598 acres of colorful canyons, mesas, buttes, fins, arches, and spires in the heart of southeast Utah’s high desert. The park is broken up into four districts, which are divided by the Green and Colorado rivers. Island in the Sky is closest to Moab and is the most popular district to visit. The Needles is the furthest away and is best done in one day for hiking and backpacking.
But The Maze is the most remote and rugged district, so much so that you need a four-wheel drive high clearance vehicle to reach it. Then last is The Rivers, which separate the other districts and are known for different types of boating. You might want to go on a river-rafting tour down the Colorado River at Fisher Towers during the summer.
Canyonlands has some of the most unique hiking trails in the country. The towering mountains provide visitors with 360-degree views of beautiful scenery no matter where you are in the park. But to truly experience the wonder that is Canyonlands – you’ll want to hit the trails. At least two of the hikes below can be completed in one day, or if you have the stamina, you could do a longer hike like the 10.8 mi (17.4 km) Murphy Loop trail.
Must See Spots in Canyonlands National Park
Island in the Sky
- Drive the 34-mile scenic drive to Grand View Point and Green River Overlook
- Hike to Mesa Arch (at dawn), Upheaval Dome Overlook, Whale Rock, Grand View Point
- Drive to the Big Spring Canyon and other overlooks along the scenic drive
- Hike Chesler Park Viewpoint, Cave Spring, Pothole Point, or Wooden Shoe Arch (best at sunset)
The Maze is the least accessible district of Canyonlands. Due to the district’s remoteness and the difficulty of roads and trails, travel to the Maze requires more time. Visitors must be prepared for self-sufficiency and the proper equipment or gear for self-rescue.
- Trails in The Maze are primitive, so it’s recommended you have a topographic map
- All overnight trips require a permit
- Go mountain biking, camping, or backpacking
- Take a flatwater trip like kayaking, or canoeing down either of the rivers as far as The Confluence or Spanish Bottom
- In a remote area, your river trip must be self-sufficient
Backcountry Roads in Canyonlands National Park
If you plan to enjoy the park’s four-wheel drive roads, you must have a high-clearance vehicle. All-wheel drive and 2-wheel drive are not allowed as they are not equipped to drive on rough slick rock, loose rocks, deep sand, and steep switchbacks. ATVs, OHVs, and Utah State Type I/ Type II vehicles are prohibited.
But you can always take a 4×4 vehicle tour from Moab to get you deeper into the park. Exploring The Needles District on a full-day adventure is the perfect way to experience Utah’s backcountry away from the crowds.
- White Rim Road
- Elephant Hill
- Colorado Overlook
- Horse Canyon/Peekaboo
- Lavender Canyon
- The Maze
The four-wheel drive roads in The Maze are extremely difficult, present a considerable risk of vehicle damage, and should not be attempted by inexperienced drivers. **Towing fees in excess of $2,000 if you damage your vehicle**.
Best Hikes in canyonlands national park
Popular Hiking Trails in Canyonlands
- Mesa Arch; 0.6 mi (1 km), 30 min
- White Rim Overlook; 1.8 mi (2.9 km), 1.5 hrs
- Grand View Point; 1.8 mi (2.9 km), 1.5 hrs
- Aztec Butte; 1.4 mi (2.3 km), 1.5 hrs
- Whale Rock; 0.8 mi (1.3 km), 1 hr
- Gooseberry; 4.6 mi (7.4 km), 4-6 hrs
- Alcove Spring; 11.2 mi (18 km); 6-7 hrs
Green River Overlook
Standing at 6,000 ft (9,656 km) High plateaus and spires eroded from dark brown shale. The Green River begins in the Wind River Range of Wyoming and joins the Colorado River 20 miles below this point at the confluence. The Green River divides the Island in the Sky district (this side) from the Maze District.
Moab Combo Tour: Colorado River Rafting and Canyonlands 4X4 Tour
The red rock formations of southern Utah are said to be a climber’s paradise. Experienced climbers come back again and again, always finding new areas. If you’re looking for an adventure in Canyonlands, try canyoneering! Climb through the nooks and crannies of this breathtaking landscape and discover the park in a whole new way.
Half-Day Tour to Canyonlands National Park from Moab
Experience the rugged terrain of Canyonlands National Park on this 4-wheel drive half-day tour from Moab. Your guide expertly drives the switchback on White Rim Road to places where you can view steep canyon walls and the remains of ancient Pueblo civilizations. Visit the stunning Island in the Sky district, Gooseneck Overlook, and Musselman Arch, with regular stops for photo ops of Utah’s natural beauty.
Only have one day?
Take a Private Day Tour From Salt Lake City and explore Canyonlands National Park in just one day!
More than a day?
Combine top American Southwest locations including the Grand Canyon, Arches National Park, and Bryce Canyon into an epic road trip on this 7-day tour from Las Vegas. It comes with private transportation and a well-organized itinerary providing you with an efficient way to experience the most of each park. While still offering travelers free time to explore the parks on their own.
Meet the author
Chelsea is a travel blogger from Detroit, Michigan. She writes about national parks, weekend getaways, mental health, and cannabis tourism.