How to see Canyonlands National Park with only a few hours
Canyonlands is the largest park out of the “Big 5” Utah national parks, but it often gets skipped over to see Arches National Park. While there are plenty of activities to do at Arches National Park, it is do-able to quickly see Canyonlands in less than half a day. With the park being only 35 minutes from the city of Moab, it’s a no-brainer to visit. We drove directly from Capitol Reef National Park, arriving before 5 p.m. in late October, and were fortunate to experience low traffic along the route. If you want to maximize your time with minimal time to spare, keep reading on how to spend 2-3 hours at Canyonlands National Park.
Vista Point at the Island in the Sky Visitors Center
Once you enter the park, stop by the visitors center and cross the road for an introductory vista point view of Canyonlands. People might try to stop here first because of the visitor’s center so there will be many people during the morning or early afternoon. I would suggest coming here on your way back out of the park if you have time.
Depending on the day you arrive at Canyonlands, going to Mesa Arch is the #1 priority for many people. You either go at sunrise or late afternoon to avoid the high traffic at mid-day. We arrived a bit before 5 p.m. in October 2020 and were lucky to experience low traffic. The best time to see Mesa Arch is sunrise when you’d see many photographers flock here to get the picture-perfect shot behind the arch. This is a family-friendly short stroll through a dirt path.
Distance: 0.7-mile loop
Difficulty rating: easy
Watching the sunset at Green River Overlook
Layout a blanket. Bring some snacks, drinks, and sit back and take in the surreal sunset scenery of the Green River Overlook with a glimpse of the Island in the Sky near the horizon. Watch the sunset over the massive landscape at 6,000 feet above elevation. During the Spring and Fall, bring a sweater or jacket because the temperature dramatically drops during sunset. The waiting of the sun setting may seem like it takes a while, but it happens very quickly once it hits the horizon so be sure not to miss it. You can also hike around the perimeter of the outlook if you want to socially distance yourself from other visitors.
A few hours at Canyonlands was the ideal experience for my boyfriend and me. It was a convenient pitstop coming from Capitol Reef National Park.
For more activities at Canyonlands, check out nps.gov for all hiking trails and additional things to do.
$30 for each private vehicle good for 7 consecutive days. America the Beautiful annual passes are accepted here.
Where to stay:
Moab, Utah is an ideal city to stay being 35 minutes from Canyonlands and 15 minutes from Arches National Park. I usually recommend Airbnb (entire house/apartment) with good reviews, but we were staying in Moab for 7-days and decided to go the budget-friendly route.
Budget accommodations: We stayed at the La Quinta Inn & Suites Moab because we've been traveling for a month. Everything about this hotel is budget-friendly with a daily breakfast to reduce our weekly cost while we worked remotely. If you know you’re not going to be there except for sleep, then this works. You can also find other accommodations at Discover Moab ranging from budget-friendly hotels, resorts, condos, bed & breakfasts, and campgrounds.
If you have additional time to spare, here are 10 things to do at Moab, Utah.
Recreate responsibly by packing out what you pack in and leaving sites and geological environments untouched.
Always check the official national park website for alerts in effect that may impact your visit. The environment is always changing that can require trail closures or impact services.
Get prepared for your hiking trip with a customizable hiking essentials checklist.