The first time I went to Island in the Sky in Canyonlands, I knew I liked it, but what I didn’t know was that I missed a whole lot of it. I also learned that I like Island in the Sky a lot more than The Needles. This trip though, I knew there was another road and I was going to see it all. When we got there we headed towards Upheaval Dome first.
The turnoff is about halfway down the main road, just after the trailhead for Mesa Arch. It’s only about five miles to Upheaval Dome and there are a few trails along this road. Aztec Butte and Whale Rock are two of them. I would recommend Whale Rock for a quick hike (one-mile round-trip) with good views of Upheaval Dome and the canyons around you. They’re good choices with just one day in Canyonlands.
After that, we went to the Green River Overlook and I loved it! There was only one other person there, so we basically had it to ourselves. It was a little breezy, so we didn’t spend tons of time there, but I did get to learn a lot about the canyon and formations below.
From there we could see the Orange Cliffs, named by John Wesley Powell (Lake Powell,) Cleopatra’s Chair, Glen Canyon, the Maze district, and White Rim Road. And that’s just what I remember, there was so much more. It’s such a good view. I can’t wait to drive the White Rim Road someday to actually be able to be down in the canyon.
From here, we went to the main overlook and finished off the afternoon with a hike out to Mesa Arch, the most bucket list worthy sight in the park. Or at least the most popular. There were a couple other people on the trail that took their sweet time in front of the arch, but after they left, it was just us. I would highly recommend a visit to Canyonlands in February.
The hike to Mesa Arch is nice and short and can be done in less than an hour if you don’t hang around at the arch too long. It’s one of my favorite national park hikes and offers stellar views of the La Sal Mountains and the canyon below, as well as White Rim Road. The trail is well marked with cairns and forms a loop, but you can go in and out the same way if you’d like.
If you want a good sunrise hike, consider Mesa Arch. It might be really busy then since that’s usually the best time to see it, but it’s also really cool at sunset and there will probably be fewer people there at that time. I would also recommend a stop at the Murphy Point Overlook.
There are a couple trails here, but the one I’d recommend is just kind of straight out from the parking lot. I don’t know where exactly it starts, but if you just walk straight, eventually you’ll see cairns that you can start to follow. Or you can just keep going straight. This takes you to the overlook of the canyon. It has similar views to all the other overlooks, but I really like this one.
Overall, Canyonlands is really growing on me and I like Island in the Sky a lot more than I initially thought. I will definitely be back to do more of the hikes that I finally know exist. After my first trip, I didn’t know of any hikes there other than Mesa arch. I just missed all the signs somehow. If I could figure out how to insert a facepalm emoji, I would here, so just picture that. Plus, on the way up there are a few cool rock art sites like Intestine Man and Bartlett rock art. There is so much cool rock art in Moab.
Anyways, definitely don’t skip Canyonlands on your trip to Moab. I think it usually gets overlooked by nearby Arches by almost 810,000 visitors. If you’re limited on time, just see Island in the Sky since it’s closer to Moab. If you have a little more time (or are heading from Moab to Monument Valley) make a stop in the Needles District and check out Newspaper Rock. Either way, try to make it to Canyonlands if you’re in the area. It really is a great stop on a Utah road trip.
Have you been to Canyonlands? What was your favorite hike there? Did you go to Mesa Arch?