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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.
If you do decide to see Mesa Arch at sunrise, you’ll want to get there at least 30 minutes before sunrise to secure your spot. It’s pretty busy then, especially for photographers.
The Mesa Arch Trail is just a loop and can be done in either direction. It’s an easy trail and easy to follow. It’s nice and short so it doesn’t take too long to do. I’ve hiked here twice and did the loop counter clockwise both times.
The trail itself isn’t thrilling but at the arch you get sprawling views of canyons below and the La Sal Mountains off in the distance. It really is one of the best views in Utah.
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.
National Park Pass + Other National Park Deals
- If you’re planning on visiting multiple parks (3 or more) on this trip or within the year, I would highly recommend getting a national park pass. It’s $80 but will pay for itself in about three trips to parks. It’s so worth it and I buy one every year! They’re also great for gifts for the park lovers in your life.
- To help plan the best national park trip ever, this Ultimate National Park Planning Bundle is perfect! You get two ebooks and a planner, saving 50% by getting them as a bundle! If you want all the details, this is the bundle for you. Buy the Ultimate bundle here.
- This National Park Planner (one of the ebooks from the bundle above) is perfect if you just want some guidance in your planning. Buy the planner here.
- Get yourself a little National Park notebook to write all about your adventures while you’re on the road. These from Field Notes are all very cute! If you want one for all of the NPS sites (400+!) then this one is for you!
- Before your trip, get some national park apparel for your trip! Homage is donating 5% of sales from the national park collection to the National Parks Conservation Association this year. Buy national park shirts here.
- Consider reading some of these books set in national parks before your big trip, on your adventure, or once you get home to take you back to the parks until next time.
- Planning a big national park trip? Check out these other posts: National Park bucket list, Make the most of a National Park trip, National Park camping packing list, My favorite National Park hikes, More National Park hikes I love, Underrated National Parks.
Where is the Mesa Arch Trailhead?
The Mesa Arch Trailhead is 6.1 miles from the Island in the Sky Visitor Center and will be on the left just before the turn to Upheaval Dome. It’s well marked and there is a whole parking lot there.
How long is the hike to Mesa Arch in Canyonlands?
The Mesa Arch Trail is just 0.7 miles long and a loop so you can do it either way and get different scenery the whole time. It’s an easy trail and only has 88 feet of elevation gain. It’s not paved but it’s easy to follow.
Is the Mesa Arch hike worth it?
Yes! If you want to avoid the sunrise crowds though, doing it mid-day or for sunset could help with that. I really enjoyed the hike but it’s not my favorite Canyonlands hike.
What to bring on the Mesa Arch hike
Sunscreen – If you plan on being outside, you’ll want sunscreen. I like the Hawaiian Tropic Sheer Touch a lot AND it’s reef safe! If you’re sensitive to fragrance though, it’s not a good choice. I also like the same one but specifically for your face.
Other hikes in Canyonlands
There are actually a ton of hikes in Canyonlands, way more than I realized on my first few visits. I’m just talking about Island in the Sky hikes here but The Needles and The Maze districts are great for backpacking.
Two of the best hikes in Canyonlands, I think, are to White Rim Overlook and Murphy Point Overlook. They’re both pretty easy and were way less busy than the Mesa Arch trail, which is still worth doing.
A few other options include Aztec Butte and Upheaval Dome for easy/moderate hikes and the Syncline Loop or Gooseberry Canyon for strenuous hikes.
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Have you been to Canyonlands? What was your favorite hike there? Did you go to Mesa Arch?