canyonlands island in the sky moab utah

The Best Things To Do In Canyonlands National Park That Aren’t Hiking

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Welcome back to my “things that aren’t hiking” series.  This series highlights activities in national parks that aren’t hiking.  Some easy walks may be included, but they are all easy according to the park website and under one-mile round-trip.  You can find the rest of the posts here.  Whether you can’t hike, don’t like to hike, won’t have time to hike, or just want to do something else, you can find something in here for you.

Canyonlands isn’t my number one park in Utah, Capitol Reef gets that honor, but I do love it.  I haven’t done much there yet but I would like to change that this year.  Canyonlands has three sections: Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze.  I won’t be including The Maze in here at all because the whole area is very remote and involves a lot of four-wheel-driving and hiking.  Most of this information will be for Island in The Sky unless otherwise noted.  No matter what, this is a must-see on a Southern Utah road trip.

canyonlands island in the sky moab utah

What to bring camping in Canyonlands

NatGeo National Parks Book – This is one of the best national park guidebooks and I take it on all my park trips.  Plus, it’s got the nice glossy pages.  Buy the book here.

Hiking poles – These will be helpful on longer hikes that are on the steeper side.  They’ll be good if you have bad knees for when you’re going downhill and will give you something to lean on going up the hills.

Snacks – These are more important for long hikes, but you never know when you’ll get hungry!  I like EPIC bars (kind of like beef jerky but different), Sahale nut mix things, and Moon Cheese.  There’s always the good old Clif Bars and trail mix, too.

Water bottle – It’ll be hot and humid and you’ll need to stay hydrated.  A Hydro Flask will keep your water ice cold all day long.

Sunscreen – If you plan on being outside, you’ll want sunscreen.  I like the Neutrogena a lot, but if you’ll be visiting a beach soon, you’ll want a reef-safe sunscreen.

Hat – You’ll want some kind of hat to keep the sun out of your eyes.  A baseball hat should be fine but a bucket hat or sun hat could help keep the sun off your neck.

Sunglasses – This is a must, especially with the strong desert sun.  Sunglasses are best paired with a hat on those really bright days.

Light Jacket – Because you just never know.  Weather can change quickly depending on where you are and if you’ll be in any slot canyons, they can get cool depending on the time of day and season.  I usually use my rain jacket for this.

Headlamp – I tend to carry my headlamp around all the time when we’re hiking.  This isn’t the exact one I have, but it’s similar and if I needed to replace mine, I’d probably get this one.

canyonlands island in the sky moab utah

Tent – I love the REI Passage 2 tent for one or two people.  It’s small and fairly light.  If you need a four-person tent, I’d go with this one, the REI Half DomeYou can check out my tent here.

Sleeping pad – Gotta make the tent comfy!  The one I have isn’t available anymore but this one is similar.  It’s self-inflating and just needs a little help filling all the way.  Buy the sleeping pad here.

Sleeping Bag – I have the Nemo Viola 35 and love it because it’s not as restrictive as the mummy bags.  It has ventilation slits for those warmer nights.  Check out my sleeping bag here.

Puffy quilt – If you’re a really warm sleeper and visiting in the summer, a puffy quilt might be a better option.  I prefer this for hotter nights.  Check out the Rumpl camp quilts here.

Pillow – If you’re just driving, I’d just bring a regular pillow, but if you’re flying then renting a car, you might want a smaller pillow.  This is a good non-inflatible option.  Here is a good inflatable option.

Camp chairs – If you plan on doing a lot of camping outside of this trip, and backpacking especially, the REI Flexlite chairs are great choices.  Check out the camp chairs here.

Lantern – I love having a lantern for in the tent at night, reading in the dark, or going to the bathroom in the middle of the night.  The LuminAID is my favorite and you can charge your phone on it.  Buy the LuminAID lantern here.

newspaper rock canyonlands

Visit Newspaper Rock

I’m not actually sure if this is officially part of Canyonlands, but it is on the way to The Needles section of the park.  It’s easy to spot since there are signs and it’s right next to the road.  So, what is Newspaper Rock?  It’s a rockface on the cliff wall that is covered in hundreds of petroglyphs.  There is a fence in front of it to protect it, but you can still get pretty close.  This doesn’t involve almost any walking.  There are tons of other rock art sites in Moab and on the way to Island in the Sky.

See Mesa Arch

This is the only walk/hike on this list and it’s an easy 0.5 miles round-trip.  This is arguably the most popular sight in the park and you’ll find quite the crowd here to photograph the arch at sunrise.  I would say it’s almost as good at sunset and there will be far fewer people waiting for the same shot.  Whenever you go, be considerate of other people trying to get pictures, too.

Take a Scenic Flight

This is a great way to see Canyonlands from a new perspective.  You’ll get to see the park from above in a way that not many people do.  While this isn’t particularly budget-friendly, it’s definitely a once in a lifetime experience.

White Rim Road Canyonlands
White Rim Road – Thanks, father!

Go Stargazing

This is a must-do anywhere in the area.  Southern Utah is prime stargazing territory.  Whether you’re camping or staying in Moab, make sure to spend some time under the stars one night.  The best time to do this will be when there is no or very little moon.  You want it as dark as possible, but don’t worry, even if you’re here during a full moon, you’ll probably still see more stars than you can imagine.  Just make sure you give yourself time so your eyes can adjust.

Drive the White Rim Road

I wouldn’t recommend this for the average road tripper, but if you are familiar and comfortable with four-wheel-driving, consider this two to three-day drive.  If you want something a little easier in the area, you can find a few over on this list of scenic drives.  If you don’t want to do the whole thing, you can always do part in one day.  Either way, you will need a permit and a 4WD, high clearance vehicle.

Try a Guided Rafting Trip

You can do half or full-day rafting trips in the park.  These are a great way to see the backcountry with the help of professional guides.  And this means you don’t have to get all the fancy gear since they’ll provide it for you.  You can find tour guides that are authorized to lead trips in the park here.  They offer 4WD, mountain biking, and various watercraft trips.

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Stop at the Scenic Overlooks

The 34-mile scenic drive in Island in the Sky is a great way to see the park.  You’re on top of a mesa in this part of the park overlooking the whole surrounding area.  You can even see the White Rim Road down below.  There aren’t tons of overlooks right along the road, but you’ll find plenty to do to keep you buys for a few hours.  Just make sure you go to the Grand View Point and keep an eye out for bikers along the road.

Visit the Needles Overlook

If you’re planning on going to Newspaper Rock, this is the perfect addition to that little side trip.  It is a different turn off than the actual Needles district though.  The overlook is about an hour and a half from Moab, so it’s better for a morning or afternoon trip.  If you like good views, definitely make this trip.  It’s also perfect if you’re going to or coming from Monument Valley.

Go on a Hot Air Balloon Trip

If tiny planes aren’t your thing, maybe a hot air balloon trip would be better!  I love hot air balloons and this is the top of my Moab bucket list, fo sho.  The flights are early in the morning (and weather dependent) and last 45 minutes to 1 hour and 15 minutes.  This is a great way to get some fresh air and see the park in a very unique way.

Have you ever been to Canyonlands?  What is your favorite thing to do there?

8 thoughts on “The Best Things To Do In Canyonlands National Park That Aren’t Hiking

  1. I would LOVE to do some of these (I mean, I’m pretty sure I’d love hiking too!) But hot air balloon, a guided rafting and stargazing all sounds amaaazing!

    Driving to the scenic overlooks sounds fun too, but I have a feeling that would make me want to get out and hike!

  2. This is awesome advice, Canyonlands has been on our to-do list for some time. I am also fascinated by petroglyphs! We saw some of our first ones in Colorado this fall, they’re so incredible!

    1. I just published a post all about petroglyphs and rock art in Moab you would love! I hopee you make it to Canyonlands soon!

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