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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. Update 2022: We spent a weekend in Moab and now I’ve done more here and I do love it more.
Canyonlands has three sections: Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze. No matter which section you decide to visit, there are so many amazing things to do in Canyonlands.
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.
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.
What to bring to Canyonlands
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.
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, it’s right next to the parking area. There are tons of other rock art sites in Moab and on the way to Island in the Sky.
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.
A scenic flight 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 bucket list experience.
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 and bring a red-light flashlight so you don’t have to use a regular one and ruin your eye-adjustment.
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. If you want to do something adventurous in Canyonlands, this is the thing to do.
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.
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.
This is also not very budget friendly, but I think it would be totally worth it to do here at least once. It’s definitely a unique thing to do do in Canyonlands and a unique way to experience the park.
Utah posts you may also like:
Have you ever been to Canyonlands? What is your favorite thing to do there?