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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.
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, even if you plan to visit in winter.
National Park Goodies
- If you’re planning to visit three or more national parks within a year from your trip, definitely get the America the Beautiful pass. It will save you money in the long run if you’re going to more than three parks in a year. Buy the pass here.
- If you’re planning on doing a lot of hiking on your trip, or even at home, check out AllTrails! This is my favorite app to find, keep track of, and track my hiking activity. And it’s FREE! Sign up here.
- This Ultimate National Park Planning Bundle is a must-have. 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!
- 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.
What to bring to Canyonlands
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.
Water bottle – It’ll be hot and you’ll need to stay hydrated. Even if it’s not hot you 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 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.
Hat – You’ll want some kind of hat to keep the sun out of your eyes, or a visor. A baseball hat should be fine but I like my giant sun hat, too.
Sunglasses – This is a must no matter where you are.
Light Jacket – Because you just never know. Weather can change quickly depending on where you are, 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, just in case.
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.
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
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.
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. 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.
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.
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?
8 thoughts on “The Best Things To Do In Canyonlands National Park That Aren’t Hiking”
You did a good job of making this place come alive, and I’d love to visit it someday!
Thank you! I hope you make it someday!
It’s always nice to mix it up…hiking all day, every day of a vacation is no fun
Agreed! It’s great to be able to experience parks in different ways, too.
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!
Yessss! I love getting out and hiking but that hot air balloon is calling my name!
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!
I just published a post all about petroglyphs and rock art in Moab you would love! I hopee you make it to Canyonlands soon!