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.
What to bring camping in 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Have you ever been to Canyonlands? What is your favorite thing to do there?