Arches Vs Canyonlands: The Great Moab National Park Showdown

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I’m very excited for my next big national park showdown and by now you know that we’ve got Arches vs Canyonlands facing each other today! Like the Zion and Arches showdown, Canyonlands and Arches are both pretty different, even though they’re neighbors.

Once main difference between that post is that even if you only have one day, you could visit both Arches and Canyonlands because they’re so close. As long as you don’t want to do much hiking.

I would try to plan at least one full day for each, or one and a half days between them both if you can. But if you only have one day in Moab and want to really experience one park, this post will help you (hopefully) decide between visiting Arches or Canyonlands.

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Tower arch trail arches national park utah

This isn’t an itinerary. You won’t find the best things to do in either park in this post but here are a couple of posts that will help you with that:

I explain the Arches entry system below but I’m going into this comparison of Arches and Canyonlands assuming that you are going outside of permit time or that you have a permit.

And while I compare all of these things and choose the park that I think is better for that thing, of course it’s better to look at all of the questions and choose based on the comparisons that apply to you more (like when you’ll be there, how long, and what you like to do) and make your decision from there.

Whichever you choose between Arches or Canyonlands, it will be great. You truly can’t go wrong with either park. And if you have a different question of which is better, ask in the comments and I’ll answer!

Fiery furnace hike arches national park utah

National Park Goodies

Tower arch trail arches national park utah

Arches National Park reservations

As of April 1, 2022, you now need a timed entry permit reservation from April 3 to October 3. You need this to enter the park between 6AM and 6PM. Your reservation allows entry in a two hour window. You can go in and out before and after that as the park is open 24/7.

Arches was facing serious overcrowding in the summer and were having to close the entrance by 10AM pretty frequently because parking would fill up. This new system is to help combat that.

The permit is $2 and you will also need to pay the park entrance fee when you get to the park. You can pay the fee or get the national park pass which covers all NPS site entry fees (but not camping, tours, parking, etc.)

If you can’t get a permit in advance, some are set aside for the next day (so April 2 entry permits would be available the evening of April 1). If you can’t get that either, your options are to skip it or enter the park before 6AM or after 6PM.

If you have a camping reservation, a Fiery Furnace permit, or a backcountry permit you do not need a timed entry permit. You also do not need the permit from October 4-April 2. You can find all the details here.

garden of eden arches national park winter arches national park

Is Arches or Canyonlands better in winter?

This one is tough. This is my favorite time to go to both but I feel like there are two big factors in this. Canyonlands is higher in elevation and a little more likely to have snow, so if you want to see snow in the desert (ask around to see if anyone knows if it’s snowy or call the park) then I would say Canyonlands.

Both can get pretty chilly with or without snow, so make sure you’re prepared for that. And if it’s windy it’s even worse. Keep an eye on the weather before you get there.

Arches can still get snow in the winter but usually not as much. But, I think I have to give this one to Arches since you might still get snow, but mostly because it’s SO much less busy than in the summer.

White rim overlook trail Canyonlands Utah

Is Arches or Canyonlands better in summer?

Now that Arches has the permit system it should be less busy in the summer which is good but that could mean people are going to Canyonlands instead. (I don’t actually know.)

Both will be busy. Both will be hot. But, Canyonlands wins this one thanks to it’s higher elevation. It will be hot but it’ll be maybe a little tiny bit less hot and you can drive to most of the overlooks which usually just have short walks to the view.

And the highlight of Canyonlands is Mesa Arch which is a short and easy trail, making it slightly less miserable in the desert heat compared to the highlight. of Arches, Delicate Arch, which is almost three miles and much more strenuous and difficult with the heat.

Fiery furnace hike arches national park utah

Is Canyonlands or Arches better with just one day?

This is a tough one. You can definitely see a lot of each with just one day (one whole day n the park, not both parks. one day) but I think there is one that I feel like stands out.

This round is going to Arches thanks to it’s compact size and layout. You can see a ton of arches in one day. You can hike to Delicate Arch, you can do a few other short hikes, and really see a lot of the park, especially if you take advantage of full daylight.

Yes, the same applies to Canyonlands, but with just one day, I think Arches is a little better. Just a little.

la sal mountains at sunset moab utah arches national park

Is Canyonlands or Arches better for sunset?

Again, both are great but this one is easier for me to choose. Ok, as I write this I’m second guessing myself and actually changing my own mind.

I was going to say Canyonlands easily wins this one because at Island in the Sky you would be overlooking the La Sal Mountains, the canyons below, and more mountains on the other side, but they’re all a little far away. Plus, it’s a great time to see Mesa Arch with fewer people around than at sunrise.

I still think it’s great to enjoy sunset in Canyonlands but I’m giving this round to Arches, too. Delicate Arch is the obvious top spot to watch the sunset in Arches, but there are SO many good places to choose from with tons of different scenery.

Not only is there Delicate Arch, but the Fiery Furnace Viewpoint, Park Avenue, the little parking area to the right of Park Avenue, Balanced Rock, Double Arch, Broken Arch, and basically the entire Windows area.

You can see arches, sprawling desert, the La Sal Mountains (closer than Canyonlands) or all three in one stop! So while you can’t go wrong with either Arches or Canyonlands for sunset, Arches wins.

White rim overlook trail Canyonlands Utah

Does Arches or Canyonlands have more hiking?

According to the NPS websites for each park, Canyonlands (Island in the Sky, specifically) has 15 trails of varying difficulty with a total of 79 miles of trails. If you plan too do some backpacking, The Needles District is really great for that. Or The Maze if you have a lot of backcountry travel/hiking experience.

Arches, on the other hand, has 16 trails of varying difficulty with a total of 26(ish) miles of trails. If you want short trails, Arches is a better choice, but if you want to do a lot of hiking and longer trails, Canyonlands is the clear winner.

I will say that the long hikes in Arches (Devils Garden, Delicate Arch, Tower Arch, and Fiery Furnace) are incredible so you can’t go wrong there, but Canyonlands has more to choose from.

Mesa Arch is the most popular hike but I love the White Rim Overlook and the Murphy Point Trails, too. Upheaval Dome and the Syncline Loop would be great hikes, too.

Tower arch trail arches national park utah

Is Arches or Canyonlands better for just driving?

This one is pretty close but I keep going back to the same one. I’m going to assume you’ll have time/are willing to do some short walks to views (under half a mile round-trip).

The first few times I went to Canyonlands the only hike I did was to Mesa Arch, so it is great for just driving through but I’m giving this round to Arches.

Canyonlands has a lot more longer hiking trails but Arches is one of the best parks, at least in Utah, for short walks. There are tons of pull-outs so you can just park and enjoy views but there are tons of arches you can see with just a short walk form the road.

Canyonlands national park in winter

Is Canyonlands or Arches better for stargazing?

Stargazing in Utah is a must-do and both Arches and Canyonlands are International Dark Sky parks which means they’re both perfect for stargazing! This round is a tie for me.

If you’re camping in Canyonlands or Dead Horse Point State Park or on BLM land up there, Canyonlands will be easier. If you’re staying in Moab then Arches will be easier.

If you want to do astrophotography though, I would probably go with Arches because the foreground would be more interesting there, depending on where you were. Either way, it will be incredible.

Island in the Sky canyonlands national park
Murphy Point trail canyonlands utah

Is Arches or Canyonlands busier?

Arches, hands down. In 2021 Arches had 1,806,865 visitors while Canyonlands had just 911,594. I say “just” but that’s pretty much half the number of visitors. This was before the permit entry system though.

Canyonlands is the clear winner here though there are times when Arches won’t be busy, but then Canyonlands will be less busy, too.

Murphy Point trail canyonlands utah

Is Canyonlands or Arches better for more than one day?

Arches is great for one day, but you could easily spend 2-4 days here. Spend one day doing the basic main sights then come back for Fiery Furnace, Tower Arch, and/or Devils Garden.

This round, though, is going to Canyonlands again. Not only are there 80ish miles of trails in Island in the Sky, but there is The Needles District and The Needles Overlook, too! I would spend at least one day at Island in the Sky (2–3 if possiible) and one day at The Needles/Needles Overlook. Canyonalnds is also better for backpacking.

Murphy Point trail canyonlands utah

Is Canyonlands or Arches bigger?

Arches is 76,519 acres while Canyonlands is a whopping 337,598 acres. It’s far from the largest national park but in this Utah national park showdown, Canyonlands wins by far.

Arches just has the one scenic drive to explore while Canyonlands has Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze. Most day trippers stay in Island in the Sky, some go to The Needles Overlook, and some go to The Needles.

The Needles is better for backpacking but has some shorter hikes you could do a few of in one day, too. The Maze, though, is rough, extremely remote backcountry and not somewhere you should go if you’re a casual visitor.

It requires a high-clearance 4WD vehicle, navigation skills, and a lot of time to visit. Like, a lot. I would avoid it on a quick trip, plus the entry point to it is hours from Moab.

Fiery furnace hike arches national park utah

Is Canyonlands or Arches prettier?

This one is tough. Arches has Delicate Arch, a primo view of the La Sal Mountains, and Fiery Furnace, the coolest hike I’ve ever done. Devils Garden looks Amazing and I loved Tower Arch.

Canyonlands has Mesa Arch, views of at least three mountain ranges, and canyons hundreds of feet below. As I started writing this answer I was pretty sure I would give it to Canyonlands but I actually think Arches wins this round.

Canyonlands is absolutely beautiful and so impressive but I LOVED Fiery Furnace. The views of the La Sals there are incredible, and Park Avenue is iconic Wild West. It almost pains me to say Arches because I love Canyonlands, but it’s Arches.

Devils garden arches national park

Is Arches or Canyonlands better with just a few hours?

Both are great if you’re really short on time but Arches is the clear winner on this one. Canyonlands is great to see in just a few hours but it’s almost an hour from Moab, too, so taking that into account, Arches is better with limited time.

Thanks to it’s smaller size and plethora of short trails, Arches is wonderful for just spending a few hours in. You can see the main highlights, even without hiking to Delicate Arch thanks to the lower viewpoint, in 2–3 hours, I think.

Four hours would give you time to stop and see the sights while also doing a short hike or two like Park Avenue or to Landscape Arch or Sand Dune/Broken Arch, or just to Delicate Arch in addition to the really short walks.

White rim overlook trail Canyonlands Utah

Is it easier to get away from crowds in Arches or Canyonlands?

This is another one with a clear winner: Canyonlands. Yes, Tower Arch, Devils Garden (beyond Landscape Arch), and Fiery Furnace are great for escaping crowds but Arches is just so much busier in general.

Canyonlands can be busy, especially Mesa Arch at sunrise, but it’s a lot easier to get away from other people. Aztec Butte, Syncline Loop (very strenuous), and Murphy Point are great trails to do that.

White rim overlook trail Canyonlands Utah

Does Canyonlands or Arches have better views?

This may be subjective (well, almost all of this post is) and depend on depends on the kind of view you want. Arches has more intimate nature views and a few places for sprawling views. Canyonlands has all the sprawling views.

I’m giving this round to Canyonlands since the views are amazing and it’s why you go to Island in the Sky, for the perfect Utah views. If big sweeping views don’t do it for you though, Arches might be better.

Whale rock Canyonlands national park

Which do I think is better, Canyonlands or Arches?

For the longest time I would have said Arches. It was the first national park I went to, after all. But after visiting Canyonlands back in December 2021, it pulled ahead in the Utah national park race of mine. (It’s Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Arches, Zion, Bryce, in case you were wondering.)

Fiery Furnace is my all–time favorite hike so far but I’m going to go with Canyonlands. Both parks are great but, between these two, Arches is just a little too busy for me.

Canyonlands national park

So, which is better, Arches or Canyonlands?

It’s impossible to say if Arches or Canyonlands is truly better because they both have so much going for them, but simply based on my tally Arches has seven and Canyonlands has nine (including the tie) so the winner is Canyonlands!

Of course this doesn’t mean Canyonlands is better in every way or in ever national park showdown it ends up in, but based on this (some fact, some opinion), Canyonlands is king. That said, if you can swing visiting both, do that.

Tower arch trail arches national park utah

Utah posts you may also like:

Have you been to Arches or Canyonlands? What did you think of it/them? Which would you puck between the two? Do this help you decide which to visit? I’d love to hear!

3 thoughts on “Arches Vs Canyonlands: The Great Moab National Park Showdown

  1. I agree with everything you say here. I’ve spent a bit more time in Canyonlands’ Needles area, and it’s spectacular and (almost frighteningly) uncrowded. Even on a longish dayhike, it’s possible to not see anyone for hours. Get off the trail and you’re really on your own, for better and worse.

    Good stuff!

  2. Great post. I think to really see Canyonlands, that one would need a few weeks. I have yet to see the Maze and haven’t spent much time in Island in the Sky in years. But even exploring the Needles area could take a week. There are just so many trails. I love Arches too, but it’s just getting so overrun.

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