The Big Southwest Canyon Showdown: Canyonlands Vs Grand Canyon, Which Is Better?

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I usually try to space out posts that are similar but I love doing national park comparison posts so were back with another one! This time it’s the big canyon showdown: Canyonlands vs Grand Canyon.

I love these showdown posts and always go in with an idea of which I think will be the winner but I usually end up being wrong. Today I’m here to help you decide between visiting the Grand Canyon and Canyonlands.

Both are amazing parks and visiting the Grand Canyon is an American right of passage (everyone, everywhere, really) so you should definitely go there at some point but if you’re stuck toiling between the two from some reason, I gotchu.

This isn’t an itinerary. I’ll mention some things to do but this won’t be a guide of how to spend your park, just a fun comparison of the two in a lot of different categories.

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AllTrails – This is my favorite hike tracking app.
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National Park Obsessed – This is the best national park planner.
Skyscanner – Skyscanner is great for finding and booking flights.
Enterprise – This is my rental car recommendation.
See all my resources here.

colorado river in grand canyon national park

Some of this is fact, some is opinion. Obviously you can do whatever you want, I just hope if you’re really torn, this can help you narrow down which park to visit because it truly depends on a lot of factors, not just a broad sweeping question of which is better because that is simply an opinion oriented answer.

One thing to note about the Grand Canyon particularly: don’t push yourself too hard and don’t forget that if you hike into the canyon, which is much easier, you have to hike back out which will be much more difficult. You also have to be cautious of the heat at both parks but especially if you’re hiking below the rim.

I was just planning on comparing Canyonlands and the south rim but it turned into both the north and south rims. I couldn’t help myself. I will be doing a north vs south rim showdown, too, I think.

grand canyon national park colorado river views

National Park Goodies

grand canyon national park view

Is the Grand Canyon or Canyonlands better for hiking?

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

In the Grand Canyon (South Rim only) there are five or six trails totaling 49ish miles. I say five or six and 49ish because the website lists five but there is also Shoshone Point, and 49ish because that totals all five listed hikes at the longest turn-around point.

Most people won’t be hiking the 8-13 miles round-trip in a day. Most people don’t even go below the rim. And all of them, except for the Rim Trail and Shoshone Point, are into the canyon and very steep.

The North Rim, however has more short trails. There are 13 shorter hikes totaling 59 miles. There are a couple that are about ten miles and only one that goes below the rim.

This one is hard to give a winner to because you can’t visit and hike both the north and south rims in one day, and most people want to visit the south rim. Canyonlands has more trails in one place but I’m going to give this round to the Grand Canyon on one condition: you have a day to visit both the north rim and a day for the south rim.

If you only have one day though and only want to visit the south rim but don’t want to/can’t hike below the rim, then I would choose Canyonlands instead, or the north rim.

desert view tower in grand canyon national park

Is the Grand Canyon or Canyonlands better for more than one day?

Canyonlands won this round against Arches and it is still great if you have more than one day since there are two main areas to visit (three total but I only recommend Island in the Sky and The Needles for casual visitors.)

But the Grand Canyon wins this round. The south rim is where most people go. It has a lot more as far as amenities go and some of the most iconic American landscape views.

But it also has the north rim which is just as beautiful (or so I’m told), much more remote, has a lot more hiking that isn’t horribly steep, and a lot less people. I would try to spend at least one whole day at each rim. You can’t really go to and experience both in one day since they’re a few hours apart.

grand canyon national park moran point

Is Canyonlands or the Grand Canyon bigger?

This is a purely fact based question so al little less fun. Canyonlands is 337,598 acres and seemed huge compared too Arches but the Grand Canyon is massive at 1,218,375 acres making Canyonlands look like small potatoes.

Both parks actually have three areas to visit (north, south, west rim; Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze) and are all different levels of busy. But the Grand Canyon wins this round, too because it. is. huge.

Murphy Point trail canyonlands utah

Is the Grand Canyon or Canyonlands better with just one day?

This is an easy one for me. The Grand Canyon is great with just one day but if you’re not hiking below the rim I feel like there isn’t quite as much to do? There is still plenty to do but Canyonlands finally wins a round.

Island in the Sky is great to visit with just one day in Canyonlands. You can do a few hikes, like Mesa Arch, Murphy Point, and White Rim Overlook while still having plenty of time to drive through the whole park and stop at all the overlooks.

White rim overlook trail Canyonlands Utah

Does Canyonlands or the Grand Canyon have better stargazing?

Both parks are International Dark Sky Parks which means they’ll both be really great for stargazing. This round could be a tie but I’m going to give it to Canyonlands because I think stargazing would be better there. That’s not to say it would be bad by any means at the Grand Canyon.

The reason Canyonlands wins this round is because I feel like it would be easier to find a nice, open area right along the scenic drive. The south rim is a lot more wooded than I expected and while there are overlooks you could stargaze at there, think it would be better at Canyonlands.

grand canyon national park moran point

Is Canyonlands or the Grand Canyon better in the summer?

This one is pretty easy for me to pick. The south rim of the Grand Canyon is extremely busy in the summer and horribly hot. Canyonlands is also hot but it’s a little less busy.

I’m giving this round to Grand Canyon with the caveat that the north rim would probably be better in the summer and is the only reason Canyonlands didn’t win this round. Thanks to it’s higher elevation it’s quite a bit cooler than the south rim. And it’s the only time of year you really can visit the north rim.

If you’re deciding between the south rim and Canyonlands in the summer though, Canyonlands wins. So does this round count as a tie? I’ll say no for the sake of an easier tally outcome.

Murphy Point trail canyonlands utah

Is Canyonlands or the Grand Canyon better in the winter?

Winter is a really great time to visit both parks. While the Grand Canyon looks beautiful covered in snow (at least from pictures) and it’s a lot less busy it is than in the summer. Services are a lot more limited in the winter but it’s probably worth it to be there in the winter.

I actually originally gave this one to Grand Canyon but I changed my mind. Canyonlands wins this one. I spent a week in Moab in December 2021 and went to Canyonlands during that trip and I loved it.

We got to see a little snow and had trails almost to ourselves Canyonlands in winter. I’m sure the Grand Canyon is great then but there’s just something about Moab and Canyonlands in the winter that I just can’t say no to.

White rim overlook trail Canyonlands Utah

Is Canyonlands or the Grand Canyon better for spring break?

I want to say neither but my actual answer since I have to pick one is definitely Canyonlands. Both with be extremely busy (like all holiday weekends, it’s the way of the parks) but I think Canyonlands would be better.

Murphy Point trail canyonlands utah

Is the Grand Canyon or Canyonlands busier?

Canyonlands had 911,594 visitors in 2021, an all-time high by a couple hundred thousand. Grand Canyon on the other hand, one of the busiest national parks had 4,550,921.

And going back to 2018 for a quick sec, Canyonlands had 739,449 visitors while Grand Canyon had a whopping 6,380,495. Canyonlands is the obvious winner in this one.

White rim overlook trail Canyonlands Utah

Is the Grand Canyon or Canyonlands better for just driving through?

Grand Canyon is great if you’re just driving through. There are tons of pull-off areas where you can stop to enjoy the views and there are a lot of views. It’s also great because you don’t have to backtrack to leave the park, you can just drive through it.

However, I’m giving this round to Canyonlands for one main reason: the views have a lot more variety. Yes, the Grand Canyon is magnificent, majestic, and all the other great words but, don’t hate me for this, the view is very similar at almost every stop.

It’s still beautiful but as I was going through my pictures from the last trip there, I could barely tell them apart as far as where they were. I can tell the side by Mather Point, the middle, and the side by the Desert Watchtower, but in each of those areas it’s pretty much all the same.

And yes, Canyonlands has a lot of views of the same things, but you also get a lot more variety. There is Upheaval Dome, Mesa Arch, the La Sal Mountains, more mountains further off, Green River, and the giant dinosaur footprint looking canyon at the end.

If you’re super short on time, I feel like variety in views is better. At least that’s probably what I would prefer and why Canyonlands won this round. I would also say Canyonlands is better if you’re not hiking for this reason.

Grand Canyon north rim
Thanks father!

Is it easier to get away from crowds in Canyonlands or the Grand Canyon?

This one is tough. Canyonlands sees literally millions fewer visitors every year so that seems like the obvious answer. But if you go below the rim in the Grand Canyon you’ll be away from crowds. Or to the north rim.

I’m giving this one to the Grand canyon but only if you’re going to the North Rim, which sees about 10% of the total number of park visitors. But if it’s between south rim and Canyonlands, then Canyonlands.

The north rim is more remote and has more hiking opportunities to help spread people out. And they’re above the rim so they should be a little easier than south rim hikes which almost all go below the rim.

Canyonlands will be busy at Mesa Arch and most likely a little busy at overlooks, but hiking almost anywhere there is a great way to get away from the crowds.

Canyonlands national park

Which do I like better?

Canyonlands. No hesitation in that answer. I actually think, again, don’t hate me, that the Grand Canyon is a little overrated. Side note, one time I saw a Youtuber/Instagrammer/blogger call Zion underrated. That is the opposite of underrated. I can’t.

And I think Canyonlands is underrated, overshadowed by Arches next door and Zion across the state. It has arches, mountain views, three areas to explore, a way cuter gateway town, another park next door, tons of hiking, and unbelievable views.

Whale rock Canyonlands national park

So, is Canyonlands or the Grand Canyon better?

With the final tally coming in at 7 to 5, we have a winner! Drumroll pleeeeeease…it’s Canyonlands! I was hoping Canyonlands would win, obviously because I like it more, but also because, like I said, I think it’s underrated.

And I’m glad it won because everyone already knows how impressive the Grand canyon is. It’s one of the seven natural wonders of the world, after all. Of course, if you only have one chance to do a trip out west and can only choose one park and you’ve dreamed of the Grand Canyon, then that’s the winner.

And while I say the winner is Canyonlands, it’s best look look more at the questions that pertain more to you, the way you travel, how much time you have, and when you’ll be going. Whichever you choose, let me know which you picked and how the trip goes!

If you plan to visit a bunch of the parks in the southwest, this 7-day itinerary from May to October or October to May (depending on when you’re going) will be super helpful!

shoshone point grand canyon national park
Thanks father!

Have you been to the Grand Canyon or Canyonlands? Which one? Which would you pick between the two? Which did you decide to visit?

2 thoughts on “The Big Southwest Canyon Showdown: Canyonlands Vs Grand Canyon, Which Is Better?

  1. Brave opinion, Megan. I happen to agree with you. The Grand Canyon is magnificent of course, but I also enjoy Canyonlands more as a place to explore and get away from the crowds. Looking forward to your article about North vs. South.

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