Canyonlands National Park preserves 337,598 acres of canyons, mesas, buttes, arches, and spires in SE Utah’s high desert. The Colorado and Green rivers divide the park into three unique districts that offer different opportunities for adventure:

  • Island in the Sky: the most accessible district offers paved scenic drive, overlooks, hikes and the White Rim Road (a 4WD route).
  • The Needles: offers phenomenal hiking and backpacking opportunities as well as challenging 4WD roads.
  • The Maze: only those with a well equipped four-wheel drive vehicle and advanced backcountry skills should venture into the Maze. The Maze includes some of the most remote terrain in the lower 48.

While the districts appear close to one another on a map, traveling between them requires hours of time due to limited river crossings and rugged terrain. Because of the distance between the districts, each feels like its own park and I recommend treating them as such. For this reason, this post will only cover the Island in the Sky District.

At just 35 miles from downtown Moab, Utah, the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands is the most easily accessible of the park’s districts making it the most popular for the casual tourist to visit. The Island is a large mesa that sits 2,000 feet above the Colorado and Green rivers providing spectacular viewpoints along a 34 mile roundtrip paved scenic drive. Grand View Point, Green River Overlook, and Buck Canyon Overlook are all wheelchair accessible making this a great destination for everyone.

We have visited Island in the Sky twice while based out of Moab. The great thing about this park and nearby Dead Horse State Park is that they are much quieter than Arches National Park. We have hiked most of the park’s easy and moderate trails along the mesa top (click here for trail map) and would love to go back to tackle some of the more primitive and difficult trails. If you have time, explore a couple of the park’s trails. It is here you will find arches, archeological sites, fascinating geology, and maybe even catch a glimpse of some of the park’s residents!

Fascinating geology along the Upheavel Dome Overlook Trail
Beautiful and popular Mesa Arch is a 0.5 mile roundtrip hike
The Island is home to some incredible archeological sites
View from a cave along the Aztec Butte Trail

Logistics

Canyonlands Island in the Sky District is located in southeast Utah, 35 miles northwest of Moab. From Moab, drive 10 miles north on US 191. Turn left onto UT 313 and travel 22 miles to the park. Driving time to the visitor center from Moab is approximately 40 minutes.  The park is generally open every day although the road in may temporarily close after winter storms. Visitor center days and hours vary depending on season, check here for their schedule. Be sure to check out their exhibits, movie, and bookstore and top off on water before venturing into the park. Allow a half a day to complete the scenic drive with stops at the major view points. Those who like to hike and explore should plan a full day or two. Be sure to follow these safety tips for hiking in the desert and please stay on trail to protect this fragile desert environment.
*Pro Tip: visiting the Moab area? Beat the weekend crowds at nearby Arches National Park by visiting Island in the Sky and nearby Dead Horse State Park on Saturday and Sunday.

Services

  • Willow Flat Campground is the only campground at Island in the Sky. This small campground has 12 first come, first served sites for $15 per night. Note there is no water, dump, or cell/internet reception available. There are no other services within the park.
  • The tourist mecca of Moab is just 35 miles southeast of the park. Here you will find everything you need including gas, hotels, restaurants, RV parks, medical services, and grocery stores. Our favorite stop after hiking is the Moab Brewery!
View of the snow-covered La Sal Mountains from the Mesa Arch Trail

Related Posts/Nearby Attractions

You can see why they call it Canyonlands!

The Adventure Continues

Join us for our next post as we continue to explore Canyonlands National Park’s diverse districts. And don’t forget to check out our Amazon RV and Adventure Gear recommendations accessed via links at the top of our home page. We only post products that we use and that meet the Evans Outdoor Adventures seal of approval. By accessing Amazon through our links and making any purchase, you get Amazon’s every day low pricing and they share a little with us. This helps us maintain Evans Outdoor Adventures and is much appreciated!

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