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Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky Guide

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The most accessible portion of Canyonlands National Park is Island in the Sky. This breathtaking area is home to some of the parks best hikes and overlooks. Canyonlands is part of Utah’s Might Five and is the mightiest of them all by sheer size. The park contains three distinct areas including Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze. Of these, Island in the Sky is the easiest to reach and spend a single day at.

While on my road trip through Utah, I spent the better part of a day here exploring the various overlooks and hikes. The mesa between the Colorado and Green Rivers is a marvel of mother nature’s engineering ability. The sheer vastness of the canyon and vistas is hard to put into words. Follow my guide and you won’t be disappointed with your trip to Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky.

When to Visit Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky

Canyonlands, like its two neighboring siblings, occupy parts of the vast Colorado Plateau. This makes Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky have a similar climate to these two parks. Depending on your travel plans, you’ve got a couple of options when to visit the park. No matter what season you arrive, make sure you get to the park early to avoid crowds.

Mesa Arch is the premier spot for sunrise at Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky
Show up early in the day to see the amazing Mesa Arch at Sunrise

If you’re just planning on visiting Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky then visit in late spring. You’ll be able to see everything Island in the Sky offers in just one day. This makes it the perfect stop on a road trip to see all of the Mighty Five parks in Utah. By coming in late spring, you’ll get a jump on the crowds and avoid the blistering summer heat.

However, Canyonlands National Park extends beyond Island in the Sky. A trip to explore all Canyonlands has to offer is best done in the Fall. You’ll be coming after the wettest part of the year which will help avoid flash floods on any trails, while getting a chance to see the Colorado and Green Rivers at their fullest. From Island in the Sky you can access White Rim Road. This is great for a bit of off-road wilderness camping deep in the gorge which is perfect in the fall.

Best Hikes at Island in the Sky

Island in the Sky is has quite a few great hikes, but I’ve narrowed it down to three must sees. If you want to explore beyond these, just check out the map found here from the National Park Service. It’s also possible to combine these hikes with ones at Arches National Park in the same day if you’re feeling frisky!

Upheaval Dome is a great hike at Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky
A great look at Upheaval Dome from the first lookout

By far my favorite hike is the one to Upheaval Dome. This hike comes in at just under a mile round trip to the first overlook. There is also a second overlook if you feel like extending the hike, but I don’t think it’s necessary. From the first overlook you’ll get an amazing view at one of the most mysterious geological features in Utah. While the consensus is the dome was formed as part of an impact crater, there are a few other theories. My favorite is the idea that it was once a giant salt bubble! In any case, Upheaval Dome is a fantastic alternative to Mesa Arch if you’re trying to catch a sunrise during your visit to Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky.

A panoramic image of Upheaval Dome at Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky
A panoramic shot of Upheaval Dome. It’s massive!

As you drive the scenic road to or from Upheaval Dome, you’ll pass the next hike on our list. Aztec Butte provides both expansive views of your surroundings and a wonderful historic experience. This hike is right at 2 miles in length and is classified by the NPS as moderate. While the views from the top of Aztec Butte are stellar, in my opinion its the ancient granaries which are the real draw. These old store caches are carved into the rock itself. Used by the Puebloan peoples who inhabited this area for generations, these granaries provided a way to store food safely. If you’re visiting this site please do so respectfully and by following this guide to heritage tourism.

The ancient granaries are evidence of human habitation at Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky for thousands of years.
The historic granaries should be admired but never touched!

The final hike I’ll outline here is easily the most popular. From dawn until dusk, you’ll almost certainly find it packed with people. Mesa Arch is deserving of the praise it gets due to its stunning views. However, be aware that it comes with plenty of people. It’s an extremely popular location for sunrise at Canyonlands, due to its ease of access. Like many popular places located in national parks, its important to get there early. While a lot of people might come out for sunrise, plenty more aren’t early birds but will still flock there later in the day. During my visit, the entire parking area was PACKED even in the heat of the day, so make sure you’re aware of this when you get a chance to visit.

Best Overlooks Around Island in the Sky

Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky is accessed by a single scenic road which winds its way through this portion of the park. There are a number of overlooks along this road, but the two major ones allow you to view the rivers which give Canyonlands it’s name.

Canyons seen from the Green River Overlook located in Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky
Time and water is all that’s necessary to carve these gorgeous canyons

Once you’re done with Aztec Butte, keep your eyes peeled for a turnoff and sign to the Green River Overlook. Taking this road just past the Willow Flat Campground will provide you with a spectacular view of the Green River. Park in the ample lot and take the short walk out to the view. You’ll be in awe of the vast canyons that time and water can carve. While the Grand Canyon might be bigger, there are a whole lot less people visiting here.

Trees can grow just about anywhere as evidenced by this picture from Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky
Check out the life that finds a way to grow at the Grand View Point Overlook

The second major overlook to see is at the end of the scenic road on the south end of the park. Grand View Point Overlook gives you wonderful views into the canyons. The canyons stretch off into the horizon to the south. While you can’t actually see where the Green and Colorado Rivers meet, you can imagine it from here. The best part of this area is the ability to walk along the rim of the mesa. You can pretty much explore in all directions. This gives you a chance to get time to yourself which is just what you need to enjoy this magnificent park.

Where to Explore After Your Visit to Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky

There are a ton of options when you’ve finished your visit here. If you want to see Canyonlands National Park beyond Island in the Sky, then plan a visit to The Needles. This is the only other section of the park suited for easy visits. You’re also an extremely quick drive from one of the best sunrises in Utah. Dead Horse State Park is easy to visit and just as magnificent. Plus, Arches National Park is practically around the corner as well. You could easily stay in Moab and make a trip to see all of these parks!

There is so much to see in Utah and Canyonlands is just a part of that. I hope this guide has helped plan your visit to Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky. If you’ve got any other questions, please let me know in the comments.

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15 Responses

  1. I have to go here now!! Gosh it looks so beautiful! And I’ve never seen a canyon before in person, it’s certainly on my bucket list. Thanks for sharing this helpful info!

  2. Wow! Your photo of the Mesa Arch is simply stunning. And the rest is also amazing. I didn’t know that those granaries were there – mankind is very resourceful. Your tips on time of day and year are great too. I really enjoyed reading this.

  3. Wow! Coming from the Netherlands, a country known for being absolutely flat, this scenery looks so amazing and almost unreal! I’d love to visit one day :-)

  4. I love canyons, so this park is amazing! The Arch and the dome look awesome and I’ve always been curious about Utah, so I guess I need to do some planning now!

  5. Oooh what gorgeous scenery! I love the mix of sightseeing and hiking – those views are simply gorgeous, especially from Mesa Arch . There is a reason that hike is so popular!

    I am used to the bright green scenery in the Pacific North West, so this would be a bit of a hiking culture shock for me…but I would loooove to walk around the Island in the Sky!!

  6. I didn’t know all these parks and hikes and your pictures are not less than amazing! I was planning to go to the parks in Utah, but that plan included only the famous one. I see that I need to update my plans now :)

  7. Oh my gosh, this is so beautiful. I think this is actually the first time I’m learning about Canyonlands National Park, but I’m definitely making a note of it. I have heard such great things about Utah and would love to spend a month going from one natural wonder to another. I just can’t get over how flat the land is despite the canyons and buttes!

  8. What a fantastic place to go hiking! The landscapes look so otherworldly. I wouldn’t be able to stop taking pictures. The Upheaval Dome hike sounds awesome – short enough but with stunning views!

  9. wow Canyonlands National Park looks massive! I would love to see the Upheaval Dome for myself, its rugged terrain and the conjecture around how it came to be is fascinating too. It looks very similar to the famously called region ‘Moon land’ in Leh Ladakh, do check it out! :) Your ‘About me’ section is inspiring too.

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