Half Day/ Auto Tour Itinerary
Canyonlands National Park is divided into three districts, which do not connect directly to each other, and are accessible from different directions. Visitors with only a few hours or half a day to explore the park should drive north from Moab, UT on US 191, then drive east on UT 313 to the park’s main and most popular district, Island in the Sky.
Island in the Sky:
- Once on UT 313, drive to the Island in the Sky Visitor Center. There visitors can access a park orientation video, exhibits, information, and water.
- Continue driving south to the end of the park’s paved road, at Grand Point Overlook.
- Drive North and take the west (left) fork to Green River Overlook.
- If time permits, drive to either short hike, Whale Rock Trail (1-mile), or Mesa Arch Trail (.5-mile). Whale Rock is several miles north up the western fork, and Mesa Arch is back towards the Visitor Center, just past the fork in the road.
Full Day Itinerary
Visitors wanting to spend a day at Canyonlands National Park should still stay in the Island in the Sky district, due to time and opportunity to view some of the park’s most iconic scenery. Visitors can add to the Half Day Itinerary by including a few more short hikes and more Overlooks.
After stopping by the Visitor Center:
- Stop by the first overlook, Shafer Canyon Overlook, located just past the Visitor Center.
- Continue south until the short .5-mile nature trail for Mesa Arch, located just before the fork in the road.
- After that short hike, turn onto the west fork and drive to Upheaval Dome Overlook, located at the most northerly point on the west fork.
- Drive back south less than a mile to Whale Rock, another short 1-mile hike.
- Continue back south on the west fork to the Green River Overlook.
- Drive south past the fork towards Grand View Overlook, stopping shortly at any of the three other overlooks along the way.
- At Grand View Overlook, consider taking the 2-mile trail that is an easy walk along the edge of the canyon to the end of the mesa.
- Drive back north toward the Visitor Center or campground of your choice.
Two Day Itinerary
Spending two days at Canyonlands National Park means visitors will get to see more of the park, and have the option of visiting another district. The Island in the Sky district is the most accessible and popular, and it is highly recommended travelers start there. Visitors can Complete the Full Day Itinerary, listed above, during the first day of their visit, and then enter the Needles district the second day. The Maze District is not recommended for anyone spending less than 2-3 full days, as it is only accessible by 4WD vehicles from roads heading from the west, and only offers long backpacking trails.
The Needles District is accessed from UT 211, which intersects US 191 south of Moab, Ut, and offers several short trails and overlooks, as does Island in the Sky.
While in The Needles:
- Stop by the Visitor Center near the entrance to the park, to see exhibits, acquire water, and gather any important, current park information.
- Stop at Wooden Shoe Arch Overlook.
- Drive west through the park to the Big Spring Canyon Overlook.
- Consider taking the trail for Confluence Overlook:
- Confluence Overlook is a strenuous 10-mile (round trip) hike that crosses plateau to cliffside and overlooks the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers. The trail begins at Big Spring Canyon Overlook, travels for several miles and joins an unpaved 4WD road that leads mainly northwest to the overlook.
- Drive back the way you came through the park and take the loop road (right before, just south of Wooden Shoe Arch Overlook) that leads to Cave Spring.
- Off of the loop road there is an unpaved (2WD vehicle) road that will lead to Cave Spring.
- Cave Spring is an easy, .6-mile looped trail that requires two ladder climbs to an old cowboy camp and prehistoric petroglyphs.
- Drive back along the unpaved road to the loop road, and continue northeast until it meets the main park road again, heading toward the visitor center.
- If you have time, on your way out of the park, just south of the visitor center, stop by the Roadside Ruin trail, an easy .3 mile (round trip) walk to an ancestral Puebloan grainary.
Permits are required for all river-use and overnight trips in the backcountry, and often run out quickly during peak seasons (spring and autumn). Travelers should try to make reservations in advance. Note that pets are not allowed in the backcountry, even in cars.
Most of the backcountry hiking and backpacking is located in the Maze district, the most remote of the three districts in Canyonlands National Park, and includes some of the most remote hiking in the country. Hiking in the maze requires a 4WD vehicle, or if driving a 2WD vehicle, long hikes to overlooks and through canyons.
It is highly recommended, due to the length of most hikes, and the length of time it takes to reach the Maze, that visitors spend a minimum of 2-3 days, and plan on backpacking overnight. The hikes are strenuous and long, with very few trail markers (cairns), resources, or people for miles around. Travelers should make certain they know the area, carry enough water, and carry a 25-foot (or more) rope for tricky spots/lowering packs.
Here are options for hiking in this backcountry:
- Recommended map.
- Maze Overlook: East off UT 24, a 2WD unpaved road leads east to the Hans Flat Ranger Station. Park at the station if in a DWD vehicle. If 4WD, drive 2.5 miles southeast past the station (take the left, going north, fork) and park at North Point Road junction. Backpack 15 miles to the the Maze Overlook.
- At Maze Overlook, hikers can camp, view the expansive view of the canyons, and see the iconic Chocolate Drops formation.
- This hike requires some minor technical climbing, using a rope (mainly to lower packs), and crosses over steep slides and drop-offs.
- Harvest Scene: In a 4WD vehicle, drive 2.5 miles past Hans Flat Ranger Station, and take a right (south) onto Gordon Flats Road. Drive 12.1 miles, then turn east down the Flint Trail switchbacks for 2.8 miles to Maze Overlook Road. Take a right and drive south through the Waterhole Flat for 3.5 miles to a 4-way junction with Doll House Road. Drive left (northeast) towards the Doll House and Land of Standing Rocks. Continue on this road for about 17 miles until you reach Chimney Rock Camp.
- Park at the east end of camp and take the major trailhead (look for a string of rock cairn markers). Take the right trail that takes you on the loop in a counterclockwise direction.
- Keep a topographic map on you at all times, and watch for cairns that mark the path, as side canyons can easily confuse hikers.
- After about 3.5 miles, the trail can be confusing; the path takes a sharp turn left and makes a steep descent into the dry wash of a canyon. Then after about a mile in this canyon, you reach a junction of 4 canyons; take the canyon that is a sharp left. After .5 miles in this canyon, you will see Harvest Scene.
- Harvest scene is one of the most famous rock art depictions in the world, lasting over 3,000 years.
- Continue past Harvest Scene (heading south), down the unnamed canyon, a side canyon to Horse Canyon. Walk 3 miles up Petroglyph Fork, and climb to the canyon rim.
- From the top of the ridge, it’s only about a mile back to Chimney Rock Camp.