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The ultimate road trip guide to Canyonlands National Park

Home to "The Island in the Sky," a jaw-dropping scenic landscape.

  • 18

Created by Roadtrippers - March 23rd 2016

Canyonlands, one of Utah's five National Parks, is known for being a destination for adrenaline junkies and adventurers. Its location is pretty rugged and remote (conveniently located near Arches National Park, as well as other National Recreation Areas, State Parks, Historic Sites, and more), but hidden among those buttes, canyons, mesas, and rivers are all kinds of treasures to be found. Native American ruins, breathtakingly-hued rock formations, endless views of the stars in the night sky, and a true sense of adventure await.

Some tips for visiting Canyonlands:
-There aren't any bridges or roads within the park that connect the separate units (the Needles, Island in the Sky, the Maze, Horseshoe Canyon and the Rivers) so you'll have to leave the park and go around. That means the park is less crowded within and more undeveloped, but plan accordingly.
-If you want a different way to see the park, look into a rafting expedition down the Green or Colorado Rivers. You can ride the rapids on a less intense route if you're a beginner, or tackle a more challenging stretch of river if you're up for it.
-Due to the park's remote location, Canyonlands is known for having some of the darkest skies and best stargazing in the country. Bring binoculars or a telescope if you want, but you'll likely be able to see the Milky Way with your naked eye.

3.8

Moab, UT

The hike to Canyonlands' most popular feature, Mesa Arch, is one of the easiest and most popular. The paved, well-marked loop is less than a mile round trip, and takes you right up to the edge of this arch, which frames an incredible view of the Island in the Sky. Pro tip: the arch faces East, which means it offers drop-dead gorgeous views of the sunrise, so don't forget to pack your camera!

White Rim Road

White Rim Road is a popular, unpaved road that's about 100 miles long, and is great for 4WD cars or mountain bikes. In a car, it takes 2-3 days to complete the whole thing, and it's more like a 3-4 day trip on bikes...but it's worth it for the views around the top of the Island in the Sky mesa. You'll need day use and overnight permits to take the trip, so plan ahead!

The Pony Expresso Coffee Shop

There aren't many places to get food near Canyonlands that are closer to the park than Moab, but The Pony Expresso Coffee Shop in Dead Horse Point State Park is a life-saver. Sandwiches, smoothies, snacks, and, of course, coffee, make this a good place to grab lunch to bring to the park.

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The best view of Canyonlands is actually from Dead Horse Point State Park. Like Canyonlands, it has hiking, camping, and is great for biking, and if you're on your way from Moab to Canyonlands, it's worth it to stop by and soak up the views from one of the overlooks.

Fort Bottom Ruins

The hike to Fort Bottom Ruins is special in that it takes you to some Native American ruins! The site is the remains of what was once a tower, likely built by Anasazis 750 years or so ago. Along the way, you'll also pass by a former cowboy's cabin, and get some awesome views of the Green River.

Tamarisk Restaurant

Tamarisk Restaurant is popular with the locals for its awesome views of the river, and for its killer breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. You'll find staples like salads, prime rib, and burgers, as well as more funky offerings like coconut crusted tilapia and craft beer.

Blondie's Eatery & Gift

An oasis of AC and wifi in the middle of the desert, Blondie's Eatery and Gift is a little roadside stop that's legendary, and not just because it's the only place for miles. The burgers are decadent, the milkshakes are rich, the breakfast is filling, and the service is great. It's absolutely a road trip classic!

Horseshoe Canyon

The hike out to Horseshoe Canyon is a little more strenuous, but it takes you right up to some of the biggest, best-preserved, and most intriguing pictographs in the country. One panel of art is over 7 feet tall!

4.0

Moab, UT

The most remote of all units in Canyonlands, a trip to The Maze means being prepared with basic survival skills and a sturdy car in good condition. There's a ranger station/visitor center in case anything does happen, and you'll be rewarded with peace and quiet while you enjoy the wild landscape.

Adobe Abode Bed & Breakfast

A hot tub, tasty breakfasts home cooked for you, and a great atmosphere (thanks to the fact that the owner is an artist) make Adobe Abode Bed and Breakfast a really nice option when looking for a cozy place to stay near Canyonlands.

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Moab Red Stone Inn

Moab Red Stone Inn has an old-school motor lodge feel, and the fact that it's clean, comfy, and conveniently located near dining in Moab mean that it's outstanding...and it's reasonably priced, too!

Newspaper Rock State Historical Monument

Located on the access road to the Needles, Newspaper Rock State Historical Monument is one of the largest collections of petroglyphs in the world. The oldest carvings here are about 2,000 years old, and there are 650 drawings depicting animals, humans, symbols, and more.

Multicolored pillars of sandstone give the Needles District of the park its name, and there are various trails and overlooks where you can appreciate them! There's also Squaw Campground, which is a great place to spend the night and appreciate the stargazing while road tripping to the park. And there's a visitor center here as well.

Horse Head Grill

Ribs, burgers, and sandwiches make for hearty lunches and dinners at Horse Head Grill, plus they serve a great breakfast. It's got a super authentic, Western vibe going on...with the pictures of old ranches on the walls.

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Inn at the Canyons

The Inn at the Canyons in Monticello, UT has everything you'll need: clean rooms, a huge pool, breakfast in the mornings...plus, they have a spa (in case you want to work out some knots from all that hiking), and it's close to bars and restaurants in the area!

Peace Tree Juice Cafe

From uber-healthy options, like the quinoa bowl, to the sugary, delicious coconut-crusted French Toast, the breakfast at Peace Tree Juice Cafe is outstanding. The sit-down day menu, which has steak and fish, as well as sandwiches and salads, is just as good. Plus, the juice is a great way to fuel up for a long day of hiking.

Monticello, UT

The trail to False Kiva, a Native American ceremonial spot and archaeological site isn't too long, but it's rocky and not well marked. Once you reach the kiva, it's not hard to see why it was chosen as a religious site for those who lived in the canyon, the view is expansive and beautiful.

The best time of year to visit Canyonlands National Park: The extreme temperature range, from 25 below zero to 115 degrees, is one of the world's most varied. Visiting in the dead of summer or the middle of winter is not advisable. Fall and spring are way better. The park rarely attracts crowds, so don't worry about the busy season being too busy.

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