Trying to pick the best hikes in Canyonlands National Park can be challenging. This park, located near Arches National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park, has a lot of great hikes to choose from for hikers of all capabilities. The great thing is that even though there are so many trails, you really can’t go wrong with whichever hikes you pick to spend your time on.
Both the Needles District (to the south) and the Island in the Sky District (to the north) offer good hiking opportunities.
Though there are several dozen hikes in Canyonlands National Park, we did our best to narrow them down to the best-let us know how we did by leaving a comment!
These hikes and more are included in our downloadable Canyonlands National Park Itinerary. The hikes are ranked in order of popularity. We include the elevation gain, location and difficulty as well. We also tell you what to pack, where to stay and what to do while you are in the area. Finally, we also include park maps. Download ahead of your trip to take the guesswork out of planning!
Island in the Sky map, courtesy of the National Park Service
MESA ARCH TRAIL
If you are looking for an iconic hike in Canyonlands National Park, a big reward and little effort, then the Mesa Arch Trail is for you. It’s no wonder why this is one of the most popular hikes in Canyonlands. This trail (which is rated with a difficulty of “easy”) is one that you have to do if you head to the Island in the Sky District. The hike climbs just 121 feet in elevation (total) and has a round-trip distance of 0.6 miles. With photos, this trail shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes.
After walking through an easy trail (with a small amount of climbing), the hike ends with the most photographed arch in Canyonlands. At the end of the hike and just feet behind the arch is a sheer sandstone cliff, so keep an eye on any children.
The view is amazing at sunrise, in particular. Expect to find plenty of people on this hike, so get there earlier in the morning if you want a quieter experience. This hike and view are highly recommended.
The trail is fully exposed, so if you go in the summer (like we did), expect to be hot!
The trailhead starts at the Mesa Arch Parking area, which is 6.1 miles south of the Island in the Sky Visitor Center.
GRAND VIEW POINT TRAIL
The Grand View Point trail in the Island in the Sky District is a very popular trail as it has great views along the entire route. This easy trail is mostly flat but has a total elevation gain of around 200 feet if you are adventurous at the end of the trail. The total round-trip distance is 1.8 miles. However, if you are just up for hiking part of the trail, the views will be nothing short of impressive. In fact, some of the views on this trail were more impressive and expansive than our experience in Grand Canyon National Park.
The trail heads to the southwest from the parking lot along a narrow ridge (with drop offs of around 1000 feet to either side of the trail). The most unique aspect of this rail is that there are views both to the west and east, with a nice 360-degree view at the end of the hike. Pictures don’t do this hike justice, since you really have to be there to see the landscape.
This hike really is something that everyone should try to experience if possible, as it is commonly rated as one of the best hiking trails in Canyonlands National Park.
The trailhead starts at the end of Grand View Point Road, approximately 12 miles south of the Island in the Sky Visitor Center.
FALSE KIVA TRAIL
One of the more challenging hikes on this list is the False Kiva Trail. This hike is not well marked but is an official trail in Canyonlands. This 1.9-mile (round-trip) hike climbs a total of 436 feet in elevation and includes some rock scrambling near the end.
The trail descends first for about 400 feet before the final climb which is guided by Cairns (small rockpiles).
At the end of the trail is a man-made rock circle inside a perfect alcove, but unfortunately the alcove is no longer accessible due to vandalism. This hike is wonderful at sunset in particular, as the views from the alcove are absolutely breathtaking and provide for some great photos. If you do watch the sunset, make sure you take headlamps to help you find your way back.
The trailhead starts about 3.4 miles west of the intersection with Grand Road and Upheaval Dome Road, just south of the Alcove Springs Parking lot on the opposite side of the road and just south of the Alcove Springs Parking lot in the Island in the Sky District.
False Kiva Trail photo provided by John Buie
UPHEAVAL DOME TRAIL
Rounding out the best hikes in the Island in the Sky District is the Upheaval Dome Trail. This trail leads to an unusual one-mile wide crater. This trail has a moderate level of difficulty, made challenging only because of the uneven trail that climbs 305 feet total over the 1.6-mile (round-trip) hike.
The trail climbs up slowly to a view of a crater. Nobody quite knows how this crater was formed. The only thing certain is that it wasn’t created from erosion, like the rest of the features in the park.
If you want to cut the hike short, stop at the first overlook which is only 0.8 miles round-trip. The second overlook provides not only a view of the crater but also a few of the western side of Canyonlands National Park.
The trailhead starts at the end of the Upheaval Dome Road, 5 miles west of the junction with Grand View Point Road in the Island in the Sky District.
Needles District map, courtesy of the National Park Service
DRUID ARCH TRAIL
As one of the most challenging day-hikes in Canyonlands National Park, the Druid Arch Trail is a fantastic hike if you are up for work. This hike includes a significant amount of elevation gain (1633 feet) over the 10.4-mile (round-trip) hike.
The trail starts on the Chelser Park Trail, which has great scenery by itself before turning into the Druid Arch Trail. This trail leads to one of the most amazing views in the park. After climbing a few hundred feet for the first two miles, the trail descends sharply into a sandy wash before heading back uphill slowly.
The incline gets gradually steeper before having to navigate a ladder near the end (where the arch is located). The climb requires hikers to be nimble, but it is definitely doable (plus, you have the extra motivation of almost being at the end!). The arch is 450 feet high and is in a canyon that is also quite beautiful. Be advised that this trail also involves some deep sand, so make sure you have good shoes and bring plenty of water.
The trailhead starts at Elephant Hill, 6.3 miles west of the Needles District Visitor Center.
Druid Arch photo provided by Richie B pics
CAVE SPRING TRAIL
The Cave Spring Trail is one of the shorter hikes in Canyonlands, but it is a good trail to do after one of the longer hikes in the park. While it is only 0.6 miles, the main attraction requires two ladder climbs for a total of 29 feet in elevation gain.
The hike is short and shaded (which is a rarity in Canyonlands National Park). This hike includes a camp with cowboy artifacts and petroglyphs. The views are nice as well as the much welcome shade!
The trailhead starts at the Cave Spring Trailhead, directly south of the Needles District entrance. Getting to the trail requires driving on a 1-mile dirt road, which is easily passable.
Cave Spring photo provided by John Fowler
FURTHER INFORMATION ON CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- We review these trails and many more in our downloadable itinerary for Canyonlands National Park. If by any chance you also want to head out to other parks in Utah, then check out our Utah’s Big 5 National Park itinerary, which is offered at a discount!
- Don’t forget that we also create custom, vintage-style posters, postcards and note cards using photos that you send us. We’re happy to help you remember your trips forever!
ADDITIONAL USEFUL INFORMATION ON CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK
- Another great activity in Canyonlands National Park is rafting. For some details on what it’s like to experience an amazing 7-day adventure, Wayne Ranney (from “Earthly Musings”) put together information about Rafting and Hiking in Stillwater and Cataract Canyons in Canyonlands National Park.
- If you need ideas on how to spend your time when visiting Moab (beyond Canyonlands National Park!), check out Leigh’s blog (from “Hike Bike Travel”) on The Ultimate Itinerary for a Visit to Moab, Utah.