We got off the river after our five day family rafting adventure on a Wednesday. We purposely stretched out our time in Moab because we couldn’t imagine being there and not seeing the National Parks. Even if it meant only one day at Canyonlands (Island in the Sky)!
We’ve wanted to begin exploring national parks for sometime now, and Canyonlands National Park provided us with our first opportunity to really see what national parks have to offer.
While in an ideal world, I’d love an entire month to take our time exploring the parks in Utah, we had to do our best to fit the best parts of Canyonlands into a single day. We chose to visit the Island in the Sky portion for its proximity to Moab and the hikes and sites it offers.
Lucky for me, a good friend of mine had just returned from a trip to Utah and had visited the parks. She had been there many times before as well, so I picked her brain about the must see spots we needed to have on our list.
Our One Day at Canyonlands National Park
Our adventure began later than we anticipated because we wanted to enjoy as much time as we could with our nieces and nephews before they flew home. So it was 11:30 by the time we drove into the park.
There was a short line at the entry, but since Canyonlands does not close its gates when it hits a certain capacity, like Arches does, we simply waited in line in our car to enter. We efficiently spent our 30 minute wait eating lunch. I simply climbed into the back of the truck and made sandwiches for us. The timing worked out perfectly!
Once inside the park, we listened to the advice of my friend and drove right to the Visitor Center. Here the girls picked up their Junior Ranger Booklets… and they about lost their minds. Especially Hailey. She took right to getting her park stamp and filling out the booklet, helping her sister along the way.
Between the junior ranger booklets and the Gypsy tour guide app (highly recommend!), simply driving around the park was incredibly enjoyable.
Our first stop was at an overlook where I quickly realized the magnitude of the landscape. My knees shook as we walked onto Schafer Canyon Overlook. Holy moly y’all! The edges are straight vertical cliffs and my kids are just allowed to walk around wherever?!
I barely got to soak in the view because of my hovering around the kids to ensure they didn’t get close to the ledges, especially because huge gusts of wind would randomly blow through. We decided to take a family picture and that’s when a strong gust of wind burst through, whipping Hailey’s hat (with drawstring) off her head and sending it over a steep ledge.
She instinctively turned to reach for is as I started screeching “LEAVE IT! IT’s JUST A HAT! I’LL BUY YOU A NEW ONE!”
She was never in any danger and David looked at my like I had lost my mind. It was then that I wondered if I was really a National Park kind of gal. We snapped a family picture, headed back to the truck, and I nervously decided we’d continue on.
From that moment, the beauty and adventure slowly began to win us over and by the end of the day we all had made up our minds to quit everything and venture from national park to national park. You could say, we’d been bitten by the bug.
Here are the highlights of our day for you to bookmark for your own Canyondlands Island in the Sky Adventure!
One of the most famous spots at Canyonlands Island in the Sky, is Mesa Arch. It’s only .5 miles round trip and takes less than 30 minutes. There is little to no elevation change.
This short, easy loop is a must do because it’s a big pay off for little effort. Mesa Arch is majestic and right on the edge. When you peer through it you can see Washer Woman Arch, Monster Tower, and Airport Tower.
Aztec Butte was our favorite. It’s 1 mile round trip and takes about an hour. There is about 100 foot change in elevation.
This trail starts of as a sandy walk, then evolves into a little rock scrambling, which the girls love. At the top though, make sure to veer off to the Native American granaries. To get there, it looks like you’re walking off the side of the cliff, but you’re met with a great surprise!
Not only is the view fantastic, there is also some shade in which to sit and rest. We all thought the granaries themselves, places where Native Americans would hide and store their food, were impressive.
Boasting two overlooks, the first is only .8 miles roundtrip (the second is 1.8 miles). The elevation change for the first lookout is 100 feet.
This short but steep trail offers a magnificent view of Upheaval Dome, which is a bit of a mystery. The collapsed salt dome has a couple theories on its origins, and is impressive to see. I’ll admit though, I would not let the girls go all the way to the sign; it felt a little steep for my comfort!
Green River Overlook
By late afternoon, our energy was fading, so we enjoyed driving from overlook to overlook for quick peeks at the vast views. Green River Overlook was a personal favorite because of how the river so sharply cuts through the landscape. So neat!
We took our time listening to the Gypsy App, which had some wonderful stories about the history of the park and the area, as we slowly made our way out of the park. The girls stayed focused intently on their ranger guides the whole way.
We saw Whale Rock, followed cairns on the trails, and learned the importance of why we should not “bust the crust.” Thanks to Gypsy App, the Jr. Ranger books, snacks, and frequent stops, both girls were engaged and interested the majority of the day!
We certainly didn’t see everything the park has to offer; is that ever possible? But we felt really satisfied with all we were able to do and see in our one day at Canyonlands National Park!