National Parks: Canyonlands, Islands in the Sky

Canyonlands National Park

Islands In The Sky is the northern section of Canyonlands National Park. It is located just about 20-25 minutes from Moab, probably the most touristy town in this part of Utah.

Islands In The Sky can be seen within a day, but of course you can spend a lot longer if you like. The roads in the park are paved and the main one loops around, you will exit at the same place where you enter. There are numerous viewpoints and smaller pullouts which allow visitors to see a lot of the park with only short walks from the parking areas, but if you are feeling more adventurous you can venture out on the trails.

What kind of landscape should you expect? Well the name says it all, canyons. What else? Domes, narrow canyons, deep, wide canyons, in various hues, with buttes similar to the ones at Monument Valley sitting at their lowest points.

What to pack for the day of the visit? Water, food, snacks, comfortable shoes, hat, sunscreen, sunglasses. There are no stores inside the park.

For photography it is best to get here early, before the landscape casts its shadow, however if that is not the main reason for your visit the landscape will look just as beautiful to your eyes in the afternoon light.

The most famous spot in the park is Mesa Arch, not so much for the arch itself as it is pretty small compared to some other arches in the area, but because of the view that lies beyond it. At sunrise this point is swarmed with photographers, with tripods lined up way before sunrise, ready to capture the first rays of the day. If you want to give it a shot it is probably easiest to camp in the park to make sure you get an ideal space to set up your tripod in time. 

Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park

Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park

Where to stay? Moab is the most convenient locale . It is very much a tourist town. On its main drag you’ll find most of the chain hotels/motels as well as restaurants, cafes, adventure gear supply stores, a visitor center for both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and lots of souvenir shops.

Canyonlands National Park


Upheaval Dome, one of my favorite areas in the park, it’s a short fun hike ↓

Upheaval Dome


This look-out is not even marked on the park map! Driving slowly and stopping often can pay off, it only took a short walk from the side of the road to the mouth of this canyon.

Canyonlands National Park

This was sunset ↓

Sunset in Canyonlands National Park


The other sections of Canyonlands NP are The Needles in the south and The Maze in the west. The last one is difficult to access, it is the wildest part of the park, a backpacker’s destination. The Needles are separated from the northern section by The Green River and so there is no road connecting the two sections. They are quite far apart, a good 2 hour drive away from one’s entrance to the other’s.

The Needles is quite different from the north as far as the landscape goes, and it is best seen by hiking the area. Most of the trails are between 5-10 miles or longer. If you don’t plan on hiking that much there is no point in driving this far out. Lodging is a bit more tricky here too, Moab is about 2 hours north and the nearest village Monticello has only a few motels.

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