Canyonlands National Park: Maps and Tips

Last updated: August 29th, 2023 | Originally published: August 9, 2023
Canyonlands N.P.

Canyonlands National Park near Moab, Utah is our 36th National Park, created September 12th, 1964. This desert wonderland is known for its multitude of soaring landscapes — some of which rival the most majestic vistas on earth — as well as a vast panorama of canyons and gorges. In this short article we will give you ten essential tips for a visit, as well as post some Canyonlands National Park maps that could be useful. We hope you enjoy!

Canyonlands National Park Maps and Tips

Canyonlands National Park Maps

Canyonlands National Park Maps and Tips

Below are driving directions to the park, and some of the highlights, as well as maps to three of the primary areas in the park.

Driving Directions from Moab to the Islands in the Sky Visitor Center

Directions from Moab to the Needles District

Directions to the Best Viewpoints at Islands in the Sky

NPS Map of Islands in the Sky (Canyonlands National Park Maps)

Map of the Needles District (Canyonlands National Park Maps)

Map of the Maze District (Canyonlands National Park Maps)

10 Canyonlands National Park Tips

Canyonlands N.P.
Canyonlands National Park Maps and Tips

The following are ten pieces of information we believe would be of value to anyone visiting Canyonlands National Park.

1. Islands in the Sky or the Needles District

Canyonlands National Park Maps and Tips
Canyonlands National Park Maps and Tips

The four main sections of Canyonlands National Park are Islands in the Sky and The Needles District. Each section has a separate entrance off Highway 191. There are two other sections, the Maze and the River, which we will not discuss in this article.

The most popular part of the park, Islands in the Sky, is sheer cliff mesa overlooking an inspirational expanse of canyons and chasms. If your visit to Canyonlands is brief, this is where you want to come. The roads are paved, the Islands in the Sky Visitor Center is only 40 minutes outside of Moab, and the biggest views are here.

The Needles Visitor Center is 80 minutes southwest of the town of Moab. This section of the park is home to sandstone spires, 4×4 trails, backpacking trails, hidden arches, and petroglyphs which date back to the indigenous people of Moab.

Maps to both sections of the park are found near the top of this article.

2. Mesa Arch at Sunrise

Canyonlands National Park Maps and Tips

This is the most popular thing to do in the park — a bucket-list, must-do event well documented across the internet. Everyone arrives at crack of dawn and elbows their own little space to set up their tri-pod for a sunrise photograph. We were here on a random Tuesday in April and found ourselves huddled in a mass of fifty souls at zero dark thirty.

For those of you playing National Park Photograph Monopoly at home, a sunrise Mesa Arch photo is the equivalent of a green property in the high-rent district. It’s kind of a big deal.

3. Take the White Rim Road into the Canyonlands

Canyonlands National Park Maps and Tips

The Shafer Trail at Islands in the Sky descends 1500 feet to the valley below, and that’s only the beginning. The 100-mile White Rim Road loops around and below the Island in the Sky and provides expansive views of the surrounding area. Four-wheel-drive trips usually take two to three days, and mountain bike trips usually take three to four days.

If you’ve seen the movie, Thelma and Louise, the off-the-cliff climax of the movie was filmed down here. You can drive to the location, even (MAP).

4. Hike the Trail at Grand View Point

Canyonlands National Park Maps and Tips
Canyonlands National Park Maps and Tips

This was our favorite excursion at Canyonlands National Park. The trail starts at the Grand View Point overlook and extends one mile along the windy precipice to the point of the mesa. From there you can climb atop the rock prominence and observe the southern expanse in spectacular grandeur.

But be careful: The wind is no joke, and it’s a long way down.

5. Shafer Canyon Overlook is the Biggest View

Canyonlands N.P.

What is especially stunning from this vantage is the exquisite depth of topographical features.

For openers, you could play a soccer game on the cliffside plateau (just watch your shoving). Straight over the edge is White Rim Road; you can trace it along the cliffs and across the canyon floor toward the hinterlands. Deep in the background the snow-drop mountain frames-in layer upon layer of spire, escarpment, and chasm, to the very base of where you stand. Shafer Canyon is easily one of the biggest views we’ve seen.

6. Viewpoints Everywhere at Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park Maps and Tips
Canyonlands National Park Maps and Tips

One of the many wonderful things about Islands in the Sky is, the road through the park is mostly out-and-back. Along this 12.2 mile road (visitor center to Grand Point View) are a handful of drive-up, jaw-dropping viewpoints. Here’s the MAP.

Our personal favorites are: Green River (above), Shafer Canyon, and Grand View, but all are worth contemplating.

7. Upheaval Dome Trail at Canyonlands National Park

not our photo

In an area approximately three miles across, rock layers are dramatically deformed. In the center, the rocks are pushed up into a circular structure called a dome, or an anticline. Surrounding this dome is a syncline in the rock layers. Geologists do not know for sure what caused these folds. A salt dome? A meteor? They do know that something happened here that didn’t happen elsewhere in the park.

The round-trip hike is about two miles long. Here’s a bit more info.

8. Needles District is More Remote

Canyonlands National Park Maps and Tips
not our photo

While most visitors to Canyonlands National Park peruse the Islands in the Sky section first, those with the time head over to the Needles District for more incredible features and views. The Needles Visitor Center is 1.5 hours (75 miles) from Moab (and pretty remote), so determination is an asset on this trek. From there it’s just another 6.5 miles to the end of the park.

Highlights include: The Needles District, Confluence Overlook, Newspaper Rock (super cool!), Wooden Shoe Arch, and Cave Springs. In spite of these piquant features, if you’re coming all this way, it’s to hike among the Needles.

9. Arches National Park is Right Next Door!

Canyonlands National Park Maps and Tips

If you like Canyonlands, you’re gonna love Arches! These National Parks are essentially a twofer, found pretty-much across the street from each other. Like Canyonlands NP, Arches NP can be explored in a rigorous day. Spend two days if you can.

Highlights Include: Windows/Turret Arch, Delicate Arch, Devil’s Garden to Double-O Arch, Sisters and the Wall, Balanced Rock, and much more. We wouldn’t leave Arches without hiking to Delicate Arch and the entire Devil’s Garden trail.

10. Dead Horse State Park is Next Door, Too!

Canyonlands N.P.
not our photo

Make your way over to Dead Horse Point State Park for more cliffs and canyons. From the Islands in the Sky Visitor Center it is 12 miles to the park (and it’s back toward Moab, kind of). The park is mostly a one-trick pony, but that trick is a truly epic view (see above). The downside is a $10 entry fee at the gate.

An Honest Conclusion for Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands N.P.
Canyonlands National Park Maps and Tips

Canyonlands is less-heralded than other Utah National Parks (Arches, Zion, Bryce Canyon). However, an argument can be made it is the most spectacular.

This argument would be met with, “Harrumph, Zion, harrumph,” but your voice would be heard and that’s what makes America great.

The geography here is similar to the Grand Canyon with hardly a pittance of the dottering crowd. If Olympian panoramics of a dusky and dremeled landscape sound like your idea of beauty, Canyonlands National Park might just be your Shenandoah.

Thank you for stopping by our website! We are the Hoffmann family, a full-time RV family that has split residence in Seattle, Washington and San Antonio, Texas. We have special needs children that we homeschool, and work travel assignments for the Veteran Affairs Hospital. If you would like to learn more about us, check out our Start Here and Biography pages. In the meantime, God bless and travel happy!

If you’re looking for more to do in Utah, here are some additional articles:

Bryce Canyon National Park

Arches National Park

Dinosaur National Monument

Colorado National Monument

Salt Lake City

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