How to Spend One Day at Canyonlands National Park

If you’re planning to visit Canyonlands National Park but only have one day to explore it, fear not, because there happen to be many activities close to each other which you can do so much so that it’ll seem like you spent days there.

My experience in visiting Canyonlands National Park for only one day:

one day trip at canyonlands national park

I visited to this park for the first time in early 2020, during one of the most scenic road trips I did through the western US, but because of time constraints only had one day to explore it.

When I do road trips, I typically don’t stay in one place and try to get as many locations explored under my belt, so each spot I visit, isn’t for longer than one day.

In this case, I had been exploring much of Utah and went through places like:

I basically hiked most of the Mighty 5 National Parks in Utah during this trip.

In fact, the very same day I explored Canyonlands National Park, it was in the afternoon.

On the morning of the same day I hiked there, I actually managed to explore much of Arches National Park too.

2 national parks explored in one day is crazy, so exploring the following locations I’ll show you in a moment is more than doable. I only had 7 hours to do what I did there and I was easily able to fit it all in.

And so, as I entered the park and went into the welcome center, I straight up asked the ranger what I could do in one day there.

The ranger proceeded to show me numerous options I had, all of which were close by, but I doubt he thought I could actually do them all in the 7 hour time frame I had. But I did and today I’ll share with you the itinerary of how to spend one day at Canyonlands National Park.

What you can do in a single day at Canyonlands National Park:

With the one day I had to explore this park, here are the 4 places I saw:

  1. Upheaval Dome.
  2. Green River Overlook.
  3. Grand Viewpoint Overlook.
  4. Mesa Arch (the most iconic spot in Canyonlands National Park).

I saw the following places in that order and it filled up my day at this park so much that I couldn’t believe I could get so much accomplished. I suspect you will feel this way too, but at the same time very fulfilled in knowing you did so much.

Here’s the beauty of these 4 spots you can see:

These 4 locations in the park are pretty close if use a car, and the activities you can accomplish when visiting these 4 spots will make you feel like you saw the entire park (of course, there’s a ton more to explore here, but still).

  • You’re going to do short but very scenic hikes.
  • You’re going to stand at the insanely beautiful viewpoints.
  • You’re going to see the famous Mesa Arch that all the pictures of Canyonlands always show off.
  • And more.

And all of this again, will be done in a single day at this park. So let’s get started. Enter the park first, and make sure you get a map of it at the welcome station. It’ll come in handy.

Here is map of Canyonlands National Park:

I have to look for the copy I got but until I find it, here’s the official Canyonlands National Park map which will help you pinpoint these destinations. You can get them for free at the welcome center anyway when you go.

1) Begin by traveling to Upheaval Dome.

Upheaval Dome is a beautiful, short, and very scenic hike that takes you to 2 different overlooks that surround a large canyon within which a large, light green mountain lies.

It literally looks like a meteor hit this place and I have never in my life seen such a strange land formation, that was also so beautiful to look at. I did both hikes, as they were pretty short and easy to manage (1/4 mile for one and 1/2 mile for the other):

Upheaval Dome canyonlands national park

Getting there from the welcome center takes about 15-20 minutes on car, and once you reach it, a large and beautiful parking lot will indicate you’re in the right spot. From there you can elect to travel up the shorter 1/4 mile hike to see Upheaval Dome from one angle, or travel the slightly more beautiful and longer 1/2 hike to see it from a different point of view.

Having done both, I can tell you both hikes are worth it. It only took my friend and I about 45 minutes to do both hikes.

2) Green River Overlook.

After seeing Upheaval Dome, get back to your car and begin driving in the direction of the welcome center (back). About 10 minutes from Upheaval Dome is where you’ll find the next awesome destination, which is Green River Overlook:

green river overlook canyonlands national park

This location has a viewing area that safe to check out, and there’s hiking to the left and right you can explore, but be careful, because the drop in this area is ridiculously high.

3) Go to Grand Viewpoint Overlook.

Out of the 4 places I explored at Canyonlands National Park, this was the most scenic and fun in my opinion. The drive to this area is very close to Green River Overlook (about another 10-15 minutes) and once you get there, you’ll also find a large parking lot.

From there, you can hike for 1 mile and see incredible views of the Grand Viewpoint Overlook and let me just say this hike is one of the most exciting ones I’ve ever done. It feels like you’re hiking on a balcony overlooking this beautiful area. Here is how it looks there:

grand viewpoint overlook canyonlands national park

But that viewing spot you see above is just the tip of the iceberg. Remember, the trail continues to 1 mile and if you follow it all the way to the end, you’ll hike up to a beautiful scenic overlook that gives you a 360 viewpoint of Canyonlands National Park.

I’ll never forget how I sat there, by myself, listening to the wind, the silence of the area and just letting the awe of this place overtake me. It was truly a humbling, therapeutic and spiritual experience to say the least.

4) Finish up at the Mesa Arch.

By the time I finished hiking back from Grand Viewpoint Overlook, the sun was setting and the time to visit the last spot was at hand: Mesa Arch, which is the most famous spot in this whole park:

mesa arch canyonlands national park

I wanted to time my visit to this spot right around sunset, hoping to see how the sun sets at this beautiful arch, only to realize I made a mistake and that if I wanted to see the iconic moment this place is known for, that I’d have to visit Mesa Arch at sunrise, not sunset, considering that the arch points to the east, not west.

Never the less, hiking to this spot was very easy, at only 1/4 of a mile and the hike to it is very simple to reach for most people.

And that “completes” your one day trip at Canyonlands National Park.

There are certainly a plethora of more things you can do at Canyonlands but considering the time constraints, I am very satisfied with the amount of hiking, sightseeing and viewing I did at this park and I believe you will too if you follow this simple itinerary.

The only thing I would suggest adjusting is that if it’s possible for you to visit the Mesa Arch at sunrise, do it, and see this spot first, before visiting the other locations on this list.

The good news is that they are all so close by car, that you really won’t spend too much time getting to each location and hiking there is not only beautiful but short as well, so you can easily fit in multiple locations at this park in a single day like I did.

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