5 Things to do at Canyonlands National Park in One Day

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 things you can do there in a short time, being that so much of it’s best spots are so close to one another.

And in this post, I’ll show you 5 things you can do in Canyonlands National Park, all in one day!

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

canyonlands national park overlook 07

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. It is a truly amazing park whose beauty beats many other places out there, including the Grand Canyon itself in my opinion.

Here are the 5 things to do at Canyonlands National Park in one day:

things to do at canyonlands national park

With the one day I had to explore this park, here are the 4 out of 5 places I explored:

  1. Upheaval Dome.
  2. Green River Overlook.
  3. Grand Viewpoint Overlook.
  4. Mesa Arch (the most iconic spot in Canyonlands National Park).
  5. Drive through the White Rim trail by car (deep into the Canyonlands area).

The last area I didn’t do because I honestly didn’t know it was possible to explore the lower regions of Canyonlands National Park.

It wasn’t until I looked up information on this area that I saw it was possible and it will be done the next time I go!

But in terms of the other 4 spots, I saw them 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 5 spots you can see:

These 5 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 (understanding the best ways to explore it):

map of canyonlands national park things to do 01

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.

Here’s what you need to understand about Canyonlands National Park:

There are 3 different ways to explore this park and depending on how much time you have to visit it and/or what your goals are will determine which option is best:

Option 1: Exploring the northern section of Canyonlands National Park.

This is best for a one day trip. You will basically be at the top of Canyonlands National Park and will see the best sights, including the famous Mesa Arch. It’s great for short hikes, seeing amazing sights and exploring a lot of the park in a single day. The majority of suggestions in this article cover sections of this area of the park.

Option 2: Exploring the eastern end of Canyonlands National Park.

This area can only be accessed from the eastern side. If you are looking for a multi day trip, camping adventures and amazing hikes that take you inside the heart of the park, this is where you’ll want to stop at.

Option 3: Exploring the bottom of Canyonlands National Park (scenic drive).

You will be on the famous White Rim Trail. You can drive it or even mountain bike on it. It’s 100 miles long and goes through the park. This is best for anyone looking to explore the “sea level” region of the Canyonlands Park. The best way to access this trail is from driving into the northern side of the park. Entrance to the White Rim Trail is available there and it exits out near a mountain called “The Knoll”.

1) Begin by traveling to Upheaval Dome:

canyonlands national park upheaval dome 05

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):

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:

canyonlands national park green river overlook 03

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:

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.

There is a fence area near the drop you can stand behind, but I wanted to get a little closer to the edge here to get that awesome photo. Obviously, be careful.

3) Go to Grand Viewpoint Overlook:

canyonlands national park grand viewpoint overlook 04

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:

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.

Out of all the hikes in this park, this was my favorite. See my list of the best hiking trails to explore in Utah (this one is on the list).

4) Head to Mesa Arch:

canyonlands national park mesa arch 01

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.

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.

5) Finish up with a drive through the White Rim trail:

canyonlands national park white rim trail 05

If you’ve been carefully analyzing the photos in this post so far, you may have noticed little dirt trails at the bottom of Canyonlands Park (if you look at it from the overlook pictures).

I certainly did when I was at this park and I wondered if they were available to drive to the public or if they were for park staff.

Well it turns out this place is publicly accessible, is called the White Rim trail and you can get down to the base of the park.

The entrance to this trail is available at the entrance of the park and it is also used by mountain bikers and joggers.

And that “completes” your list of things to do at Canyonlands National Park (and it can be done in one day):

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.

Is good footwear and hiking gear required for Canyonlands National Park?

It certainly helps on some hikes that are at the top of this park, but for many popular hikes, the trails are easy to walk on in casual sneakers and even sandals. But I would recommend still wearing decent hiking shoes and other gear if you plan to do a hike that requires a bit more actual challenging hikes and scrambles such as:

Questions about Canyonlands National Park:

Is Canyonlands worth visiting?

Absolutely. Canyonlands is an incredibly beautiful park that has it’s own unique landscapes and it’s also close to Arches, but is a lot less crowded than it.

How much time do you need to see Canyonlands National Park?

One day is enough to see multiple places in Canyonlands National Park but if you want to stay longer, it’s recommended to do it for 2-3 days.

Can you drive through Canyonlands?

Yes there is a main drive called the White Rim Trail that takes you through Canyonlands National Park.

Which part of Canyonlands is best?

Most people prefer to visit the northern part of Canyonlands as it offers access to the most sights and hikes. But there is also the White Rim Trail and Eastern end of the park that also have a lot to offer.

What is the best time of year to visit Canyonlands National Park?

I recommend visiting Canyonlands National Park in the winter. The weather is amazing then and you will hardly find any crowds anywhere there.

Other parks and locations near Canyonlands:

1) I listed the other Mighty 5 National Parks above, so I’d check them out too.

2) Dead Horse State Park is very close to Canyonlands and is also very beautiful (and not as packed).

3) Coyote Gulch is 3 hours west of Canyonlands and is also a beautiful location to explore. Just as well, there is also Grand Staircase Escalante.

4) If you like challenging hikes, here is a list of popular hikes in Utah worth exploring.

5) And also do not forget that Utah has state parks too and they are incredible as well (some are near Canyonlands).

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