View of Green River valley and canyons inside Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah – American Road Trip (pt29)

Sept 25, 2015.  Day 47 of my American Road Trip.


Canyonlands National Park was my next stop after a great day in Arches National Park. Both parks are Moab, Utah adjacent with Arches in the 12 o’clock position and Canyonlands in the 8 o’clock position and a bit further out. While Arches had, well, arches, Canyonlands had massive canyons and some of the best views and scenery of my road trip. 



The Colorado and Green Rivers divide Canyonlands into three separate areas. The area I visited, Island in the Sky, is the most popular due to it’s proximity to Moab and because it’s the easiest to visit in a short period of time. 

There are a ton of outdoor activities you can partake in throughout the park. From developed and backcountry camping, backpacking, hiking, mountain biking and river rafting, this is a great place to get away from it all. As the Canyonlands website reads, “Hiking trails or four-wheel-drive roads can take you into the backcountry for a few hours or many days”

Here’s a Canyonlands map link for those that want to follow along and maybe plan a trip of their own.  


Mesa Arch

A week or so before I arrived in Utah, a Marine Corps friend had recommended I witness the sunrise through Mesa Arch if I made my way to Canyonlands. I believe he said something to the effect that it was life changing or one of the best sunrises he’d ever seen. That was all the sales pitch I needed to get up a couple of hours before dawn and make my way towards the park. I had done a little cell phone research and Mesa Arch indeed looked like a pretty phenomenal place to see the sunrise. Apparently this was no secret.

I entered the park before sunrise and the Visitors Center was still closed. There was only one other car on the road and they were headed to the same spot as me. When I arrived, I was a little surprised to see a full parking lot at 6:00 a.m. The first sign that this wasn’t going to be a solo experience. I parked, grabbed my backpack and started the 25-minute hike to the Mesa Arch. 

Mesa Arch was cool. But all the people running around and being loud took a little away from what could have been a pretty cool experience. Apparently they didn’t get the memo that I wanted this extremely popular international destination just to myself. I hung around for a bit after the sunrise, snuck in between all the tripods for a couple of pictures and was on my way to the next stop, Upheaval Dome.


Upheaval Dome

While some people say Upheaval Dome is a meteor impact area, the national park service website states it is just the result of erosion to a structural dome. Whatever that may mean. My inner geologist wasn’t bursting to get out and research the topic. But my inner hiker was bursting to get out and hike the 3.5 mile / 5.6 km trail to the dome. It’s a pretty cool trail that takes you all over the rocky sandstone mountains. And it’s not so rough that the 60+ year old Europeans I met couldn’t handle it. To be honest, the trail was much cooler than actually seeing the dome itself. The old adage, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey would ring true a couple of times that day. But not at the next spot.  


Green River Overlook

After my hike to Upheaval Dome, I drove down the road to the best viewpoint in the park. Well at least to this guy. I finally broke out the big boy camera for this location and got what I think are some of my best pictures of the trip. Since I only used my Sony a few times, it’s not really hard to make that statement. Still, the Green River Overlook made the visit to this park well worth it. The view of Shafer Canyon at the end of the day is probably my second favorite.


Grand View Point Overlook

Next on my list of stops was the Grand View Point Overlook. The 1 mile hiking trail to the overlook, with it’s views of Monument Basin from the red rocky cliffs, was actually better than the Grand View Point itself. The Grand View Point Overlook was nice, but the walk along the cliffs into the jagged Monument Basin was a little more stimulating to me, as was seeing how close I could get to the edge before primal instincts and sweaty palms pulled me back.


Shafer Canyon Overlook 

The final and second coolest overlook/viewpoint in Canyonlands to this guy was the Shafer Canyon Overlook. It wasn’t even on my list of places to stop but I saw a crowd of people parking and my fear of missing out kicked in so I too parked and followed the crowd. I’m so glad I did. Not only did I get a great view of the canyon, I got to see some of the steep trails the mountain bikers and hikers take to get in and out of the canyon. A great last stop and exclamation point on the park with the greatest overlooks and viewpoints on my trip. 

Canyonlands was another surprise destination my trip. I didn’t know much about national parks before I departed and I honestly didn’t think looking at big canyons would be all that fun. I was wrong. The views are amazing and the hiking trails up, through, and around the sandstone mountain rock formations and cliffs really makes the park an interactive experience. Especially if you play the, “how close to the edge of the cliff can I get” game. I only spent about three-quarters of a day there and feel I got my money’s worth and more.  The park is pretty immense and I would really like to go back some day and hike down into those canyons.


Thanks for reading. Another longer than I thought post but it was great reliving that day in the park as I sorted through and edited all the pictures.  Please let me know what you think and if you have any recommendations about places I should visit during my next trip to Canyonlands.


Last Stop: Arches National Park, Utah
Next Stop: Capitol Reef National Park, Utah