best hikes in canyonlands
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10 Best Hikes in Canyonlands National Park that Promise Incredible Views

Canyonlands National Park will truly blow your mind. The hiking is simply phenomenal when every path leads to incredible views! Here are the best hikes in Canyonlands that you simply can’t miss.

If you’re in the Moab, Utah area to visit Arches National Park or if you’re doing a full tour of Utah’s 5 national parks, I think you’ll find Canyonlands pretty spectacular. I was fortunate enough to spend several days hiking in Canyonlands. I can’t say enough good things about it!

Tips for Hiking in Canyonlands National Park

After spending the better part of a week exploring Canyonlands, here are some general tips that will make your experience smooth:

  • Take lots of water: no matter when you’re hiking, but especially in summer! You can refill at the visitor’s center spring, summer and fall.
  • Follow the cairns as you hike. These are the stacked rocks that mark the trail when it’s difficult to see.
  • There’s very little cell service. Great way to unplug while on your trip!
  • There’s no food available in the park, so bring plenty of fuel for all your hiking. A packed lunch in a cooler in the car is perfect for a cool off between hiking.
  • Your pass will get you 7 days of access to the park, so take advantage of it and come back multiple days.
  • If you’re visiting in the summer, avoid hiking during the hottest part of the day (12-4pm).
  • If you’re hiking in the winter, be sure to ask a ranger at the visitor center which hikes are open/safe due to snow.
tips for hiking canyonlands - follow cairns
Follow the stacked rocks as you hike Canyonlands

Best Hikes in Canyonlands

Eeek! I’m so excited for you to get to Canyonlands National Park! Writing this article makes me want to go back.

Geesh enough chatting – let’s get to it!

Mesa Arch Trail (must-do hike!)

best places to hike canyonlands
A unique view of Mesa Arch and the canyon beyond

Hike distance: .5 miles
Hike time: 30 minutes
Difficulty rating: easy
Best time to hike: sunrise is spectacular!

Starting with the most popular hike in Canyonlands! This short hike leads to an arch an incredible view of the canyon through the arch! You can hike all the way up to it and peek into the canyon.

Beware – the canyon drop off is immediately behind the arch so use caution when taking photos, especially if you’re hiking with kids! Be sure to climb the rock right next to the arch to get cool views of the canyon and a unique perspective of the arch.

I actually did this hike twice, and both times people were really good about waiting their turn to take family (or solo!) photos under the arch. The key is to be patient to get an empty arch, if that’s what you’re looking for!

This trail is short and relatively flat, so all ages and fitness levels can enjoy the hike.

Aztec Butte Trail

aztec butte trail canyonlands at lookout
Looking over the massive canyon at the end of Aztec Butte Trail

Hike distance: 2 miles
Hike time: 1.5-2 hours
Difficulty rating: moderate to difficult
Best time to hike: anytime it’s not rainy or wet

This trail is technically a moderate rating according to the National Park visitor’s guide, but let me tell ya there’s parts that are difficult. So let’s start with the easy part!

Aztec Butte – western trail

As you hike you’ll see the the first butte….which really just looks like an over-sized rock the size of an office building. Climb to the top and over the sides for cool views. But also to check out 2 ancestral Puebloan granaries. Read more about those here.

puebloan granaries at aztec butte trail
Seeing ancient pantries at the western fork of the Aztec Butte trail

It’s cool to climb over to see the ancient pantry and living quarters. Really puts our lifestyle in this century into perspective!

Aztec Butte – eastern trail

Back on the trail, you can head up to the 2nd butte…the even more massive rock that you’ll climb for epic views! This is the more challenging part of the trail. This was actually my favorite trail in Canyonlands for hiking itself.

The climb will start gradual and then get steep as you go. The end of the trail – towards the top of the butte – is the most difficult. And also rewarding!

You’ll need to climb the slick rock to reach the top. Most everyone I saw climbing it were on all 4’s to reach the top. The very last part of the trail is along a drop-off, so just don’t look down, okay?

Aztec Butte trail canyonlands looking up
Standing at the base of the butte as things start to get vertical (Aztec Butte Trail – eastern fork)

Once you get to the top you’ll walk to the end and see the massive canyon overlook! This is why it’s one of the best hikes in Canyonlands! Views for days.

Pro tip: take breaks and only wear really good, grippy hiking shoes! Don’t mess around on this trail. These are my favorite hiking boots from Amazon (I have them in gray).

White Rim Trail

white rim trail view of mountains in distance
Steep drop off of the canyon at White Rim Trail

Hike distance: 1.8 miles
Hike time: 1.5 hours
Difficulty rating: easy
Best time to hike: anytime!

Let’s take a step back for this one, okay? White rim trail is an easy trail. You can park and simply walk to the overlook, which is right by the parking lot. Or you can follow the cairns and go all the way to the endpoint – which is what I’d recommend!

This trail is smooth and easy, and can be done without hiking boots – sandals or athletic shoes will do! There’s no shade so pack water, too. I packed a lunch on this trail and enjoyed it as I went.

When you reach the end of the point, you’ll see a spectacular view of the Colorado River, the white rim of the canyon and the La Sal Mountains.

You might also like: Hiking Waimea Canyon Trail in Kauai, Hawaii (ultimate guide)

Upheaval Dome (most unique of the best hikes in Canyonlands)

best hikes canyonlands upheaval dome view
Upheaval Dome at the 1st overlook

The Upheaval dome is truly a mystery, and it’s quite the sight to see in person. I actually didn’t plan to stop at this hike during my time in Canyonlands, but I’m so glad I did!

I’m splitting this up into 2 hikes, because they’re quite different.

Upheaval Dome – 1st overlook

Hike distance: .8 miles
Hike time: 45 min- 1 hour
Difficulty rating: easy to moderate
Best time to hike: anytime

This trail is easy but quite steep. The steps make for easy walking, and can be done without hiking shoes. The very last part of the trail you’re walking on slick rock, so use caution and go when it’s dry.

Upheaval Dome is a geologic mystery, which scientists haven’t figured out. The dome includes layers of rock and sand, which look magnificently placed!

The current theories are that the dome was created by either slow-moving salt dome or a meteor impact that rebounded to create the peaks of rock and salt. Either way, it’s truly an out-of-this-world sight!

Upheaval Dome – 2nd overlook

upheaval dome 2nd view point
Looking at the salt peaks in Upheaval Dome at the 2nd view point

Hike distance: 1.8 miles
Hike time: 1.5-2 hours
Difficulty rating: moderate
Best time to hike: anytime it’s not rainy or wet

If you continue on the Upheaval dome trail, you’ll get to the 2nd overlook. This part of the trail is steeper and goes along cliffs. About 3/4 the way through it you’ll walk down massive slick rock, and right back up another.

Hiking shoes with excellent grip are recommended for this part of the trail. I saw several others with hiking poles, which would have been helpful too. In parts the walkway is narrow with steep drop-offs.

The 2nd overlook is basically at the opposite end of Upheaval Dome, which provides a different perspective. By visiting both overlooks, you get a clearer picture of the shape of the dome and a better view of the salt peaks plus canyon views.

This was a really cool hike, but if you’re pressed for time, I’d recommend just the 1st overlook in order to make time for the next hike.

Grand View Point Trail (my favorite!)

hiking canyonlands national park grand view point
At the top of Grand View Point with magnificent views!

Hike distance: 2 miles
Hike time: 1.5-2 hours
Difficulty rating: easy
Best time to hike: anytime

This trail was my absolute favorite and is definitely one of the best hikes in Canyonlands! I felt the hiking itself wouldn’t win any awards, but the views were absolutely phenomenal!

There’s an overlook near the parking lot, which is pretty cool. But if you only have time to do 1 trail in Canyonlands National Park, this is the one!

The trail follows the canyon edge the entire trail. Around each curve of the trail you’ll see views more incredible than the previous – which seems impossible to do!

The trail is mostly flat up until the very end, with only a little climbing to get to the peak. Once you get to the end of the trail, there’s a rock you can climb to get 360-degree views of mother nature’s glory and it’s pure bliss!

Best hikes in Canyonlands: Whale Rock

Whale rock trail from above
Hiking Whale Rock to the top

Hike distance: 1 mile
Hike time: 45 minutes-1 hour
Difficulty rating: moderate
Best time to hike: anytime it’s not rainy or wet

This trail was one that surprised me! I was actually planning on skipping this trail but I happened to drive past the turnoff and just thought, ‘what’s one more?’

The National Park Service positions this trail as fun for kids. I think it would be for older kids, like over age 10. But there’s a lot of drop-offs so I wouldn’t recommend it for younger kids.

Whale Rock trail is one of the steeper inclines in the park, and you’re walking on rock most of the time. Follow the cairns and keep climbing until you can’t climb anymore.

At the top of whale rock, turn around and you’ll see how it got it’s name. The series of massive rocks all in a row look like the back of a whale as it glides through the water. Pretty spectacular!

I saved this hike as one of the last in my trip, so I could see a majority of the park – in the distance! The Upheaval Dome, Aztec Butte, Grand Point, Green River Overlook and Mesa Arch – to name a few!

Pro tip: hiking shoes or extremely good traction is a must on this trail!

Neck Spring Trail

spring neck trail canyonlands
Spring Neck Trail with a bit of history

Hike distance: 5.8 miles
Hike time: 3-4 hours
Difficulty rating: moderate
Best time to hike: anytime

This trail is unique for a few reasons, and one not to pass up if you’re looking for a longer hike. It’s varied terrain keeps you entertained throughout. It’s also a loop, unlike most of the other trails in Canyonlands National Park.

This is one of the only trails in Canyonlands that has a natural water source (based on recent rainfall). The rains helped ranchers provide water for their livestock way back when this trail was used regularly for non-tourist reasons! It’s cool that you can still see the remnants of what used to be with fencing, watering troughs and old tin cans.

This trail has some scrambling about 3/4 the way through it, which is difficult so good grip hiking shoes are a must.

Pro tip: this is a longer hike with no shade. Grab your sun hat, sunblock and lots of water for this one.

Shafer Canyon Overlook and Trail

driving shafer trail Canyonlands view from the top
Driving Shafer Trail at Canyonlands National Park

Okay, this one’s actually a driving trail – which can be hiked – so I had to throw it in! For adventure-lovers with access to a 4-wheel drive vehicle, this is a must on a visit to Moab!

It’s a 19.6 mile trail down into the canyon. You’ll find switchbacks which are pretty easy to navigate, as long as you’re not afraid of heights!

You’ll get incredible views of the Colorado River, and a new appreciation for how massive the canyons really are.

Pro tip: a 4×4 vehicle is required for this one. And definitely avoid if it’s rainy or flooding as the road becomes dangerous.

Easy hikes in Canyonlands National Park

Just to review, here is my suggestion if you’re looking for easy hiking in Canyonlands. Having hiked most of the trails in Canyonlands National Park, here are the hikes easiest and most accessible for everyone:

  • Mesa Arch trail (.5 miles)
  • White Rim trail (1.8 miles)
  • Grand View Point trail (2 miles)

Related read: 3 Easy Hikes in Austin, Texas

views and best hikes in canyonlands
Beautiful views at the top of Whale Rock

Best Hikes in Canyonlands (a recap)

Here are the very best hikes in Canyonlands, based on views and the reward at the end of the hike, here’s my favorites:

  • Grand View Point Trail
  • Aztec Butte Trail
  • Upheaval Dome Trail
  • Mesa Arch Trail
  • Whale Rock Trail
  • White Rim Trail
  • Neck Spring Trail

Alright so I want to know – which hike would you do first on a visit to Canyonlands National Park? Comment below!

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10 epic hikes canyonlands national park

16 Responses

    1. You’re so right! I hadn’t heard of it before I started researching Moab, but fell in love with it!!

  1. Thank you for sharing this article. I was recently reading more about Canyonlands but I have never been. It looks so stunning and I am certainly adding to my bucket list. Both Upheaval Dome hikes look very nice and I would absolutely love to try them one day. Great article!

    1. Yay Polly! Upheaval Dome is a really cool sight to see in person. I hope you get to experience it soon!

  2. Hi Nikki,

    What a great post! This is a dream world for someone like me who loves hiking. I’m in love with Canyonlands National Park already.

    Thank you for the inspiration!

    Diana

    1. You’re so welcome, Diana! I hope you get to experience these hikes really soon!!

  3. These all look awesome (even the ones that aren’t the top of your list!) It is really cool that there are so many amazing mini hikes! How many do you normally do in a day? As it seems like you could easily do multiple of the shorter ones…

    1. Yes! I could fit 3-4 in, depending on how many hours I planned to hike! And the heat, I visited in summer so it was how long I could safely tolerate the temps!

  4. I have not visited any of the Mighty 5 parks in Utah yet but they are on my bucket list. The views seem to go on forever. I think the views of Shafer Canyon are my favourite although I’d like to see the old Aztec Butte developments as well.

  5. Nikki,

    Great article – wow, I wish I had your energy! I would need to do the Mesa Arch Trail since I can no longer hike far (had foot surgery in January). However, all the trails look interesting and I know I would love the Grand View Point.

    1. Thanks for the sweet compliment, Roselyn! There’s so much to experience in Canyonlands in addition to the hiking, too. And Mesa Arch is quite the sight to see with the canyon in the backdrop. I hope you get to experience Canyonalands sometime soon!

  6. Great article – if I wanted to do as many of these hikes as possible, what is the best campground / campsites to stay at? We are visiting in December 2020 and will be in a small RV

    1. Glad you found it helpful, Brad! When I visited earlier this year, the campsites in the park were limited due to COVID. However, I know they were working on a phased approach for re-opening. If you can, I’d definitely recommend to stay within Canyonlands National Park to give you easy access. Just make sure that you’re in the Island in the Sky area of the park for these hikes. (The Needles area has amazing hikes too, but the ones in this article are all for the Island in the Sky area.)
      Otherwise, if you can’t stay within the park, check out sites near Moab, UT. There’s a ton in the area, and the park is only about 25-30 minutes from Moab. The park is easy to navigate and quickly move from hike to hike.
      Have a great time – you’ll love hiking Canyonlands, it’s unbelievable scenery!

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