Exploring the outlooks at Canyonlands NP


The heat in Utah in Summer can be intense if you’re not used to it. Leaving the RV resort in Moab around 6 am, we were set off to the Park. Already in shorts and a top and hat, the air was warm but pleasant.

We have 24 hours to conquer the mighty Canyonlands.

Within the national park, the Colorado River divides the park into 4 different districts. The first is Island in the Sky, 2. The Needles 3. The Maze and the 4th is the rivers themselves.

As we have started in Moab, our first point of call from the entrance is the Island in the Sky. From Moab, it takes around a 40-minute drive.

As we drive the sun is already waking up. We are watching it rise to our left side of the park. The sun has is a rich yellow and the sky is filled with a mixture of pink, purple and blue hues. It is moments like this that rising early has its benefits, even if at the time, it feels like hard work.

The Island in the Skye Scenic Drive 

The Island in the Sky Mesa is made up of sandstone cliffs that dominating over a 1,000 feet of neighbouring land.

We spend around an hour at the Shafer Canyon Overlookexploring all the nooks and crannies and discovering this land from different aspects. We are met with another couple of hikers, but that is it. This land is ours to appreciate this morning without crowds of people. As the sun is rising it hits the cliffs making them glow a rich red and orange.

Island of the Skye is the easiest area to conquer in the shortest amount of time,  out of the whole park. With its breathtaking scenery, even just seeing this section we were blown away and happy we had made the journey.  This section of the park provides plenty of pullouts on a paved scenic drive.


Mesa Arch Trailhead

Grade: Easy

Distance: 0.6 miles

Elevation: 62 feet

Route Type: Loop

Many visitors to the park will make the journey to the Mesa Arch when visiting the park. Arriving around 8 am, we park and make the pilgrimage down to the arch. By this time of the morning, this is a fairly crowded journey. Mesa Arch is a famous arch that can be located perched on the edge of a cliff. It is a glorious site if you look through the arch.  We find ourselves gazing out to canyons, White Rim Road and even la Sal Mountains.

We meet a traveller who had set up a timelapse since 3 am of the arch. He was exploring similar National Parks like us. We chatted for about a half an hour and learnt about new locations and about his travels, whilst admiring the views.

Most tourists spend around 20 minutes here, they will take a photo and move on. We were fascinated by the arch and stayed for around a half an hour.

Mesa Arch


Grand View Point Trail 

Grade: Easy

Distance 1.8 mile

Elevation: 173 feet

Route Type:  Out and Back

Located at the south point of the Island in the Sky scenic drive, Grand View Point highlights the White Rim, along with The Maze and the Needles, as far as the eye can see. This viewpoint can be reached by a paved sidewalk. This is quite a short hike, but definitely worth the stop.

If you are keen to explore more, there is a second viewpoint that is around an extra mile along the path. This viewpoint can be quite busy in Summer. This viewpoint can be admired throughout all seasons and time of day.

When looking out over the vista, jagged rocks poking out of the canyons and creates a truly intriguing landscape.

Buck Canyon Overlook Trail 

Grade: Easy 
Distance: 0.1 miles 
Elevation: 0 feet 
Route type: Out and Back 
The Buck Canyon Outlook Trail is a shorty but a goody. It is a quieter trail than the others mentioned but does still deliver outstanding views. This trail is great for those of all skill levels and most popular through March until November. 
This outlook really showed off the canyon and valleys in all of its glory. Looking at it was like someone ripping apart the land one section at a time.

Upheaval Dome 

Canyonlands’ “belly button” is also known as Upheaval Dome in Utah. When hiking the first outlook view of the Dome, you are met with a board stating two theories of how this dome was created. The first theory is that it is a salt dome. A salt dome is produced when the subsurface layer of salt is eventually compressed upward due to the weight of the overlying rock. The second theory is that a meteorite impacted the land that produced a crater. The belly button concept was conceptualised from the two theories of it being either an “outie” (dome) or an “innie” (crater) look. The rim of the dome is 3 miles wide and over a 1000 feet above the central point of the floor.

The Upheaval Dome can also be reached by hiking the Crater View trail. This is a 1.5 mile out and back hike.

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