Canyonlands is divided into three distinct areas – Island in the Sky, the Maze and the Needles. And it can take anywhere from over an hour (the Needles) to a full day (the Maze) to reach the other areas. If time is short, this means most visitors will see the Island in the Sky. But if you have more time, you can plan overnight trips to the Maze or explore the Needles further south. Something we will likely do on a later trip.
For most people, you only need a half to full day to see all of Island in the Sky so we started our day in town with breakfast at the Jailhouse Cafe. The cafe actually resides in the converted jail and specializes in Ginger Pancakes with Apple Butter and Thick Cut Bacon. After several days of active exploring, a hearty breakfast helps quite a bit. As for lunch, there are very few services in Canyonlands so it is best to bring a lot of water and your own lunch and snacks. Some of the best views for lunch are at the picnic tables at White Rim Overlook.
We will include one other option which we decided to cancel given all of the other areas we wanted to see on this trip. But if you want to explore in a Jeep on your own, Canyonlands Jeep rents modified jeeps for exploring off-road trails. One of the most popular routes (and permits are sometimes required so be sure to check beforehand) is to drive Potash road by Wall Street and the Musselman Arch and up the Shafer Trail. We would highly recommend reading reviews and watching videos of the Shafer Trail before you go as it is not for the faint of heart – including sheer drops with limited visibility and sharp switchbacks. Although, either way, Wall Street is worth seeing as it is a cliff-lined road with rock climbers all along the way. We wanted a more casual day so we decided instead to visit the key areas of the Island in the Sky.
In order, these included the must-see areas of the park including Shafer Canyon Overlook; the short hike to Mesa Arch (which includes incredible views of the canyons and La Sal mountains); the short hike to Grand View Point Overlook; the Green River Overlook; Aztec Butte and Upheaval Dome.
The only one which had mixed reviews was Aztec Butte as it is a moderate walk through sand and finally up a rock scramble to the top which took over an hour to complete. In retrospect, we might have only explored the Granary which is much closer and would have taken less time.
What should not be missed is stopping on the way out of Canyonlands at Dead Horse State Park to see Dead Horse Point. This point was made famous in the movie Thelma and Louise where they drove off of the cliff at the end of the movie – and makes for incredible photos at sunset.
For dinner, we ended up eating back at our resort but we would recommend visiting any of your favorite spots in town again for one last meal. Our next day was a drive down to Dunton Hot Springs in Colorado to relax.
And for more details on surrounding areas see our full itinerary for Moab and Dunton Hot Springs or Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce or destination notes for Arches, Dunton Hot Springs, Albuquerque, Zion/Bryce Canyon, and Amangiri/Lake Powell.