exploring Utah – canyonlands national park

canyonlands national park

Underneath Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park


We were pretty settled into Moab Springs Ranch at this point and we were excited to embark on our Canyonlands adventure. Being probably one of the least talked about parks, we weren’t sure what to expect, but we were happily surprised with what we saw. Before delving into it, Gaston’s cousin had mentioned that during this traveling through Utah, he found it essential that we stop by Dead Horse Point. Warning: the America The Beautiful National Parks pass will not allow you to go through this park for free, so be prepared to pay a fee. The good news is that since it is a state park, this one is dog friendly so bring your furry friends along!

When we arrived at Dead Horse Point, we looked in awe at the view of the Colorado River that cut out an incredibly picturesque view that we had the luxury of seeing 2,000 feet above.

…..more below.

cliff notes

hikes. Mesa Arch, Grand View Point,

things to do. stop by Dead Horse Point, Island in the Sky, The Needles, Newspaper Rock State Monument

coulda, shoulda, woulda. hike to Druid Arch, visit the confluence between the Green and Colorado Rivers via the Confluence Overlook trail, brave The Maze region of the park, visit Horseshoe Canyon, hike the Upheaval Dome Trail


  • take more than one day to explore Canyonlands, it’s very big and it takes a few hours to get between Island in the Sky and The Needles
  • don’t miss out on Dead Horse Point, this spot is a dog friendly spot as well!
  • make sure to Google Map your day out in advance, it may end up being way longer than you ever thought it’d be.

Dead Horse Point has a pretty interesting history behind it. In the 1800s, wild mustangs ran free around the mesas near this point. Due to the unique shape of the steep mountains dramatically plummeting to water, it was an easy natural landscape that cowboys used to corral the horses. Unfortunately, story has it that though the cowboys left the gate open for horses to run free, they remained there and died from lack of water and resources. Despite the sad story behind the name, this stop is stunning and an absolute must if you’re in the area.

We had a very tight schedule that day, which I highly regret putting us in. If I could have had a few more days in the Moab area, I absolutely would have taken them. One thing I had no idea about: Canyonlands is vast, and the entrances for the two of three units (as shown in the below photo) are far away from each other. Just how far away? It is 107 miles between the Island In the Sky Visitor Center and The Needles Visitor Center which is about 2 hours and 2 minutes away from each other according to Google Maps. Pile on trying to do Dead Horse Point as well….saying we needed more time is an understatement. The third unit, labeled The Maze, is just that and one where a 4WD vehicle is required and food/water/gasoline needs to be brought in by those who dare to visit it. Because of the difficulty behind seeing the entire park, Canyonlands is definitely up there in terms of being one of the best parks if you’re seeking to be completely remote.

Image Provided by nps.gov

You may ask yourself, why are these entrances so far away from each other? Great question! Well as you can see the Colorado and Green Rivers reach a confluence , which is one of the reasons this park is so special and deserves more time than you’d think. It’s also what divides the Park into three different sections. Alongside the rivers, Canyonlands also protects and highlights the beautiful scenery of the center of the Colorado Plateau.

Island in the Sky is the most visited part of the park and towers 1000 feet above its landscape, primarily due to its proximity to amenities and services in Moab. Probably the most photographed part of the park is one in front of Mesa Arch. Being that it is only a .5 mile walk, I most definitely would not consider this a hike, and it’s an extremely family friendly easy thing to do if you’re strapped for time. The park also makes it quite easy to enjoy the beauty with the various viewpoints along the drive with highlights including the Green River Overlook, Buck Canyon Overlook, and the pièce de résistance, the Grand View Point Overlook. We were strapped for time so though we would have loved to do the Upheaval Dome Trail (1.3 miles), but we opted for the shorter Whale Rock trail which is .8 miles. Both have pretty easy elevation at a little over 200 feet. The good thing is that it’s a short jaunt up to the Upheaval Dome First Overlook which provides you with some epic views nonetheless.

We were off to the second most visited is the Needles, which as you’d assume, is filled with stunning pinnacles made of sandstone allowing your eyes to feast on the stuqnning colors as the sun hits against them. This long car ride was filled with ample snacks and beverages, because though it was only a couple of hours, it felt like a long time. Despite this, I highly recommend you don’t slouch on checking out Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument which is right outside of the Needles entrance of the park. Here you can find one of the largest known collection of petroglyphs discovered. Created around 2,000 years ago, it is believed that these were drawn by the Archaic, Anasazi, Fremont, Navajo, Anglo, and Pueblo cultures. The day was slipping through our fingers and it began to become clear as day and though it’d have been ideal to do the Druid Arch Trail or the Confluence Overlook Trail but we had only an hour in the park which made our option minimal with what we could before the sun set. That meant we were able to do short Cave Spring Trail which is a historic cowboy camp as well as prehistoric rock markings. It also had fun ladders to climb on the way up. Aside from missing Angel’s Landing in Zion due to COVID restrictions, this definitely was the moment thus far where we regretted not being able to do it all. We’ll be back!!

As we drove home exhausted, but fulfilled, our eyes were on the Moab area to grab replenishments and a fresh, crispy supply of beer. We were BEYOND beat by the time we got home. We made an easy dinner and went straight to bed. Gaston had to leave early to make Father’s Day with his pops, but the next morning Jamie’s mission was for Wizard the cat (the Moab Springs Ranch resident cat) and I to meet. After doing some research, we found that he frequented the outside area of check-in and we were lucky enough to catch a photo opportunity with him. This marked the end of what was a mind-altering trip through Utah. Not only did I have no idea how spectacular the state was, I started to realize how much was in my own backyard all of this time. So many times people strive to go international to learn and experience a place unknown. What I was beginning to realize was that this could be achieved easily in a much shorter distance.

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