• By Kim Grant

The high plateaus of Canyonlands National Park – the Island in the Sky – are the accessible heart of Utah’s iconic red rock country. It almost seems like you can touch the heavens from here. You are perched on a massive mesa, surrounded by breathtaking panoramas of sprawling canyons, winding rivers, and towering rock formations. It’s a surreal feeling of being on a remote island, separated from the world below.

Throughout the day, you’ll experience the park’s most iconic landmarks, such as Mesa Arch, where the sun paints the canyons with hues of gold during sunrise, and Grand View Point, which offers a majestic perspective of the vast and colorful expanse of Canyonlands.

Well-maintained (and trodden) trails lead to stunning overlooks, revealing absolute grandeur. The ever-changing interplay of light and shadows on the rugged landscape creates a wild dance of colors. Pay attention. It’s always changing.

Jailhouse Café, North Main Street, Moab, UT, USA

Love Muffin Cafe, North Main Street, Moab, UT, USA

Island in the Sky Visitor Center, Grand View Point Road, Moab, UT, USA

Moonflower Community Cooperative, East 100 North, Moab, UT, USA

City Market, South Main Street, Moab, UT, USA

Miguel's Baja Grill, North Main Street, Moab, UT, USA

98 Center Moab, East Center Street, Moab, UT, USA

Best Western Plus Canyonlands Inn, South Main Street, Moab, UT, USA

Sorrel River Ranch Resort and Spa, Utah 128, Moab, UT, USA

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah 313, Moab, UT, USA

Best Places for Breakfast in Canyonlands National Park

Early risers will want to watch the sunrise in the park. Otherwise, there are lots of great/quick breakfast options on Main Street before you hit the trails.

Jailhouse Cafe

The Jailhouse, an inexpensive cozy breakfast spot, is located in a historic 1885 building that served as the first County Courthouse of Grand County. Come for gussied classic breakfast dishes, with a side helping of authenticity.

Love Muffin Cafe

Super friendly, super fast. Moderately-priced local hang out, although many come for big breakfast burritos and then scramble. You’ll love more than muffins here. Come for a matcha or cold brew. Stay for house-made granola and locally sourced ingredients. Don’t be intimidated by the lines forming at 6:30 am.

Best Things To Do in the Morning in Canyonlands National Park

Island in the Sky Visitor Center & Scenic Overlooks

Pick up maps and up-to-the-minute information about the weather and guided ranger hikes. Dive deeply into the park’s history and geology.

Take the scenic drive along the top of the mesa (xx miles). Shafer Canyon Overlook provides a vertigo-inducing view of the Shafer Trail switchbacks and surrounding canyons. Mesa Arch, perched on a cliff’s edge, offers stunning sunrise views. Next up: Buck Canyon Overlook, with views of the colorful sandstone spires, and Candlestick Tower Overlook. The road dead ends at Grand View Point, with jaw-dropping panoramic views of canyons and rock formations. Find a quiet spot to hang out. Hint: there’s a reason it’s called “Grand View.”

Best Places for Lunch in Canyonlands National Park

Pick up picnic supplies before heading into Canyonlands. The supermarket, City Market, has a deli counter with sandwiches and other prepared foods. Within the park, picnic at the Willow Flat or White Rim picnic areas.

Moab Moonflower Cooperative

This natural foods store and community cooperative has a great selection of organic produce, sandwiches, and snacks. Try the Vegan jackfruit “chicken” bean and rice burritos, made with Spanish rice, seasoned black beans, young jackfruit, and housemade chimichurri sauce.

Best Things To Do in the Afternoon in Canyonlands National Park

Green River Overlook & Hikiing

Retrace your drive, pulling over at Green River Overlook to see the winding Green River as it cuts through the canyons.

Hike Upheaval Dome Trail to a unique geological formation, a mysterious crater-like formation that has puzzled geologists for years.

Check out Aztec Butte Trail, which offers views of ancient Puebloan ruins.

Dead Horse State Park

Dead Horse Point State Park is a gem. Its panoramic overlook  of the Colorado River winding through the deep canyons is kinda unparalleled in Utah’s Canyon Country. The park’s hiking and biking trails are diverse adventures, revealing unique rock formations and stunning vistas at every turn. (You can rent mountain bikes from Big Horn.) Stop at the visitor center for insightful details about the park’s geology and cultural history. Depending on the time of year, if the sun is setting early, by all means, stay for sunset!

Best Places for Dinner in Canyonlands National Park

Miguel's Baja Grill

Miguel’s Baja Grill is a casual spot that serves delicious Mexican food at reasonable prices. Look for authentic Baja-style Mexican cuisine incorporating fresh ingredients and traditional recipes — from tacos to zesty ceviche.

98 Center

This moderately-priced Asian-fusion restaurant offers a creative menu of locally sourced ingredients, with options for meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans alike. Gluten-free options too. Dishes are creative and sophisticated.


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Best Places to Stay in Canyonlands National Park

If you are camping, Dead Horse Point State Park offers several campsites with stunning views of the canyons and mesas in the area.

Best Western Plus Canyonlands Inn

This mid-priced hotel offers comfortable rooms with modern amenities, such as flat-screen TVs and free Wi-Fi. There’s also a complimentary breakfast each morning and an outdoor pool and hot tub for relaxing.

Sorrel River Ranch Resort & Spa

Just outside of Moab, the Sorrel River Ranch Resort & Spa is a luxurious retreat set alongside stunning red rock cliffs and the Colorado River. It’s unparalleled around here. The well-appointed rooms and suites are comfortable and sophisticated. Top-notch amenities include a spa and outdoor pool; additional outdoor activities also include horseback riding, hiking, and fly-fishing.

After Dark in Canyonlands National Park

timelapse photo of stars and brown rock arch
Photo by Septumia Jacobson

Moab Astronomy Tours

Utah has more certified International Dark Sky Parks than anywhere else in the world. Try to time your visit with a new moon, when skies will be even darker than otherwise. Don’t worry if you can’t — there’s still a sliver of time before the moon comes over the horizon. Consult star charts corresponding to dates and locations. Download the smartphone app Night Sky or SkyView Lite. Bring a headlamp with red light mode so as not to bother other stargazers — and help you adjust more quickly. It can take 20 minutes to really star seeing thick blankets of stars while our eyes adjust.

Bonus Pro Tips

Stay tuned: When the weather cools off, I’ve already penciled in a few more itineraries to experience and then share. Please sign up for our email newsletter to learn when these Tucson itineraries drop. And please do share your interests with us; we’ll try to craft perfect days for you.

  • The Needles District: A Day of Diverse Canyonlands Landscapes
  • Colorado River Rafting: Canyonlands Adventuring
  • Discovering Horseshoe Canyon: Ancient Rock Art & Outrageous Scenery

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