An Afternoon in Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky District

March 24, 2018

We spent a beautiful afternoon in Canyonlands National Park’s Island in the Sky (IIS) district. IIS is the closest district to Moab, Utah; it was about an hour away. (We have yet to get to the Needles or the Maze, but when we get back to Moab, we may try to hit those.) Canyonlands probably doesn’t get as much love and attention as Arches, which benefits from being so close to Moab, but the stunning views in this park are simply not to be missed.

In our defense, we usually do try to spend more time at national parks than one afternoon, but that’s just how things worked out this trip. I would highly advocate that everyone spend quality time at this park, as it’s magnificent. But if, like us, you only find yourself with an afternoon, below is the itinerary we used to see some really fascinating formations and stunning views.

One of our family’s travel bucket list goals is to see as many sweeping vistas as possible, and Canyonlands more than fits that description!

You can read about our week-long trip to Moab, Utah in this post.

When to Go to Canyonlands National Park

The weather in March was beautiful. We have only traveled to that area of Utah in the spring or fall. Call us wimpy, but we are not fans of extreme heat. I cannot imagine trying to do these hikes in 100+ degree F heat. We were plenty challenged with temps in the upper 60’s F.

Itinerary for Our Afternoon in Canyonlands National Park

Our itinerary for our visit was:

  • a hike on Aztec Butte and the nearby granaries,
  • a drive and short hike to Upheaval Dome, and
  • a drive and short walk to Mesa Arch.


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Aztec Butte and Granaries

This hike is really cool. A little strenuous, but the payoffs are fantastic.

On the way to the Butte is a side trail that takes you to a couple granaries built by ancient Puebloans. It’s a little sketchy to get to these granaries as they are kind of on the edge of a dropoff, so I’m not sure I’d take a toddler down there.

Back on the trail we could see people starting to ascend the butte. We started to feel a little intimidated. However, while the hike was definitely strenuous (for us), our family of four agreed it wasn’t nearly as difficult as it appeared it might be. Better yet, once we were up there we had an amazing panoramic view of the park. You should definitely walk the perimeter of the butte to get the full view of the park while you are up there.

In addition, there is another Puebloan granary at the top of Aztec Butte.


Upheaval Dome

After the Aztec Butte hike, we were ready to settle in with the rest of the national park tourists that only leave their car to take pictures. Our next stop was Upheaval Dome. We hiked to the first overlook to see this unusual, mystery formation. Scientists are not sure how this area formed. You can read about the two main theories here. It was a fascinating sight to see.

Mesa Arch

From Upheaval Dome we headed to Mesa Arch. This was a pleasant surprise. The arch itself is neat enough, but the views through the arch…wow. Enough said.


If these pictures don’t convince someone to go to Canyonlands, I don’t know what will. It’s a spectacular park that I can’t wait to explore again sometime. Have you been to Canyonlands? I’d love to hear your experience. Bonus points if you’ve made it to the Needles or Maze Districts. ๐Ÿ™‚


If you found this content helpful, check out our other travel destination posts from our family’s travel bucket list:

Our Family’s Travel Bucket List


  • Reply
    DeAnna Zacherl
    March 29, 2018 at 2:17 pm

    WOW!! The view is amazing! We have glamping out west on our family bucket list, and Moab is one of our top choices. Did your family try any of the Junior Ranger badges?

    • Reply
      March 29, 2018 at 2:20 pm

      We have been to Moab as a family three times (and my husband and I went once before we had kids). There is SO MUCH to do and see there. We still felt like we missed so many great places! It’s my husband’s favorite place on the planet, and the rest of us love it, too. I highly recommend it! If I were to camp, it would have to be glamping…I am not a “roughing it” kind of gal. ๐Ÿ™‚

      No, we didn’t try the Junior Ranger programs. The national parks are amazing, but since we’d been to both before we decided to find other non-NP stuff to do, which meant we didn’t spend as much time at Arches and Canyonlands.

  • Reply
    March 29, 2018 at 2:53 pm

    So beautiful! Love that you mentioned how important it is to plan your hike when the temperatures are nice.

    • Reply
      March 29, 2018 at 3:20 pm

      Thanks! Yes, I am a big wuss when it gets too hot, so I can’t imagine enjoying the experience when it’s hot. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply
    March 29, 2018 at 10:56 pm

    I had never even heard of Canyonlands before reading about your awesome trip–but now I want to take the whole family! I can definitely see why you would want to spend more than one afternoon there. Just reading about all of the hiking you did makes me tired from adventure (the best kind of tired!)

    • Reply
      March 30, 2018 at 6:11 am

      Thanks Kirsten. It’s actually an enormous park with three districts, two of which are super remote. Definitely worth visiting! It doesn’t get as much love as nearby Arches, but it’s so beautiful!

  • Reply
    Iuliana Marchian
    April 7, 2018 at 2:05 am

    Canyonlands National Park reminds me a lot about Petra, Jordan – the famous archaeological site. I have hiked there for four entire days and it seemed that there was still so much left to see. From your series, Aztec Butte Hike is my favorite. I would hike in the area for days, just to make sure I have covered everything, but is that possible?

    • Reply
      April 7, 2018 at 7:55 am

      It definitely is possible to hike in this park for days. There are three separate districts: Island in the Sky, Needles, and Maze. Needles and Maze are much more remote and have longer hikes. You would love this park! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply
    April 7, 2018 at 10:49 am

    Canyonlands National Park looks really amazing. I’m impressed! I would like to go there one day. I hope you had a nice time there.

    • Reply
      April 7, 2018 at 11:59 am

      Thanks, we had a fantastic time there. And we only scratched the surface of all the park has to offer.

  • Reply
    Alexander Popkov
    April 7, 2018 at 6:39 pm

    Woo! Never knew about granaries built by ancient Puebloans in canyonland. How big are those? It is always interesting to see things constructed long time ago.

    • Reply
      April 7, 2018 at 6:58 pm

      They were not big at all. Sorry I don’t know the metric equivalents, but I’d say the one on top of the butte was less than 5 feet high. You would have to crawl in the other ones, to give you a sense of perspective.

  • Reply
    Medha Verma
    April 8, 2018 at 6:42 am

    I haven’t been to enough National Parks! Canyonlands looks amazing and I think although the hike up Butte looks a little intimidating to me too (just from your pictures), the view for sure is worth it. I would also like to take the short side trail to the granaries. I think tough hikes are best done with others (in your case, you were with your family) because each one can encourage or cheer the others in the group. Lovely pictures!

    • Reply
      April 8, 2018 at 7:50 am

      Thanks Medha. I was worried when I looked at the butte hike, too, but it was shorter and less difficult than I thought. You can always stop and take breaks, and we did encourage each other up the path, too. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply
    Amrita Sen
    April 9, 2018 at 12:32 am

    The Canyonland Park looks so gorgeous. The views from the Mesa Arch is really gorgeous. I wonder why this place does get much love, though I have not been to Arches either!

    • Reply
      April 9, 2018 at 5:55 am

      I’m not sure. It’s definitely amazing!

  • Reply
    April 9, 2018 at 3:27 am

    Wow the Canyonlands are beautiful! They are definitely on my list now.

    • Reply
      April 9, 2018 at 5:54 am

      They are beautiful, you’ll love it! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply
    Renata Green -
    April 9, 2018 at 2:10 pm

    This landscape is just mesmerizing – like on a different planet. I would love to visit and hike around in solitude.

    • Reply
      April 9, 2018 at 2:40 pm

      You’d love it. It’s just beautiful there. And because it’s so large, you can find plenty of places to be in solitude. These particular places weren’t that, but someday we want to get to the more secluded areas.

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