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. 🙂


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

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