Canyonlands National Park is the largest national park in Utah, protecting 527 square miles of canyons, buttes, mesas, spires, arches, rivers, and more. Carved out for millions of years by the Green and Colorado Rivers, this landscape is unlike anywhere else in the United States. And it’s only a four-hour drive from Escape Camper Vans Salt Lake City location!
Don’t miss out on this spectacular Utah wonder, and use this guide to help you plan your trip!
Why rent a campervan for a trip to Canyonlands National Park?
Canyonlands National Park is one of Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks. These five parks are within a few hours of each other. There’s no better way to road trip through these desert wonders than on a comfortable Escape Campervan road trip!
Preparing for a Trip to Canyonlands National Park
It’s important to research your trip before heading into a remote area. Here are some things to consider before visiting Canyonlands National Park.
Canyonlands National Park Districts
Canyonlands National Park is a large park with three different areas, referred to as districts. The three districts all have separate entrances and offer different opportunities for exploring.
Island in the Sky
The Island in the Sky District is the most visited and easily accessible district in Canyonlands National Park. It’s home to the park visitor centerand many short hikes and scenic vistas offering sprawling views of the deep canyons, rivers, buttes, spires, and mesas.
Island in the Sky is accessible from Highway 191 north of Moab and just northwest of Arches National Park. It’s located on Route 313 next to Dead Horse State Park.
The Needles district is located south of Island in the Sky and is accessible off Highway 191, west of the small town of Spanish Valley. The Needles district features many unique geological formations that rise from the ground in the shape of mushrooms and needles. This part of the park is more remote than Island in the Sky.
The Maze is the most remote district in Canyonlands National Park. Access to the Maze is challenging because it requires rough off-roading beyond the capabilities of an Escape Campervan. It’s best to explore The Maze with a tour outfitter.
There are no gas stations in Canyonlands National Park. Fuel up before entering the park. The town of Moab, located between the Island in the Sky and Needles districts, has plenty of gas stations to choose from.
All of Canyonlands National Park is very exposed to the sun. Minimal desert vegetation grows above waist height. Pack sunblock and a sun hat year-round as sun exposure is always strong.
In the summer, the sun and heat are especially intense. Drink more water than usual and consume electrolytes to help with hydration.
Download offline maps before you head out on your road trip. Many parts of Canyonlands National Park are out of cell phone service. Download hiking trails ahead of time, too. AllTrails is a great option for this.
Carry a Utah paper map for backup and pick up a Canyonlands National Park map at the entrance kiosk.
America the Beautiful Pass
The park entrance fee for vehicles entering Canyonlands National Park is $30 for 7 days. If you plan to visit nearby Arches National Park and the other Mighty 5 Utah National Parks, the America the Beautiful Pass will save you quite a bit on park entrance fees.
The America the Beautiful National Parks Pass costs $80 a year and covers the entrance fee into all national parks across the country.
Purchase an America the Beautiful Pass through the Escape Camper Vans extras or at the entrance station upon reaching a park.
Year-round, day and night temperatures in Canyonlands National Park differ by about 30 degrees. Even in the summer, it’s surprising how cold it gets at night. Layers are the best way to dress to keep you comfortable.
Always pack a puffy jacket, a fleece layer, a wind/waterproof jacket, and a thinner base layer. Long-sleeved sun hoodies are a great option for sun protection while hiking.
Pack a Rechargeable Battery or Solar Panel
It’s always nice to have a way to charge your devices when your campervan isn’t running. Utah receives a lot of sun, so a solar panel is a great option, and a battery pack works well, too.
Stick to the Paved Roads
Canyonlands National Park is known for its off-roading adventures. However, these aren’t just washboarded dirt roads with a few bumps. These roads have deep potholes, steep climbs, and horribly uneven terrain that jostle around even the best off-roading vehicles.
While it’s tempting to adventure up some dirt roads it is highly dangerous when you’re not in the proper vehicle with the right experience. Beyond the actual road conditions, flash floods can move in quickly and leave off-roaders stranded for days.
Overlanding is often done in groups of experienced drivers with extra days of food, water, fuel, and other supplies to work on vehicles and get them unstuck. For your own safety and the safety of your Escape Campervan, stick to the paved roads. If you want to go off-roading hop on an off-roading tour starting from the town of Moab!
Must-See Sights, Events, and Places of Canyonlands National Park
Mesa Arch is one of the most iconic and easily accessible arches in Canyonlands National Arch. This natural sandstone arch is located in the Island in the Sky district and looks down on the deep canyon. The Mesa Arch trail is an easy hike accessible via a 0.7-mile loop that gains 90 feet. Mesa Rim is an awesome sunrise spot.
You must check out Grand View Point Overlook when visiting the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. It’s one of the highest overlooks in the park and you get quite a grand view up there. From Grand View Overlook you’ll see both the Needles and Maze Districts. On a clear day, you can even see the La Sal Mountains to the east!
Grand View Point is accessible via a parking lot but there’s also a 1.8-mile out & back trail that follows along the canyon rim. The round-trip trail only changes 160 feet in elevation so it’s relatively flat and considered an easy hike.
Rising 1,300 feet above the river, Green River Overlook offers one of the best views of the Green River in the park. The Green River plays an important role in carving out the park as we know it today. From the Green River Overlook, you can also see part of the Maze District and White Rim Road. It’s a great sunset-watching spot.
Stop by the Island in the Sky Visitor Center to learn about Canyonlands National Park’s history, geology, wildlife, and more. Chat with a park ranger about the best way to spend your time in the park and learn about upcoming park events.
Whale Rock is a 0.8-mile moderate trail in Island in the Sky. The trail gains 140 feet as it climbs to the top of a mesa shaped like a whale. From the top of the sandstone dome, you’ll have impressive views of what looks like a flat landscape with part of the canyon deep within. Whale Rock is an uneven rough trail that requires a low level of scrambling skills.
The 1-mile round-trip hike to Upheaval Dome is a great option to see a unique geological formation. Distinct layers of colorful rock where the rock was tilted, folded, and eroded over millions of years lie here. It’s a dramatic formation that is not quite understood but surely plays a role in the geologic history of Canyonlands.
Ranger-led tours run from the spring through the fall in all park districts. Activities range from full moon hikes and stargazing to patio talks and evening programs. Check the calendar online for scheduled programs or stop by the visitor center for more information.
Stargazing is a popular evening activity in Canyonlands National Park because of the remoteness of the park and minimal light pollution. You can see some of the clearest skies in southeastern Utah. Stargazing is best on a clear night around a new moon.
The Maze is the hardest district to access in Canyonlands National Park because it requires days of hiking on backcountry trails or off-roading experience on difficult roads. To explore the Maze by vehicle head into the town of Moab to sign up for an off-roading adventure!
Island in the Sky Campground, also known as Willow Flat, is a 12-site, first-come, first-served, year-round campground in the Island in the Sky District. Sites cost $15 a night and have toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings. There is no potable water. Water is available at the visitor center down the road.
Sites fill up quickly from spring through fall so arrive very early. Chances of snagging a campsite on the weekend are challenging.
The Needles Campground is a first-come, first-served, 26-site campground in the Needles district. Campsites cost $20 a night and have toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings. Water is available seasonally.
Kings Bottom Campground is another first-come, first-served BLM campground just a bit up the Colorado River from Goose Island Campground. It has 21 sites; 11 drive-in, 10 hike-in. There are toilets but no running water.
Dispersed Camping on BLM Land
Dispersed camping, or primitive camping, is a popular option around Canyonlands National Park. There is plenty of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land throughout southeast Utah. On this land are a variety of semi-established campsites as well as opportunities to camp off of dirt roads.
These roads have no amenities so you must properly pack out and dispose of all trash, food, and human waste. It’s imperative to leave these places looking untouched so they remain accessible to the public for years to come.
Running water is unreliable at many campgrounds. Pack at least 2 gallons of water per person per day for both drinking and camp use.
Make sure to properly store all food. Rodents and birds frequent campsites and will take anything they can find. If your campground has food storage lockers, store all food in the lockers when unattended. Otherwise, store food in your van. Never leave any food unattended outside at night.
Follow the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace
The Leave No Trace principles are guidelines about how to recreate in the outdoors to reduce human impact on the land, for wildlife, and for future generations to come. Following these guidelines help protect the environment and keep you safe.
Plan ahead and prepare. Let someone know your trip plans and when you plan to return. Research the area before you head out.
Hike on trails and camp in established campgrounds. Stick to durable surfaces.
Properly dispose of all trash. Pack everything out – trash, toilet paper, food scraps. Properly take care of human waste.
Leave what you find. Don’t disturb or touch artifacts like pottery, petroglyphs, and pictographs. Everything in a national park is protected and it is illegal to remove rocks, pick flowers, and disturb artifacts.
Check if permits are required or if any campfire bans are in effect before having a fire.
Respect wildlife. Give animals space. Do not approach wildlife or feed animals. Observe wildlife from a distance.
Be considerate of other visitors. Keep noise to a minimum, park in your designated camp spot, and respect quiet hours.
When is the best time to visit Canyonlands National Park?
Canyonlands National Park is open year-round 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Different seasons offer different experiences in Canyonlands. The desert is beautiful but can create harsh conditions. 30-degree daytime to nighttime temperature differences are normal throughout the whole year.
Spring is one of the best times to visit Canyonlands National Park, with comfortable temperatures for exploring. From March to May, daytime temperatures average in the 60s – 80s and nighttime temperatures in the 30s – 40s. Wildflowers bloom throughout the spring, bringing a variety of colors to the red desert landscape.
From June to August, expect daytime temperatures in the 90s to 100s. If you visit during the summer, plan to hike early in the morning. Once the sun is shining full force there is minimal to no shade in the park.
Nighttime temperatures in the summer average in the 60s which is a manageable temperature for camping but it’s a little challenging trying to figure out what to do during the heat of the afternoon. If you choose to visit the park in the summer, plan to spend afternoons along the Colorado River or grab food at an air-conditioned restaurant in Moab.
Fall is also a great time of year to visit Canyonlands National Park. Like spring, fall offers comfortable temperatures for hiking during the day and cozying up in your campervan at night.
From September to November the temperatures quickly drop with September temperatures averaging around 80 during the day and in the 50s at night. October daytime temperatures average in the 70s during the day and upper 30s at night. By November daytime temperatures are in the 50s and nights are in the upper 20s.
Winter is the least crowded time of year to visit Canyonlands but of course, it’s also the coldest. From December through February daytime temperatures average in the 40s and nights in the upper teens. The park gets a fair bit of snow in the winter! It’s a beautiful site but dress warmly!
Reserve with Escape Camper Vans for your trip to Canyonlands National Park
Only four hours from Escape Camper Vans Salt Lake City location, Canyonlands National Park is the perfect weekend getaway, or when combined with other Utah Parks, the perfect week-long road trip!
You now have all the details about where to camp, how to spend your time in the park, and all the local tips. So, now it’s time to book your Escape Campervan to explore the arches, mesas, canyons, rivers, and buttes of Canyonlands National Park!