Visiting Island in the Sky at Canyonlands National Park (Best things to do + one day itinerary!)

Heading to Island in the Sky at Canyonlands National Parks? In this guide we’re sharing all the best things to do at Island in the Sky, where to stay, and more!

Despite driving through Moab, Utah a handful of times when going to and from Texas, we had never visited Canyonlands National Park, or its neighbor, Arches National Park.

Finally, during our most recent visit to Utah in April 2021, we were able to explore both parks and our first stop out of the two was Canyonlands National Park, where we spent a full day visiting the Island in the Sky district.

To be honest, we weren’t totally sure what to expect when visiting Island in the Sky. We knew about the iconic Mesa Arch, but besides that, we didn’t know too much about it and we weren’t sure if it would be our style, as it’s primarily full of short hikes and overlooks, where we prefer to go for longer treks to escape crowds.

But we really enjoyed our time at Island in the Sky! The views are GORGEOUS and after spending weeks going on some tougher hikes in Utah, it was really nice to take it a bit easier for a day, while not sacrificing any beauty. And the crowds weren’t that bad either! We loved how accessible this park is and how you can get insane views, sometimes without walking more than a few feet from your vehicle.

Want to see how we spent a day at Island in the Sky at Canyonlands? Watch our experience here.

In this guide we’re sharing the best things to do at Island in the Sky at Canyonlands, including short hikes, quick overlooks, and longer experiences. Ready to see the epic canyons, rivers, and rock formations? Keep on reading to plan your own adventure at the park!

Leave No Trace Principles

Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!

  1. Plan ahead & prepare. Make sure you research and prepare for every adventure so that you know the rules, stay safe, and to minimize resource damage.
  2. Travel & camp on durable surfaces. Stay on the trail and only camp in designated areas, as well as the required length away from water sources.
  3. Dispose of waste properly. Whatever you pack in, pack it out! Make sure to carry out your trash, as well as any trash you find. If you have a dog, please do not leave poop bags on the trail. For human waste, use a trowel to dig a hole far from water sources or use a wag bag (sometimes required).
  4. Leave what you find. Do not take any items from the trail with you, including rocks, plants, or artifacts.
  5. Minimize campfire impacts. Know the rules of where you can and cannot have campfires and if allowed, use designated fire rings. Use local firewood to prevent bringing any pests or diseases to the area you’re visiting and make sure to fully extinguish your fire.
  6. Respect wildlife. Keep your distance from wildlife, control your pets on the trail, and never ever feed them! Make sure to keep your food stored properly as well (we like this bear canister).
  7. Be considerate of other visitors. Be respectful to others on the trail. Hikers going uphill have the right of way on hikes and it’s always courteous to let those quicker than you pass. Avoid playing music out loud, talking loudly, and having your pets bother others.

Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!

About Canyonlands National Park

Island in the Sky Canyonlands National Park

Located in Southeastern Utah, Canyonlands National Park became a national park in 1964 and preserves 337,598 acres of amazing Utah desert scenery. You’ll see colorful canyons, mesas, buttes, fins, arches, and spires all over these gorgeous lands. 

The park is made up of four districts, the three land districts of Island in the Sky, The Maze, The Needles, and then the two rivers, the Green and the Colorado, that divide the park. 

These districts may look close on the map, but there are no roads directly connecting them and traveling between them requires 2-6 hours. Each district offers its own unique character to experience and adventures to be had. 

However, not only does the park protect natural beauty, but it also protects human history. Throughout the three land districts you’ll encounter markings and structures left by Ancestral Puebloan peoples and other Native Americans in the form of petroglyphs and stone and mud dwellings. And more recently, early explorers and Mormon pioneers left behind structures as well. 

Read our Needles District guide for the best hikes and overlooks to check out in that area of Canyonlands National Park.

About the Island in the Sky District

Mesa Arch Canyonlands National Park

Island in the Sky is a broad and level mesa with 1,000 foot sheer sandstone cliffs that sit between the Colorado and Green rivers, giving it its name “island in the sky.”

The Island in the Sky District is located in the northern part of Canyonlands National Park, and is the most accessible and easiest area of the park to visit in a short period of time, making it doable to fit a lot into a day. Combine its accessibility with its proximity to Moab and it is definitely the most visited area of Canyonlands National Park. 

In this district, there are tons of overlooks along a paved scenic drive that offer unique perspectives of the amazing scenery, easy and challenging hikes, and many opportunities for 4×4 off roading adventures for the extra adventurous!

When to visit the Island in the Sky District

Moab Weather

Island in the Sky is accessible year round, but there are some seasons that are better to visit than others.

Winter

Winter is a great time to visit to beat the crowds, but you may run into some very cold weather and the very occasional snow and ice shutting down the roads. 

If you choose to visit in the winter, make sure to bring microspikes for the trails, as they can get extra slick with ice and keep in mind that the visitor center is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so services will be more limited.

One other important thing to know is that outside of the park, in Moab, a good amount of businesses shut down or limit their hours for the winter season, which typically starts in November and goes until Spring Break. You’ll definitely still be able to get groceries and eat out, but you will have less options and may not get the full experience.

Spring & Fall

The most temperate and popular seasons to visit are April-May and mid-September-October, when the daytime highs average between 60-80ºF. We visited in April and the mornings were VERY cold, but the afternoons were super nice, with lots of sunshine and perfect temperatures. 

If you choose to visit around April, keep in mind that schools across the US will be on Spring Break, making the park busier. And Memorial Day in May also brings more crowds to the area. 

Whenever we go back, we’d love to visit more in October, when crowds have died down some, the weather is still nice, and spots in town are still open.

Summer

While many people visit in the summer, we’d highly suggest visiting during the other times of the year, as the temperatures routinely climb over 100ºF in the summer, along with frequent afternoon thunderstorms.

As we write this guide in July, the current temperature in Moab is 109ºF, so if you do plan to visit in the summer, pack LOTS of water, get started early, stay somewhere with a pool to cool down, and wear tons of sunscreen. We did get a bit warm in Moab even when the temperatures were in the 80s, so we cannot imagine hiking in 100 degrees.

Getting to + around the Island in the Sky District

Island in the Sky at Canyonlands National Park is located in Southeastern Utah, in the town of Moab, right by Arches National Park. While this town is popular with tourists due to its proximity to the park and growing pretty rapidly (every time we drive through there are many new buildings), it’s still a pretty remote, small town. Here are some options of how to get to the park!

Flying to Island in the Sky at Canyonlands

If you plan to fly to visit Canyonlands, the best airports would be either Denver (DEN), Salt Lake City (SLC), or Las Vegas (LAS). All major airlines fly into these airports, so getting a flight should be pretty easy and affordable. 

Depending on which you fly into, here’s how long you can expect to drive:

Salt Lake City, Utah: 4 hours 2 minutes, 249 miles
Denver, Colorado: 6 hours 10 minutes, 391 miles
Las Vegas, Nevada: 7 hours 23 minutes, 453 miles

Some of the smaller towns in Utah offer daily connecting flights from Salt Lake City and Denver. Here’s how long you can expect to drive from these towns:

Moab, Utah: 44 minutes, 32 miles
St. George, Utah: 5 hours 18 minutes, 363 miles
Grand Junction, Colorado: 1 hour 57 minutes, 124 miles 

Driving to Island in the Sky at Canyonlands

Arches National Park: 35 minutes, 29 miles
Capitol Reef National Park: 2 hours 24 minutes, 147 miles
Zion National Park: 5 hours 22 minutes, 355 miles
Bryce Canyon National Park: 4 hours 30 minutes, 260 miles
Page, AZ: 5 hours 2 minutes, 305 miles
Grand Canyon National Park: 6 hours, 358 miles

Getting around Island in the Sky at Canyonlands

Unlike some national parks, Canyonlands does not have a park shuttle, so you will need to either rent a car or drive your own to get around or hire a tour to show you the top sites. If you want to do any of the 4×4 trails, we recommend getting a Jeep (Twisted Jeep Rentals in Moab is a good option!).

Where to Stay in the Island in the Sky District

With close proximity to Moab, there are a lot of options of places to stay when visiting Island in the Sky at Canyonlands, from hotels, to Airbnbs, and paid and free campsites.

Airbnbs & VRBOs

If you want to be able to cook meals and relax in a more homey environment while in Moab, we’d suggest renting an Airbnb. Here are some good options:

Bright & Charming Home Right in Town (1 bedroom, 1 bath): This cabin has high cathedral ceilings, tons of windows, a washer and dryer, and patio, making it a great place to relax after long days in the national parks.

Casa Moab Casita (1 bedroom, 1 bath): This super cute casita is in a complex located in downtown Moab, with a full kitchen, great living area, and shared sauna, grill, and fire pit.

Kayenta, Westside Flats (1 bedroom, 1 bath): This apartment has a queen bed, full kitchen, private covered patio, and is walkable to town!

West 9 Cozy Cabin (1 bedroom, 1 bath): This studio cabin sleeps 4, with a bed and bunk beds, making it a good option for families exploring. While it doesn’t have a full kitchen, it has a mini fridge and microwave, with a shared grill in the common area. This is a good hotel alternative!

Hotels

Moab has all the standard hotel options you can think of, which can be a bit pricey, especially during the busier season. A handful of the ones we’d recommend are:

Campgrounds

Willow Flat Campground
There is only one campground in the Island in the Sky District. It has 12 sites and it is first-come, first-served. It costs $15 per night and they go fast in the spring through fall, so arrive early and during the week if possible. There are pit toilets and fire rings in the campground. 

The Needles Campground
There is one campground in the Needles District. There are 26 campsites at $20 per night. Some sites are reservable spring through fall, but the rest of the year the sites are first-come first-served. There are no RV hookups, but there are toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings.

Kayenta Campground
The Kayenta Campground is located in Dead Horse Point State Park, which would make this a perfect spot to explore the Island in the Sky District and the state park. The 21 sites are $50 per night and are equipped for RVs or tents. All come with a lighted shaded structure, picnic tables, fire rings, and tent pads. Each site has RV electrical hookups and there are restrooms in the campground, but there is no water.

Wingate Campground
The Wingate Campground is also located in Dead Horse Point State Park. There are 31 sites, 20 RV or tent camping and 11 are hike-in only. The RV sites are $50 per night and the hike-in are $40. All sites have fire pits, picnic tables under a shaded shelter and access to bathrooms.

Horse Thief Campground
Horse Thief Campground is located along Highway 313 on your way to Canyonlands from Moab. There are 85 first-come, first-served tent sites at this BLM managed campground.

Under Canvas
Located just north of Moab is Under Canvas, which is a luxurious campground complete with private bathrooms, fire pits, clean sheets, and many more amenities. It’s not exactly “roughing it” and it’s not cheap, but we hear it is a nice experience.

Boondocking

BLM 144 Dispersed
On our most recent visit to Moab, we stayed mostly at this boondocking spot. It’s a little more of a drive out of town (30 minutes or so), but it definitely has the least amount of other campers so it makes for a quiet and reliable stay. Just be careful if it rains it can get quite muddy!

Willow Springs Trail Dispersed
This is a very large and very popular boondocking spot. We have stayed a couple nights here during previous trips and it’s a good spot if you need a night to sleep, but it can get INSANELY busy! During our last visit, we drove in at night to try to sleep and it felt like the parking lot of a race track, with RVs crammed in everywhere and tons of people out.

Klondike Bluff
We slept here a couple times when we wanted to be closer to the parks than our favorite BLM 144 spot. It isn’t anything fancy, but it’s WAY less busy than Willow Springs, despite just being down the road (we always found a spot).

A couple other options along US 191:

Dalton Wells Road Dispersed
Lone Mesa

How much time do you need for Island in the Sky?

White Rim Overlook Canyonlands National Park

Most visitors will only need one day at Island in the Sky, which will allow you to do the major hikes and overlooks, but if you want to do one of the 4×4 trails, we’d suggest having one and a half or two days. We spent one day in the park and felt that we got to see everything and are including our one day itinerary at the end of this guide!

Things to Know & tips for visiting the Island in the Sky District

Upheaval Dome Canyonlands National Park

Before visiting Island in the Sky at Canyonlands, here are a few important things to know!

Cost to Enter

It costs $30 per vehicle ($25 for motorcycles) to enter Canyonlands National Park, which covers 7 days inside the park, but does not cover you at Arches National Park nearby, but will cover you in the other districts of Canyonlands. 

If you’re visiting more than one National Park on your trip, we highly recommend getting the America the Beautiful pass which is $80 per year and will get you into any National Park, monument, or forest for free.

Arrive early

We highly suggest starting your Island in the Sky adventure at sunrise. Not only will you get to experience one of the most iconic sights in the park this way (more on that in a bit!), you’ll beat the crowds to many spots and beat the heat.

During peak season, there can be a long line to get into the park, as there is only one entrance booth. When we left the park mid-day to get lunch, the line to get into the park was probably an hour long. Thankfully by the time we returned, it was empty again, but beware that it can get backed up, which is why arriving early is key.

Dogs are not allowed

Dogs are not allowed on any trails, at any overlooks, in the backcountry, or in any buildings at Canyonlands National Park. Some national parks let you bring dogs to paved overlooks, but that is not the case here. So please leave your furry friend at home or in a safe, cool spot!

If you want a pet friendly alternative to Canyonlands, check out Dead Horse Point State Park!

Learn what we do with Kona when she cannot join us. For this park, she stayed at Moab Veterinary Clinic.

You may need a permit

While most activities in the park do not require a permit, overnights in the backcountry, off road driving (minus the Shafer trail), and river trips require a permit. You can learn more about how to obtain a permit and when they become available on the National Park website.

What to bring to the Island in the Sky District

To ensure you have a safe and enjoyable time in Canyonlands, here are some items we’d suggest bringing with you! 

HIKING SHOES

Hiking along canyon rims, on sandstone, and in canyons require a sturdy shoe, so you’ll want to wear proper hiking shoes. We love our Lowa Renegades (Kathryn) and Altra Superiors (Adam)!

LAYERS

Make sure to pack warmer clothes! If you go in the Spring or Fall, temperatures in the high desert can swing up to 40 degrees in one day!

SUNSCREEN

All of the overlooks and hikes along and into the canyon are very exposed, so you’ll get lots of sun! Make sure to cover up with sunscreen or a hat to stay protected. We have been using Bare Republic, which is a “better for you” sunscreen, although it may give you a nice white, vampire-esque sheen. 

WATER

We love our Camelbak bladder for hikes because it stores a ton of water and it’s easy to drink from while moving. Since it is a long hike, you’ll want to bring lots of water. The National Park Service recommends 1 quart for every 2-3 hours on the trail per person. Even if you start early, it can get warm and the sun will take it out of you!

ALLTRAILS Map

We’d highly recommend downloading the AllTrails map before you go. While all the trails in the park are easy to follow, we like to use the map to track our progress along the trail. You will need an AllTrails Pro membership to download maps, which is $30 a year and so worth it!

Things to do in the Island in the Sky District

Even though you can explore the park in one day, there is still a LOT to see at Island in the Sky! Here is a breakdown of the best hikes, overlooks, and other activities. Not sure what to prioritize? We are including our one day itinerary at the end of this guide, with the order we did these activities to beat most of the crowds!

Go for a Hike

There are two categories of hikes in the Island in the Sky District: short trails that take you out to scenic overlooks along the canyon rim or longer hikes start from the mesa top and descend you down over 1,000-2,000 feet into the canyon below. 

During our visit we only did the shorter trails, as we wanted to see as much as possible and were feeling a bit tired, but we’re including some of the longer ones below too!

Mesa Arch Canyonlands National Park

Mesa Arch 

Miles: 0.7 miles
Elevation: 88 feet
Trail Map & Current Conditions

Mesa Arch is one of, if not the most, iconic spot in the park. While not nearly as large as the arches at Arches National Park, this 90 ft long arch’s opening frames the canyon below perfectly at the right angle. 

This is a popular spot for sunrise photography, as the sun rises behind the arch, giving a cool sun flare if you time your shot right. You can expect for there to be quite a few photographers with tripods trying to get this iconic shot.

We visited for sunrise and despite it being SO cold and too cloudy for the sunflare, we are so glad we did! This is definitely one of the most popular spots in the park and even with the photographer crowd (us included), it wasn’t nearly as busy as when we drove by the parking lot later in the day. We highly recommend starting your Island in the Sky adventure here!

Whale Rock

Miles: 0.8 miles
Elevation: 131 feet
Trail Map & Current Conditions

This short, easy hike takes you to the top of Whale Rock and will provide you 360 degree views of the park! The hike takes you up slickrock, so be careful if it has rained!

Upheaval Dome Canyonlands National Park

Upheaval Dome

Miles: 1.3 miles
Elevation: 226 feet
Trail Map & Current Conditions

The Upheaval Dome trail is a short, fun hike with two overlook spots to a very unique mile-wide geological formation that even researchers don’t know the origins of! The two most popular theories are that it is a salt dome that was pushed up by the weight of thousands of feet of overlying rocks or a meteorite crashed. The meteorite theory is more widely accepted, as the rocks present show signs of pressure that could’ve only been possible from high impact.

But regardless of the true origin, it is pretty wild to see and unlike anything else in the park, both in looks and geological features. We loved this stop!

Grand View Point Trail

Miles: 1.8 miles
Elevation: 160 feet
Trail Map & Current Conditions

After Mesa Arch, Grand View Point is one of the most popular spots in the park. You can either admire the views from the overlook or continue on a trail to get more views of the park.

The trail is a very easy trail and along the way you’ll get to see the Needles District off in the distance, White Rim Road and crazy rock formations below, the La Sal Mountains, and at the end of the trail, you’ll get to see a view looking south that you cannot get from the overlook. It’s definitely worth the 1.8 mile trek! 

Note: parking was full when we visited here, but you can park at the Orange Cliffs Overlook and walk to Grand View Point.

White Rim Overlook Canyonlands National Park

White Rim Overlook Trail

Miles: 1.8 miles
Elevation: 160 feet
Trail Map & Current Conditions

The White Rim Overlook Trail is located close to Grand View Point, but it offers a different perspective and is totally worth adding onto your Island in the Sky adventure. Unlike Grand View Point, there is no overlook from the parking area, you have to do the short and easy hike to get to it, which means it’s way less busy! 

The White Rim is referencing this white rimmed edge that outlines where the flat land suddenly drops into a canyon below. It’s pretty crazy looking! And from this overlook you not only get great views of this white rim, but also of White Rim Road, which is one of the 4×4 trails, the La Sal Mountains, and the surrounding area.

False Kiva Canyonlands National Park

False Kiva Trail

Miles: 1.9 miles
Elevation: 426 feet
Trail Map & Current Conditions

The False Kiva trail is an unmarked trail (not on park maps) that leads you to a kiva, which is a room used by Puebloans for rites and political meetings. However, they call this kiva a “false” kiva because its origins are unknown and they aren’t 100% sure if it was used as a kiva. 

To get to this hike, you’ll want to park at the Alcove Spring Trailhead, which is just down the road from the start of the trail. You’ll turn left out of the parking lot and walk the road until you see some wooden fencing and a path behind it.

While this trail is not marked from the road, it’s pretty easy to follow and has cairns to guide the way. The trail starts out pretty easy as you work your way to this alcove, where you have expansive views of the canyon. But from here, it gets tricky. You have to do a bit of scrambling to get to the kiva and after attempting some of it, we didn’t feel comfortable continuing, so we turned around. Plus, the kiva was blocked off due to vandalism (grrr), so you couldn’t get as close to it as before.

While we did not fully complete this hike, we loved what we got to see and highly recommend just hiking to the area right before where you’d climb up to see the kiva. The views are amazing and we didn’t see anyone else the entire time!

Gooseberry Trail

Miles: 4.2 miles
Elevation: 1,548 feet
Trail Map & Current Conditions

The Gooseberry Trail is one of the trails that will take you down into the canyons to White Rim Road and Gooseberry Canyon. It is a steep descent, but very flat once you get down to the bottom. Don’t forget…what goes down must come back up!

Syncline Loop

Miles: 8.6 miles (go clockwise)
Elevation: 1,630 feet
Trail Map & Current Conditions

This is a strenuous backcountry loop trail that circles the Upheaval Dome and although it does not provide any views of the Upheaval Dome, it still has amazing views of the area. It is one of the most challenging hikes in this area of the park and requires scrambling, so make sure you’re prepared for the challenge and start early if hiking on a hot day, as it has no cover. There is a spur trail that will take you into the dome, but it will add a few more miles to your trip.

Wilhite Trail

Miles: 11.2 miles
Elevation: 2,011 feet
Trail Map & Current Conditions

This is another strenuous hike down into the canyons from the rim. The first mile or so is along the mesa top and is very flat, so this section will be a pleasant walk, if that is what you’re looking for. But if you’re looking for a challenge, continue past the sign to start the steep descent. You can take this first descent and when it levels off, stop there for a picnic and return back, or continue on further into the canyons.

If you only have one day at Island in the Sky, we’d suggest prioritizing Mesa Arch (sunrise), Upheaval Dome, Grand View Point Trail, and the White Rim Overlook Trail. These are all doable in one day, with stops at viewpoints as well.

Check out the overlooks

Green River Overlook Canyonlands National Park

Green River Overlook

The Green River Overlook reminded us of massive dinosaur prints left in the Earth and was one of our favorite overlooks in the park! You not only get to see a canyon that looks like it has just been stamped into the ground, but also some cool rock formations and the Green River. 

This overlook requires you to take a side road to get to it, but after parking, you’ll only have to walk a minute or two to the viewing area.

Shafer Trail Canyonlands National Park

Shafer Trail Viewpoint

The Shafer Trail Viewpoint sits right on top of the beginning/end of the Shafer Trail. You’ll look down on the crazy switchbacks that take adventurous drivers down into the canyon. It’s really fun to watch the Jeeps drive up and down the canyon here!

Shafer Canyon Overlook

The Shafer Canyon Overlook is a very short 0.3 mile walk to incredible views of Shafer Canyon and the La Sal Mountains in the distance. You can also see part of the Shafer Trail here too!

Buck Canyon Overlook

The Buck Canyon Overlook only requires a 0.1 mile walk to see Buck Canyon, making it a super quick and easy stop! One thing we loved about this overlook was seeing the La Sal Mountains against the desert. It’s such a cool contrast.

Grand View Point Canyonlands National Park

Grand View Point Overlook

As we mentioned above, there is an overlook for Grand View Point and while we suggest doing the 1.8 mile hike to see more views, the scenery at the overlook is amazing if that is all you have time for! This is another must-do overlook at Island in the Sky.

Candlestick Tower Overlook Canyonlands National Park

Candlestick Tower Overlook

One of our favorite spots at Island in the Sky was the Candlestick Tower Overlook! This is a non-marked overlook, so most people do not know to stop here, but it’s right off the main road and has room for 4 or so cars to park and is PERFECT for sunset!

It’s a super short walk from the car to a bunch of rocks that you can sit on and admire the amazing views as the sun sets behind candlestick tower and the canyon. It’s a hidden gem!

Drive the 4×4 Roads

While we did not drive the 4×4 trails due to our van being very large and not ideal for these roads, we hear they are absolutely amazing and worth the effort and thrills if you have the right vehicle. Here’s a little bit of info about two of the most popular options!

Drive the Shafer Trail

The Shafer Trail is named after a Mormon Pioneer family in the early 20th century who used the trail to move their cattle from summer pastures on the mesa top to the winter pastures in the canyon. Mr. Shafer improved the trail and made access to the canyon easier along the trail that now bears his family name. 

Before the Shafers used the trail, it had many uses by several other groups of people throughout the centuries. First, the Native Americans used it to access resources on the mesa top, then sheep herders herded their flocks up and down for better foraging in the winter, and also it has been used by trucks to ship uranium mined from the backcountry. Today, it is an unpaved, backcountry road used by thrill seekers with 4×4 high clearance vehicles. 

To be able to experience the Shafer Trail it is strongly recommended that you have a 4×4 vehicle with high clearance with a low range gear (4LO). 

The Shafer Trail is about 19 miles and you can either turn around and go the same way you came or continue on to Potash Road to Moab. If you do both, it’ll take around 2 hours or so. Be sure to check the weather forecast and road conditions before venturing onto the Shafer Trail. 

You can find more information on this route including more laws and regulations you need to know on the National Park website.

Note: You do not need a permit for this drive. Also, ATVs, UTVs, or OHVs are not allowed in Canyonlands National Park.

White Rim Road

The White Rim Road is a 100 mile drive that circles the Island in the Sky, which you can experience by a 4×4 vehicle, motorbikes, or a bike (including eBikes). 

To complete the entire route, it typically takes 4×4 drivers 2 days. You have to get a permit to do this drive and need a permit for every day that you plan to be out on the road. While you can camp overnight along the road, the demand for overnight permits is typically greater than the allotment. 

This road is pretty intense and even in the right conditions can be challenging, so make sure to check the weather beforehand. 

You can find more information on this route including more laws and regulations you need to know on the National Park website.

Where to eat near Island in the Sky

Antica Forma Pizza Moab

Although it takes about 40 minutes to get to Island in the Sky from Moab, if you want to grab food before the park, leave the park for lunch, or are looking for a post-adventuring dinner, here are some of our favorite places to eat in Moab!

  • Moab Garage Co. for coffee and breakfast items! (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays)
  • Doughbird for unique doughnuts and amazing hot chicken sandwiches. The donuts start to sell out early, so come early for your pick of flavors, and they only serve chicken from 11 AM-2 PM. (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays)
  • Antica Forma for Neapolitan style pizza
  • Quesadilla Mobilla for delicious, homemade quesadillas (closed Mondays)
  • Thai Bella for Thai food! We love their Panang Curry and Khao Soi! (Only open for dinner & closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays)

One Day Island in the Sky Itinerary

Curious how we structured our one day at Island in the Sky at Canyonlands? Here is our exact itinerary for the day, which we felt was the perfect way to get to experience this park and beat some crowds. You can also watch our experience!

  1. We started the day with sunrise at Mesa Arch. We arrived about an hour before the sunrise to snag a spot, since we heard it could get busy with photographers. If you’re not trying to get the iconic shot, you could arrive closer to sunrise to still see its beauty, but without a front row spot.
     
  2. Next, we hiked Upheaval Dome, which is about as far east as you can go by car in Island in the Sky. We loved doing this second because it was still early and we were able to beat the crowds to this hike.
     
  3. We then ventured to the False Kiva trail, which although we did not complete the trail, we really enjoyed the seclusion and views along the way.
     
  4. Our next stop was the Green River Overlook, which was one of our favorites of the day! Seeing the canyon and river together was breathtaking and isn’t a view you get to see from every overlook in the park.
     
  5. We made our way back towards the park entrance and stopped at the Shafer Trail Viewpoint to watch Jeeps and other vehicles go on the crazy steep, cliffside switchbacks. It is wild!
     
  6. Since we got to the park so early and still had a lot of time left before sunset, we decided to leave the park for lunch and headed to Antica Forma for some delicious Neapolitan style pizza!
     
  7. Slightly worried about the line to get back into the park (it was VERY long when we left), we headed back and to our surprise, we drove right in! We visited the Visitor Center to get our patch and some postcards and then spent the rest of the day on Grand View Point Road, checking out overlooks and doing quick hikes. We did:
    • Buck Canyon Overlook
    • Grand View Point Overlook + Trail
    • White Rim Overlook Trail
       
  8. We ended the day with sunset at Candlestick Tower Overlook, which was absolutely perfect and Mother Nature put on a gorgeous show for us!

Other things to do near Island in the Sky 

Looking for more things to do near Island in the Sky at Canyonlands National Park? Read our Moab guide, which highlights the best things to do in the Moab area outside of the national parks, as well as our Canyonlands Needles District guide and Arches National Park guide!

Ready to explore the Island in the Sky at Canyonlands National Park?

Pin this guide to Island in the Sky to help plan your trip!

about us

Hi y’all! We’re Adam, Kathryn, and Kona, an adventurous married couple (+ pup!) living on the road in our self-converted sprinter van! You can often find us driving all around the US and Canada, scoping out the best coffee shops, eating tacos and ice cream (we’re a 5+ taco and 2+ scoop household), and enjoying nature.

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