When Is the Best Time
The best time to visit Canyonlands National Park is from April to May and from September to October. The daytime temperatures are more pleasant during this time, with average highs between 60°F to 80°F degrees and average lows from 30°F to 50°F.
However, it always depends on what you are looking for and if you are willing to avoid the noon and afternoon heat by getting up early. We have visited Canyonlands National Park many times, and we truly believe it’s worthwhile. Read on for our detailed ‘when to go’ tips.
Tip: Don’t forget to read our 3 Must-Know Tips at the end of this article. And to avoid the crowds and be at awe-inspiring vistas like Mesa Arch early, stay one night in Moab (via booking.com)
Best Time of Day to Visit
During the busier seasons (spring and fall) in Canyonlands National Park, the best time of day to visit is in the morning. By starting your adventure around 8 AM, you avoid lines, crowded areas, and parking lots at the popular spots. However, Canyonlands is never really jam-packed like Arches National Park.
Summer heat: Getting up early is not only beneficial if you want to avoid the crowds. To beat the heat, we always left our hotel and got to the park by 7:00 AM. By 1:00 PM it was hot and we returned to our hotel to relax.
Mesa Arch Tip: Mesa Arch especially gets busy in spring and fall. By entering Island in the Sky at 8 AM, you will be pretty much guaranteed to get a parking spot at the Mesa Arch trailhead.
Photography Tip: Get up very early and be at the Mesa Arch parking lot about 45 minutes before dawn. Then walk the trail to the arch to see the sunrise. You will get the chance to take awesome photos without tourist crowds.
Please keep in mind that the temperatures in this monthly weather chart are average highs for the Island in the Sky. In the summer, it can get well over 100°F degrees at peak times.
Differences by District: It is about five degrees warmer on average in the Needles District compared to the Island of Sky temperatures.
Spring and Fall Weather
The spring months (April to May) and the fall season (mid-September to early November) offer the most pleasant temperatures in Canyonlands National Park. The average highs during both seasons range from 60°F to 80°F degrees.
Good to know: Although spring and fall offer the best weather conditions with mild temperatures, we always bring layers and a jacket, particularly when we visited at that time.
Canyonlands is a desert region where temperatures vary significantly throughout the day. Especially mornings and evenings can get very chilly.
The summer months in Canyonlands National Park can get extremely hot with temperatures around 95°F, sometimes over 100°F, especially in the Needles District. Therefore, summertime is not recommended for strenuous day hikes.
If you decide to hike in the summer: Get up very early and be back by lunchtime. From our experience, the heat in the early afternoon is no fun. Thunderstorms can happen in late summer and early fall.
Winter in Canyonlands National Park is quite cold. High temperatures range from 30°F to 50°F degrees, while low temperatures range from 0°F to 20°F degrees Fahrenheit. Heavy snow and more extended periods of snowfalls are rare in the area, except in the surrounding mountains. However, even minor accumulations of snow or ice can make paths and roads inaccessible.
The Needles District stays slightly warmer during winter due to its lower elevation.
Opening Hours | Park and Visitor Centers
Canyonlands National Park is open year-round every day for 24 hours. There are no gates to be opened to access the park. You can enter anytime you like.
Isle of the Sky Visitor Center: Open year-round (from 8 AM to 5 PM). During January and February, closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Needles Visitor Center: Open from 8 AM to 5 PM from spring to fall and closed from December to February.
How Long Do You Need in Canyonlands National Park
The minimum amount of time to spend in Canyonlands National Park is three hours. Within this short time frame, you can visit the popular viewpoints and overlooks in the park.
If you don’t have much time to spend at Canyonlands National Park, we recommend staying in the Island in the Sky district. This is the most scenic part of the park.
Island in the Sky is only a short drive from Moab, and with the stunning vistas and short hiking routes, you will be able to see and experience some of the most breathtaking sights in the area.
Please read our recommendations for three hours, half a day, and a full day:
If you only have a few hours in the morning or afternoon, focus on the best views. Dead Horse Point, located outside the park’s entrance to the Island in the Sky District, is worth a visit. The Shafer Canyon Overlook, Green River Overlook, and Grand View Point Overlook are all worthwhile stops within the park.
Visiting the Needles District, on the other hand, isn’t worth it with so little time. Needles District is a fantastic area, but it’s significantly further from Moab than the other regions. However, we once drove to Needles Overlook (north of the park entrance), which is something you might consider as well.
Half a Day
In addition to the previously mentioned views, the beautiful and relatively short trails to Mesa Arch and Upheaval Dome are easily done here.
In the Needles District, you could hike up the trail to Chesler Park in about six hours – it’s well worth seeing!
If you have more than half a day, you can cover more stunning parts of the Needles District: The entire Chesler Park Loop (not just up to the Viewpoint) is something you should do, but the Druid Arch is also worth seeing.
Afterward, you could visit the smaller, more accessible destinations, such as Pothole Point and Newspaper Rock.
Avoiding Tourist Crowds
With over half a million visitors per year, it’s less crowded in Canyonlands National Park than in the major parks. Most visitors come here in April/May and September/October. During these peak months, the popular spots might be busy. Despite the high temperatures, summer became also slightly busier recently.
While ‘Island in the Sky’ receives the highest visitation, ‘The Maze’ is the least busy area. If you visit in the popular months and want to beat possible crowds: Avoid weekends and start your tour very early. Besides, if you drive or hike far enough you won’t be sharing your trail with others regardless of the season. If you want total solitude: November to February. However, some roads could be inaccessible.
Is Canyonlands National Park Worth It?
Canyonlands National is worth visiting as it offers some easily accessible beautiful viewpoints in the Island in the Sky district and fewer crowds than the more popular Arches National Park. Even with limited time, it’s worth the drive.
Can You Do Canyonlands and Arches in One Day?
If you come during the summer when daylight is available long enough, you can see both Arches and Canyonlands on the same day. However, we recommend planning one day for each park.
Is Canyonlands National Park Full in Peak Season?
During peak times in spring and fall, popular spots like the Mesa Arch parking lot get full quickly in Canyonlands National Park. You can easily dodge the crowds by arriving early and avoiding weekends.
Which Are the 3 Regions
Canyonlands National Park has three main districts:
- Island in the Sky: Usually a little colder than the other districts. Recommended if you go during the summer. Known for its accessible and stunning views: NPS Island In the Sky
- The Needles: The hottest district. Recommend if you go in winter: It’s slightly warmer than in the other areas. Known for its rambling trails: NPS Needles Trails
- The Maze: This part of the park is known for its deep remoteness. A dream for skilled hikers and adventure lovers. NPS The Maze
The closest area to Moab is Island in the Sky. The Needles is a more distant region. It takes about 1.5 hours to drive from Moab: Google Maps Route – Moab > The Needles Visitor Center. The Maze is the least accessible area, which usually only experienced adventurers enter.
Where to Stay
Canyonlands National Park does not offer lodging but does allow camping. Campsites are mostly first-come, first-served. Where to stay the night when not camping: Excellent hotels in different price ranges are available in Moab and Monticello.
When you stay in Moab (via booking.com), you have the most comfortable and easy to drive to Island in the Sky. Even more important, you can easily get to the popular and more crowded places like Mesa Arch early in the morning without getting up at night.
We always stayed in Moab as it was the most comfortable choice. The drive to Canyonlands NP just takes 40 minutes, and if you want to visit Arches, it’s even faster (5-10 minutes) We loved the Aarchway Inn (via booking.com. Exceptional!)
Island in the Sky and the Needles are roughly a two-hour drive apart, so plan on spending at least one day at each in case you want to see both. The reason: You have to drive all the way back, through Moab, to get to either one from the other region.
We recommend skipping the Maze if you are not an experienced hiker: It’s a remote and untamed area. Roads require a high-clearance four-wheel drive.
Hikes/Walks and Viewpoints
While the Needles District mainly rewards hikers with a certain fitness level, the highlights of the Island in the Sky District are accessible without strenuous hikes. Island in the Sky is often the preferred area, while experienced hikers are more likely to venture to the Needles.
Chesler Park Loop Trail (7.5-11 miles) | Needles
This is one of the most beautiful and easiest trails in the Needles District. It leads through a breathtaking landscape, where you meet one fascinating rock formation after the other until you finally reach Chesler Park. If you want to go around it, you’ll have to walk 11 miles. For the view only, it’s just 7.5 miles.
This trail can be done in about four hours with photo stops and is incredibly rewarding. One of the best hiking trails in the southwest. The t
the trailhead is at the small Elephant Hill Parking Lot at the end of a short, mostly solid dirt road.
Druid Arch Trail (11 miles) | Needles
Equally beautiful but much more strenuous is the trail to Druid Arch. You need solid, sturdy shoes, and sometimes even scrambling is required. All doable, but in connection with the longer route much more demanding: Plan seven hours for this hike.
It’s a gorgeous and breathtaking hike. Exciting rock formations and hiking on the canyon floor compensate for the effort if you are fit enough. The trailhead is also at Elephant Hill.
A lot easier are many trails in the Island in the Sky district:
Mesa Arch Trail (0.6 miles) | Island in the Sky
This hike is very easy but one of the most beautiful trails. It leads to the Mesa Arch. With a length of only 0.6 miles, it’s extremely short and not only great at sunset. The trailhead is on the main road, near the junction.
Special Crowds Tip: Take the less frequented, less well-marked loop to the left as you go from the parking lot to Mesa Arch. It is less difficult and less steep than the trail to the right that most people use. It also includes information about trees and other flora.
Grand Viewpoint Trail (1.7 miles) | Island in the Sky
Another must-do is this short hike at Grand Viewpoint: one of the most beautiful vistas in Canyonlands. It offers a few additional views that are well worth seeing. The trailhead is located at the southern end of the main road and is not to be missed.
White Rim Overlook Trail (3 km) | Island in the Sky
Right next to the previous one, you’ll find another excellent trail and viewpoint with gorgeous views. It is highly recommended!
Upheaval Dome (2-4 km) | Island in the Sky
In the very north of Island in the Sky, you can encounter Upheaval Dome, an imposing rock structure reminiscent of a crater. It takes 0.6 miles to the first viewpoint. However, the additional half mile to the second view is worth it due to the higher perspective.
3 Must-Know Tips
- Supplies: Pack snacks and bring a lot of water. There is no place to shop for anything in Canyonlands National Park. Especially from spring through autumn, it is critical to have plenty of water with you.
- Visitor Center: Some will tell you to skip the visitor center. Please don’t follow this advice. Be sure to stop there for tips on what not to miss at any particular time of year. The rangers are extraordinarily helpful and know the park and the specifics for each month.
- Sound: Any sound carries more than you’re used to. Most people realize this, but a few people believe that in order to be heard, they must shout at each other. If you elevate your voice, your talk could be heard up to a quarter mile away! You can use soft and normal voices and hear each other clearly.