The Ultimate Guide to an Epic Canyonlands National Park Trip

AUTHOR: Connor Ursin with @nationalparktravelers

Tucked away between two beautiful rivers and endless red canyons sits Utah’s eastern desert oasis, Canyonlands National Park

While all of Utah’s Mighty 5 parks offer amazing views and unforgettable adventures, Canyonlands is a unique experience. Here, you’ll find hundreds of miles of backpacking and biking trails, sandstone arches, and a stunning array of stars speckled across the skies in the evening. 

Plus, swimming holes near Moab provide the perfect way to relax and wind down after a day of exploring!

And we believe the best way to experience Canyonlands and its surrounding areas is by taking in the scenery from your camper van. Find a spot to slow down between all the hiking and activities so you can take in everything the park has to offer.

You probably want to pack up and hit the road ASAP. But before you make your voyage to Canyonlands National Park, here’s what you need to know about getting into the park, where to stay, and which hikes are a must-do for the best possible experience!

A landscape photo of Canyonlands National Park shows winding roads and red rocks

What to Know Before You Go to Canyonlands National Park

To enter Canyonlands National Park, you’ll need the following:

  • Purchase a $35, 7-day vehicle pass or a $55 annual pass.
  • If you plan on visiting at least 3 National Parks/National Designated areas within 1 year, you can purchase an annual America the Beautiful Pass at the entrance station for $80 which will cover 12 months of entrance fees into any National Park in the US.

The Colorado and Green Rivers have not only formed the countless canyons and buttes in Canyonlands, they also separate the park into 4 districts (Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze, and the rivers themselves). 

Getting to each one can be time-consuming. You can’t get to each district driving through Canyonlands itself — so you have to drive out and around the park to make your way around each district. Each drive takes around 2-6 hours to complete.

There are no restaurants or gas stations inside the park, so it’s important to stock up on food and drinks before entering. And as always, please Leave No Trace when visiting. 

Take a moment to familiarize yourself with the principles of Leave No Trace, so you can minimize your impact on the park while you visit. We’re all responsible for leaving these areas exactly how we found them and help preserve the land for future generations. 

Best Time to Visit Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park is open year-round, but the best time to visit is from April to May and September to October. The daytime temperatures are usually more pleasant during these months with average highs between 60F to 80F, and lows from 30F to 50F. Expect these times to be pretty busy. 

To avoid lines and large crowds, start your days early by or before 8 am. As a result, you’ll also get more opportunities for awesome photography moments if you hit the trails early!

If you travel to Canyonlands outside these time frames, be wary of the triple digits that can hit in the summertime and the heavy snow that falls during the winter.

A red rock arch frames a valley in Canyonlands National Park

Closest Major Airport

Salt Lake City International Airport is the closest to Canyonlands, 4 hours and 20 minutes away. 

Where to Stay in Canyonlands National Park

There are no hotels in Canyonlands National Park, but a camping trip in the area is not to be missed. Given the popularity of the Canyonlands and relatively limited camping options, you may show up and find that here are no campsites available. 

But all is not lost! There are a great deal of options just outside the park – from RV campgrounds with full hookups to dispersed camping, you’re sure to find something that’s comfortable and suits your needs.

While some campgrounds will cater to RVs and campers in tents, each location permits car camping and pulling up in your van camper.

Needles Outpost Campground

  • Plenty of sites!
  • Reservations not required but will guarantee you a spot
  • Fees start at $25
  • Amenities include flush toilets, token-operated showers, and a general store
  • No electric hookups
  • Pets are allowed

The Needles Outpost Campground is as close to Canyonlands as you can get. And it’s immediately adjacent to the Needles District so you just drive a short distance from the Needles Visitor Center

Kayenta Campground 

  • 22 sites
  • Reservations are recommended, but not required
  • Fees start at $20
  • Electric hookups and a dump station available
  • Pets are allowed

The Kayenta Campground in Dead Horse State Park is located just north of the Island in the Sky District. If you’re after a rustic experience while visiting Canyonlands National Park, look no further. 

Sun Outdoors Canyonlands Gateway

  • 15 tent sites, 4 RV sites
  • Reservations are recommended, but not required
  • Fees start at $54
  • Amenities include an outdoor pool, picnic area with grills, restrooms and showers, and access to WiFi
  • Pets are allowed

Sun Outdoors, formerly known as the Archview RV Resort and Campground, is located just north of Moab. From the campground, you’re only 30 minutes away from the Island in the Sky Visitor Center.

Bureau Land Management (BLM) Developed Campgrounds

  • Dozens of campsites available
  • All campgrounds are first-come, first-served
  • Fees start at $20
  • Amenities include fire rings, vault toilets, and picnic tables
  • Pets are allowed

Each BLM campsite will work well so you can spend a couple nights in your camper van. But if you want to get as close to Canyonlands Park as possible, Cowboy Camp, Horsethief, Hatch Point, and Windwhistle will get you closest to the action.

Your final option is finding a free, dispersed camping spot. While there’s no dispersed camping permitted within 20 miles of Moab, you have a few options:

  • Gemini Bridges Road: South of Moab a 4WD road will lead you to the Bride’s Canyon trailhead. 
  • Dubinsky Well Road: Located north of the Lone Mesa Campground, and just off BLM Road 137.
  • Mineral Bottom: Located just northwest of Canyonlands National Park, but because of its distance, this is recommended only if the other options are full.

You have more than enough options for Canyonlands lodging, but you can also always just head into Moab and stay in town in between your excursions to the park. By staying here it also puts you in an excellent position for checking out other State Parks in the area.

A landscape photo of Canyonlands National Park

The Best Hikes in Canyonlands National Park

There’s lots of hiking to do throughout the park, but The Island in the Sky district is where you’ll find our favorites. This area features the majority of easily accessible hiking trails and also some of the most stunning views you’ll see all trip.

Mesa Arch

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: .5 miles
  • Estimated hike time: 15 -30 minutes
  • Location: sland in the Sky

Possibly the most famous view in all the park, especially for its sunrises. You need to get there early to catch the light as it creates a glowing effect on the Arch itself. Be sure to expect crowds since this is a photographer’s dream spot, just be mindful and wait your turn for some pictures. 

White Rim Trail

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 1.8 miles
  • Estimated hike time: 1.5 hours
  • Location: Island in the Sky 

This relatively easy hike gives you almost 360-degree views of the Canyonlands below. You can watch Jeeps drive on the canyon floor below you, giving you an idea of just how vast this area is. 

Grand Viewpoint Trail

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Estimated hike time: 1.5 hours
  • Location: Island in the Sky 

Similar to the White Rim Overlook trail, this straightforward hike provides you with amazing views of the canyons below. We recommend coming here at sunset.

Other Island in The Sky Hikes

Hikes in The Needles District 

Other fun things to do in Canyonlands National Park include visiting the Horseshoe Canyon Unit to check out American Indian rock art panels and taking a whitewater day trip in Cataract Canyon.

Continue Your Adventure by Visiting Arches National Park

Utah is packed with unbelievable National Parks and sights to see. If you want to continue building memories and earning more miles on the road, make your way to Arches National Park. 

After a visit to Canyonlands, you can make it to Arches in around 30 minutes. That’s basically just down the road! The red rocks, blue skies, and seemingly endless rock formations will add a whole new element to your time in the Utah desert. 

Just as you prepared for your excursion through Canyonlands, you’ll want to make sure you’re ready for the next chapter of your adventure in your camper van. 

Keep your camper van adventure going in Arches National Park