13 Best Hikes in Canyonlands that Will Make You Drool

Last Updated on January 10, 2024 by foxintheforest

As one of the most expansive national parks in the US, Canyonlands is a must-see. One of the only ways to reach incredibly, drool-worthy desert scenery is to set out on one of the best hikes in Canyonlands.

In fact, out of all the things to do in Canyonlands, hiking needs to be on the top of your list. With three distinct districts, there are several perfect Canyonlands hikes for any ability

For real, just choose your flavor of the day and go for it!

From the grueling cross-country canyon networks in the Maze District, to the super-scenic hikeable viewpoints of Island in the Sky, you’re literally spoiled for choice.

Okay, so listen up, Canyonlands National Park isn’t exactly a secret. In fact, it’s one of the best national parks in the US. With that comes crowds. And lots of ‘em.

Unless you’re willing to schlep out the uber-isolated Maze District, don’t expect to find a ton of solitude in Canyonlands.

The best hikes in Canyonlands National Park

That is unless you’re reading this post. As an expert – ahem read: *professional* – in the outdoors, I’ve learned how to beat the crowds.

Scope out the best hikes in Canyonlands National Park like a local, not a tourist. Use my pro tips for visiting this stunning landscape to beat the crowds and find the most amazing secrets this park has to offer.

Moab is like a second home to me. I’ve been to Canyonlands National Park countless times. Throughout my visits, I’ve amassed a mega list of amazing hikes in Canyonlands. 

About This Guide to the Best Hikes in Canyonlands

You’ll find that some of the very best hikes in Moab are actually in Canyonlands. Inside this in-depth guide to the best hikes in Canyonlands you’ll find:

  • An in-depth guide to amazing Canyonlands hikes including difficulty, mileage, time, and highlights for each trail
  • A list of the best hikes in Canyonlands
  • The best time to hit the Canyonlands trails
  • Quick tips for visiting Canyonlands
  • Additional planning resources

Amazing Canyonlands Hikes in the Island in the Sky District 

This is a great place to start your tour of hiking in Canyonlands. The Island in the Sky hikes are mostly easy to moderate with amazing views. Hence the name – you’ll feel like you’re on an island overlooking some stellar canyon action.

1. Mesa Arch

The perfect intro to the majesty of Canyonlands, the hike to Mesa Arch is a short, easy trail to a spectacular view through the iconic arch.

From this viewpoint, you can see the depths of the canyons and the La Sal Mountains in the distance. This hike offers especially amazing sunrise photos.

  • Distance: 0.5-mile loop
  • Elevation Gain: 85 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy 
  • Estimated Time: 30 min

Pro Tip: It gets CROWDED here. Especially during the high season on a weekend. If you’re here for the photos, plan to be at the arch several hours before sunrise. Or, if that starburst shot isn’t your thing, come about an hour after sunrise and have the place virtually to yourself.

Mesa Arch hike in Canyonlands

2. Grand View Point

For an overview of the incredible terrain of Canyonlands, you can’t beat the Grand View Point hike. This trail follows the edge of the mesa allowing you to see the far away Needles District, the La Sal Mountains, White Rim Trail, and more.

The first viewpoint is about 100 yards down the trail and is wheelchair-accessible. After that, the trail is unpaved for another mile or so until the second viewpoint.

  • Distance: 2 miles round-trip
  • Elevation Gain: 173 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy 
  • Estimated Time: 1.5 hours
Grand View Point

3. Upheaval Dome

One of the most interesting geological features in Canyonlands is the Upheaval Dome, where rocks in the center of the depression are pushed up into a dome formation. A short yet steep hike leads you to two different viewpoints overlooking this unique structure.

  • Distance: 1.7 miles round-trip
  • Elevation Gain: 321 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Estimated Time: 1 hour

4. Aztec Butte

The Aztec Butte hike takes you to the top of the butte, where you will find a beautiful vista along with several Puebloan granaries. Admire the ancestral structures from afar, but definitely don’t enter or touch them.

Although this hike is short, it does require scrambling up the steep slickrock of the butte itself, so be sure to wear shoes with good traction.

  • Distance: 2 miles round-trip
  • Elevation Gain: 225 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Estimated Time: 1.5 hours

5. False Kiva

Unfortunately, the alcove at the end of this trail has been closed since 2018 due to vandalism, the rest of this iconic Canyonlands trail still offers incredible views.

While it is not a long hike, you will need to traverse steep slopes with some exposure. The False Kiva Trail also requires some wayfinding by following rock cairns, and it is not listed on Canyonlands park maps.

  • Distance: 2 miles round-trip
  • Elevation Gain: 425 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Estimated Time: 1.5 hours

6. Gooseberry Canyon

A very steep descent takes you across slickrock and down a trail to reach a wash and eventually the White Rim.

Although there are switchbacks, this trail is quite a challenge, with some steep drop-offs and loose scree slopes, making Gooseberry Canyon one of the most challenging Canyonlands hikes.

You can explore part of the White Rim Trail for more scenic views before heading back, but just keep in mind that you will have to go back up that steep incline you initially descended, so save some energy for that.

  • Distance: 5.4 miles round-trip
  • Elevation Gain: 1,400 feet
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Estimated Time: 4-6 hours

The Best Hikes in Canyonlands Needles District

While the Needles District in Canyonlands has a few easier hikes, it is an awesome place to undertake full-day adventures on longer trails. You’ll find some of the very best hikes in Canyonlands here.

Pro Tip: The Needles is an other-worldly landscape, for an added adventure opt to get a permit and go backpacking in Canyonlands.

1. Cave Spring

The Cave Spring trail lets you check out some unique attractions, including ruins of old ranching operations as well as Puebloan rock art and petroglyphs.

You’ll climb ladders, go through caves, and traverse slickrock along this hike, and you’ll get great views of the North and South Six-Shooter towers.

  • Distance: 0.6-mile loop
  • Elevation Gain: 40 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Estimated Time: 45 min

2. Slickrock

If you want panoramic views of Canyonlands, take the Slickrock trail which stays high above the canyons and offers views in all directions.

This is also an excellent introduction to hiking on slickrock for less experienced hikers before heading out on more challenging trails in the park.

  • Distance: 2.4-mile loop
  • Elevation Gain: 135 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Estimated Time: 1-2 hours

3. Big Spring/Squaw Canyon Loop

The Big Spring/Squaw Canyon Loop is an awesome trail to see what makes the Needles so special. You’ll hike through two canyons and across a variety of terrain.

You will encounter some steep sections with serious exposure, so this trail isn’t for the faint of heart or if you’re scared of heights.

  • Distance: 7.5-mile loop
  • Elevation Gain: 600 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Estimated Time: 3-4 hours
Big Spring Canyon Canyonlands

4. Squaw Canyon/Lost Canyon Loop

Find a variety of vegetation as you explore the relative lushness of Lost Canyon compared to the typical dry desert terrain of Squaw Canyon. You’ll also see lots of stunning sandstone formations on this trail.

Be sure to keep an eye out for cairns as you make your way along this hike, so you don’t end up getting lost yourself.

  • Distance: 8.7-mile loop
  • Elevation Gain: 340 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Estimated Time: 4-6 hours

Pro Tip: If you’re backpacking, a stop at Lost Canyon is a great way to grab water – a resource that’s not available anywhere else in the Needles District!

5. Chesler Park

The Chesler Park hike is a wonderful way to really appreciate the sandstone “needle” formations in this area of Canyonlands. The full loop is 10.4 miles, and it gets you up close and personal with lots of cool rock formations.

If you don’t have the time or conditioning to do the full loop, you can also just do a 6-mile out & back hike to the Chesler Park Viewpoint for some truly spectacular views of the Needles and the La Sal Mountains.

  • Distance: 10.4-mile loop
  • Elevation Gain: 1,820 feet
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Estimated Time: 5-6 hours
The best hikes in Canyonlands

6. Druid Arch

Druid Arch is truly one of the very best hikes in Canyonlands. The Druid Arch hike not only offers phenomenal views of the Needles, but also takes you right up to this epic arch.

Make your way through the stunningly beautiful Elephant Canyon until you reach a more technical section. You’ll scramble up a few easy dryfalls, then reach a small ladder and a steep scree hill. Just keep going until you reach the arch!

  • Distance: 10.4 miles round-trip
  • Elevation Gain: 1,614 feet
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Estimated Time: 5-6 hours

Pro Tip: Sunset at the arch is absolutely breathtaking, and totally worth hiking back in the dark (just bring your headlamp)!

The Best Hikes in the Maze District of Canyonlands

Due to its remoteness, the Maze District doesn’t have any easy trails, but it is definitely the best place for advanced backpacking in Canyonlands.

Most of the “trails” here are recommended routes that actually involve a lot of cross-country desert navigation. Expert-level adventures await in the Maze.

Pro Tip: You need permits and a 4WD, high-clearance vehicle just ot access the Maze District. You’ll need to check in with rangers to ensure you have all of the supplies you need for your trip. A tow out here will cost you $1,200 and it’s about a 4-hour drive from Moab, so be prepared!

1. Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon

The Great Gallery is a panel of Barrier Canyon-style rock art featuring paintings of life-size figures along with birds, animals, and other unidentified creations.

Along the way to the Great Gallery, you’ll weave through the sandstone walls of the canyon among cottonwoods and wildflowers (in the spring). This is the only real day hike in the Maze District.

  • Distance: 7.2 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 765 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Estimated Time: 4-5 hours

Tips for Making the Most of Your Canyonlands Hikes

When it comes to hiking in the desert, there are a few things you need to know before you go.

Start EARLY. It’s not only the best way to beat the crowds, but the best way to beat the heat! From April through October it gets insanely hot in Canyonlands, even an 80-degree day can feel like a blast furnace.

Leave it better than you found it. Your mom doesn’t live here, so please, please, please pick up after yourself. It’s illegal to dump toilet paper here, so use the toilets at trailheads or carry a WAG bag. Always practice Leave No Trace.

It’s illegal to climb arches, touch artifacts, or step on the black puffy soil. Head all the ranger and trailhead instructions.

Bring plenty of sun protection. The sun gets BRUTAL here and shade is hard to come by (especially in east/west canyon systems and in the Island in the Sky District. Pack sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and even a UPF sun shirt.

Dogs are not allowed on hiking trails. And leaving your dog in a hot car is torture. Leave Fido at home for your Canyonlands hikes.

It’s a $30 fee to enter the park. Consider grabbing an America the Beautiful Pass if you plan on visiting for multiple days.

Don’t forget the salty snacks and extra water. Consider carrying a cooler in the car with electrolyte drinks, ice, and cold water.

When is the Best Time to Hike in Canyonlands? 

You can absolutely enjoy the best Canyonlands trails year-round. I’ve been here on Christmas Day and during those prime, warm fall days. 

Fall and spring are the best time to visit Canyonlands, but also one of the busiest. Get an early start to beat the crowds and you’ll be far from the busy trailheads by the time everyone else shows up.

Local tip: Canyonlands is one of the top national parks for fall, so plan your visit accordingly!

Summers are BRUTAL. Simply put, don’t bother hiking in Canyonlands in the summer. It’s also insanely crowded. I seriously don’t get it. It’s hotter than all get out and essentially intolerable during the day and also stuffed with people. You’ve been warned.

Winters are cold – with temperatures regularly dipping below freezing. However, there is real magic to seeing Canyonlands dusted in snow. Not to mention, the place is practically empty. It’s the ideal time to visit if you don’t mind hiking in the cold.

Additional Resources for Visiting Canyonlands

Planning a trip to Canyonlands? Check out these handy resources:


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Meg Atteberry

Meg is a long-time Colorado local and outdoor industry professional. She's spent the last 15 years hiking, climbing, mountaineering, and canyoneering all over Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada in search of the best views. She's written for Outside Magazine, REI, Backpacker Magazine, and appeared on the Weather Channel.

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Meg Atteberry standing on a mountain sticking her tongue out

Meg aka Fox is a 30-something who's born to explore. Toddler mom, queer, and neuro-spicy her favorite things to do are climb in the alpine and camp in the desert. Her mission is to get you out on your greatest adventure.