If sweeping canyon views, iconic photo ops, and scenic dirt-road driving are your thing, then look no further than the Island in the Sky in Canyonlands National Park.
This enormous national park is separated into three distinct districts with Island in the Sky being one of the crown jewels.
Known for its iconic views, easy hikes, and epic Overlanding opportunities, people flock from all over to check out the Island in the Sky in Canyonlands.
When it comes to visiting Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky District, you’ll want to be in the know. Make the most of your time and skip the crowds, with this mega-epic guide.
I’ve become an expert at beating the crowds in the most popular outdoor destinations in the US. The Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands is no exception. I’ve had plenty of amazing solitude here over the years.
And now I’m imparting my wisdom on you. Visit Island in the Sky in Canyonlands like a local, not a tourist. Here’s how.
About this guide to Island in the Sky in Canyonlands
Before we dive into everything you need to know to make the most of your trip to Island in the Sky District here’s a look at what to expect in this post.
- Overview of Canyonlands National Park
- Map of Island in the Sky
- Who will love Canyonlands National Park
- Things to do in Canyonlands’ Island in the Sky District
- Prices and fees
- The best camping
- Tips and tricks for visiting Island in the Sky in Canyonlands
- Additional planning resources
Canyonlands National Park Overview
Island in the Sky in Canyonlands is located just 45 minutes from downtown Moab. The driving is simple and all paved along the way.
The easy access to Moab makes Island in the Sky the busiest district in the park.
In order to beat the crowds in the Island in the Sky District, start your journey early. Like before the sun rises early. Mesa Arch is by far the most popular sunrise spot, but you could check out Grand View Point instead. Either way, aim to be in the park by 6 am and you’ll have a head start.
The other two districts – the Needles District in Canyonlands and the Maze District are more remote.
The Needles is known for its unique hiking and backpacking opportunities, while the Maze is a cross-country, remote area reserved for advanced adventurers.
The awesome part about Island in the Sky is that you can see almost the entire park from several different viewpoints.
Island in the Sky Map
You’ll find Island in the Sky at the far northern end of Canyonlands National Park. It sits on the Island in the Sky Mesa, which truly lives up to its namesake.
Who Will Love Visiting
Spending a day at Island in the sky is one of the best things to do in Moab, and there’s a little something for everyone to do here regardless of their travel preferences
Particularly, it’s great if you’re keen to go on easy hikes through Canyonlands National Park, catch extremely photogenic lookouts, and go on scenic drives lined with astounding viewpoints along the way.
Moreover, Island in the Sky is one of the best spots in the USA for camping in the desert and experiencing the awesomeness that is spending a night at a Dark Sky Area.
Things to do in Island in the Sky
Island in the Sky is your go-to place if you want to get a taste of the best things to do in Canyonlands but don’t necessarily have too much time to explore.
Afterward, you can get your sweat on with one of the Island in the Sky hikes or opt for a scenic drive to hit up all the viewpoints in one go.
Moreover, you can spend a few hours getting dusty on a backcountry drive. To finish off the day, catch an epic sunset paired with sweeping views of the canyons.
There are ample opportunities to explore the many hikes in Canyonlands. One of the best things about the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands is that most of the trails are relatively easy, meaning you’ll get the most bang for your hiking buck.
Here’s a look at a few must-see trails in Island in the Sky:
- Mesa Arch
- Grand View Point Trail
- Upheaval Dome
- Gooseberry Canyon
Visitor’s Center Viewpoint – Right from the parking lot of the visitor’s center, you can cross the street and follow a short trail to reach this viewpoint.
From here, you’ll get your first view of the cliffs, a fantastic view of Shafer Trail Road, and a glimpse of White Rim Road far off in the distance.
Green River Overlook – Offers a spectacular panoramic view of the Green River below and the surrounding Colorado Plateau stretching as far as the eye can see.
Local Tip: This viewpoint is wheelchair accessible and makes for an excellent sunset perch.
Grand View Point – Set in the southernmost point of Island in the Sky and offers jaw-to-the-ground views of the White Rim, The Maze, and The Needles (all backdropped by the La Sal Mountains).
Buck Canyon Overlook – One of the coolest viewpoints in Canyonlands if you want to see dramatic cliffs and the La Sal mountains in their fullest glory.
It’s also a really cool spot to see the sandstone of the canyon down below if you’re a geology enthusiast. This viewpoint is wheelchair accessible.
Shafer Canyon Viewpoint – Offers an incredible vista of the Shafer Canyon and an even better one of the Shafer Trail Road. You can walk out to the edge and stand right above the canyon for a truly unique experience.
Must-see Sunrise and Sunset Spots
One of the best things to do in Canyonlands is to catch a desert sunrise or sunset. Island in the Sky in Canyonlands is stuffed with amazing spots to catch the changing of the day.
Sunrise at Mesa Arch
Sunrise at Mesa Arch is one of the most glorious things to do in Canyonlands. The sun rises right underneath the arch and brings in a bright red glow, creating a magnificent vista of La Sal Mountains through the arch.
Sunset at Green River Viewpoint
This viewpoint is spectacular any time of the day, but close to sunset, the sun illuminates the west-facing walls of the canyon and makes it pop with red hues.
Sunset at Candlestick Tower
Another amazing (and lesser-known) sunset spot is Candlestick Tower. The name comes from the mesa that stands a thousand feet above the area and sticks out like, well, a candlestick. Sunset is extremely scenic here and you’re less likely to meet the crowds that head to other viewpoints before sundown.
An Epic Scenic Drive
Driving around the Island in the Sky District is an absolute treat and a great way to see some of the best views in Moab without breaking a sweat.
The entire district is served by one main road and a side road to Upheaval Dome. In total, you can expect to drive for around 34 miles (round trip) to get to hit up all the viewpoints.
Simply pull over and get out to reach almost all of the amazing views – this is one of the best scenic drives in Moab. A few require a couple of miles of walking, but you’ll be treated to absolutely amazing scenery along the way.
White Rim Road
Arguably one of the best things to do in Canyonlands National Park, White Rim Road is a must-do activity. This 102-mile dirt road loop features easy dirt road driving into one of the most famous landmarks at Island in the Sky.
You can access the road via the Shaffer Canyon entrance. Keep in mind, you’ll need a permit for any trips along White Rim Road. Day-use permits are available (although it’s impossible to do the whole loop in a day) and overnight permits are reservable too.
Many people opt to bike the White Rim Road with a 4WD high-clearance vehicle for support. It takes approximately 2 nights to complete the journey – by car or bike – with designated camping areas along the way.
Camping in Island in the Sky
Island in the Sky offers one of the best camping experiences in Moab, so make sure to take up the chance to do it while here! Canyonlands is a Dark Sky Park and one of the most jaw-dropping places near Moab to get the chance to go camping in the desert.
One option to camp within the park is Island in the Sky Campground (Willow Flat). It’s open year-round and works on a first-come, first-served basis.
Spots fill up quickly from spring throughout the fall, so make sure to get here early to ensure a place). The nightly camping fee is $15 per site.
Another option is Gooseberry Campground A, which offers incredible sunset views along White Rim Road.
You’ll find vault toilets and limited facilities here. However, it’s an excellent spot if you can snag it. Advanced permits are required.
When is the Best Time to Visit Island in the Sky?
Canyonlands is one of the best national parks to visit in the fall, especially if you want to avoid the crowds and be greeted with pleasant weather.
Spring is another great option for mild temperatures, but I recommend avoiding summers as it can get extremely hot.
If you don’t mind the cold and have the right gear, winter is the best time to visit if you want to have the hiking trails practically all to yourself.
How Much Does it Cost to Visit Island in the Sky?
Entrance fees are good for seven days and are as follows:
- Per person (no car): $15
- Per vehicle and its occupants: $30
- Per motorcycle and its riders: $25
Note that these entry fees are for Canyonlands National Park, which means you can also hit up the Needles and The Maze using the same ticket.
Pro Tip: Visiting multiple national parks in a 12-month period? Consider getting the America the Beautiful Pass.
Things to Know Before Visiting
Island in the Sky is quite a remote area and there are very few guest services available. Food, gas stations, and lodging aren’t available within the park so make sure to prepare beforehand.
The closest services are about 45 minutes away in downtown Moab.
Water is only available at the visitor center, so bring enough to keep you hydrated throughout the day. You can fill up water cans at the Gearheads Gear shop in Moab.
Carry a physical map with you at all times. The popular trails are well-marked, but the more remote ones aren’t regularly maintained. Bring a GPS too as well.
Cellular service is scarce in the area. Plan accordingly by downloading area maps on Google before heading out.
Avoid hiking around midday in the summer as the high temperatures can get dangerous. If you decide to do it, bring more water than you think you’ll need. And don’t forget the salty snacks!
Come early! Beat the crowds with a sunrise hike. I promise you will not regret the early wake-up call and you’ll have the park to yourself.
Other Awesome Nearby Attractions
With so many adventures in the Moab area, you’ll want to check out these nearby destinations too!
Dead Horse Point State Park
This park is often overlooked by visitors, but the fact that it’s right on the way to Canyonlands makes for a perfect stop.
Dead Horse offers sweeping views of La Sal Mountains and the Colorado River. Moreover, you can spend a few hours here doing easy hiking trails, many of which see fewer crowds than Island in the Sky does.
If you have more time to spare in your Utah itinerary, you can get more personal with Canyonlands by backpacking Canyonlands Needles District next. This section of Canyonlands is much less visited than Island in the Sky and offers longer, more remote hikes with views just as wonderful.
Arches National Park
Another star when it comes to desert hiking and an absolute must if you want to do more of the best hikes in Moab.
Arches is home to over two thousand arches (which you’ll love if you’re excited about Mesa Arch in Canyonlands!), as well as humongous mesas, red sandstone rocks, and rock formations that look like they came straight out of Mars.
Pro Tip: You can visit Arches and Canyonlands National Park in one day if you’re short on time.
Sand Flats Recreation Area
Set a 45-minute drive from Island in the Sky’s visitor center and a wonderful place to visit if you want to spend a day filled with fun outdoor activities like mountain biking, a 4×4 drive, or hiking through colorful mesas.
Additional Canyonlands Planning Resources
Wanna get into the desert? Check out these badass guides:
- The Druid Arch Hike in Canyonlands is Drop-Dead Beautiful and Here’s How to Do it
- Things to Do in Canyonlands