Island in the Sky
This is the easiest district to navigate and provides the best roost from which to appreciate the park's name. Numerous overlooks reveal how the geologic uplifts and erosion of the past 300 million years sculpted massive canyons. Some rims and towers of rock proved worthy opponents to erosion, and their intriguing postures lend depth and fancy to this landscape. Island in the Sky yields no easy way to walk into its yawning topography, but there are plenty of panoramic viewpoints from roadside pullouts and plateautop trails.
ACCESS: From Moab, the district visitor center is 32 miles away via U.S. 191 north and State 313 west. Outside Canyonlands, State 313 passes the access road to Dead Horse Point State Park ($7 per vehicle; www.stateparks.utah.gov or 435/259-2614), which offers views of the Colorado River as it follows its goosenecked course into Canyonlands.
BEST VIEW: Grand View Point Overlook, 12 miles south of the visitor center, reveals the enormity of the abyss that erosion from the combined powers of the Green and Colorado Rivers has carved.
BEST HIKES: Mesa Arch, 6 miles south of the visitor center, offers a stunning view through an arch backed by a 1,200-foot drop ― perfect for watching the sunrise. Access it via an easy 1x2-mile walk on the Mesa Arch Trail.
The Aztec Butte Trail, about 1 mile west of Mesa Arch, makes a moderate 2-mile round-trip to the top of the butte. Several granary ruins can be found here; the best are on the west side.
Drive 5 miles west of Mesa Arch to check out Whale Rock, a bulbous sandstone formation. An easy 1x2-mile path runs to the main overlook atop the rock, but there's plenty of room for roaming.
CAMPING: A 12-site first-come, first-served campground is located at Willow Flat ($5 per night; no water, vault toilets), 61x2 miles south of the visitor center.