A Riveting Day in Canyonlands Island In The Sky

Green River Overlook, Island In The Sky, Canyonlands National Park

We often describe any National Park Scenic Overlook as beautiful. That doesn’t describe Canyonlands National Park. Intriguing, fascinating or riveting would be more appropriate descriptions of the scene spread before you when you step to the edge of Canyonlands Island In The Sky Overlooks. Here you don’t find many of the interesting formations of Arches National Park or the dramatic brightly colored and rugged walls of Bryce Canyon National Park. Here you are standing on the mesa, looking straight down. The drop off is greater than most skyscrapers. It is the enormity of it that makes a visit to Canyonlands National Park unique and a must do on your National Park Bucket List.

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If you are not familiar with Canyonlands National Park let me help with the lay of the land. Two great rivers, the Green River and The Colorado River, cut through the park. They meet in the middle forming one mighty force. This forms a great big Y that divides the park into 3 sections. Because of the deep erosion caused by these rivers they are un-crossable, so each section is its own world.

The most popular section for casual visitors is that triangle formed in the top of the Y, The Island In The Sky Section. Why? Because from here you sit on the top of an incredible world. It is truly and Island sitting high above the canyon. A drive through Island In The Sky takes you to these amazing overlooks.

So hop in the car with us as we share our itinerary for a ½ day cruise through The Island In The Sky. I will warn you that after this trip we are dying to go back and get down into the canyons. But that is an adventure for another day!

Don’t miss the Visitor Center

First stop is the Visitor Center. This is the only place you can get water so make sure you have full bottles before you head on. We caught the intro movie and found some great tips on recommended hikes. After tagging a few short hikes that would fit into our limited time, we headed out.

Upheaval Dome, Canyonlands National Park, Island In The Sky
The view from Overlook 1 into Upheaval Dome.

Upheaval Dome

Our next stop was Upheaval Dome. We were intrigued by the mystery behind this giant crater. With modern science there aren’t a lot of geological formations that can’t be explained. So to see this crater with a mysterious beginning was very cool for the geeky side in us. Because I don’t want to ruin the mystery story, I’ll save all the details until you visit yourself! But definitely don’t miss this stop.

It is a short hike (.8 miles) to Upheaval Dome. The rangers rate this one as moderate in difficulty because it’s includes a steep elevation change of 100ft. We didn’t find it that difficult, but we were also wise enough to make this stop first before the heat of the August day.

Trail to Upheaval Dome Canyonlands National Park
Really cool trail to Upheaval Dome

Nearby is the trail to Whale Rock (1.0 miles). The rangers have flagged this hike as a great one for kids as they can freely climb up on the rock that resembles a whale.

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Green River Overlook

This is the first time we viewed the immense desolation that wind and water have carved over millions of years. We had to stop and imagine a force that powerful as we looked over the edge.

Green River Overlook at Canyonlands National Park Island In the Sky
Isn’t this view amazing! That 2nd drop off is the canyon formed by the Green River. WOW!

From the Green River Overlook we spotted movement along the edge of the rim nearest the river. It turns out those tiny moving blocks were jeep tours following White Rim Road.The White Rim Trail is over 100 miles of rugged road that follows the shelf under the mesa rim. Now that is definitely on my bucket list for a great adventure! We learned that Canyonlands National Park is probably best enjoyed floating down the river in a raft, off roading in a Jeep, mountain biking on the trails or some serious back country hiking.


While you are here, check out the story of our Crazy Road Trip seeing 5 Utah National Parks in 5 Days! Are you crazy enough to take the challenge?


Pulling out we cruised through Willow Flat Campground. It’s the only campground in The Island In The Sky Section. With the limited shade, they did an amazing job adding alternate shade in the campground. Even so, we found it sparsely populated in the heat of August.

Willow Flats Campground Canyonlands National Park
Pretty Sparse in Willow Flats Campground in August. It is supposed be amazing in Spring and Fall for nighttime star gazing!

Mesa Arch

Upon arrival at Mesa Arch we learned that the most popular time to take a picture is sunrise just as the sun peeks through Mesa Arch. At first we were disappointed that we hadn’t planned to be there early. However we found it just as interesting during the day and got some great photos.

Mesa Arch, Island In The Sky, Canyonlands National Park
The trail to Mesa Arch is an easy hike made spectacular when you round the corner to see this!

Fellow visitors were very kind, allowing people to get a quick shot without others in the scene and offering to be photographer. When you look at that picture, note that on the other side of the arch is a drop off hundreds of feet straight down. This is not exactly a place you want your kids to climb around!

Grandview Point Canyonlands National Park
You can’t help be be impressed with this view from Grandview Point.

Grandview Point, The Highlight of Island In The Sky

Ah.. we saved the best for last. Grandview Point is where you can see the conflux of the Colorado and Green Rivers. We’ll maybe not exactly see the rivers. But you can definitely see about 50 miles to the rim that plummets down to the river below. And with some lightweight binoculars and a little imagination you can see these 2 rivers joining into one.

It’s a short hike from the parking lot to the main viewing point. There’s also an easy hike of about a mile to a second great view.

So Much More to See and Do!

Looking down into the expansive canyons left us wanting more. We had originally planned to raft the Colorado River through Canyonlands National Park but schedules got in the way. We ended up changing that plan and rafted Lodore Canyon instead. (If you are looking for a great Utah rafting company check out Holiday River Expeditions. They treated us so well!) Now that we’ve seen what we missed, we are putting that back on our bucket list.

We are also very intrigued by the Jeep Tours along the White Rim Trail. A girl can dream! Let’s just lay it out there, most hiking in Canyonlands is pretty serious back country stuff. A bit too much work for us. Also popular are the multi day mountain bike trips. I’d probably die! But an off road trip in a Jeep. I could totally dig that.

If you’re like us, guide books are a road trip staple. For this trip we loved Moon’s Utah for uncovering information about side trips as we traveled between parks. Or even better, grab the  GuideAlong App and listen to the detailed narrative as you drive along. You’ll discover more stories and interesting sites with this app. You can read our review of GuideAlong here.

And don’t forget, The Island In The Sky is only one third of Canyonlands National Park. The Maze and Needles  are adventures of their own.

If you are headed out for a Utah National Park Adventure, don’t forget to Pin this to your vacation board! You definitely need to spend at least 1/2 day cruising along the scenic drive in Island In The Sky. And we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below about Canyonlands National Park. 

Author

  • Ladona Stork

    The Authors: Hey, we are Ladona and Brad, avid campers and hikers. We are crazy about getting outdoors at every possible moment and have decades of experience exploring nature. Our current goal is to visit all 63 US National Parks and just completed #34. WooHoo! Our mission is to help you plan your own adventures and create memories beyond your imagination!