Canyonlands National Park in One Day

Our Journey To Canyonlands

My husband, friends, and I were looking for a fun day trip from Utah County and decided Canyonlands was the perfect spot to check out! None of us had ever visited, the pictures looked incredible, and it checked another national park off the bucket list! Although we definitely could have explored the over 500 square mile park for days, we were able to experience the highlights of the park in one day! Here’s a guide to how we did it…

The Park

Canyonlands overlook

Canyonlands National Park is located near Moab, Utah. There are two sections to the park, The Needles and Island in the Sky. We visited Island in the Sky because the hikes are shorter, which is best for a one-day trip. Island in the Sky provides you with many hikes, overlooks, and picturesque views!

Arches National Park is another national park close by that’s worth checking out and the more popular of the two! Despite this, Canyonlands is definitely an underrated park that is absolutely breathtaking.

What To Bring

WATER. WATER. and more WATER. And also food. This national park is in the middle of nowhere. You are about 30 minutes from any restaurant, so make sure you prepare for that ahead of time. Here’s a list of what we brought for a day.

  1. Water (2 liters per person- and we still could’ve used more. It was in the 90’s and TOASTY!)
  2. Food- we brought supplies to make PB&J’s, beef jerky, goldfish, crackers, pretzels stuffed with peanut butter, and granola/protein bars
  3. Sunscreen! There is NOT much shade and it is the DESERT for sure
  4. Bug spray
  5. Backpack
  6. A camera/phone- you will want it for the views!

What To Wear

Look at the forecast for while you are there. If you are there during a typical late spring/summer day, definitely wear some clothes to keep you cool! The park is very hot, dry, and there isn’t much tree cover! I wore a lululemon tank top, shorts, and Chacos!

I did; however, kinda wish I had my hiking boots on! I feel like they have more traction for difficult hikes like the one that we embarked on (False Kiva). So if you are going to do this hike- choose shoes with good traction!

Where To Go


False Kiva

Length: 2.6 miles

Time: 2 hours (Was 2 1/2 for us because we couldn’t find the site at first!)

False Kiva is a class two archaeological site! This means this hike isn’t on the maps because the park wants to keep the place intact and uncorrupted. I’m trusting that if you are reading this, it’s because you are genuinely interested in the hike and agree not to vandalize a historic site because, well, you’d be stupid to do that! The hike is on all trails and other blogs so while it’s kept off the park map, it’s not THAT top secret so I don’t feel too guilty writing about it. However, for the park ranger to give you information about the hike, you must mention the trail by name. So yeah, respect the site and don’t damage anything! It’s an awesome hike!

Hike Details

To reach this lesser-known hike, you must park at the Alcove Spring Trail and then walk backwards. The entrance will be right where the road bends on the right side. The street is lined with juniper logs and there is a gap that shows the trail’s entrance!

Once you make it to the entrance of the hike, it is relatively easy to follow along as long as you look for the cairns (we kept jokingly calling them Karens lol) along the path. Sometimes, they are more often than others.


The hike itself is only a little over 2 miles, and it is a beautiful one! In the end, you reach this giant amphitheater that overlooks into a Star Wars looking canyon. Sit down, relax for a bit, and take in that view!


Honestly, you could stop here and be completely satisfied! The amphitheater is astonishing! And the views of the canyon are incredible. But, if you want to see the entrance to the archeological site, you aren’t there yet.

The Archaeological Site

There has been vandalism in the past year at the archeological site, which has caused a rope to close off the actual site. You are allowed to go up to that rope, although it is extremely difficult to reach that point!

The site is this way!

If you want to find the site, let me help you out with that so you don’t spend an hour searching for it like we did. 😉 The archeological site is to the LEFT of the amphitheater if you are facing out at the canyon. In other words, it’s BEFORE the amphitheater. You can make it to the rope by going into the amphitheater and then walking up the cliff back towards where you came from.

The trouble is, locating where the rope and site are, is super challenging. It is much higher than the ground that you are on. And the hike to reach the rope is slightly terrifying. According to this blog post, (which has great, detailed instructions about this hike), the safest way to reach the kiva is to take the high line up at the top of the cliff and hug that the entire way up. I would seriously recommend this! I almost slid down the cliff at one point because I lost my footing which was absolutely terrifying!

Thankfully, I did make it to the top and didn’t get injured or die! But I would definitely recommend taking the high road that is a smoother trail instead of scaling the cliff up! Some of the rocks are loose!

All and all, a SUPER unique and absolutely beautiful hike! It felt so neat to search for and find a class 2 archeological site! While it’s difficult, I highly recommend it!

Mesa Arch

Length: .7 miles

Time: 20 minutes

Mesa Arch is a very famous hike that you see in many of the pictures from Canyonlands! (My picture isn’t the best because it was our last spot of the day and we were pictured out by then!)

The hike to the arch is short and fairly simple! And the arch is beautiful and unique, as it hangs over a cliff that looked at least 1000 feet tall! This was a good and straightforward hike with a picturesque view. It is especially famous for sunrise if you have the dedication to hiking there that early! We didn’t go to see the sunrise, but we were still extremely impressed with the arch and view. Even if you just went to arches and think you’ve seen it all, this arch is different, unique, and the backdrop is beautiful!

Overlook Points

After we were sufficiently worn out from False Kiva, we visited some look out points, which were fantastic spots! Bring a camera for the overlooks alone; they provide awesome photo ops!

Our Schedule

8-11:30 Drive to Canyonlands

1130-12 Visitors Center for a bathroom break and to talk to a park ranger about the location of False Kiva as well as other trails and lookout points they recommend

12:00 Lunch! (With packed food- there are no restaurants at/within 15 minutes of the park!)

1230-3 Hike the False Kiva Trail

3:30 Drive to Lookout Points, take some pictures, eat some snacks, chill out a bit and take in the views!

5:00 Hike Mesa Arch

6:00 Head to get some dinner and head home!

Note: We Drove up and back in one day, but if you are staying in Moab or somewhere close by, you could take another hike in the morning! Or better yet, do the False Kiva trail in the morning because it is HOT.

Canyonlands is Beautiful!

And there is so much to see! I hope you enjoy your time here, and if you are staying longer and wanting to go on more hikes, here’s a list of hikes on the Canyonlands website! I also always recommend going and talking to a park ranger when you first get to whichever park you are going to. They know SO much about the trails and can give you a great itinerary based on how strenuous you want the hikes to be and how much time you have!

Enjoy! For more Utah adventures, check out my other blog posts here.


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