Arches and Canyonlands in One Day? The Best Way to See These Iconic National Parks
If you find yourself headed to Moab, you'll have two of Utah's stunning national parks right on your doorstep. Known for its 2,000 sandstone arches, you can enjoy miles of unforgettable views at Arches National Park. Or make your way to nearby Canyonlands National Park to admire the canyons carved out by the Colorado River.
You can drive between the closest points of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in just over 30 minutes. It's possible to see the highlights of both national parks in one day. A 2-day trip will give you more time to hike through these stunning landscapes.
Read on to find out whether you can really visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in a day and do them both justice, or whether you will need more time to explore them.
What is the distance between Arches and Canyonlands National Parks?
Both national parks are located in the east of Utah, not far from the state border with Colorado. They're accessible from US-191 and are also just a short drive south off Interstate 70 (I-70) at Green River.
The Colorado River runs around the southern edge of Arches National Park and then carries on through Canyonlands National Park.
Traveling between Arches National Park Visitor Center and the nearest part of Canyonlands National Park, known as the Island in the Sky area, takes around 35 minutes. It's a straightforward 29-mile drive.
If you don't stop at all you can follow the Scenic Drives through both National Parks, as well as traveling between them, in around 4 hours. However, we'd definitely recommend making a few stops to get the most out of these beautiful landscapes.
Allowing time for one short and one longer hike at both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, plus time to pull over at some of the amazing viewpoints, you'll need around 10 hours to make a tour around both national parks. That's including time to call in for some lunch in Moab too as you travel between the parks.
Fill up with gas and get your snacks or picnic lunch ready the night before so that you're ready to hit the road as early as possible. You shouldn't need to stop for gas again during your visit to the two NPs as you'll only be covering 100 miles.
As an alternative, you could travel further south to the Needles area of Canyonlands National Park, which is an 85-mile drive from Arches National Park Visitor Center.
You'll have time to take the drive there and back in half a day, but seeing as this area is best explored on longer hikes you won't have time to really appreciate this part of the NP in half a day, so we'd recommend sticking to the Island in the Sky.
Can you visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in a day?
As you've already seen, Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park are close in distance, and if you're only in the area for a day then you definitely have time to see some of the highlights of both parks.
They're both stunning and with varied views on offer at each National Park it's well worth trying to spend some time in both.
Arches National Park is open 24 hours a day – head to the park as early as you can if you want to visit Canyonlands later on the same day. You probably won't have time for a longer hike so choose one or two shorter ones – we'd recommend focusing on the Windows Section.
The Scenic Drive takes you all the way up to Devil's Garden Trailhead then on the way back to the Visitor Center you can also drive out along Delicate Arch Road and The Windows Road. It's a 45-mile round trip that takes 1 hour 20 minutes to drive if you don't stop or get stuck behind a slower moving vehicle.
The Island in the Sky is the most accessible part of Canyonlands National Park. Again, a paved Scenic Drive takes you on a tour of the vast Mesa landscape, offering amazing views down into the surrounding canyon. This means you can see some unforgettable and contrasting views in a short time.
This 1-hour 10-minute round trip first heads from the Visitor Center down to Grand View Point Overlook, stopping at Green River Overlook and Upheaval Dome before returning to the Visitor Center. There are places to stop for a short hike along the way here too.
Best 1-day itinerary for visiting Arches and Canyonlands National Parks
|Activity||What you'll be doing|
|1||Drive to Arches National Park||Enter via National Park Visitor Center|
|2||Drive||Follow the scenic drive to Devil's Garden Trailhead|
|3||Take in the views||Enjoy a laid-back walk to the Delicate Arch viewing point|
|4||Hike||Set off on a 1-hour trail to Turret Arch, South Window and North Window|
|5||Lunch||Stop at Moab Giants dinosaur-themed attraction to visit the café|
|6||Drive to Canyonlands National Park||Drive 30 minutes from Moab to reach the national park|
|7||Arrive at Canyonlands National Park||Enter via Island in the Sky Visitor Center|
|8||Take in the views||Stand as close to the canyon rim as you dare at Shafer Canyon Overlook|
|9||Drive||Follow the scenic drive to Grand View Point|
|10||Hike||Choose from either White Rim Overlook or Grand View Point|
|11||Take in the views||Green River Overlook offers a whole different outlook to Shafer Canyon|
|12||Hike||Mesa Arch is a 30-minute hike that's a popular place to watch the sun rise or set|
Is one day enough to visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks?
There are some downsides to squeezing in multiple stops like this, the main one being that these popular National Parks both get busy early in the day.
Arches National Park requires timed entry slots through the summer months and through the rest of the year it closes to visitors once it reaches capacity so if you're starting at Canyonlands there's no guarantee you'll be able to enter Arches later in the day.
You're also recommended to arrive early at Canyonlands NP, or else be prepared for long lines at the park entrance. A 2-day trip means that you can beat the crowds at both national parks, letting you relax and focus on the day of exploration ahead rather than keeping an eye on the clock.
Popular parking lots and viewpoints at both NPs can fill up quickly, especially at the start of hiking trails, and a 1-day trip means you won't have much flexibility in your route. If you have particular trails and stops in mind, consider a 2-day trip so that you have time to double back to a location if it's full the first time you pass.
One further consideration if you're traveling in the summer months is that temperatures can soar in this part of Utah, so chances are you'll be very hot and very tired by the time you're done after squeezing both parks into one day.
However, if you have a hotel room in Moab, spending the morning in Arches NP and the afternoon in Canyonlands NP does give you the option to head back for a siesta or some time in the pool to cool down before heading back out into the heat again.
Best 2-day itinerary to visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks
If you can find an extra day to enjoy the amazing landscapes of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks then you definitely won't be disappointed. There's plenty to see in both National Parks as you've already discovered.
You could even combine your time hiking and following the scenic drives with a rafting trip or horseback riding in one of the National Parks, or book in advance to take a guided 4WD tour which will show you new views of the parks.
Alternatively, think about a visit Moab Giants, a dinosaur-themed attraction located on the road between the two National Parks.
Day 1 Itinerary: Canyonlands National Park
|Activity||What you'll be doing|
|1||Drive to Canyonlands National Park||Enter via Island in the Sky Visitor Center|
|2||Hike||Make an early start and head to Mesa Arch to watch the sun rise|
|3||Drive||Follow the scenic road to Grand View Point|
|4||Hike||Follow the 90-minute trail from White Rim Overlook|
|5||Take in the views||Stop at Buck Canyon Overlook and Green River Overlook|
|6||Lunch||Enjoy a picnic at White Rim Overlook|
|7||Hike||Take the 1.5-hour hike to Upheaval Dome Overlook|
|8||Hike||Follow the short but steep trails up Whale Rock or Aztec Butte|
|9||Hike||Follow the short but steep trails up Whale Rock or Aztec Butte|
|10||Take in the views||Stop to look out over Shafer Canyon|
|11||Learn||Head to the visitor center to learn more about this stunning and unique landscape|
|12||Dinner||Enjoy a meal at the hotel or in Moab|
Day 2 Itinerary: Arches National Park
|Activity||What you'll be doing|
|13||Drive to Arches National Park||Enter via National Park Visitor Center|
|14||Drive||Follow the scenic drive, stopping at the viewpoints you'll pass along the road|
|15||Hike||Take a 3-hour guided hike through the canyons of Fiery Furnace|
|16||Lunch||Enjoy a scenic picnic|
|17||Hike||Follow the 1-hour trails to either Broken Arch or Landscape Arch|
|18||Stargaze||Stay late in the park to enjoy stunning sunset views then admire the Milky Way from the Balanced Rock picnic area|
Where to stay between Arches and Canyonlands National Parks
To make the most of a trip to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks then you'll need to spend a night nearby. If you're making a 1-day trip then we'd suggest staying in nearby Moab the night before you visit the parks so that you can get an early start. Then of course, if you're stretching your visit out to a 2-day trip you'll want to check in somewhere comfortable after a busy first day.
The city of Moab is right on the doorstep of both National Parks, just 2 miles from Arches National Park and 30 miles from Canyonlands National Park.
As the jumping-off point for two National Parks, there are plenty of outdoor pursuits in reach of Moab, including hiking, rafting and horseback riding – and of course there are plenty of scenic drives. Then head back into either of the national parks at night and you'll be treated to unforgettable views of the Milky Way.
Back in town, Moab Museum tells the stories of the cultures that have lived on the Colorado Plateau for centuries, including a fascinating photo collection and oral history archive.
The area around Moab is famous for the many dinosaurs discovered here. At the Moab Giants Museum, you can follow in the footsteps of these prehistoric giants, and even follow the half-mile discovery trail.
One of the many great things about Hoodoo Moab, Curio Collection by Hilton is that you can carry on enjoying those stunning Utah views once you've checked in, as many of the elegant and spacious rooms look out over the red rock cliff that rises up nearby.
The hotel's contemporary design is centered around a relaxing outdoor space where you can sit back and enjoy the view a while longer with a cool drink or jump into the heated outdoor pool which is open all year round – the perfect way to wind down after a busy day exploring the national parks.
It's close to Main Street, and in walking distance of a number of restaurants and bars in case you want to check back into urban life before heading back out to the National Parks the following day.
Taking a road trip to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks
One of the great things about these National Parks is that they can very easily be part of a longer road trip. Whether you're based long-term in the southwestern United States or just in town for a visit, why not head out from Las Vegas or New Mexico to explore Arches and Canyonlands National Parks as part of an extended weekend getaway?
|Starting point||Destination||Distance||Driving Time|
via Arches National Park
|Canyonlands National Park||480 miles||7 hours|
via Canyonlands National Park
|Arches National Park||435 miles||7 hours 30 minutes|
Driving from Las Vegas to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks
The drive from Las Vegas starts out on I-15, which takes you past Nevada's Valley of Fire State Park before crossing the northwest corner of Arizona on the way into Utah.
Stop off in St George to visit the stunning Red Cliffs Conservation Area or Snow Canyon State Park. As the interstate continues north through Utah you also have the option to detour to the first of Utah's Might Five National Parks that you'll pass on this drive, Zion National Park.
Carry on along I-15 past the turn offs for Dixie National Forest and Cedar Breaks National Monument, then switch onto I-70 once you reach Sulphurdale.
After winding your way through the hills to the south of Manti La Sal National Forest you'll start the journey across the desert towards Green River then turn south on Route 191 which takes you on to Moab and the entrances of both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.
Things to see on the way to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks from Las Vegas
This is a super-scenic short road trip that gives you plenty of opportunities to stop and explore. Seeing as you've probably already packed your hiking boots ready for your arrival in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, take advantage of the outdoor wonderland you'll pass as you travel there from Las Vegas.
- Valley of Fire State Park - Just a short detour off the interstate you can explore this scorching Aztec Sandstone landscape where you can search for Petroglyphs in between admiring stunning rock formations.
- St George - Play a round of golf, explore Utah's recent history at Daughters of the Pioneer Museum or head back out into the great outdoors - the surrounding area is a great place to climb.
- Red Cliffs National Conservation Area - Follow the Virgin River as it cuts through vivid red rocks.
- Parowan - Take a horseback tour in search of the petroglyphs dotted about the hillside surrounding this historic town, which dates back to 1850.
- Cedar Breaks National Monument - This stunning amphitheater is an entirely natural phenomenon and makes for an impressive detour from the interstate.
- Dixie National Forest - Enjoy the shade of the state's most extensive national forest state, where the foliage is set off beautifully against the red sandstone.
- Green River - This tiny city is one of the last places to get a meal before you reach Moab. While you're in town head to the John Wesley Powell Museum to find out more about the explorers who first called the place home.
Driving from Albuquerque to Canyonlands and Arches National Parks
Watch Sandia Peak rising up in the distance as you head north out of Albuquerque, then turn onto US-550 after Bernalillo. After an impressive drive across the desert you'll connect with Highway 64 which will take you the few miles to Shiprock, NM.
US-491 will see you crossing into Colorado, then continue on the same road past Mesa Verde National Park and Canyon of the Ancients National Monument.
Once you hit Monticello, UT, you'll join US-191 which takes you most of the rest of the way, calling in at Moab before you take a left turn at Moab Giants to complete the drive to Canyonlands National Park's Island in the Sky Visitor Center.
Things to see on the way to Canyonlands and Arches National Parks from Albuquerque
Just like the drive from Los Angeles, you can experience a whole range of stunning natural attractions on the drive north from New Mexico. You have a choice of routes between Albuquerque and Moab, meaning you can tailor your road trip to perfectly suit your preferences.
- Sandia Peak - Ride the tramway to enjoy views from up high across the landscape outside Albuquerque.
- Valles Caldera National Preserve - Take a side trip through the forest to visit this unique natural landscape formed from what's left of a huge volcanic crater
- Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness - Explore this other-worldly Badlands landscape which is a short detour off the highway.
- Canyons of the Ancients National Monument - Break in your hiking boots as you explore this stunning landscape, known for its rock paintings and cliff homes.
- Mesa Verde National Park - The Ancestral Puebloan Cliff Palace is a unique and beautiful World Heritage Site which is well worth a visit.
- Oowah Lake - Cool down at this stunning mountain lake which you'll find at the end of a short dirt track.
Best time to visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks
Both national parks are open all year round and you'll come across other visitors here whether you plan your trip for January or July. However, many travelers prefer to avoid the extreme summer heat.
Whatever time of year you visit, be sure to pack for the conditions you'll encounter in the park, and always take plenty of water as you won't find refill stations deep in the national parks.
Summer in this part of Utah is hot - the temperature regularly exceeds 100 degrees Fahrenheit - so you'll probably want to make an early start if you're planning on hiking. However, don't forget to factor in that humidity also rises in summer, which can make hiking feel very uncomfortable.
As summer progresses the chance of sudden heavy rainstorms increases, bringing a risk of flooding, so always check for local advisories. There's also very little cover once you set out on a hike so make sure you're dressed for the conditions and bring sunscreen.
On the positive side, the heat means that the tourist crowds thin out a little through summer.
You can also time your trip to coincide with Moab Music Festival, which takes place each year in June. Floating Concerts in the evenings travel up the Colorado River from Moab to take in the sights of Arches National Park from a different perspective.
If you really want to immerse yourself in these musical views, check out the 4-day Musical Raft Trip which heads further through Canyonlands National Park.
In contrast, temperatures drop right down in the winter. Some days in winter will see a high temperature of just 30 degrees Fahrenheit, although it's often a little warmer, and it's not uncommon for it to fall to lower than 20 degrees.
Not many people visit the national parks in winter so it will be much easier to park at popular stops.
You might see a sprinkling of snow on the ground, and there will be very occasional road closures, but the bigger issue is that the trails may be slippery underfoot.
The visitor centers at Arches National Park and Island in the Sky stay open all through winter so you can still pick up any information you need before heading out into the park.
With moderate temperatures sitting between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, spring and fall are very popular times to visit the national parks. That means parking can be a challenge at popular stops so you might have to be flexible with your plans.
They're also a great time for stargazing. Time your visit around a new moon for the best view of the dark Utah skies. You can even count shooting starts if you visit when meteor showers are expected.
The Lyrids and Eta Aquarids fly through the night sky in April and May respectively while the Draconids and Orionids can be seen in October. Each meteor shower lasts for just a couple of days so check ahead to find the best dates for stargazing.