The sun lights the stone arch in a warm glow, turning the red stone even more fiery. The scenery sprawls out below you, perfect as a painting and as pristine as the first time humans laid eyes on it thousands of years ago. There’s a reason that Southwest Utah has been sacred land to the indigenous peoples who lived in the area – and has been considered sacrosanct in our modern world. We chose to federally protect this part of our country in two parts, as Arches National Park in 1929 and Canyonlands National Park in 1964.
I visited Moab and the surrounding region for the first time in February 2020. While I’ve already visited Zion National Park, this was my first time at another two of Utah’s Mighty 5: Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. (The final two are Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef.) The goal of my trip was to explore all Moab has to offer. That obviously included visiting the two nearest national parks. In fact, I did visit both Arches and Canyonlands in one day on my final day in Moab!
While it’s best if you can give yourself multiple days in each park, there are reasons you might not be able to. Maybe you’re doing a road trip through Southwestern U.S.; maybe you’re just passing through Moab or want to visit some of the other outstanding natural spaces in the region. No matter the reason – if you’re short on time in the Moab area and want to try and squeeze a trip to Arches and Canyonlands in one day, here’s how I suggest you can make it happen.
Can You Visit Both Arches & Canyonlands in One Day?
If you’re just starting your research process, you might wonder: is it really possible to visit both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in just one day? The answer is: yes, you can visit Arches and Canyonlands in one day. It just requires planning ahead and planning for a full day of adventure. Here are some quick tips as you keep researching and planning your itinerary:
- Plan to rise early and stay up late if you want to visit Canyonlands and Arches in a single day. You’ll need all the daylight hours (and some nighttime ones too if you add on the bonus stargazing spot I recommend in this post!)
- Base yourself in Moab for this day of adventure. You could also camp in Arches National Park the night before my suggested plan for this day, but you don’t want to try and drive from Salt Lake City or even Grand Junction in the morning – you won’t be able to make the whole day happen.
- Start in Arches National Park if you want to come back into Moab for lunch (which I recommend). The entrance to Arches is only five minutes’ drive from Moab, so it’s an easy way to take some meal-planning off your mind as you spend the rest of the day exploring.
- Bring lots of water! You’ll be out exploring the southern Utah “high desert,” and it’s very dry year-round. There are limited/no water opportunities once you get into either Arches or Canyonlands, so plan ahead and bring all the water you’ll need for the day (at least 2L per person – plus extra for emergencies!).
- Don’t forget your America the Beautiful Pass! Since you’re entering two parks in one day, this is way easier and helps you start to recoup the pass cost right away (and then you can use it at any other parks you visit this year too!). You can get the America the Beautiful Pass from REI for $80.
Okay with all that, let’s dive in: here’s what I suggest to visit Arches and Canyonlands in one day.
How to Visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in One Day
Like I just mentioned, to visit Canyonlands and Arches in one day, you’ll need to rise and shine with that bright Utah sun. Check the sunrise times in advance – if you want to catch the sunrise in Arches, you’ll need to leave Moab about an hour before sunrise to make it into the park before the sun breaks the horizon. (If you want to do sunrise photography, make it 90 minutes before sunrise!)
Morning in Arches National Park
One more time for those in the back: start your full day of adventure in Arches and Canyonlands in Arches National Park. Make the five-minute drive from Moab to the Arches entrance, then head straight into the park toward a section called the Garden of Eden. This is a great spot to watch the sunrise without any hiking.
1. Watch Sunrise at Balanced Rock
It takes about 20 minutes to drive from the Arches entrance to Balanced Rock, which is right near the turn to the Garden of Eden. You can park here and take a short walk around the huge precarious rock structure; don’t worry – this is actually one single rock formation (rather than one rock balanced on another) and has stood for millions of years. Once you’ve enjoyed the sunrise, head into the Garden of Eden for a short hike.
2. Visit the Windows & Double Arch
The Garden of Eden has some of Arches most famous rock arches, including Turret Arch, the Windows (two arches close to one another), and Double Arch. You can take a short hike to Turret Arch and the Windows (30 minutes) and/or to Double Arch (20 minutes) as the sun begins to warm the desert.
3. Drive Arches Scenic Drive
Throughout the morning, you’ll be exploring the park along Arches Scenic Drive; if you arrived before sunrise you probably couldn’t tell how epic the vistas are. Now with the sun up, continue driving Arches Scenic Drive further into the park.
4. Admire Delicate Arch from Afar
Delicate Arch is by far the most famous arch in Arches – heck, it’s on the Utah license plate! But if you were hoping to hike to Delicate Arch during the one day you have for both Arches and Canyonlands, it’s not really possible. The hike to Delicate Arch takes 2-3 hours, so the only way to squeeze it in is if you drive into the park at sunrise, do the hike, and see no other sights in Arches during your morning.
Instead, pull of Arches Scenic Drive to the Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint parking area. A short walk gives you a nice view of the arch – from quite a distance, but you can still say you’ve seen it.
After you’ve snapped a few photos, head back onto Arches Scenic Drive and continue further into the park.
5. Hike to Landscape Arch
After passing the Fiery Furnace, you’ll reach the end of Arches Scenic Drive in Devils Garden. This is a great spot to get out and stretch your legs with another short hike. It’s an easy 1.5-mile hike from the parking area to Landscape Arch – which was my favorite arch during my trip in February 2020. There’s also virtually no elevation change, making this great for visitors of all ages.
If you want to explore further, there are other arches in the area; give yourself about an hour to hike to Landscape Arch and adjust your morning scheduled based on how that feels and fits into the rest of your day.
6. Enjoy the View of Park Avenue
After your late morning hike in Devils Garden, hop back in the car and make your way out along Arches Scenic Drive. One last stop worth making is at the Park Avenue Viewpoint. Here you’ll look out at a sweeping vista of red rock formations; there’s a hike down into Park Avenue, but if you still want to visit Canyonlands today, it’s time to move on.
7. Stop at the Visitor Center
Lastly, as you leave the park, feel free to take 15-20 minutes at the Visitor Center. There is a short but great exhibit about the history of the rock formations in the park, and a gift shop. That’s where I stopped to get my standard souvenir: a postcard with a classic Arches design on it, and the National Park Passport stamp on the back.
Lunch in Moab
Since Arches is so close to Moab, it’s actually easiest to head back into town for lunch instead of packing a picnic lunch. For a quick and easy stop, Sweet Cravings Bakery + Bistro is the place to go. The folks there make amazing sandwiches, soups, and sweets that you can order and get to the table quickly. They can even do half-and-half soup and sando combos with a small dessert so you can try it all!
Afternoon in Canyonlands National Park
After re-fueling in town, make the 45 minute drive from Moab to the entrance of Canyonlands National Park. As you probably already know, Canyonlands has three main parts: Islands in the Sky, the Needles, and the Maze. Each one is worth at least a day on its own – but for this half-day in Canyonlands National Park, you’ll spend time in the most easily accessed which is Islands in the Sky.
8. Stop at the Islands in the Sky Visitor Center
Since you’re arriving in the afternoon, start at the Islands in the Sky Visitor Center if you want to visit it at all – because by the time you’re done in Canyonlands this evening, the Visitor Center will be closed. If you do stop, inside the visitor center you’ll find info about the park, plus (yay!) a little gift shop.
9. Hike to Mesa Arch
Once you make your way into Canyonlands on Grand View Point Road, the first stop is at Mesa Arch Trailhead. There’s a parking lot and it’s a short 0.7-mile loop trail to the Mesa Arch viewpoint; you can do it within 30 minutes. This is a great way to stretch your legs after lunch and the drive and start to see what makes Canyonlands worthy of its own National Park.
10. Be Awestruck at the Green River Overlook
My absolute favorite part of Canyonlands was at the Green River Overlook. This is a short drive further into Islands in the Sky; it’s a few turns off the main road but absolutely worth the detour. There’s a very short flat walk to the overlook and it’s well worth at least 15-30 minutes to enjoy the view from every safe angle.
11. Hike to the White Rim Overlook
If you haven’t yet figured it out, Islands in the Sky is so named because it offers views of the rest of Canyonlands from above it all. The next stop to make is at the White Rim Overlook Trailhead for another short hike.
White Rim Overlook Trail is a popular hike in this part of the park, and is 1.8 miles out and back. From the furthest point, you’ll have another jaw-dropping view of the canyons below. In total, this one takes 45-60 minutes
12. Watch Sunset at Grand View Point
The timing of this final stop to see sunset requires a little bit of coordination; it depends on the sunset time on the day you visit! For the best timing, try to arrive at the trailhead no later than 45 minutes before sunset.
It’s a short 5-minute drive from the White Rim Overlook Trailhead to the Grand View Point Overlook Trailhead; the Grand View Point trail is only 1.8 miles out and back, so you won’t need more than 20 minutes to walk to the Overlook itself.
From there, you’ll have epic views to the east and west, including Monument Basin and the Green River Overlook. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the park to watch the sunset.
Bonus: Stargazing at Dead Horse Point State Park
If you still have energy, I recommend one last extra stop on your busy day in Arches and Canyonlands. On the way back to Moab, make a short detour to Dead Horse Point State Park. This state park is quickly becoming the #3 spot to stop while exploring around Moab – and once you see the stars overhead, you’ll see why.
Dead Horse Point is stunning during the day, as you can see in the photo above… but it’s also a certified Dark Sky Park according to the International Dark-Sky Park. There are regular guided dark sky events but you can also show up on any clear night and have your mind blown by stars and the Milky Way. It’s the perfect way to end an epic day enjoying Utah’s stunning scenery.
Have any questions about how to visit Arches and Canyonlands in one day, as I’ve suggested it? Let me know in the comments!
This post was created in partnership with the Utah Office of Tourism. All businesses and activities were included at my discretion.