Skip to content

Island In the Sky – Canyonlands NP

Island in the Sky

There are pro’s and cons to scheduling a trip to visit several national parks on the same trip. The pro’s are that you get to see a tremendous amount of the country. The con’s are that no matter how much research and planning you are never prepared for just how big the parks are. Or that Canyonlands has a couple of sections, Needles and Island in the Sky.

Canyonlands was so big that I didn’t even see the Needles section or how to get there. Instead I focused all of my time at Island in the Sky. This is the section above the canyons on the mesa’s. If you think back several million years when this was a sea this would be the only section above the water. So I guess I inadvertently took a beach vacation…just a few millennia too late!

Sunrise at Mesa Arch

The good side of the research that I did was that I found out that I should do Mesa Arch for sunrise. I did this and I was absolutely stunned. I was a little confused on why it was going to be so nice and then I saw the arch itself start to glow with the rising sun. It was one of those unforgettable moments in my life that I will never forget.

If you would like to read more about Sunrise at Mesa Arch you can find it at this link.

Shafer Canyon Overlook

My next stop after Mesa Arch was at the Shafer Canyon Overlook. This was when I really started to appreciate how vast Canyonlands actually was. This small section with 1000 foot walls was my wake up call.

What was unbelievable to me was that ranchers would drive their sheep and cattle up this small canyon road to graze on the upper mesa. The roads were then later used for mining trucks to carry heavy equipment down. I wouldn’t feel safe riding a bike down these but I think people were built different back in the day.

The views were stunning.

Buck Canyon Overlook

The next overlook I stopped at was Buck Canyon. This overlook was smaller as well but it had great views of the canyon walls, and just how steep of a drop it was. Some of the rock formations at this overlook also impressed me in just how tall the rock extended from the canyon floor. There were people picnicking here and it gave off just a nice relaxed, enjoy the moment vibe.

Grand View Point

The Grand View Point overlook was the at the end of the road. There were so many people here it was a little claustrophobic for me. That was soon solved with the views of the canyon below. The interesting part of the canyon here is that there are several levels of canyon with rivers still cutting through the rocks on the floor beneath.

There is also a really cool trail here. It is pretty easy and traverses the canyon’s edge. If you would like to read more about the Grand View Point trail you can find it here.

Whale Rock

Whale rock was a backup plan that turned out to be a really fun little hike! The parking lots were full and it was a busy day at the park and Whale Rock was the spot I found that I could park and get out.

What I found was a fun area, full of slickrock walking and one of the few places that went up and not down at the canyon. It gave a completely different perspective.

If you would like to read more about Whale Rock you can click here!

Green River Overlook

The Green River Overlook might have been favorite spot in all of Canyonlands. At this overlook you can actually see the Green River as it continues to carve the rock below. The surrounding buttes stretch from the floor to the sky and it was really one of the most scenic area’s of the Islands in the Sky section of Canyonlands. There are two separate observation points at the overlook and each one gives a great perspective of the canyon below.

Wrapping up Island in the Sky

When I realized how big Canyonlands was I was stuck with a decision and am glad that I took advantage of the beauty of the Island in the Sky section of the park. My legs were a little tired from hiking Arches the day before so doing this park as more of a driving park worked out well.

I did a couple of small hikes but mostly just enjoyed the views from the many overlooks along the road. If you don’t want to be active but still want to enjoy some great views, this might be the park for you.

More from the Fatman

If you liked this post you may enjoy my Utah Hiking page which has the different national parks that I enjoyed on this trip. If you have any questions or comments feel free to email me at You can also keep the conversation going by following on any of the below social media platforms. Happy Hiking!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: