The amazing thing about Utah’s national parks is that they are so near each other, yet so different. In Arches, you will spend most of your time looking up at the unique and beautiful rock formations. Just a few miles away in Canyonlands National park, you look down at endless canyons and plateaus carved by the Colorado River.
Canyonlands National Park has three districts, with Island in the Sky being the most accessible. The Island in the Sky entrance is about 35 miles outside of Moab and this is where our family spent a day last February. As usual, our first stop was at the visitor center for Junior Ranger badges for our kids. The visitor center is tiny, but has a short movie about the park, a few exhibits, a small gift shop and as always, knowledgeable park rangers. Then we drove down the main road to a picnic area where my favorite hike begins.
White Rim Overlook
A few weeks after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, my husband and I took this trail together for the first time. Gazing across the endless canyons helped us cope with the lingering emotions from that event and feel peace in a tumultuous world. Those feelings about White Rim Overlook are special memories for both of us and are the reason we love coming here.
The White Rim Overlook is not marked from the road and it is not labeled on the official park map, though you can see the trail on the map. The trail head is inside a marked picnic area not far down the road from the visitor center and is easy to find once you actually drive into the picnic area. The hike is about 1.5 miles round trip and is mostly level. My parents were travelling with us and my non-hiking mom was able to walk this trail without much trouble.
The best thing about this hike is the view at the end. My photography does not nearly do it justice. You can see endless canyons in three directions and because it was February and the hike is not well known, we didn’t see anyone else on the trail until we returned to the picnic area. There are steep drop-offs at the overlook, but not before, and no guard rails, but there is plenty of space to enjoy the view without getting close to the edge and my kids didn’t give me reason to worry. There is also a large shaded rock that is perfect for sitting.
We all agreed to be quiet for 30 seconds and the absolute silence in that setting was amazing. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip and another special memory to add to my collection. You don’t realize how much noise we live with all the time until you don’t hear it.
We did a few other short walks and overlooks during the day, but the other hike I especially recommend is the Mesa Arch hike. This hike is only about half-a-mile round trip, but is steep in places. My daughter ran it, but I was happy to walk it slowly with my young son. A beautiful arch at the edge of a cliff framing the canyons behind it meets you at the end. Again, no cliffs until the very end of this hike, but no guard rails.
Good to Know
Where: Southeastern Utah, about 35 miles from Moab, Utah on Highway 313
When: Year-round. Warm weather months are peak season.
How much: $25 per passenger vehicle, good for seven days
How long: at least a half day, plus driving time.
Amenities: Visitor center, picnic sites, pit toilets. Sorry! There are no flushing toilets or food services inside Canyonlands National Park.
How else can we help?
Need a place to stay? You can camp at Willow Flat Campground inside Island in the Sky. The nearest hotels are in Moab, Utah. We like Aarchway Inn, which has a pool, playground and complimentary hot breakfast. Check rates and reviews at Booking.com or TripAdvisor.
Need a rental car? This is a road trip! Find the best rates from dozens of agencies at RentalCars.com. Some roads in Canyonlands are only accessible with 4WD, but you won’t need it for our favorite hikes and views in Island in the Sky.
Packing list – You’ll need sturdy hiking shoes, sunscreen, anti-bacterial gel and water bottles for the whole family. You’ll also need an insulated backpack or a cooler for lunch and snacks. Find everything you need at Amazon.com, Sierra Trading Post or REI Outlet.