Visiting Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park -the Grand Canyon of Utah

Island in the Sky of Canyonlands took us by surprise! We actually almost skipped this national park after reading reviews and online guides, as Arches was dominating the headlines. The raw beauty and majestic wilderness of Island in the Sky area is really stunning. Everywhere you look, you see vast landscapes, towering mesas and deep canyons. After crowded Grand Canyon and Arches, this was a perfect place to enjoy undisturbed nature and feel like we are the only ones in the whole park.

You can drive through Island in the Sky section of the Canyonlands in one day with stops at all major points and a short hike, or you can choose to spend a couple days in one of its easily accessible campgrounds.

Top 3 spots in Island in the Sky

#1 Mesa Arch

This was the most beautiful arch we have seen so far! Just a short 20 minute walk from the paring lot, Mesa Arch opens up like a window into the canyon and is set against the background of blue sky, fifty shades of rock and sand, and sprinklers of greenery. Washer Woman arch can be seen peeking in the background, which adds another level of visual dimension to the view. Stunning!

Mesa arch, island in the sky, canyonlands national park
Mesa arch, canyonlands national park

#2 Grand View Point Trail

This 2-mile round trip hike offers perfect views for sunset. The trail runs along the rim and allows 360 degree perspective of Canyonlands and its ups and downs for miles and miles. It feels a lot like Grand Canyon in the landscape and terrain, but a lot more intimate and private. We spent here a total of 3 hours and didn’t want to leave. Definitely the crown jewel of Island in the Sky!

Enjoying sunset at Grand View Point Overlook
Enjoying sunset at Grand View Point Overlook

#3 Shafer Trail Drive

Originally a cattle trail, this steep unpaved road into the canyon is sometimes called one of the most dangerous drives in the country. However, it is not as bad as it appears to be in all the videos. The road is narrow indeed and has a few sharp switchbacks, but nowhere are you hanging of the edge of the cliff.

The drive itself is fabulous and wild! It offers a different perspective of Canyonlands, from the bottom of the canyon up and allows to truly appreciate the grand scale of the surrounding nature. You get to the edge of the rim, close to the towering walls and right next to the river. Best part, you will enjoy all the amazing view and vistas all by yourself (we ran into 2-3 cars during our 3 hour drive). Check out a timelapse video of our drive.

Shafer Trail itself runs for a about 5 miles and later continues onto Potash Road to Moab for a total of about 40 miles, most of which is unpaved rough route. 1-1.5 hours should probably be enough to do the first part of Shafer trail down the canyon and come back up. If you choose to do the whole drive Shafer to Moab, count for 3 hours (part of it is the terrain, but mostly all the vista points you will not want to miss!).

Bottom of Shafer Trail, island in the sky
Bottom of Shafer Trail, Canyonlands

Overall, Canyonlands quickly rose to the top five in our National Parks list. We definitely will be back to explore the Needles or maybe even the Maze, but that will be another story.

Island in the Sky in Pictures

View of canyonlands from shafer trail, island in the sky
View of canyonlands from shafer trail
Sunset at grand view point, canyonlands national park,  island in the sky
Sunset at grand view point, canyonlands national park
Potash Road, island in the sky
Blue potassium mining pools on Potash Road
Sunset canyonlands panorama
Sunset canyonlands panorama
Grand View Point Trail, island in the sky
On the edge at Grand View Point Trail
Green River Overlook,  island in the sky, Canyonlands
Green River Overlook, Island in the Sky
Grand View Point Overlook
Grand View Point Overlook Trail that runs on the rim and has panoramic views of the canyon!
Grand View Point Overlook, Canyonlands
Golden hour at Grand View Point Overlook
Grand View Point Overlook Sunset, Canyonlands
Grand View Point Overlook Sunset, Canyonlands
Enjoying sunset at Grand View Point Overlook
Enjoying a peaceful moment at sunset at Grand View Point Overlook
Grand View Point Overlook Sunset, Canyonlands
View of the canyon from one of the highest points in the park (Grand View Point)
Grand View Point Overlook, Canyonlands
The canyon is all around you at the Grand View Point

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Shirish & Olya

Originally from different parts of the world, Shirish & Olya are a married couple based in San Francisco who share a passion for travel, outdoors and landscape photography. In summer of 2019, they hit the road in an RV visiting 19 national parks in US and Canada covering over 10K miles. This trip inspired them to create Outdoorsome, that they built on the road, as a way to help others discover new places around the world.

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