For families visiting Moab, Arches is definitely the first choice over Canyonlands with kids. With over 1.5 million annual visitors to Arches National Park compared to roughly 700k annual visitors to Canyonlands, it’s clear Canyonlands National Park plays second fiddle.
We get it, Arches is a very special place, but the scenery in Canyonlands National Park is incredible and is worth a trip if you have the time.
Canyonlands does typically have longer and harder hikes and it’s not quite as easy to see quickly like Arches is. Canyonlands, split into 4 districts requires more than a day since there are no roads that make it easy to go directly between the districts.
The Maze and the rivers districts require more time and planning to visit, where the Island in the Sky and the Needles districts are more accessible.
Canyonlands National Park with Kids
- Canyonlands with Kids
- Getting to Canyonlands National Park
- Easy Hikes in Canyonlands National Park with Kids
- Canyonlands Half-Day 4WD Tour
- Canyonlands Junior Ranger Program
- Which is Better: Canyonlands or Arches
- Where to Stay Near Canyonlands National Park
- What to Pack for Hiking in Canyonlands with Kids
- Visiting Other Utah National Parks
Canyonlands with Kids
We allotted 2 days of our road trip in Utah with kids to Canyonlands. Again, we found the best things to do in Canyonlands National Park with kids was hiking. We kept it interesting and engaging for the kids by stopping at the Canyonlands visitor center to pick up their Junior Ranger booklets. They were starting to get excited about having their Junior Ranger badges from all the parks we would visit in Utah.
In Canyonlands NP, we knew we wanted to explore further, but with a 3 and 5 year old, we had to choose our hikes carefully. We did our best to choose hiking trails in Canyonlands National Park that would be fun for the kids.
We were pleased to find several easy hikes in Canyonlands that our kids were capable of. Between the Slickrock trail in the Needles and the Island in the Sky hikes, we think we did pretty good. We especially enjoyed the different feeling of Canyonlands vs Arches National Park.
We were camping in Moab, UT and used it as our base to explore both Arches National Park with kids and Canyonlands. Given that the Island in the Sky and the Needles districts are more accessible, we opted to spend our two days exploring those areas of Canyonlands National park with kids. This gave us enough time to see what we wanted to see, plus give the kids time to rest and play at the campsite each day.
Getting to Canyonlands National Park
It’s a 40 minute drive from Moab to Island in the Sky Visitor Center and approximately 35 minutes from Arches National Park. If you plan to visit Arches and Canyonlands in one day, the Island in the Sky district will be the easiest area to explore.
Canyonlands National Park – the Needles Visitor Center is closer to an hour and a half from Moab.
Easy Hikes in Canyonlands National Park with Kids
The Canyonlands Island in the Sky area is a short 40 minute drive from Moab and is filled with great family-friendly hiking options. We spent a day hopping between a few easy Island in the Sky hikes.
We also recommend the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park with kids. If you have the time, this Canyonlands district is worth a visit. It’s home to one of our favorite kid friendly hikes in Canyonlands and from our entire trip to Utah with kids.
Here are the best hikes in Canyonlands National Park with kids that we came up with:
1. Mesa Arch Trail – Island in the Sky
Looking for arches in Canyonlands National Park? The Mesa Arch trail is an enjoyable, short walk on a well-maintained gravel trail through desert scrub with lots of beautiful wildflowers.
There is a slight incline to this Canyonlands NP hiking trail, but anyone in reasonable shape ought to be able to do it. The uphill walk and lack of any tall trees means that the impressive views of the surrounding canyon become visible right away.
As you approach the top of the loop, the Mesa Arch hike transitions to uneven slickrock. Shortly thereafter the Mesa Arch becomes visible.
If you’ve already hiked to the Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, odds are your initial reaction will be, “awwww… what a cute, little arch”. But as you get closer to it, you quickly realize what makes this such a special place; the views of the canyon through the arch are breathtaking. You will immediately understand why this is such a popular hike in Canyonlands.
Need to know about Mesa Arch trail: The Canyonlands Mesa Arch hike is 0.7 miles / 1.2 km long with 80 feet / 25 meters elevation gain. This hike took us 30 minutes, which is a pretty typical pace for us hiking with kids.
There are bathrooms in the parking lot of the Mesa Arch trailhead, but no water facilities. Good shoes are recommended. This Island in the Sky hike is not stroller friendly; a good hiking backpack carrier for a baby or toddler is a great option for anyone visiting Canyonlands National Park with a toddler
Have a blast singing these hiking songs with your kids.
2. Grand View Point Trail – Island in the Sky
The Grand View Point Trail is one of the best hikes in Island in the Sky. This reasonably easy, mostly flat hike follows the rim of the canyon providing some of Canyonlands best views. This incredible scenery is literally every step of the way.
If you only have time for one hike in the Island in the Sky, it should be the Grand View Point trail. The 2.1 mile (3.4km) long trail follows the edge of a slim mesa, providing outstanding views of the massive canyon which stretches all the way south to the Needles District.
Just as you are getting used to the view on that side of the canyon, the view switches to the other side of the canyon as you near the end of the trail, offering a brand new set of jaw dropping vistas.
This Island in the Sky trail has a variety of surfaces, ranging from paved (at the beginning), to well-maintained gravel, to smooth slickrock, manmade stone steps and uneven rock. Good hiking shoes are recommended.
The trail is wide and is well away from the ledge in most spots, but there are spots where it narrows and gets close to the edge. If you have small kids, watch them close as there are no guard rails and any fall would be fatal. Also be aware of the strong, unpredictable wind gusts at the top; watch your kids (and their hats) when they are close to the edge. We don’t say this to scare you, only to warn you in advance as we all know how kids can love to run up ahead.
If you are looking for a place to stop and have a break, there are plenty of rocks with incredible views to sit at the end of this easy Canyonlands hike. Here you will also find a rock pile which is popular to climb up for a break, but there isn’t much room up there for all those people and we don’t recommend it for small kids.
Also note, the chipmunks which frequent the picnic area at the end of the trail are the most aggressive we’ve seen anywhere – don’t feed them or you will regret it.
Need to know about Grand View Point trail: This easy there-and-back trail is 2.1 miles / 3.4 km return with 193 feet / 59 meters elevation gain. Hiking the Grand View Point trail took us 1 hour and 39 minutes of walking time, which again, is a pretty typical pace for us with the kids.
There are bathrooms in the parking lot of the Canyonlands Grand View Point trail, but no water facilities. Good shoes are recommended. This trail is not stroller friendly, but due to the length many parents used a carrier for hiking with toddlers.
3. Upheaval Dome Trail – Island in the Sky
The Upheaval Dome hike is cool because it’s a geological mystery. Scientists cannot agree on what phenomenon created this unique rock formation. Basically, it’s a deep crater, open on one end, with a mound of green rock protruding upwards from the bottom. It’s a very interesting sight and worth doing this short Canyonlands hike.
The Upheaval Dome trail has two observation points; the first is a mere 0.25 miles / 0.4 km, while the second is an additional 0.5 miles / 0.8km. The trail to the first observation point is a steady uphill on uneven rocks and/or man-made rock stairs.
The sky was getting dark and threatening as we pulled into the parking lot, so we elected to speed things up and put our kids in our toddler carriers. We had our 3 year old in a Piggyback Rider and our 5 year old in a Lillebaby CarryOn Toddler.
We got to the first observation deck in less than 10 minutes (it would have taken 30 minutes had the kids been walking). We started our attempt to get to the second observation point, but the rain started to fall and the wind picked up, so we turned back halfway there.
Note, had the weather not been bad, we know through experience, our kids could have completed the full distance of this hike themselves.
Need to know about Upheaval Dome trail: There are bathrooms in the parking lot for the Canyonlands Upheaval Dome trailhead, but no water facilities. Good shoes are recommended.
This trail is not stroller friendly, but due to the difficult climb, many parents used a hiking backpack carrier to carry their little kids on this hike.
4. Slickrock Trail – The Needles
Located in the Needles area of Canyonlands National Park, the Slickrock Trail is one of the best kid-friendly hikes in Utah. This 2.7 mile (4.5 km) trail follows along the outer edges of a V-shaped mesa providing outstanding views of the national park and the “needles” the area is named for.
The trail itself is made mostly of slickrock (thus the name) with non-stop opportunities for small kids to climb, crawl and jump on kid-sized rock formations. We had so much fun hiking the Slickrock Trail in Canyonlands NP with kids. Our kids spent the entire time running and crawling over rocks on this kid friendly hike in Canyonlands. Likely they didn’t fully appreciate the views, but we sure did!
The Slickrock trail ended up being our favorite hiking trails in Canyonlands National Park and one of the highlights of our time in Utah with kids.
Canyonlands Half-Day 4WD Tour
Looking for other things to do in Canyonlands National Park? Explore areas of the Island in the Sky that most visitors will never get to see. This 4 hour family-friendly 4WD tour from Moab showcases the 1,000 foot cliffs of the Island in the Sky mesa and stops at the remains of an ancient Pueblo civilization.
Canyonlands Junior Ranger Program
Don’t miss the Canyonlands National Park Junior Ranger program for the kids. While you are picking up your Canyonlands National Park trail map, kids can pick up a Junior Ranger handbook from the one of the Canyonlands Visitor Centers (Island in the Sky or Needles). It has all the instructions on how your kids can earn a Canyonlands Junior Ranger badge.
Our kids love the Junior Ranger program and we recommend the experience to all parents visiting Canyonlands with kids.
Which is Better: Canyonlands or Arches
Arches and Canyonlands National Parks couldn’t be more different despite their close proximity. Where Arches offers impressive arches with easy walking distances, Canyonlands hiking trails gives hikers incredible panoramic views.
You’ll still find an arch or two in Canyonlands and there are some incredible views to be had in Arches too. In all honesty, the parks are different enough that it’s worth allotting time for each.
We recommend at least two days for each Canyonlands and Arches National Park. This will give you enough time to see the highlights plus venture a little further away from the crowds.
Where to Stay Near Canyonlands National Park
Since we planned to visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, the best place to stay near Canyonlands for us was Moab, UT.
When we decided to do a road trip to Utah from our home in Alberta, Canada we knew we wanted to make camping part of our experience. The week we stayed in Moab was right after Easter and hotel prices were sky-high, so it made sense to do some camping in Moab.
We stayed at the Moab Rim RV Campark, which is located just outside of town but only a few minutes’ drive from town center. The campsites were small-ish, but there was still enough room for our enormous family-sized tent.
The one thing that set this campground apart from the rest is the service – I was only half-joking when I said, “The last time I had service this good was at the Four Seasons!”. The staff at the campground went far beyond the call of duty when it came to making sure we had everything we needed.
If you are planning on camping in Moab, we highly recommend Moab Rim RV Campark.
When we travel, we typically look at our Airbnb options first. As a family, we enjoy having our own bedrooms, along with a full kitchen and laundry facilities. There are many great Airbnb vacation rentals in Moab. If you are new to Airbnb, get a nice discount on your first rental by using our signup link.
And finally, if you’d prefer to stay in a hotel for your Moab lodging, these five hotels are the highest-rated family-friendly Moab hotels on Hotels.com:
- Red Cliffs Lodge: book now on Hotels.com or compare prices on TripAdvisor
- Homewood Suites by Hilton Moab: Hotels.com — Tripadvisor
- Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Moab: Hotels.com — Tripadvisor
- Comfort Suites Moab: Hotels.com — Tripadvisor
- SpringHill Suites by Marriott Moab: Hotels.com — Tripadvisor
See more family-friendly hotels in Moab.
What to Pack for Hiking in Canyonlands with Kids
Moab’s National Parks offer some of the world’s best adventure activities. We found most of them to be beyond the capability of our young kids, so we focused our time on the family-friendly activities, which was mostly hiking.
We’re minimalists when it comes to packing hiking gear for kids, but here is what we would recommend you bring with you each day to explore Canyonlands National Park with kids:
- Sun hats
- Hydration Packs for the adults and kids
- Garbage bag to carry out your trash
- Backpack carrier for smaller kids
Visiting Other Utah National Parks
No trip to Utah with kids would be complete without a visit to all of the Mighty 5 National Parks! We’ve got you covered with detailed posts on all the hikes we did and where we stayed here:
- Ultimate Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park with Kids
- Capitol Reef National Park with Kids
- Zion National Park with Kids.
We also highly recommend a stop at Goblin Valley State Park with kids!
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