For visitors to Moab, UT it seems like Canyonlands National Park plays second fiddle to Arches National Park. We get it; Arches is a very special place, but the scenery in Canyonlands NP is incredible and is worth a trip if you have the time.
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Canyonlands Island in the Sky area is a short 40 minute drive from Moab and is filled with great family-friendly hiking options. Here are a few easy Island in the Sky hikes that we enjoyed while in Canyonlands with kids:
Mesa Arch Trail
The Mesa Arch Canyonlands trial 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 trail transitions to uneven slickrock. Shortly thereafter the Mesa Arch becomes visible. If you’ve already done Arches National Park, odds are your initial reaction will be, “awwww… what a cute, little arch” (it’s kinda small). 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.
Need to know about Mesa Arch trail: This easy trail 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 with the kids. There are bathrooms in the parking lot, but no water facilities. Good shoes are recommended. This trail is not stroller friendly; a good baby or toddler carrier is a great option for small kids.
Grand View Point Trail
The Grand View Point Trail is the showcase hike in the Island in the Sky. This reasonably easy, mostly flat hike follows the rim of the canyon providing breathtaking views literally every step of the way. 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 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.
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 the end of the 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 your kids will need to be well behaved up there. 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. This hike 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, but no water facilities. Good shoes are recommended. This trail is not stroller friendly, but due to the length many parents used a carrier to carry their little kids on this hike.
Upheaval Dome Trail
The Upheaval Dome 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 the short walk up.
The Upheaval Dome hike 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 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, but no water facilities. Good shoes are recommended. This trail is not stroller friendly, but due to the difficult climb, many parents (including us) used a carrier to carry their little kids on this hike.
Other Family Friendly Canyonlands Hikes
The Needles section of Canyonlands NP is also worth a visit. It’s home to one of our favorite family-friendly hikes in Canyonlands and from our entire trip to Utah.
What to Bring
- Sun hats
- Kids sprayable sunscreen
- Hydration Packs for the adults and kids
- A garbage bag to carry out your trash
Moab’s National Parks with Kids
Moab, Utah is a great base for exploring Arches and Canyonlands National Park. For more things to do in Arches and Cayonlands, family friendly hotels and campgrounds, visit our Arches & Canyonlands National Parks with Kids post.
Get 10% off the Lonely Planet Zion & Bryce Canyon National Parks travel guide with our discount code CANTRAVEL10.