If my relationship with Zion is the complicated one, my relationship with Canyonlands is as simple as can be: I am completely and irrevocably in love with Canyonlands and that will never change.
Halloween 2015 was my first Canyonlands experience and less than 4 1/2 months later I was back again.
My friends Taylor, Hannah and I figured the last weekend in October was a prime time to visit Canyonlands because virtually no one would be there that late in the season. And we were right! We hiked about 8 miles that day and for most of those miles we didn’t run into a single other person on the trails. Some of this is because it was the end of October and some of it was because Canyonlands is seemingly forgotten when it comes to Utah national parks. (The next time I was there, the first week of March, there were a few more people around but not many.)
Luckily, both times we were there, Mesa Arch was relatively deserted. It of course helped that neither time was around sunrise, but people can crowd this iconic area no matter the time of day.
But if there’s one trail I recommend enjoying, it’s the White Rim Overlook. Just make sure you stop at the Grand View Point Overlook and maybe do that 1-mile hike before going to White Rim otherwise Grand View will be severely disappointing. I would say that most people don’t even know the White Rim Overlook is there. The trailhead has about three parking spots and it’s in the middle of a picnic area. People seem to assume that there’s only the picnic area and nothing else to see, and they could’t be more wrong.
The first time on this hike, Hannah, Taylor and I had just eaten lunch at the picnic area and decided we might as well check out the outlook. It turned into our favorite part of the day, even though it’s not so much a hike as it is a leisurely stroll, especially considering it’s only about 2 miles round trip. The path is almost completely flat, but the entire time you have a gorgeous view (pun intended at some points in particular). I’m a big fan of hikes that give you a lot to look at the whole way. This one gave me that and so much more as the view at the end of the trail is nothing if not magnificent.
We spent more time there than anywhere else that day. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a place so legitimately awe inspiring. It’s essentially a breathtaking 360 degree view. I’m pretty sure I even told Hannah and Taylor that the White Rim Overlook is where I would want someone to propose to me. (I trust them to pass along that information if the need arises too.)
When Peter and I took our day trip to Canyonlands in March, we did all of the same hikes I had done the first time. He hadn’t been to Island in the Sky in years and spent most of the day lamenting how we weren’t exploring the Maze or the Needles. (Some day, my dear. Some day.) I was absolutely giddy to get out to the White Rim Overlook again and we spent quite a bit of time just standing on one of the outcroppings look out around us. That’s one thing I truly love about hiking and visiting parks with Peter: He’s more than willing to stop and just be. We’re never in any rush to do anything; we would both rather do a few things and really take them in rather than see a lot of things in a hurry.
The other hike you can’t miss is to Upheaval Dome. It’s a pretty trippy natural phenomenon and we don’t even know how it was created. There’s a lower and upper outlook, though the upper outlook does take a little more daring and athleticism to reach. Basically, just know your limits and how willing you are to do steep hiking.
My brother and his girlfriend both went to Canyonlands for the first time in May, and fortunately for them, I am a pseudo-expert on the park. (Not really, of course. I’ve just been there twice and feel very passionately about canyons.) I put together a little map guide so they could see all the “best” stuff in a single day. Best is in quotes because these are the areas in Island in the Sky that I’ve deemed to be the best. You can do six “hikes” in one day, easy as pie.
tldr; Canyonlands is where dreams come true.