One of my favorite holidays with kids in the US is to visit National Parks! For me they can’t be beaten for the sheer range of activities they offer and because it is really easy to get your kids outside in them! When we visited Moab last year we were bowled away by its proximity to two national parks and a great state park! Now, if you ask most people what their favourite national park is near Moab they will likely say Arches National Park. However, Canyonlands really shouldn’t be viewed as Arches poor relation. In this guide we round up the best things to do in Canyonlands with kids or without!
Planning a Trip to Canyonlands National Park with Kids or without
Best Time of Year to Visit Canyonlands National Park
I always think there is never a wrong time to visit a National Park, but with Canyonlands there are certainly better times than others solely based on the heat of the summer! My personal recommendation for visiting Canyonlands National Park is to go in a shoulder season – either Spring or Fall! Summer in Canyonlands can get unbearably hot, especially if you are traveling with little people and it is also peak season which means the crowds can get insane especially at park highlights such as the Mesa Arch! Conversely, winter in Utah can get very cold ! The shoulder seasons definitely offer the best compromise in terms of weather and crowds! However, even if you do decide to travel in summer like we did it is still possible to enjoy the park!
Tips for Visiting Canyonlands (especially in the Summer)
Canyonlands National Park can get busy, although no where near as busy as its’ neighbour Arches National Park! I recommend visiting any National Park early in the morning as it is a better time to see wildlife, to beat the heat and beat the crowds. For Canyonlands in Summer you really need to be in the park before 9 and finished your hikes by 11-12! Also if you want to get great pictures at some of the more famous landmarks such as the Mesa Arch you will need to get there very early unless you want to be surrounded by crowds! .
Buy a National Parks Annual Pass
If you are planning to visit more than one national park in the year (you are going to do at least two being based in Moab) then you might want to consider getting an annual national parks pass as if you are planning to visit multiple parks it is likely going to be a money saver!
Hiking in Canyonlands, especially in Summer
Be sure to pack plenty of water and stay hydrated as it gets very hot. Also be sure you have plenty of sun screen and hats as Canyonlands is pretty exposed so you won’t find much respite from the sun!
If you are hiking in the summer months, then I would definitely recommend getting in the park early and aiming to have all your hikes finished by 10am! By this time the park is really starting to heat up
Good Walking shoes
Whether you are going on the marked or primitive trails you will definitely want good hiking shoes for the whole family!
Tips for Travelling to Canyonlands with kids
If you are travelling with kids the number one priority is keeping them safe in the sun. Again plenty of water, sun cream and hats are essential. If you are travelling with very small children then you will want to look for a baby carrier that is suitable for hot weather – you can check out our guide to hot weather baby carriers HERE!
If you are travelling with a larger toddler or are planning on doing a more challenging hike that little legs might not be able to complete you should consider brining a back pack carrier such as this toddler back pack! This is definitely one our our toddler travel essentials!
Also you might want to consider taking child reins with you because there are a lot of sheer drops in the park!
Best Places to Stay Near Canyonlands National Park
Unlike many of the National Parks, there actually aren’t any places to stay in Canyonlands unless you want to camp (I don’t do camping). Therefore we decided to stay in the town of Moab which is about a 40 minute drive.
We booked our trip to Moab with little notice so there was no much choice accommodation wise for us! My number one tip for booking your accommodation is to book early to get the best selection and prices.
If you would also like to stay in Moab for your trip we recommend staying at the end of town near Arches National Park is it offers easiest access to the parks. We also advocate staying somewhere with a pool! Our perfect summer day in Moab is to get up and into the park early and spend the afternoon relaxing in the pool!
The closest hotels to the Arches National Park entrance with a pool are:
- Springfield Suites
- Fairfield Inn and Suites
- Holiday Inn Express
- Aarchway Inn– has a free local shuttle into town
- Super 8 Moab– this is the most budget option we could find near Moab that still had access to a pool.
But if you are looking for something a little bit different and actually somewhere slightly closer to Canyonlands National Park then we would suggest checking out Moab Under Canvas – a beautiful way to sleep under the stars in the desert!
Things to Know about Canyonlands
- Canyonlands is split into three main areas
The three main areas are Island in the Sky, Needles and the Maze! The Maze is VERY remote, and only really suitable for experienced hikers and adventurers. For this reason, especially given that we travelled there with kids, we do not recommend anything in the Maze in our Best Things to Do in Canyonlands roundup!
- How Should you Split your Time in Canyonlands?
If you have time in your Moab itinerary I would recommend spending one day in each of the Island in the Sky and Needles Areas.
- How far between areas in Canyonlands?
The drive between Island in the Sky and Needles is about two hours. You can’t really do both areas justice in one day, especially if you are travelling with little people!
Best Things to Do in Canyonlands
Best Things to Do in Island in the Sky, Canyonlands
Island in the Sky is the easiest section to visit being closest to Moab and having a large visitors centre which I recommend being your first port of call on your visit.
- Mesa Arch
Undoubtedly the main attraction in Canyonlands! The Mesa Arch is the most famous and most photographer point in the park, especially if visiting at sundown! Mesa Arch offers great views of the park but the arch is on the edge of a sheer drop so please be sure to exercise common sense at the site – we saw many people who weren’t – and if you have little children you might want to consider using reins at this part of the park or be sure to hold them very tight! You can get some amazing photos at the Mesa Arch!The trail to get to Mesa Arch is only 0.5 miles and is very easy to do with kids!
- Grand View PointAnother great lookout in Canyonlands. Perhaps the best view in the whole of Island in the Sky! The trail to get there is very flat so actually very doable even with little legs!
- Upheaval DomeMy geology loving husband particularly love this trail. It is only about a one mile round trip which is really easy to do with kids!
- Green River OverlookA slightly misleading name as you can only just see the green river from the overlook! What is great to see at this lookout however is how the river has carved through the rock!
- Buck Canyon Overlook
Although I recommend going into the park early, the second best time to visit the park is for sun down! If you want to get the best photos at sundown then Buck Canyon Overlook is the best place to do this because of its orientation!
Best Things to Do in The Needles District of Canyonlands
If you only have one day in Canyonlands then I definitely recommend sticking to the Island in the Sky area because it is closest to Moab! However if you have more time then I would recommend taking the one and a half hours drive from Moab to The Needles Area. This area does have a visitors centre, however the trails in the Needles area are very exposed and often more primitive than it’s Island in the Sky counterparts. Be sure to take plenty of water and be prepared for the sun!
Best Things to Do in Canyonlands with kids
Join the Park Ranger Program
Now my little one was too young to take part in this but the Junior Park Ranger program is something I have admired for. a long time, and will definitely be introducing my little one to as soon as she is old enough!
Go Stargazing in Canyonlands Dark Skies
Canyonlands is a dark sky park! This means it is one of the best places to go stargazing! You can go stargazing at Island in the Sky or Needles but Island in the Sky is the easiest and closest that want to stargaze with kids!
Have you been to Canyonlands National Park with kids? What are your top tips and recommendations?
Further Moab Reading
- Best Things to do In Arches National Park (including hikes)
- Best Things to do In Canyonlands National Park (including hikes)
- Moab Packing List
- Moab Itinerary