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Canyonlands National Park: Utah’s Mighty 5 pt. 1

Canyonlands National Park: Utah’s Mighty 5 pt. 1

In honor of National Parks Week (April 21, 2018- April 29, 2018), I wanted to finally share one of our most favorite family road trips! In this series I’ll be posting about one park each day for five days, Monday through Friday. So, follow along!

A few years ago, while we were living in Pocatello and Troy was in graduate school, we decided to take a major adventure for Spring Break. We packed up the kids, 4 years and 10 months respectively, and hit the road to southern Utah.

Our goal for the week… Visit at least 4 of Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks!

527 square miles of open spaces filled with cliffs, spires, canyons, and mesas. Red rock and sand as far as the eye can see. The feeling like you were transported to a different country, continent, or even, planet. The beauty of nature and creation surrounding you.

Welcome to Canyonlands National Park.

First park on our Spring Break tour.

We arrived in Green River, Utah Sunday evening. The decision to stay in hotels, instead of camp, for this trip was made because we were changing locations every day. Green River was the only hotel we stayed in for longer than a night. Monday morning, we woke up and left base camp. It was just about an hour from our hotel to the Island in the Sky visitors center.

We entered Canyonlands Island in the Sky district and drove directly to our first stop, Mesa Arch.

We got to the arch by 9am, at the latest, and it was already becoming quite crowded with other spectators. But, even with the small crowd, the arch was impressive, and the views were amazing!

It was like looking through a window, and the contrast of the snowy mountains with the red rock was beautiful.

The hike to Mesa Arch was an easy 0.5 mile loop, perfect to start off with. Bubs walked everything, save an occasional piggy back ride, on this entire trip, and Little Miss was content riding in our carrier backpack.

Also, look how tiny Little Miss was!! Time has flown by!

Our next hike was up Whale Rock.

This was a great, kid-friendly, easy 0.8 mile round trip hike that took us right up to the top of Whale Rock. The trail had us scrambling over small boulders, through shale and over slick rock, but was very doable for little feet, and adult feet trying to keep up, haha!

Once on the top of Whale Rock, we could see for MILES! I literally have no pictures of us at the top though. It was crazy windy up there, and I feared the 4 year old would either blow away or run right of the side, so my hands were full with clutching rather than clicking. But, it was fun nonetheless!

Our last hike in this district, was to the Upheaval Dome Overlook.

This was our most strenuous hike at 1.6 miles round trip and moderate difficulty level. There were some steep areas and multiple sections of stone stairs. But, Bubs was a champ and dominated the whole thing!

We didn’t stay long at the top, because I was nervous with Bubs running around with no sense of danger or fear so close to the edge. Hence, the monkey backpack with tail leash strapped to him!

He also made us stop at EVERY. SINGLE. “CAVE” he saw to take his picture! And, I even got to join him in some of them 🙂

Before leaving the park, we drove to the Grand View Point Overlook for a quick walk around and picture.

There is also an easy, 2 mile loop hike here for more views of the canyon, but we had worn out the kids and settled for enjoying the overlook. Miles and miles of beautiful landscape stretched out before us. It was a great way to end the day in the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park.

A few days later (Wednesday, but I’m throwing it on here), we visited the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park. We ended up hitting this section of the park after our visit to Arches, and as we were leaving the Moab area on our way to Capitol Reef.

Even though we only spent a short time in this area, it was one of our favorite places to explore!

Our first hike was along the Roadside Ruin trail to see an ancient stone granary built and used by the Native Americans that once lived in this area. The hike was an easy 0.3 round trip walk. It was perfect for warming up our legs for the day!

Our next hike was probably one of my favorite experiences of the whole trip!

A moderate level 0.6 mile loop, the Cave Spring hike took us past historic ruins of a cowboy/rancher campsite, left behind from the times when livestock roamed throughout Canyonlands. We had fun looking at all of the artifacts left and set up as if the owners were coming back to them soon.

The loop took us underneath a cliff hanging, past a natural spring coming from the rocks, through the sand, and then up wooden ladders to the top of the slick rock for views of the surrounding landscapes.

It was so fun, and Bubs loved that he got to do so many different things. It was an outdoor playground perfect for a little explorer!

After that hike, though, the kids were ready for a nap, so we took the opportunity to let them sleep as we drove the rest of the park. We did stop at Wooden Shoe Arch Overlook for a quick picture before making our way North for our next hike.

By the time we reached our next destination, the kids had woken and were ready for more exploring! We decided to end our time in Canyonlands with the Pothole Point hike. A very easy, 0.6 mile loop trail, leading out to multiple desert potholes with amazing views of the area.

Most of the potholes were filled with sand from the crazy wind, but there were so many nooks and crannies to run through it didn’t matter. Bubs was more interested in going through the next “tunnel” or hiding behind giant boulders to look at the views, anyway.

He even built his own cairn along the way! He was so proud of himself. He was so little!

On our way out of the park, we stopped along highway 211 at Newspaper Rock. We had seen the sign on our way into Needles district, and I knew I wanted to stop on our way out!

And this is why… Petroglyphs!

You can get right up to them for optimal viewing. They were so fascinating and intriguing. I always find stuff like this to be so interesting! If you are going to Canyonlands Needles district make sure to stop at Newspaper Rock. It’s worth it! Some of the images on the rock are 1500 years old!

Both Canyonlands districts were beautiful and unique in their own way! They were great for family exploring with plenty of things to see, do and hike in each area.

After finishing in the Needles district we hit the road for Capitol Reef National Park. BUT, I’m going to backtrack and talk about our day and a half (Tuesday and part of Wednesday) in Arches National Park first!

So next up, Arches National Park: Utah’s Mighty 5 pt. 2. 

Pin for Later!

Happy Exploring,



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