Three-Day Itinerary for Arches and Canyonlands National Parks

By: Emily Thompson + Save to a List

An action-packed three days in the national parks near Moab, with local expert recommendations for hiking and camping.

Want to see the best of the national parks near Moab, but short on time? Here’s an itinerary that packs the highlights of Arches and Canyonlands into only three days, including where to drive, hike, and camp. On this itinerary, you’ll drive thrilling and scenic roads, catch brilliant sunsets over the redrock desert, sleep under the starry skies of Utah, and get away from the crowds.

Day One

Camping at the Fisher Towers near Moab

Arrive early and secure a campsite.

On your first night, I recommend camping close to town for the sake of convenience. Once you have the supplies and get the lay of the land, the next days will be for getting deeper into the desert.

You can find all sorts of campsites around Moab. To narrow it down, I recommend choosing from the BLM campgrounds on the Colorado River along Highway 128 or on Kane Creek Road. These campsites are first come-first served and are $20 a night.

My favorite campgrounds in the summer months are: Big Bend on Hwy 128 (good shade and access to the river), Hal Canyon on Hwy 128 (shade and river access), Goose Island on Hwy 128 (gets early afternoon shade) or Kings Bottom on Kane Creek Road (some shade and near the river).

Other favorites in the spring and fall include: Fisher Towers off Hwy 128 (small with only five sites and incredible views of Castle Valley), Lower Onion Creek on Hwy 128 (no shade, but amazing views and good river access, Upper Onion Creek on Hwy 128 (no shade but amazing views) or the Ledge Campground on Kane Creek Road (no shade but wide open, scenic valley for stargazing).

You can see a lot from the car in Arches National Park, but go for a hike to see more!

Explore Arches National Park.

Once you’ve claimed your campsite, you can head into Arches National Park. Not only is it close to Moab, it’s very easy to get around the park and you can see a lot in just one afternoon. The Main Park Road is paved, with many overlooks and trailheads along it. Check out short trails to multiple arches in the Windows Section, or hike the longer Devils Garden Loop for more remote scenery. Or you could make the 3-mile roundtrip hike to Delicate Arch, one of the most famous natural features in Utah, and the best place to watch the sunset.

With a Jeep or other high-clearance vehicle, you can make the easy and scenic drive out of the park via Willow Springs Road. Be sure to check out the dinosaur tracks on the way! This route also offers a camping option that’s free. Once outside of the park boundary and onto BLM land, you can disperse camp in the desert. Just remember that you must be fully self sufficient and pack out all your own waste.

Day Two

Peering through Mesa Arch in Canyonlands

Go to the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park.

After waking up to a glorious morning along the Colorado River, or in the desert outside of Arches, or wherever you decide to camp, it’s time to pack up and head to Canyonlands National Park. This park has three different districts that are cut off from one another by huge canyons, so each district has its own entrance. Island in the Sky District is the closest to Moab and has some of the best camping and hiking, so I recommend going there for your first visit to Canyonlands.

To get there, drive north to Highway 313. On the way, consider reserving a campsite for the night. Cowboy camp is $20/night, has 7 first-come-first-serve campsites and is right off of Highway 313. Horsethief Campground is $20/night, has 55 first-come-first-serve sites and is also just off Highway 313. If you have a high-clearance 4WD vehicle and are looking for a scenic dirt road drive, consider taking the Gemini Bridges Road from Highway 191 to Highway 313. Stop for a short walk to the Gemini Bridge natural bridge on the way. 

All of those campsites are outside Canyonlands National Park, but still relatively close and convenient. If you prefer to camp inside the park, there is only one option: Willow Flat Campground is first-come-first-serve and only has 12 sites. Once you’re in the park, hike to Grand View Point for jaw-dropping views along the canyon rim. Catch the sunset at Green River Overlook, which is right next to Willow Flat Campground.

Day Three

Gazing over the canyons from Dead Horse Point

Explore more of Canyonlands and see Dead Horse Point State Park.

If you feel motivated to get up for sunrise, the place to see it is Mesa Arch, a short hike to a picturesque arch that perfectly frames the rising sun. You can then use the rest of your morning to pack up camp and maybe hike some other trails. Upheaval Dome and Neck Spring Trail are both good options for a half-day hike.

If you still have time and energy in the afternoon, consider checking out Dead Horse Point State Park. It’s separate from Canyonlands National Park, but is nearby. This park has its own campgrounds and trails, plus an overlook that is particularly famous for sunsets. If you want to camp in this state park, you should try to reserve a spot in advance, though some first-come-first served may be available. There are good options for dispersed camping in the area as well. You can drive out Mineral Bottom Road (aka Horsethief Road or BLM 129) and find a spot off one of the many side roads. 

You may think that these action-packed three days will satisfy your thirst for desert adventures, but you’ll certainly leave wanting more. There’s just so much to do around Moab that I, for one, can never get enough! After your trip is over, you’ll want to get right to work planning the next one.

By Emily Thompson of Southwest Jeep Adventures.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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