If you’re short on time in Moab and trying to decide between visiting Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, I have good news…it’s pretty easy to do both in one day!
I was skeptical before I went because I had read that you really want a full day in each, and of course if you’re planning to do a bunch of hiking, more time is better, BUT after having done both, you can definitely see a LOT of both parks in one day.
Here’s how I would spend the day in Arches and Canyonlands:
Arches National Park & Canyonlands National Park in One Day
You definitely want to end the day in Arches National Park (more on that later), so let’s start the day early in Canyonlands.
Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park actually has three pretty distinct districts and they’re not connected with interior roads, so you really have to pick one to spend the day at. The Islands in the Sky area of Canyonlands is the most popular. It’s the closest to Moab plus it has the best selection of short, scenic hikes (the other two areas are better for more serious backpackers).
From downtown Moab, it’s about a 45 minute drive to the Islands in the Sky portion of Canyonlands. I would enter the park and drive all the way to the end of Grand View Point Road and start working your way back to the visitor center.
At the end of the road, the Grand View Point Trail is one of my favorite spots in the park. It’s a pretty easy hike along the rim and you can go as far (or as little) as you want.
My other “must do” stop at Canyonlands in the Mesa Arch. It’s closer to the visitor center and it’s easily the most popular spot in the park. It’s only a half mile hike with a BIG payoff.
Now, depending on how much time you spend on both spots, you’ll probably have time for a couple of other stops in between.
The White Rim Overlook Trail, Upheaval Dome Trail, and Whale Rock are all relatively short out and back hikes with good views.
It’s just 0.6 miles to the first overlook of the Upheaval Dome Trail where you get a really good look at what could be a meteorite strike.
Whale Rock is a pretty hike, but it’s not terribly well marked so you really have to pay attention. It’s also not very well traveled and I probably wouldn’t do it unless there are other people around.
Plan to wrap up your visit to Canyonlands by early afternoon at the latest. Honestly, we did the highlights in the Island in the Sky District in about 3 hours and I felt ready to go.
From the visitor center at Canyonlands, it’s about a 35 minute drive to the entrance of Arches National Park.
Arches National Park
Here’s the tricky part of Arches…you have to have reservations to enter the park between 7AM and 4 PM if you’re visiting the park between April and October. And when it’s the busy season, they’re pretty strict about holding you to your reservations.
For lunch, you could either pack a picnic lunch in the morning before you leave Moab and head out to Canyonlands, or you could head into Moab for lunch after you finish at Canyonlands. It’s only about a 10 minute drive from Moab to the entrance at Arches.
There are a lot of good restaurants in Moab and there’s even an entire food truck park if you want something quick.
As far as restaurants go, I had good meals at Spoke on Center, Trailhead, and Spitfire BBQ.
I would make reservations to enter Arches National park between 1PM and 2PM.
The BIG MUST DO in Arches National Park is hiking to the Delicate Arch. It’s the most famous arch in the park (also on the Utah license plate) and it’s so iconic.
It’s a pretty strenuous 3 mile hike and the absolute best time to do it is near sunset. So you’ll want to pace yourself so that you’ve done everything else in the park besides Delicate Arch about an hour and half before sunset.
The 36 mile road through Arches National Park is VERY SCENIC. You can see sooooo much just from the car.
Besides Delicate Arch, there are three big spots you’re going to want to stop at:
There’s a large parking lot here and probably the best concentration of arches in the park. The North Window is such a great spot for a photo plus the famous Double Arch is in the area.
There’s a 0.6 mile trail that takes you closer to the different arches, but it’s more like a heavily trafficked walking path from the parking lot.
Devils Garden for Landscape Arch
This 7.8 mile loop hike takes you past at least 8 different arches. But you at least need to do the first 0.9 miles to Landscape Arch and back. This super thin arch is probably the most famous arch in the park besides Delicate Arch.
And it has a cool history too. The arch as you see it was formed as recently as the 90s when a lot of rock fell away and revealed what’s left. You can read about it on a plaque at the bottom.
Sand Dune Arch
The arch here isn’t as impressive as some, but I really loved this short hike back through what almost feels like a slot canyon.
So, you want to time your hike up to see the Delicate Arch about 1.5 hours or so before sunset.
When you turn off on the road to Delicate Arch, there’s a parking lot for the trailhead, and you can also drive a bit further and park at a viewpoint for the arch.
If you’re not able to hike to the arch, you’ll definitely want to go to the viewpoint, but don’t skip this hike if you’re at all able.
From the viewpoint parking lot, you can see the arch but it’s about a mile away. You can climb up a bit higher and walk out along some rocks to get a better view, but it’s still pretty far.
From the trailhead, it took about 40 minutes to climb up to Delicate Arch and it’s a pretty steep hike.
The first and last part of the trail are an actual trail, but the middle part (the steep part), you’re climbing up a super steep and smooth rock face.
From the bottom it looks insane, but once you’re on it, it’s pretty doable, but definitely steep.
There is a short stretch when you get close to the arch that has a big drop off, but it’s 5-6 feet wide. I have a pretty moderate fear of heights, but it didn’t bother me at all.
The arch really is incredible. As the sun sets, it casts a really pretty glow on the rocks and it’s definitely worth coming at this time of day to see.
We spent about 30 minutes or so at the arch (people kind of sit around the little amphitheater and just hang out) and then we started back down the trail about 10-15 minutes before the official sunset (it had almost dropped behind the rocks at this point).
We had high powered headlamps, but I really wanted to avoid having to do the super steep ascent in the dark. We ended up making it down to the parking lot just as it was getting dark.
And that’s how I would do Canyonlands AND Arches National Park in ONE DAY!