Aztec Butte is a wonderful short hike in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park that requires scrambling up two different buttes providing incredible panoramic views of the landscape as well as some ancestral Puebloan ruins.
Aztec Butte is located in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands, which is about 45 minutes away from Moab and about 2 hours from the Needles District. From Island in the Sky Road, turn onto Upheaval Dome road and the trailhead will be on your right.
The trailhead has a small parking lot but it rarely fills because few people know about this hike. It’s one of the few hikes that go away from the main rim of the canyon. The full hike is a 1.2-mile out-and-back trail.
- Discover another great hiking trail, the White Rim Overlook Trail, in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands.
The hike is flat and goes through some grasslands until you reach a fork in the road at 0.3 miles. Going left will lead to the lower butte.
Some light scrambling is required to get to the top of the butte. I had to use my hands for balance a few times. It’s really not much climbing at all.
At the top of the butte, a trail leads to the northern edge.
This butte provides some great views of the plateau, with the canyons behind.
If you go to this point, the hike is 0.5 miles one-way.
- Check out another great hike nearby, The Very Strange Upheaval Dome.
A sign discusses a small granary used by ancestral Puebloans probably about 1,000 years ago. Another scramble down the hillside leads to the granary.
Remember: do not touch or climb into any ruins.
Returning to the fork, it’s just a short walk to get to the larger butte, Aztec Butte.
This requires more strenuous scrambling to get to the top. It’s fun, but you definitely have to be able to exert yourself, using your hands and feet, to get to the top.
Once on top, you can walk across the flat butte to the other end. Along the way, you’ll pass more ruins, of which I neglected to take a photo.
From here, you can see the main road as well as the main portion of Canyonlands carved by the Colorado River.
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The best part of the hike is the view of the canyon on the other end of Aztec Butte. I believe the canyon is called Trail Canyon. It’s located on the North side (the “backside”) of the Island in the Sky.
I didn’t research this hike at all before I went, so I was quite surprised to run into this canyon. I just loved it.
Because I didn’t research the hike, I missed out on the fact that if I would have climbed down the butte a little bit, I could have found some little caves on the backside. Oh well, next time!
- Discover all you need to know about visiting Canyonlands.
- Don’t miss all the best viewpoints in Canyonlands!
Going down the butte on the way back was just a little tricky to navigate. I hiked it alone while my buddy slept in that morning, and there was NO ONE at all nearby, so I was concerned I might sprain an ankle or something and get stranded out there. Luckily, everything turned out fine for me!
- Find some great tips for hiking in the desert!
Is Aztec Butte Worth It?
Yes! This might be my favorite day hike in Island in the Sky District, though the White Rim Trail and Upheaval Dome are also great. As long as you can scramble, you’ll enjoy it as well.
Things to do Nearby
Most travelers want to visit the most popular sites and still avoid crowds. We have a detailed itinerary for Moab, Arches, and Canyonlands that gives you a step-by-step game plan so you can get to the best places at the right times.
- Our Moab, Arches, and Canyonlands Itinerary
- Our Canyonlands Trip Planner Page
- An Easy Guide to Visiting Canyonlands National Park
- Mesa Arch: The Most Famous Feature in Canyonlands
- The Very Strange Upheaval Dome in Canyonlands National Park
- The Best Viewpoints In Canyonlands National Park
- White Rim Overlook Trail: The Best Viewpoint in Canyonlands
- Is the Needles District in Canyonlands Worth Visiting?
- How to Visit Gemini Bridges in Moab, Utah (the easy way or the fun way)
- Dead Horse Point State Park in Moab: Is It Worth It?
- Hiking in the Desert: 11 things to know before you go
- Canyonlands National Park Website