Perfect Itinerary for Arches, Canyonlands, and Moab (2-5 Days)

double arch in arches national park
Double Arch

Arches and Canyonlands National Parks are destinations you will never forget. Between the inspiring and playful arches, windows, and bridges of Arches National Park to the rugged desert hikes and viewpoints of Canyonlands, visitors leave knowing they have truly been somewhere special.

Moab, UT, just minutes outside of Arches and Canyonlands offers something that most gateway towns to national parks don’t, great places to stay and eat. Plus, miles of terrain for recreation, that are just as beautiful as a national park! Whether you are into biking, rafting, rock climbing, or wish to explore this great area in a Jeep, there is something for everyone!

At a minimum, visitors need 2 days to visit Arches and Canyonlands if they want to see the major viewpoints and attractions. If you want to go on hikes, do some scenic drives, as well as, explore the BLM land outside of the national parks, 5 days is best because it allows 2 days for each park and 1 day to explore the town of Moab and the surrounding areas.

I’m Cheryl and my husband Matt and I live in Utah and write travel guides to help people travel to the West. Moab, Arches, and Canyonlands are only 4 hours from where we live and it’s one of our favorite long weekend escapes. We are always trying something new here but read on for what we believe is the perfect 3-5 day itinerary for a first-time visitor.

Understanding the Arches, Canyonlands, and Moab Area

Map showing the Moab area including Arches and Canyonlands

Arches National Park has over 2,000 arches packed into 119 square miles and had over 1.8 million visitors in 2023. That’s a lot of people packed into a tiny park! There is currently a timed-entry reservation system that has helped a lot with the crowding.

Arches has an amazing scenic drive through the park and some great viewpoints and hikes. You’ve probably heard of the most famous, Delicate Arch (featured on Utah’s license plate), but other great places to explore are Landscape Arch, the Windows, Devil’s Garden area, and the Fiery Furnace. We love that this park is accessible whether you are a hiker or not.

Canyonlands is much larger. So large that it’s broken into 4 distinct districts.

The Needles district is located in the southeastern part of the park and is known for its colorful sandstone spires and tall rock formations. The area is popular among hikers and backpackers, with several backcountry trails that lead to remote campsites and hidden canyons, but for the average tourist, this is an underrated district. The scenic drive here is much nicer than the Island in the Sky because you’re at the bottom of the canyons, with views of the Needles formations and the canyon walls in the distance. Short hikes – more like walks – provide interesting variety, views, and history.

The Island in the Sky district is the most popular and accessible area of Canyonlands National Park. It is located at the northern end of the park and is basically the mesa top, providing sweeping views of the surrounding landscape. While the scenic drive isn’t all that scenic (due to it being a flat plateau), the various overlooks are jaw-dropping. You can also explore several interesting hiking trails that lead to great viewpoints, such as Mesa Arch and Upheaval Dome.

There is also the Maze and Horseshoe Canyon Districts of Canyonlands National Park, but they aren’t in this itinerary. You can read more about them and Canyonlands in more detail in our Easy Guide to Visiting Canyonlands.

Map of areas of Canyonlands National Park

Many people love to visit Arches and Canyonlands as part of Utah’s Mighty 5 road trip or en route to check out Mesa Verde National Park, Monument Valley, or Durango. It’s such a beautiful area and it’s amazing how different from other each of these parks can be.

GOOD TO KNOW: Both of these parks are very primitive. You’ll only be able to fill up on water at the visitor centers and the restrooms throughout the parks are pit toilets. No food or gas is available within either of these parks.

Water under an arch
Water under an arch, Arches National Park
Devil's Garden Arches
Devil’s Garden, Arches National Park
mesa arch canyonlands
Mesa Arch, Canyonlands

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About This Itinerary

We kept the “first-time visitor” in mind when we wrote this and included what you must see to say you’ve done the parks properly.

We also believe variety makes for a great vacation so we included a mix of the most popular arches, hikes, petroglyphs, drives, viewpoints, and outside-the-park activities.

Lastly, like our more comprehensive Arches and Canyonlands Itinerary that we sell, we include options for people who don’t wish to hike too much.

One of the crazy things about Arches and Canyonlands is that visitors can visit this park and have a good experience practically the whole year. However, the best months to use this itinerary are March through November.

arches & canyonlands cheat sheet

BEST SPOTS IN ARCHES: Delicate Arch, Tower Arch, Devil’s Garden, The Windows,
Balanced Rock, Fiery Furnace, Park Ave.

BEST SPOTS IN CANYONLANDS: Needles District- Chesler Park Loop, Slickrock Foot Trail, Newspaper Rock, HWY 191. Island in the Sky District- Mesa Arch, Shafer Trail, Potash Road, Grand View Point Overlook, Aztec Butte, Upheaval Dome, and Green River Overlook. Dead Horse State Park is also great.

BEST THINGS IN MOAB: Go on a Jeep ride to Hell’s Revenge and eat dinner at Pasta Jay’s.

HANDY TIPS: Timed Entry Reservations are required April through October
first-come, first-served on three (3) months in advance in monthly blocks. Campsites can be reserved 6 months in advance If you are staying from March through October. They are FC/FS the other months.

2-5 Day Itinerary

Day 1: Arches

Map of Arches National Park

Because Arches is a small park and only takes 45 minutes to drive from one end of it to the other, it’s ok if you have to rearrange the order of the listed activities if the parking lots are full. The good news is that at many of the parking lots for viewpoints and short walks, people come and go often so you may not need to wait too long for a spot to open up.

Morning: The Windows, Balanced Rock, and Devil’s Garden

We recommend starting as early as your timed-entry ticket and your travel group will allow. Not only to beat the crowds but to also beat the heat!

The Windows provide 4 arches and Double Arch is a must-see. It’s about a mile total to see all 4 arches and you do have to climb some stairs to see them.

Balanced Rock is a great formation and it doesn’t take too much time to see. We often just slowly drive by it but you can park and do the .25 mi easy walk around it if you wish.

Devil’s Garden is an incredible hike that offers several spur trails and loops depending on how much hiking you want to do. Although Delicate Arch is the big name in Arches, we actually think this is the best hike in the park.

If you are trying to conserve your hiking steps, we recommend just hiking to Landscape Arch, a 1.8-mile round-trip hike. You’ll see the longest arch in North America (although we don’t think it’s the prettiest arch).

If you are feeling energetic (and we hope you are!) we recommend hiking to Double O Arch (one arch on top of the other!). It will be 4 miles round trip from the parking lot and you’ll be doing some more rigorous hiking (wear hiking boots for this one) but the scenery as well as the destination are worth it. I especially love the part where you walk across a fin (that’s a fancy name for a narrow, residual wall of hard sedimentary rock that remains standing after the surrounding rock has been eroded away). It’s such an adventure!

You can hike beyond that, but if you are trying to see Arches National Park in one day, you’ve got better things to see.

Afternoon/Early Evening: Delicate Arch and Park Avenue

Delicate Arch is the most stunning formation in the park- with the worst hike. It’s 3 miles round trip but it’s hot, very exposed, and steep. If you aren’t a hiker, there are 2 viewpoints you can just view the arch from- Upper and Lower Viewpoint. We think Lower Viewpoint is the better of the two.

If you choose to hike to Delicate Arch, you’ll love it when you get there. 52 feet tall doesn’t sound too impressive, but when you are at the base of it looking up, it’s hard to comprehend how such a magnificent arch was formed! There will be several people there and you’ll most likely have to wait to take your picture with it, just be patient and enjoy the energy in the air.

Park Avenue is a great spot to end the day. This is a beautiful canyon with towering walls on each side, perfectly named because it looks like a skyscraper-lined street. We love this viewpoint, but we prefer to do this on the way out of the park because it’s lovely when the evening sun hits the canyon wall. You can choose to just see it from the viewpoint or do the 1-mile one-way walk through it.

PRO TIP: You can have someone pick you up on the other side of the Courthouse Towers if you don’t want to walk back.

People standing under delicate arch
Delicate Arch
Windows arch
The Windows
Devil's garden
Devil’s Garden
Park Avenue in Arches National Park
Park Avenue
Fiery Furnace
Fiery Furnace

Optional 2nd Day in Arches

We think it’s best to spend 1 day in Arches and 1 day in Canyonlands if you only have 2 days, but if you have an extra day (and we hope you do!) here are some other amazing things to do in Arches.

Fiery Furnace. This cool area has several hidden arches, fun slot canyons, and it is one of the best hikes we’ve ever done. This is less of a hike and more of an unusual maze-like experience (think: escape room). It is unusual in that there isn’t an official trail; you are encouraged to scramble and explore the area. We did this as a family and all loved it. It’s only about 2-3 miles of hiking but we label it strenuous because you have to do some scrambling.

You must have a permit to do this and you have the option of exploring this area with a ranger or on your own.

Tower Arch. The beginning of the hike is steep, requiring steps and some scrambling to get to the top. After that, it’s an enjoyable stroll through great western scenery with red rock walls and other formations such as the Marching Men. After a challenging trudge up the sand hill (Matt calls it Boot Camp Hill), you’ll have a flat walk to Tower Arch. It’s called Tower Arch because there is a massive red rock tower next to it. It’s exposed and 2.6 miles round trip.

Don’t miss our article 15 Things You CAN’T MISS On Your First Trip to Arches National Park for our favorite things to do in Arches.

Day 3: Canyonlands

Map of Canyonlands National park

Because Canyonlands is so big, you’ll only have time to visit one district if you only have one day. We think that district should be the Island in the Sky. We sometimes refer to Canyonlands as “Grand Canyon Junior” because so many of the views remind us of the Grand Canyon. The itinerary below will give you what we think are the highlights of the Island in the Sky District.

Morning: Dead Horse Point State Park, Mesa Arch, Viewpoints, Aztec Butte Hike

Dead Horse Point State Park is probably the best viewpoint you will see in the area, but it’s not part of Canyonlands and requires a $20 entry fee. We love this viewpoint and it’s very accessible, but if you are short on time or cash, it’s ok to skip it because you’ll see similar viewpoints within Canyonlands. Note: Something cool you can see here is the Potash Ponds. They are turquoise in color and very cool!

Mesa Arch is the #1 thing to do in Canyonlands. People especially love to watch the sunrise here. It’s a .7-mile loop to this small window through which you can gaze at the never-ending canyonlands. I especially love the Washer Woman formation in the background and walking along the edge of the canyon for more views.

Viewpoints. Although there are several viewpoints throughout the park, my favorite ones are Grand View Point Overlook ( this one looks the most like the Grand Canyon) and Green River Overlook because you can see the river running through the canyon. Read more about these viewpoints at The Best Viewpoints in Canyonlands National Park.

Aztec Butte Hike.  This 1.6-mile roundtrip hike is our favorite in Island in the Sky, but scrambling is required. There are two buttes here. The first part of the hike leads around Lower Butte, you’ll need to scramble a bit to get up on top – most people will need to use their hands for balance as they climb up the slick rock. Once on top, follow the trail to the interpretive sign and Indian ruin below. This alone makes the short hike worth it. (Note: do not touch or climb into the structures.) If you’re up for more intense scrambling, continue on the trail to Aztec Butte. Scramble on top and walk to the other end for a really cool view into a side canyon. There are more ruins on the mesa top, as well as below the rim on the other side. 

If you aren’t going to drive the Shafer Trail that night, you may want to check out the Upheaval Dome Hike as well.

shafer trail canyonlands
Shafer Trail, Canyonlands
Dead Horse Point State Park
Dead Horse Point State Park

Afternoon/Evening: Shafer Trail and/or Potash Road

The Potash Road connects Canyonlands to Moab. It’s a dirt road that takes about 2 hours to drive. It runs along the green river and you’ll see the Potash Evaporation Ponds, dinosaur tracks, and the Corona Arch (just to name a few!). Read Things to See On the Potash Road in Moab, UT for more stops and greater detail.

If you have a high-clearance vehicle, are a great driver, and aren’t scared of heights, you may enjoy driving the Shafer Trail as part of this drive. Most people start in Canyonlands, connect to the Potash Road at the bottom (turn left… going the other way will take you on the White Rim Trail), and then head back to Moab.

Be warned that the Shafer Trail switchbacks are so tight that you sometimes have to do a 3-point turn to get around them and there’s a steep drop-off with no barriers! If that’s a little too much adventure for your taste, just check out the Shafer Trail overlook, head back to Moab, and get on the Potash Road. Check out the petroglyphs along the way.

Map of Shafer Trail Road and Overlooks
Map of Shafer Trail Road
Map of Potash Road

Optional 2nd Day in Canyonlands

If you are a hiker, you may enjoy heading to the Needles District. The very cool, and challenging 11-mile Chesler Park Loop is there and includes some great slot canyons, a meadow filled with wildflowers (in the desert!), and some amazing needle rock formations.

You can also check out Newspaper Rock and drive the La Sal Loop for more great viewpoints.

Map of The Needles district in Canyonlands
Map of La Sal Loop Road in Canyonlands

Day 3: Optional Activities in Moab

If I only had 3 days total in this area, I would spend 1 day in Arches, 1 day in Canyonlands, and then 1 day doing some recreational activities in Moab. The top things to do in the Moab area include…

Jeep Rides- There are obstacles and terrain on BLM land that you wouldn’t believe are passable! Our climb up Hell’s Revenge is something our family will never forget! Every year, thousands of people visit Moab for off-roading adventures and completely skip Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. The adventure riding in Moab is a destination unto itself.

We used Dan Mick’s Moab Jeep Tours. This company helped establish the trails in Moab and took us on an adventurous (yet safe) ride. Use the code “ROCKIES” for a discount when you book.

River Rafting– Not only are white water trips available (book here), but there are also scenic cruises (book here) if you just want to watch the sunset on the Colorado River.

Everything Else! Moab also offers horseback riding, bike rentals, helicopter and balloon tours, skydiving, astronomy tours, kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding, boating, zip lines, high ropes courses, photography tours, rock art tours, and even dinosaur tracks tours. There is just so much to do in Moab!

Jeep on Hell's Revenge Trail in Moab
Dan Mick Jeep Tour, Moab
Moab biking
Moab biking

Essential Tips For A Successful Trip to
Arches and Canyonlands

When to Start Your Days– To avoid heat and crowds, we recommend getting to the parks before 8:00 am. If you aren’t an early riser, the parks start clearing out around 3:00 or 4:00 pm.

What to Wear– Besides good hiking boots (if you are hiking). Make sure to bring a hat that offers good sun coverage and sunglasses. Sunscreen is a must. Wear cool, comfortable clothes.

What to Bring– a good hiking backpack that can carry at least 3 L of water, hiking poles, a hiking towel (you can get wet and cool yourself off), a water jug for your vehicle, salty snacks, picnic supplies, and your camera of course! Check out the gear we recommend

For Your Safety– I can not emphasize enough how hot it can get. Make sure to be prepared for the heat. Also realize that areas within Canyonlands are remote and deserted. If you have a problem, it can be a couple of hours before another human will find you.

Road Conditions– Because many of the roads in Canyonlands are dirt roads, check weather conditions before driving them at the visitor center. They can become impassible when muddy.

Cell Phone Service- Don’t count on having reception in either Arches or Canyonlands National Parks. You can expect to have good service in Moab.

Don’t Bring Your Doggo– We love our pups but they are really only welcome on the roads and in campgrounds within the national parks. They aren’t allowed on hiking trails and at the viewpoints and it’s too hot to safely let them wait in the car. You can check out the pet policy. There are several kennels in Moab.

Services Within the Park– Arches and Canyonlands are primitive national parks. There is nowhere to get food, gas or even water within the park (there is water at the visitor centers). There are pit toilets and some picnic areas.

RVs- RV’s are allowed on all the paved roads within both parks but there are no hook-ups at any of the campsites and none of the campsites will accommodate anything over 40 feet long

Elevation– Elevation is between 4,000 and 7,000 for Arches and Canyonlands. If you are from a sea-level elevation, it’s possible, but not common to experience fatigue, shortness of breath and headaches as your body adjusts.

Balanced Rock
Balanced Rock, picture from Canva

Where To Stay

Hotel room in Red Cliffs Lodge in Moab
Photo from Red Cliffs Lodge

Although Moab has a variety of hotels to stay in from chains to locally owned places. The Red Cliffs Lodge (book here) and Sorrel River Ranch are both popular picks. You can read our blog post 9 Great Places to Stay in Arches, Canyonlands, and Moab if you want to know more.

However, we prefer to stay in Green River, UT. Moab can get really congested and expensive. We like that Green River is a small town, less than 45 minutes from Arches and Canyonlands, and offers affordable places to stay.

Honestly, our family loves to stay at the Super 8 (book here) because they have family rooms, a good breakfast that our kids like, meets our standards for cleanliness, and is priced just right.

If we want a nicer experience, the River Terrace Inn (book here) has a great view of the river outback and a wonderful breakfast. My parents stayed here and loved it!

Where To Eat

Amazing pasta from Pasta Jay’s

The only downside to staying in Green River is the lack of good restaurants (Ray’s Tavern and the Tamarisk are alright). No worries, Moab is full of amazing has several places that we love to eat. You can read Best Places To Eat in Moab, Arches, and Canyonlands if you want an in-depth review.

My favorite place to eat though is Pasta Jays! Their pizzas are amazing but resist the temptation to order something easy and get one of their delicious pasta dishes. I also love Blu Pig BBQ

How To Get To Arches and Canyonlands

Many people visit Arches and Canyonlands as part of a larger road trip. Though there is a small airport in Moab, I’ve never heard of anyone using it. Most people fly in or out of Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, or Denver, and drive to Moab.

  • Salt Lake City Airport to Moab: 4 hours
  • Las Vegas Airport (Harry Reid) to Moab: 7 hours
  • Denver Airport to Moab: 6 hours

If you fly into Salt Lake City or Las Vegas, it’s easy to visit Utah’s Mighty 5 (Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands). You could even add Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon.

You can also fly into Denver and visit Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park and Durango.

If you want to make your trip to Arches and Canyonlands a breeze, check out our easy-to-follow, step-by-step itinerary.

Itinerary includes:

  • A PDF file to print or save to your tablet
  • 41 pages of detailed information about Moab and how to see it
  • A step-by-step guide for what to do and see each day, with flexibility to fit your schedule.
  • Each day groups attractions together most logically and efficiently to get the most out of your trip
  • A checklist for you to mark off all the arches you’ll see!
  • Maps on each page to guide you to each destination
  • One Day Non-Hiker Plan and 2 Day Hiker Plan so you can see Arches National Park on your own terms
  • Driving directions and things to do coming from Colorado, SLC, and Capitol Reef
  • ★ ratings for each site and activity to help you prioritize
  • Guide to the best activities to do in Moab (+Jeep ride discounts)
  • Moab and Green River Dining Guide
  • Check boxes throughout the guide to help you prepare for your trip
  • 3-5 days of itineraries covering the BEST of Arches and Canyonlands

Arches, Canyonlands, and Moab really do have something for everyone and is a bucket list destination that you will never forget. Whether you only have 2 days or more, it’s worth your time to make it to these majestic parks.


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