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Planning a trip to Moab and want to know which is best: Arches or Canyonlands?

Many visitors don’t have time for both, so we’ll help you decide between Canyonlands vs Arches based on your interests.

Utah’s adventure mecca Moab is home to two bucket list National Parks, Canyonlands and Arches. The bold red canyons and sandstone arches are unlike any other place on Earth.

landscape arch at arches national park

Which is better Arches National Park or Canyonlands National Park?


Arches and Canyonlands are both pretty amazing but they offer fairly different National Park experiences. To decide which is better between the two you’ll need to identify your travel style and goals while visiting Arches or Canyonlands.

Do you want to hike, take a scenic drive, take epic photographs or do something else completely?

🥾 Hiking is less crowded at Canyonlands vs Arches but both parks have hiking options for all skill levels. Backcountry options are more abundant at Canyonlands than Arches.

📷 Arches National Park is better for photography vs Canyonlands.

🚗 Canyonlands scenic drive is less crowded and the overlooks are easy to access quickly. The main attractions at Canyonlands require less walking than attractions along the Arches scenic drive.

What are the main attractions at Arches and Canyonlands?

The landscape at Arches and Canyonland are similar but their main attractions can easily be deduced from their literal names.

Arches is home to over two thousand natural stone arches. It is a bucket list destination especially for photographers and gets very crowded.

Canyonlands’ main attraction is the sweeping views of vast red stone canyons. It is a beautiful park with an less crowded scenic drive. Plus Canyonlands is home to a few beautiful red stone arches as well but isn’t quite as photogenic as the over 2,000 arches within Arches National Park.

Are Arches and Canyonlands the same?


Arches and Canyonlands are not the same despite being only 26 miles apart. They are both located in South Central Utah near the town of Moab.


With over two thousand arches in 119 square miles, Arches National Park contains the world’s largest concentration of natural sandstone arches.


As its name implies, Canyonlands National Park’s is known for the impressive expansive canyon views from the Island in the Sky district. However, the much larger Canyonlands covers 527 square miles and includes four unique districts: Islands in the Sky, Needles, The Maze and Green and Colorado River.

At a Glance Canyonlands vs Arches

arches vs canyonlands comparison chart


Park Size


Arches and Canyonlands vary wildly in park size. Arches is much smaller than Canyonlands but a larger portion of the park is accessible for passenger vehicles and park visitors.

How big is Arches National Park?


Arches is a relatively small National Park. It is only 119 square miles.

How big is Canyonlands National Park?


Canyonlands is much larger than Arches at over 527 square miles.

However, much of Canyonland’s four districts are backcountry that require 4×4 vehicles and not easily accessible by most park visitors.

Annual Visitation


Arches National Park attracts exponentially more visitors than Canyonlands National Park annually.


Over 1.8 million visitors went to Arches in 2021 which caused the NPS to take extreme measures to control crowds. A timed entry reservation was implemented in 2022 for Arches National Park.

Is Canyonlands as crowded as Arches?

No, Canyonlands is not as crowded as Arches but few Nationals Parks are. Canyonlands is practically empty compared to Arches.

There are plenty of people at Canyonlands but it is much less crowded than Arches.

Timed Entry Reservations at Arches

Timed entry reservations are required to enter Arches National Park from 6 am until 5 pm between April and October. Reservations can be made on recreation.gov.

Check out Ultimate Guide to Arches National Park: Trip Itineraries and Insider Tips for Your Visit for details on the timed-entry reservation system. This guide also includes creative alternatives (including a secret back entrance used by locals) to get into Arches National Park if you can’t get a timed entry reservation.

Crowds at Arches can be overwhelming during peak season. We recommend several unique ways to find solitude in this beautiful place to maintain your sanity among the crowds at Arches.

Is Arches or Canyonlands Best for Easy Hiking

Arches and Canyonlands both have plenty of easy hiking options. However, I recommend Canyonlands over Arches because the easy trails at Arches are usually very crowded.

Easy rated hikes at Arches include:

Easy Trails at Arches National ParkRoundtrip DistanceElevation Change
Nature Trail @ Visitor Center150 ft (45m)0 ft
Balanced Rock0.3 mi (0.4km)35 ft (11m)
The Windows1 mi (1.6km)99 ft (30m)
Double Arch @ The Windows0.6 mi (1 km)30 ft (10m)
Delicate Arch Viewpoints200 ft (61 m)0 ft
Sand Dune Arch0.4 mi (0.6km)0 ft
Broken Arch1.4 mi (2.3km)59 ft (18m)
Skyline Arch0.4 mi (0.6km)28 ft (8m)
Landscape Arch @ Devils Garden1.8 mi (2.9km)40 ft (12m)
Courthouse Wash Panel0.8 mi (1.4km)60 ft (18m)


Easy rated trails at Canyonlands include:

Canyonlands Easy Rated HikesRoundtrip DistanceElevation Change
Mesa Arch0.5 mi (0.8km)insignificant
White Rim Overlook1.8mi (2.8km)insignificant
Grand View Point2 mi (3.2km)insignificant
Murphy Point3.6mi (5.6km)insignificant
Kara on devils garden trail at arches national park

Is Arches or Canyonlands Best for Backcountry Hiking

Canyonlands has significantly more acres available for backcountry hiking and camping opportunities than Arches.

💧 Water is very limited in both parks beyond the visitor center.

🎫 Permits are required for backcountry camping in both Arches and Canyonlands.

🥾 Most of Arches is rough terrain that is not accessible by established trails and backcountry hiking can be challenging.

🏕The Maze and Needles district of Canyonlands are popular backcountry camping locations. Backcountry camping with a permit is also allowed in the Island the Sky district.


Best for Photography

Arches has a higher concentration of commonly photographed places including the most famous Arch in Utah, the Delicate Arch.

My aunt and uncle flew from Florida for a multiple day photography class in Moab. Truly, it’s that epic. They visited Dead Horse State Park and Canyonlands as well but Arches was their main focus.

arches national park is more photographed vs canyonlands national park


Is the Arches or Canyonlands Scenic Driver Better?

Both the Arches and Canyonlands scenic drives offer epic, bucket-list scenery. They are both around 35 miles roundtrip with several amazing stops.

This is a lot like asking a parent to choose a favorite child.

But I think the 34-mile roundtrip scenic drive at Canyonlands is better because it’s less crowded and there are overlooks where you don’t have to walk at all.

The stops along Canyonlands scenic driver are just quick roadside stops that take a minute or two. Plus the sweeping canyon views surround you during the drive. You don’t even have to get out of the car to see it all.

However, several of the stops along the 36-mile roundtrip Arches scenic drive require parking and walking a short distance to see the arch or feature. The Arches scenic drive is definitely not inferior but I prefer the style and feel of the Canyonlands drive better.


Best for Front Country Camping

Front country camping means using established campgrounds for tents, cars or RV. Not backpacking into the BACKcountry.

Arches has the best front country camping option at Devil’s Garden campground. Devil’s Garden accepts reservations.

The largest campground at Canyonlands, Needles, is not located in the Island in the Sky district which means it is further from the main attractions of Moab. Inside the Island in the Sky district, the small Willow Flat campground has 12 first come first serve campsites and they fill quickly.

Is Canyonlands worth seeing?

I really enjoyed Canyonlands National Park and it’s definitely worth seeing.

Plus Canyonlands is all about the views which means you won’t be crowded into a few popular spots like Arches. It’s easy to drive the Island in the Sky district and do a few short walks in a half day.

grand view point is one of many scenic viewpoints at canyonlands national park

Arches to Canyonlands High-Level Comparison


Arches is a much smaller park than Canyonlands but it has more numerous designated attractions, primarily natural arches.


The attractions at Arches National Park require several stops with parking and a short walk. Also, there are designated trail hiking options that can fill a day or more at Arches. Arches National Park does not offer much backcountry hiking.


The primary and most visited section of Canyonlands is Island in the Sky. Island in the Sky district is more of a driving park with several epic viewpoints.


Canyonlands Islands in the Sky has seven easy-rated hikes that will only fill a half day. Both the Needles and the Maze districts offer backcountry hiking opportunities for more adventurous souls.


Canyonlands’ fourth and the least visited district is the Horseshoe Canyon which includes the Green and Colorado Rivers. It is located about 2.5 hours from Moab and access is via a 30-mile unpaved road.

Arches Park Highlights

The can’t miss park highlights at Arches National Park are:

  • Delicate Arch
  • The Windows
  • Devil’s Garden & Landscape Arch
  • Balanced Rock
  • Fiery Furnace
  • Scenic Drive
double arch at the windows is an easy and short hiking option at arches national park

Canyonlands Park Highlights

The can’t miss park highlights at Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky are:

  • Shafer Canyon Overlook
  • Mesa Arch
  • Whale Rock
  • Upheaval Dome
  • Grand View Point
  • Scenic Drive
schafer canyon road near canyonlands and arches is popular off road route
Photo Credit: @herethengone

Can you see Arches and Canyonlands in one day?


Yes, you can see Arches and Canyonlands in one day.


If you can’t decide between Arches vs Canyonlands and want to see both, it’s possible.

Skip to our Arches Canyonland in One Day itinerary, if you need help planning.


To visit both Arches and Canyonlands in one day, you’ll only hit the park highlights but it’s possible. Keep in mind, it will be a long day and you won’t have time to see everything at both parks.

Costs for Canyonlands vs Arches


If costs are a concern when deciding to visit Canyonlands vs Arches, then the decision is simple.


Admission costs are $30 at each Arches and Canyonland. National Park admission fees include park access for one vehicle and up to 6 passengers for 7 days.


Sadly, you can’t use the admission passes interchangeably between Arches and Canyonlands.


You will have to buy a pass at both Arches and Canyonland unless you have a National Park Pass. Passholders can visit Arches and Canyonlands for no additional fees.


An America the Beautiful National Park Pass costs $80 annually and provides admission to over 2,000 nationwide federally owned properties including National Park ServiceUS Fish and Wildlife ServiceUS Forest ServiceBureau of Land ManagementBureau of Reclamation and US Army Corps of Engineers.

Check out America the Beautiful National Park Pass: Is it Worth it and Will it Save You Money to learn all of the benefits of a national park pass. Plus see if you qualify for a free or discounted Access Pass.

arches and canyonlands national park both have beautiful arches

Tips for Visiting Arches and Canyonlands

When visiting Arches and Canyonlands, a few general travel tips apply to both parks.

  • Bring and drink water.
    • The air is dry and the sun is dehydrating in Utah so drink a lot of water. If hiking, NPS recommends drinking 0.5L per hour per person in mild weather and even more during hot weather. The visitor centers at both Arches and Canyonlands have water fill stations but you’ll need your own container.
  • Respect the sun.
    • Wear a wide-brimmed hat, clothing with good coverage and sunscreen to protect yourself from sunburn or sun damage. The Utah sun can be brutal and a sunburn on your first day can ruin your vacation.
  • Hike early.
    • Hiking early serves two purposes. It will help avoid crowds and also avoids mid-day sun and heat exposure.
  • Leave no trace.
    • National Parks are majestic natural places preserved by our ancestors so we can enjoy them. Help future generations do the same by packing out your trash, staying on marked trails and generally leaving these places better than you found them.
  • Download offline apps and maps. The parks do not have cellular reception.
    • Free NPS App
      • Before visiting a new park, we download the park on the NPS app and it’s great for the official park map and maybe a few park highlights. It does require you to use it and search for things to do. If you want someone to tell you the best things to do, then check out Gypsy Guide.
    • Gypsy Guide – affordable GPS- based audio tour
      • We always check to see if there is a Gypsy Guide for the national park we are visiting. s. It’s just like having a tour guide along for the ride.  You’ll hear stories, local tips & directions play automatically, all based on your location.  Best of all they don’t need cell signal, they work offline with GPS.
Buy your Mighty 5 Gypsy Guide bundle which includes all five Utah National Parks.

Packing List for Arches and Canyonlands


As you can probably tell from my travel tips, I am fairly risk-averse but love outdoor activities. That means I am prepared for poor weather, trail conditions and accidents.

I have been rescued off a mountain once and hope to never do that again.

It’s a long story involving wet, slick conditions, a poor shoe choice, one unfortunate slip, amazing mountain rescue volunteers, multiple reconstructive surgeries, four months on crutches and even longer in physical therapy. I do not recommend it.

  • Sunscreen – I use this SunBum because it’s reef-friendly and small enough to fit into my daypack.
  • Wide-brimmed hat – A breathable wide-brimmed hat is a great way to protect your face without constantly applying sunscreen.
  • Snacks – Sometimes the plan changes so be prepared with snacks. My favorites are tuna pouches, protein bars, jerky and nuts because they travel well and taste good.
  • Water – I upgraded to this Osprey bladder after trying a cheaper Amazon option that leaked. I carry it in an off-brand backpack that I got for $15 on clearance at REI a decade ago. We transport water in a jug like this that we bought at Walmart for under $20.
  • Hiking boots or trail shoes – Shoes with a good grip are important when hiking on the slick rock around Arches and Canyonlands. I highly recommend grippy shoes if you plan to hike the Primitive Devil’s Garden Loop at Arches as you’ll traverse slick rock at multiple points.
  • Headlamp – If you plan to hike to Delicate Arch before sunrise, you’ll definitely want a headlamp. But I recommend carrying one even if you don’t plan to be out in the dark. They are small and lightweight. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
  • First Aid Kit – I created my own miniature first aid kit with supplies I already had rather than buying a pre-made first aid kit. Mine includes bandages, blister pads, alcohol wipes, a Swiss Army knife, tweezers, gauze, medical tape, and bug spray. It all fits into a sandwich-size zipper baggie.
  • Backpack – You will need a small backpack to carry all of this stuff. Any comfortable backpack you have will work.
steep cliff at devils garden in arches national park

When to go to Moab


Moab is at its most comfortable in spring and fall and that’s the best time to visit. Mild temperatures allow visitors to explore and hike during midday.

For more details on Moab and things to do the area, check out More to Moab than National Parks.


Daytime highs during the summer at Arches and Canyonlands regularly exceed 100 degrees. Midday outdoor activities should be limited during hot summer days.

average temperatures in moab utah for arches and canyonlands
Source: NOAA

Getting from Arches to Canyonlands


Both Arches and Canyonlands are located conveniently close to Moab Utah. Getting between Arches to Canyonlands requires a 26-mile drive. And getting from Arches to Canyonlands will take about 30 minutes.


Canyonlands, Island in the Sky district, is located high on a mesa and requires some climbing to reach the park entrance. There are several scenic viewpoints worth a minute or two along the drive.
Arches National Park is located only 5 miles north of the town of Moab on highway 191.


Getting to Canyonlands from Arches is just as easy as getting to Arches from Moab but does require more time and fuel.

Moab to Canyonlands

First, take highway 191 north of Arches from Moab to Canyonlands. If you are leaving Arches and heading to Canyonlands, simply turn right out of the park gate. Stay on Highway 191 for 6.5 miles, followed by a left turn onto UT-313. Road signs clearly mark the route from Arches to Canyonlands so you won’t miss any of the turns.

google map directions between arches and canyonlands


Where to Stay in Moab

Camping is by far the most affordable lodging option in Moab near Arches or Canyonlands.


For camping options including the TOP 5 FREE campsites in Moab, check out Arches National Park Camping: Options from Free to Luxury in Moab.


Moab is also home to hundreds of short-term rental lodging including national chain hotels like La Quinta and Comfort Suites, mom & pop hotels and vacation rentals. Many campgrounds also offer vacation rentals including cabins, yurts and RVs.


We love booking.com because they offer reservations for both hotel chains and privately owned vacation rentals. Plus their cancellation policy is generous.

Booking.com

Arches and Canyonlands in One Day

Visiting both Arches and Canyonlands is possible to fit into one day but it will be a long and tiring day.

You will only have time to hit the park highlights and will miss some of the wonderful other spots. If possible, I would recommend one day at both Arches and Canyonlands.

But if you only have one day in Moab, we’ve got you covered with a detailed itinerary for Arches and Canyonlands in One Day.

mesa arch at canyonlands

How to see both Arches and Canyonlands in One Day

There is only one way to see the highlights on your own at Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in Moab in one day. Be strategic and start early.

Remember to pack snacks, water and a picnic lunch. Hangry travelers will not enjoy the parks as much.

I recommend buying and downloading the Arches and Canyonlands Gypsy Guide bundle for both parks before you arrive. The self-guided GPS tour will provide you with entertainment and information during your full day of touring.

Half-Day in Arches

If you have a half-day to see the highlights of Arches National Park in Moab, I recommend spending the night before as close as possible. The town of Moab is only 5 miles away so finding accommodations nearby should be fairly easy.

You’ll need to get an early start to fit both of Moab’s National Parks into one day.

  • Start the day by watching the sunrise at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park.
    • There are two options: the 3-mile moderately difficult hike to Delicate Arch or an easier and shorter but steep uphill walk to the Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint. Either way, you’ll see Delicate Arch as the sun rises on it.
  • View the Windows
    • Take the easy 0.5-mile path to view the Double Arch.
  • Landscape Arch
    • This 1.8-mile trail is one of the most popular paths at Arches and is rated as easy. It is wide and covered in gravel.
  • Drive the scenic drive through Arches
    • Now that you’ve visited the most crowded areas of the park before everyone else arrives, take some time to complete the scenic drive. Gypsy Guide is a great way you ensure you don’t miss any big spots like Balance Rock or Fiery Furnace.
courthouse tower at arches national park


Half-Day Itinerary in Canyonlands

Canyonlands National Park is massive but if you only have a half-day then I recommend focusing on the Island in the Sky district.

In the interest of time, I would recommend eating a picnic lunch on the drive between Arches and Canyonlands. Or you can find a roadside picnic area in either park to have a more formal meal.

Based on recommendations from Gypsy Guide we chose to visit the following highlights on our half-day Canyonlands trip.

It was a great taste of the park with time to stretch our legs a bit and we weren’t stuck in our car for hours. However, if you prefer, you can absolutely explore Canyonlands from your car as well.

  • Shafer Canyon Overlook
    • This is a quick stop to see Shafer Canyon. The views at Canyonlands are reminiscent of the Grand Canyon in its grandeur and scale.
      • Shaffer Canyon Road is a popular 4×4 trail. On a separate trip to Moab, we went on an epic offroading trip with friends down into the canyon on the winding Shaffer Canyon Road. It was once used by the Shaffer family to move their livestock from summer pastures on top of the mesa to protected winter grazing grounds further in the canyon.
  • Mesa Arch
    • Mesa Arch is the most photographed arch in Canyonlands. It’s a great location for sunrise photography if you have time. The trail to Mesa Arch is 0.5 miles and easy but not completely flat. There are some rocks and steps that may prevent those with mobility limitations from accessing Mesa Arch.
  • Whale Rock
    • Whale Rock is a giant whale-shaped slick rock that you can hike up to the top. The total hike is 1 mile. The NPS brochure warns of steep drop-offs on the Whale Rock Trail. I am scared of heights but am glad I went to the top. It was not an easy path and I used my hands for stability a few times. But the views are amazing. I’d recommend going as far as you are comfortable.
  • Upheaval Dome
    • Upheaval Dome is a scientific mystery and there are many theories explaining its possible origin. The hike to the Dome is a moderately rated 1-mile trail.
  • Grand View Point
    • Grand View Point is located at the end of the Canyonlands Scenic Drive. There is a short paved path to great views of the canyon from the southernmost tip of the Island in the Sky. If you have energy remaining, there is an unpaved trail that continues one mile further to a second viewpoint.
  • Sunset
    • Sunset in Canyonlands National Park is best viewed from the Green River Overlook. However, the Grand View Point offers a great alternative for sunset at Canyonlands if the timing doesn’t line up to be at the Green River Overlook.
island in the sky canyonlands national park moab utah

Best Photographs in Arches and Canyonlands

If you only have one day at Arches and Canyonlands and want the infamous photographs. You can reverse our suggested itinerary to capture sunset at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park and sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands.

Be warned, our One Day Arches and Canyonlands itinerary was designed to avoid the most crowded areas during peak times to maximize your precious time. Therefore crowds will be much heavier if the itinerary is done in reverse and each stop may take longer.

👉If photography is your primary focus, book a professionally guided photography tour of Arches and Canyonlands now.

snow at delicate arch in arches national park

Best Hikes in Arches

If you have more time and want to check out more hiking at Arches. We loved the Devil’s Garden Primitive loop hike at Arches and believe it is one of the best hikes at Arches. However, it is 7.8 miles long and everyone doesn’t have the time or physical ability to complete it.

If you are looking for something easier, consider hiking one or two of the park’s numerous shorter trails.

The top 5 hikes (based on popularity) at Arches National Park are:

  • Delicate Arch
  • The Windows
  • Landscape Arch at Devil’s Garden
  • Balanced Rock
  • Double Arch at the Windows

Full details for hiking at Arches are available on Complete Hiking Guide to Arches National Park: Trail Recommendations for Beginner to Advanced.

Private Guided Tours of Arches & Canyonlands

If you are still feeling overwhelmed by planning a day trip to Arches and Canyonlands and have the budget, then you may want to consider booking a private tour.

The professionals will ensure you don’t miss any highlights and you can just sit back and enjoy the ride.

👉 Book your Arches and Canyonlands guided tour now.

Who Wins: Arches vs Canyonlands

Arches and Canyonlands are both amazing national parks.

I know, I know. Everyone can’t be a winner but trust me when I say both Arches and Canyonlands are winners in the National Park competition.

Arches’ unique features are prominent in postcards and on Instagram but Canyonlands equally wows visitors with a lot less hassle.

You don’t have to pick a winner between Arches vs Canyonlands, there’s room for both in your next Moab adventure.


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