Island In The Sky – Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park, located just outside Moab, Utah, is an interesting park that covers a vast area of inaccessible canyons and mesas. Canyonlands is divided into three units and it’s not possible to visit more than one unit in a day. The Island In The Sky district of the park is easily accessed from Moab and many people first visit Canyonlands by driving through this unit of the park.

Sitting Above Two Great Rivers

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The Island In The Sky is a large plateau that sits high above the Green and Colorado Rivers. These two major rivers join together within the boundaries of Canyonlands where each river has carved a giant canyon through the sandstone. This is classic canyon country and visiting Island In The Sky puts you above it all with dramatic views into each of the canyons. While the primary attraction to this area is the majestic sweeping vistas, there are a number of hikes of varying lengths that offer great exploration opportunities.

Begin your visit to Island In The Sky with a stop at the Visitor Center where you can get up-to-date information and maps. The visitor center also has a few exhibits and a small gift shop. From there, drive about 12 miles to the end of the main road at the Grand View Point Overlook.

Canyonlands National Park Islands in the Sky District

Visiting Grand View Point

At 6,080 ft (1853m) Grand View is at the very end of the plateau and the overlook is on the edge of a sheer cliff falling below for hundreds of feet before flattening when a harder layer of rock is reached. This canyon geology results in a series of huge stairs stepping down to the river.

From the Grand View Point Overlook looking south the Green River canyon is on the right or west side, while the Colorado River canyon is to the east or left. These two mighty rivers are heading toward each other and in just a few miles they join together. The confluence of the rivers is about 10 miles from where you stand and this is the highest point in all directions.

Since the Grand View Point Road is one way turn around and head back the way you came in. However, rather than head to the entrance station, take the fork in the road to the Northwest about halfway between the entrance and Grandview Point. This road travels past the huge bald Whale Rock and ends at the Upheaval Dome.

Unique Geology on Display

Photo of Upheaval Dome
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The Upheaval Dome is a very interesting area geologically with an easy hiking trail to follow. Less than a half-mile from the parking area is the first overlook from which to examine the formation that gives the area its name.

The Upheaval Dome has completely different rocks from everything around it. The surrounding rock is all sandstone which was formed as massive sheets of uniform composition. However, here the rock is collapsed inward or blown upward (the scientific theories conflict). It’s interesting that even in today’s scientifically advanced world there is still no generally accepted explanation for this anomaly but it’s obvious to us as untrained visitors that there is something very different here.

Aztec Butte in Canyonlands National Park
Aztec Butte stands tall in the Islands In The Sky district of Canyonlands National Park. There are a few ancient ruins on top of the butte.

After exploring the Upheaval Dome area you can either exit the park or take advantage of one of the several hikes available in the Island In The Sky district. I recommend the hike to the ruins on top of Aztec Butte. It’s a mile-long trail to the top of the butte where there are great views of the area. The trail is mostly excellent but there is a section of scrambling on steep rock at the top.