Arches and Canyonlands National Parks are both near the charming outdoorsy town of Moab, Utah. Since their park boundaries sit so close together, many people often visit both Arches and Canyonlands in one visit.
But if you are short on time and have to decide between Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, this is the guide for you!
In this Arches Vs. Canyonlands guide, I will share the differences between the two Utah National Parks near Moab. That way you can decide if you should visit Arches or Canyonlands. Or both!
Spoiler Alert: You can’t go wrong either way! ✨
NOTE: This is just a comparison guide between the two parks. If you are looking for the best things to do, top hikes, and where to stay in/near each of the parks, then you’ll want to read my park guides for Arches and Canyonlands.
Know Before You Go to Arches and Canyonlands
Arches: You need a timed entry reservation to enter the park from April 1 – October 31, 2024, 7 AM – 4 PM each day.
Canyonlands: The park is separated into five districts by the Colorado and Green Rivers. The districts look close on the map, but you’ll need to circumnavigate the rivers and drive quite a long distance to get from one to the other.
PRO TIP: You’ll want to bring your America the Beautiful pass to these Utah National Parks to avoid paying the hefty entrance fees!
Arches Vs Canyonlands: Which National Park Should You Visit?
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Location: Arches Vs. Canyonlands
Arches National Park is the easiest of the two parks to access from Moab. It is just a few miles outside of town. Get directions here.
The Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park is 32 miles outside of Moab while the Needles district is about 75 miles away from Moab. The Maze and Horseshoe Canyon districts are the most difficult to access. From Moab, the Maze is about 5.5 hours (162 miles) and Horseshoe Canyon is about 2.5 hours (97 miles).
Vehicle Accessibility: Arches Vs. Canyonlands
Arches National Park‘s main 18-mile (one-way) scenic road can be accessed by any vehicle year-round in normal conditions. The unpaved roads in the park (aside from Salt Valley in normal conditions) require a four-wheel-drive, high-clearance vehicle.
Canyonlands National Park‘s main scenic road in Island of the Sky and main road in the Needles can be accessed by any vehicle, but to venture into the backcountry routes in those districts, and any route in the Maze, you’ll need a four-wheel-drive, high-clearance vehicle. Some routes into Horseshoe Canyon can be 2WD-friendly, but many require 4×4 and/or can turn into 4×4 in severe winter weather.
PRO TIP: Always be prepared to be self-sufficient and make basic road repairs when you enter the backcountry. Carry these items in your car with you at all times: spare tire, extra gas, extra water, shovel, high-lift jack, and tire chains in the winter. Towing charges in the backcountry cost upwards of $1500.
Scenic Drives & Overlooks: Arches Vs. Canyonlands
Arches National Park has an 18-mile (one-way) scenic drive along with a few spur roads off the main drive. There are at least 10 scenic overlooks along these park roads.
Canyonlands National Park has a 17-mile (one-way) paved scenic drive in Island in the Sky and a 7-mile (one-way) paved scenic drive in The Needles. There are several overlooks in both the Island of the Sky and the Needles districts.
Hiking Trails: Arches Vs. Canyonlands
Arches National Park has a range of easy to strenuous hikes that involve everything from easy paved walks to complicated rock scrambles. There are 16 hiking trails in Arches National Park, featuring 28 total miles of trails. Delicate Arch, Fiery Furnace, and Devil’s Graden are the most popular.
Canyonlands National Park has a range of easy to strenuous hikes. There are 18 hiking trails (totaling about 80 miles) in Island of the Sky and 12 hiking trails (totaling about 80 miles) in The Needles. The easiest hikes can be found in Island of the Sky while the more adventurous will find The Needles and Maze districts to have the most challenging backcountry routes. Don’t miss Mesa Arch and Grand View Point in Island in the Sky, and Chesler Park Loop/Joint Trail and Druid Arch in The Needles.
→ READ NEXT: 6 Best Hikes in Arches National Park 🥾
Camping: Arches Vs. Canyonlands
In Arches National Park, there is only one frontcountry campground: Devil’s Garden. It is typically open year-round, and reservable from March through October. Backcountry camping is allowed in four designated backpacking campsites; permits are required.
In Canyonlands National Park, there are two frontcountry campgrounds: Island in the Sky (Willow Flat) and Needles. These campgrounds are typically open year-round. Needles has some sites that are reservable from spring through fall, but Willow Flat campsites are always first-come, first-served. Backcountry camping is also available in some districts; permits are required.
Winter Access: Arches Vs. Canyonlands
Arches National Park offers winter access for those who want to escape the crowds and the heat. Campsites at Devil’s Garden are first-come, first-served. Winter temperatures range from highs in the 30s through 50s to lows in the single digits to 20s. Snow and ice are possible, and roads can temporarily close for plow trucks.
Canyonlands National Park offers winter access for those who want to escape the crowds and the heat. Campsites at Willow Flat and Needles are first-come, first-served. Winter temperatures range from highs in the 30s through 50s to lows in the single digits to 20s. Snow and ice are possible, and paved roads can temporarily close for plow trucks.
Dogs: Arches Vs. Canyonlands
Arches National Park only allows leashed pets on established frontcountry roads, parking areas, picnic areas, and campgrounds. Pets are prohibited on any hiking trails, anywhere off-trail, overlooks, visitor centers, and buildings.
Canyonlands National Park only allows leashed pets on established frontcountry roads, parking areas, picnic areas, and campgrounds. Pets are prohibited on any hiking trails, anywhere off-trail, visitor centers, buildings, and anywhere in the backcountry (even inside a vehicle).
PAVEMENT AND PAW SAFETY
|77ºF / 25ºC
|125ºF / 52ºC
|86ºF / 30ºC
|135ºF / 57ºC
|87ºF / 31ºC
|143ºF / 62ºC
|102ºF / 39ºC
|167ºF / 75ºC
Amenities: Arches Vs. Canyonlands
Arches National Park has a campground, visitor center, restrooms, picnic areas, and potable water.
Canyonlands National Park has campgrounds, visitor centers, toilets, picnic areas, and potable water.
→ READ NEXT: What Are the Best Arches at Arches National Park?
Crowds: Arches Vs. Canyonlands
Arches National Park can get extremely crowded in the spring, summer, and fall. The park received 1.4 million visitors in 2023.
Canyonlands National Park has five districts, and only one is typically crowded: Island in the Sky. The other districts are more remote and usually require 4×4, high-clearance vehicle access, so these areas don’t attract as many tourists. The entire park complex only saw 800,322 visitors in 2023.
→ READ NEXT: How to Avoid Crowds When Hiking 🥾
Size: Arches Vs. Canyonlands
Arches National Park – 76,519 acres.
Canyonlands National Park – 337,570 acres. This park, with all of its districts, is nearly 5x as big as Arches!
Arches or Canyonlands: FAQs
I Just Have One Day – Should I Visit Arches or Canyonlands?
If you have just one day, I’d suggest sticking with Arches. Arches is a lot smaller in size and can be conquered in a full day.
With one day in Arches, you could cruise the scenic drive, stop at all of the overlooks, and hike many of the trails.
Can I See Arches and Canyonlands in One Day?
Realistically, you could drive the main park roads in Arches and the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands in one day, but if you want to immerse yourself in the hiking trails or stop at the scenic overlooks, you’ll want at least two days.
Which Is Better – Arches or Canyonlands?
This is a loaded question!
To come up with the “better” park, I factored in recreation, scenery, crowds, amenities, accessibility, and trails. I reveal my rankings in my Utah National Parks Ranked Best to Worst guide.
With all of those factors considered, Canyonlands came out on top. But it all depends on which factors you put the most weight on. Read my guide to see how I ranked all of the Utah National Parks.
Arches vs Canyonlands: Final Verdict
If you are still torn about which park you should visit, here is a lightning-round style chart to help you:
Only have one day? Arches
Have multiple days? Canyonlands (or both!)
Want to get away from the crowds? Canyonlands
Want to hike easier trails? Arches
Want to go off-roading? Canyonlands
Have a 2WD vehicle? Arches
Want to go backpacking? Canyonlands
Need Help Planning Your Arches or Canyonlands Trip?
Here are some Arches and Canyonlands guides that are up on the blog right now!
- Arches National Park: Complete Guide
- Canyonlands National Park: Complete Guide
- 6 Best Hikes in Arches National Park
- What Are the Best Arches at Arches National Park?
- Which District of Canyonlands National Park Should You Visit?
- Ultimate Utah Mighty Five National Parks Itinerary
- Utah National Parks Ranked Best to Worst
Discover Your Next Adventure
Where to next? I’ve got some suggestions!
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Zion National Park
- Capitol Reef National Park
- Dead Horse Point State Park
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
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