Last Updated on August 5, 2022 by Jeremy
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When we visited Moab, Utah, we have to admit that our primary goal was to explore Arches National Park and all its brilliant trails.
But since we had an America the Beautiful National Park pass and wanted to see as much beautiful nature as possible, it made sense for us to add on a drive through Canyonlands National Park just about 35 minutes away by car. It wasn't until we arrived that we realized there was yet-another park worth checking out nearby, the much lesser visited Dead Horse Point State Park.
Since we did not time our visit correctly to add in a visit to Dead Horse on our Canyonlands outing, we returned on a separate day to check this one out (with another 70+ minute round trip drive- whoops). After visiting both, we realized that these two parks would be completely doable on a single visit for those who plan better than we did.
So in this one, we thought we'd share a bit more about what you can see in both parks plus highlight why these two parks make a perfect duo for a day trip from Moab.
Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park clocks in at over 337,000 acres and features one main road of roughly 12 miles in length and one secondary road that forks off the main one at roughly the six-mile mark and continues for another five miles. As such, visitors who wish to drive to the famed overlooks at the end of both roads (which is highly recommended), will be tacking on an additional 34 miles of driving beyond the drive from Moab (~60-90 minutes without stops).
Suffice it to say, there is a lot of car time when visiting Canyonlands National Park.
At the end of the 12-mile road, you have access to Grand View Point which offers a two-mile out-and-back trail to a spectacular lookout. The hiking trail here is of moderate difficulty and does require climbing up some larger rocks at the very end (not to mention is quite exposed to the sun), but most seasoned hikers should not struggle with this one.
At the end of the five-mile side road, you can reach Upheaval Dome with a one-mile hike to the first lookout (and a slightly longer hike to a second lookout which we skipped). This hike is much easier than the one to Grand View Point but does offer some climbs and areas where you need to watch your footing all the same.
A final, shorter hike most visitors should consider is Mesa Arch which is a 0.5-mile hike to a beautiful arch that you can get quite close to for photos (although expect crowds here). Much like Upheaval Dome, this hike is fairly easy to reach the arch but be aware there are some steep dropoffs just next to the Arch (this is a common theme among most trails so be careful especially if you have children). If there are three hikes we would recommend you not to miss in Canyonlands, it would be these- they are truly spectacular and each with strikingly different scenery.
From there, many small trails are available along the roads; however, most are simply scenic lookout points where you can stop and enjoy a beautiful vista within just a few feet. Stop frequently at these to stretch your legs and take in a beautiful view.
Apart from these trails, guests who wish to explore the vast expanse of Canyonlands National Park likely need to do one of two things- either take a Jeep down into the canyon on some terrifyingly steep roads or hike on 5-10+ mile trails of the highest difficulty. You may think 5-10 miles doesn't sound like much, but many of these require a climb down into the canyon and back out, and are generally rated 5-7+ hours each.
As such, unless you are an extreme hiker or adventurer, odds are good you'll be sticking to the three main trails mentioned above plus many side lookouts much as we did. This makes Canyonlands National Park a great spot for a half-day visit (or slightly longer) and allows you to loop in a quick stop to Dead Horse State Park while you are nearby!
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Dead Horse State Park
Just a few miles away from the entrance to Canyonlands National Park is Dead Horse Point State Park. This one is much smaller by comparison- just 5,362 acres in total size (roughly 1.5% of Canyonlands). This park features just one main road of approximately seven miles in length from the turn-off coming from Canyonlands plus several miles of off-road trails for permitted Jeeps.
Prior to visiting, it is worth noting that Dead Horse Point State Park is not part of the National Park System (read: state park) and has a separate entrance fee ($20 for a car for our 2022 visit). So those with the national park pass will have an additional fee for stopping at this one.
The logic for visiting this park is quite similar to Canyonlands in that most guests will simply drive to the end of the road to check out the gorgeous lookout at Dead Horse Point with views of the Colorado River (the best views we had of any park, mind you). On the way back there are numerous lookouts to stop at and take in the views, plus shorter hiking trails around the rim (most around one mile). While we didn't stop at many of these, the short hike around the visitors center is one not to miss!
As such, unless you are visiting for extended hiking or camping, a visit to Dead Horse Point State Park can be quite brief- just an hour or two at most (pending hikes). While you can certainly make a stop here much longer, those who are visiting for the highlights will likely be able to combo a visit here with Canyonlands in about eight hours including driving two and from Moab proper.
The location these two parks have next to each other really lends itself nicely to a combo visit like this, and our biggest regret was simply not knowing about Dead Horse Point State Park until we had already returned from Canyonlands. It doesn't seem like much to have to make the drive out that way twice, but if you can do it all in a single trip you'll have a much better experience and can use that extra time elsewhere!
Canyonlands and Dead Horse Point State Park are both located off of Highway 313 about 45 minutes outside of Moab, Utah.
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About the Author: Jeremy is a full-time travel writer based in Pittsburgh and primary author of this site. He has been to 70+ countries on five continents and seeks out new food, adventure activities, and off-the-beaten-path experiences wherever he travels.