This Underrated Park Is Just As Gorgeous As Zion National Park But Way Less Crowded

Canyonlands National Park is often overshadowed by the more famous member of the Utah Mighty 5, Zion National Park. A relatively underrated park located in southeastern Utah, Canyonlands offers a breathtaking landscape that rivals, and in some aspects even surpasses, the beauty of Zion. While Zion is undoubtedly magnificent, its popularity can sometimes lead to overcrowded trails and viewpoints, detracting from the natural experience.

Crowds flock to Zion for iconic hikes but Canyonlands offers just as many opportunities for adventure and exploration. The White Rim Road, for example, is a legendary 100-mile loop that takes adventurers through some of the park's most stunning and rugged terrain. The park also boasts numerous trails for hiking and backpacking, and a host of other outdoor pursuits such as mountain biking, rock climbing, horseback riding, river boating, guided tours, camping, and stargazing.

While you won't find lodging and dining options inside of Canyonlands National Park, as you would over in Zion, there are plenty of eateries and accommodations to choose from in the nearby town of Moab — only a 35-minute drive from the park. Perhaps the lack of modern amenities inside of the park is part of the reason why Canyonlands remains less crowded, but regardless, if you're the type of traveler who intentionally seeks out destinations to escape the crowds, then this underrated park will be an excellent choice!

Room to explore in Canyonlands National Park

Covering 337,570 acres, Canyonlands is vast — nearly twice the size of Zion. The significant size of Canyonlands could also be another reason why it feels less crowded. Visitors have ample space to immerse themselves in the diverse landscapes without being elbow-to-elbow with others.

Canyonlands' open space provides a more tranquil setting where you can truly connect with nature without fighting the crowds for a view. The park's 527 square miles are characterized by dramatic canyons, scenic mesas, and well-defined buttes carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries. The park is so large, in fact, that it's divided into four districts, including The Maze, Island in the Sky, Needles, and the Rivers. All of the areas offer distinct landscapes, breathtaking vistas, and adventure-filled experiences, from backpacking to scenic drives.

The additional space and fewer crowds also mean that Canyonlands' trails are less frequented, allowing for a more personal and introspective journey through the landscape. With a ton of backcountry opportunities, Canyonlands especially appeals to the most adventurous and experienced hikers. However, plenty of shorter hikes are available for those seeking a taste of the park's incredible beauty without committing to long treks.

Camping and stargazing in Canyonlands National Park

To bring you even closer to nature, you can opt to stay overnight inside of the park as Canyonlands has two campgrounds. The Island in the Sky (Willow Flat) Campground has 12 campsites available on a first-come, first-served basis and is located near the Green River Overlook. The Needles Campground offers 26 campsites with some sites that can be reserved from spring through fall. Canyonlands also has plenty of backcountry camping where visitors often enjoy four-wheel driving, boating on the Colorado and Green rivers, biking, and backpacking/hiking. Permits are necessary so check the National Park Service Canyonlands website for more information.

Camping within the park also affords visitors an amazing opportunity to stargaze. Since the park is somewhat remote and more removed from populated cities, there is less light pollution. A member of the Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative, Canyonlands is part of a region that is home to the last remaining darkest skies in the U.S. The especially dark night sky found here provides extraordinary opportunities to gaze up at thousands of stars. It is not uncommon to see the Milky Way and with proper conditions and a pair of binoculars, visitors may even be able to spot Saturn's rings.

With five exceptionally beautiful national parks in one state, it's hard to go wrong with a trip to Utah in general. Seeing approximately 700,000-900,000 annual visitors since 2016, Canyonlands is often overlooked by visitors who, perhaps in their haste, choose to explore more well-known parks in the region. However, while many of the country's national parks (including those in Utah) have become increasingly overcrowded, a visit to Canyonlands National Park will be a refreshing change of pace.