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Kid Fun in Canyonlands National Park

Kid Friendly Hiking

Both Island in the Sky and the Needles have several short trails great for children. At the Island, kids enjoy peeking through Mesa Arch and climbing the back of the whale at Whale Rock.

Island in the Sky District

Mesa Arch
Length: 0.5mi / 0.8km round trip
Time: 30 minutes round trip – best in morning

Guided Ranger Program at Mesa Arch Photo courtesy of NPS

Whale Rock Trail
Length: 1 mile round-trip
Difficulty: Easy
Whale Rock 1.0mi / 1.5km 1 hour 100ft / 30m Bare slickrock - Good views.

Whale Rock is a rounded, eroded sandstone fin that is fun to climb. Handrails are provided to help people reach the top, where you are rewarded with impressive views out over Upheaval Dome.

The trailhead is located near the end of the Upheaval Dome Road, in the Island in the Ski District of Canyonlands National Park. From the trailhead you can see the rock, which does somewhat resemble a beached whale.

Base of Whale Rock
Follow the wide, sandy trail to the eastern edge of Whale Rock. From there you will see the recommended route up the rock, using the handrails. You'll also see that people have walked along the base of the rock, looking for spots where they can climb to the top.

Viewpoint on Rock
The rock is rounded, but it is easy to walk along the top. The best views are found about half-way along the rock, but you can continue along the top to the western edge. When you are ready to return, just retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Upheaval Dome Overlook
Length: 1.6 mile round-trip, Elevation gain: 50ft / 15m
Time: 30 minutes round trip
Difficulty: Easy

Description: Upheaval Dome is a geographic oddity, an anticline where rocks have been pushed up and then eroded to produce interesting strata. Surrounding the dome is a downwarp in the rock layers, a feature called a syncline. The overlook provides a spectacular view of these interesting features.

The trailhead is located at the end of the Upheaval Dome Road, in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. The trail is wide and easy to follow.

First Overlook
It is an easy 0.3 mile hike to a vista overlooking the dome. The views are impressive, but an even better view can be had by following the trail along the rim to a Second Overlook.

Second Overlook
The second overlook is about 0.5 miles farther along the rim. From either viewpoint, just hike back the way you came to your vehicle at the trailhead parking area.

Needles District

Cave Spring
Length: 0.6 miles round trip
Difficulty: Easy

Description: This short, easy hike provides great scenery plus glimpses into the past, as you view a historic cowboy camp and also prehistoric Native American rock art. The trail is wide and easy, but you do have to climb 2 wooden ladders placed to make it easy to get up cliffs.

This hike is in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. To find the trailhead follow the main road (Route 211) into the Needles area. As you enter the park, just past the visitors center, the road forks. Stay left and follow the signs to the trailhead.

In the early 1900s, this area was a popular range for sheep and cattle. A large camp was established here, next to a reliable spring, to accommodate the cowboys. Cooking and most activities were performed outside and many relics remain, including Dutch ovens, fry pans, tables and other implements. The camp is set against a rock, which alcoves where cowboys slept. The spring bubbles from the ground in the last alcove. Ancient pictographs can be seen on a blackened wall in this alcove.

Hiking Loop
If you hike in a clockwise direction, the cowboy camp is just a few hundred feet from the trailhead. From the camp, you can continue a loop hike back to the trailhead. Wooden ladders allow easy access to the slickrock above the camp. From there you will have extraordinary views out over the surrounding countryside.

Pothole Point Trail
Length: 0.6 miles round trip
Difficulty: Easy

Pothole Point is another popular hike, especially if the potholes are full of water and the creatures that live in these small ecosystems.

Description: This trail loops around an area of slickrock where there are numerous potholes. These basins in the sandstone retain water after storms. The trail offers great views of The Needles in the distance. Incredible photos can be taken with the canyonlands scenery reflected off the glassy surface of water in the potholes.

The trailhead is located along the Big Spring Overlook road in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, near the end of the road. Visitors can hike along the established trail, or just poke around the slickrock. The official hike is short and easy, but you may want to wander a bit and play on the rock.

CAUTION: You do need to attentive when hiking with kids in Canyonlands as there are unfenced overlooks throughout the park.


There are a few ways to earn a Junior Ranger badge at Canyonlands. Free Junior Ranger booklets are available at park visitor centers. Filled with fun activities, these books reveal the wonders of Canyonlands to kids and parents alike. After completing certain exercises, participants earn a Junior Ranger badge and signed certificate. Activities are designed for ages 5 and up.

At the Island in the Sky, you may also earn a badge for attending a Family Program (in season) or completing three activities from the Explorer Pack.



At the Island in the Sky, everyone in the family can get involved with fun, hands-on activities about nature. Kids who participate can earn a sticker or work toward a Junior Ranger badge. Activities are offered daily from June through August; check at the Visitor Center for a schedule.





Both the Island in the Sky and Needles districts offer a unique tool for kids eager to explore and learn about the area: Explorer Packs. These packs contain many useful items, including binoculars, a hand lens, a naturalist guide and a notebook. Before you set out for the day, stop by the visitor center and check one out (deposit required).




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