Canyonlands National Park Elopement Guide

If you’re planning an elopement in Utah, Canyonlands National Park should be high on your list of locations to consider! In this guide, I’ll walk you through the best locations to elope in Canyonlands, and all the elements to keep in mind, from timing to weather to National Park Service rules.

Why Elope in Canyonlands?

Canyonlands National Park is one of my favorite spots for a southern Utah elopement! Of the five national parks in Utah, Canyonlands is one of the least busy, with fewer average visitors a year than Zion, Arches, and Bryce Canyon. This is a great park if you’re seeking a private, intimate elopement off the grid.

Because it’s less busy, Canyonlands is also a less popular place to elope, so you can expect creative, authentic photos that capture your love story and are more unique than an elopement in Zion or Arches.

Canyonlands National Park is also known for its stunning, wide views. From the vistas and overlooks, you can see expansive valleys of ancient canyons cut into the red rock, and misty clouds reaching down to touch jagged buttes. This landscape is totally one-of-a-kind, and the wide, unobstructed views are ideal for jaw-dropping portraits and ceremony backgrounds.

A couple clinking glasses while sitting in camping chairs during their utah elopement.

Where to Elope in Canyonlands

Canyonlands has three distinct areas—Island in the Sky, the Maze, and the Needles—each with their own natural features and are packed with 4WD roads, hiking trails, campsites, and overlooks.

The National Park Service has designated five locations for wedding ceremonies throughout Island in the Sky and the Needles. Applications to hold a ceremony at other locations in the park are considered on a case-by-case basis—but I think the locations below have so much to offer!

Locations at Island in the Sky

Island in the Sky is a huge mesa resting on sheer, 1000-foot sandstone cliffs. Its relatively high elevations offers 360-degree views of the canyons below, the area is easily accessible by car, and the mesa is the start of many hiking trails for built-in adventuring before or after your ceremony.

Shafer Canyon Overlook

Location: Grand View Point Road

Max. Ceremony Size: 25 people

Shafer Canyon Overlook is convenient and accessible, close to the park’s visitor center and just a 0.1-mile walk from a large parking lot. From the overlook, you can see down into Shafer Canyon, with a backdrop of the distant La Sal Mountains. The shocking contrast between red rock, purple mountains capped with snow, and expansive blue sky is gorgeously evident at this overlook. The Shafer Trail, a scenic but slightly challenging 4WD road, switchbacks down into the canyon below (and could be a fun post-ceremony adventure for those with a high-clearance 4WD vehicle). This location is a popular stop for tourists so may be a bit crowded, but you could consider a less popular time of day, weekday, or season for a more private experience.

Green River Overlook

Location: Near Willows Campground

Max. Ceremony Size: 25 people

Just past Willows Campground, Green River Overlook has views of the meandering Green River, Soda Springs Basin, and White Rim Trail. This overlook is particularly gorgeous around sunrise and sunset, with the sun dipping below the hills around the canyon and creating bold colors in the sky. This site is also fairly accessible by paved road, with a large parking lot, but is less trafficked than Shafer Canyon Overlook. Maybe the best perk is that you (and your guests) could camp right nearby before or after your elopement day!

Grand View Point

Location: Southern end of Main Island Road

Max. Ceremony Size: 25 people

Grand View Point Overlook is at the start of the Grand View Trail, a popular 1.8-mile out-and-back hike along the canyon edge. You can see features in the Maze and the Needles, two of the most famous landmarks in Canyonlands, from the spectacular viewpoint that’s only a short walk from the parking lot. This outlook is farther from the visitor center but also a very populated site, so it’s a good choice for an off-season or weekday elopement. The easy hiking options of different lengths, starting directly from this overlook, offer built-in adventuring.

Locations at the Needles

The Needles, in the southeast corner of Canyonlands National Park, is made of colorful spires of rock stretching into the sky, their completely unique shapes like nothing else on earth. It’s also home to hiking and off-roading trails to take you further into the backcountry for unbelievable portraits on your elopement day. Personally, I prefer the Needles over the Island in the Sky!

Pothole Point

Location: Southern end of Main Island Road

Max. Ceremony Size: 15 people

Pothole Point is another option that combines a gorgeous ceremony site with a hiking trailhead for built-in adventuring. Sandstone and slickrock dimpled with potholes catch rainwater along the 0.6-mile trail with views of the Needles. At lower elevation than the Island in the Sky sites, Pothole Point offers a backdrop of sheer canyon walls and distant mountains beyond, dotted with greenery in the summer, for a small, intimate ceremony.

Needles Group Campsites

Location: Throughout the Needles

Max. Ceremony Size: 15-50 people

There are three group campsites you can book in Canyonlands for a camping elopement with friends and family: Split Top (15 people), Wooden Shoe (25 people), or Dutch Oven (50 people). Imagine a relaxed elopement where you can spend your whole day with your favorite people, getting ready in pristine nature before holding a ceremony right at your campsite. All three campsites are sandy, with trees and impressive rock formations just steps away. The National Park Service recommends tents or small trailers and RVs.

When to Elope in Canyonlands National Park

There’s no wrong time to elope in Canyonlands National Park—it just depends what you’re looking for! Southern Utah is part of the Colorado Plateau, a high desert area that can experience wide temperature fluctuations, even within a single day.


Spring (April through May) is one of the more temperate seasons in Canyonlands. Daytime highs average between 60 and 80 degrees, with lows between 30 and 50 degrees—which is ideal hiking and camping weather! Weather can still be unpredictable, but packing layers and good outdoor clothing should keep us prepared for whatever nature throws at us. Although it’s famous for red rocks, Canyonlands also has trees and shrubs that green up in spring for colorful contrast.


Because Canyonlands is in the desert, summers can be hot and brutal, with daytime temperatures often exceeding 100 degrees, and lows in the 60s. In the late summer, monsoons can cause flash floods in canyons. A summer elopement in Canyonlands is definitely still doable—but I’d recommend a sunrise or sunset ceremony when temperatures are lower, and starting any planned hikes early in the day. You’ll want to make sure to bring tons of water, avoid strenuous exercise at the hottest parts of the day, and take it easy in the shade. When it gets dark and cools off, though, we can do some amazing astrophotography thanks to the limited light pollution in the park!


Fall (mid-September through October) is my personal favorite season in the desert, with similar daytime highs (60-80 degrees) and lows (30-50 degrees) to spring. The temperate climate makes all-day adventuring possible, starting with a sunrise hike and ending with sunset portraits against a canyon backdrop. Keep in mind that fall is a busier season, however, as other hikers seek out good weather in the park.


Large snowfalls are uncommon in Canyonlands, but dustings of snow can coat the rocks in a gorgeous contrast of red and white. Average highs are between 30 and 50 degrees, with lows between 0 and 20 degrees. Keep in mind that snow, even small amounts, can make roads and trails impassable, and group campsites are closed from November 15 to March 15. With that in mind, winter can be an ideal choice for a daytime Canyonlands elopement if you’re seeking privacy and snow-capped mountain views.

A groom kissing his bride during their Moab elopement. They are standing in front of their jeep's headlights.

Consider Weekdays and Sunrises

No matter the season, you can beat the crowds by choosing the right day and time for your Canyonlands elopement.

Weekdays are always less busy than weekends—and one significant advantage to eloping is that it’s usually not any more inconvenient to pick a weekday (unlike with a large wedding where lots of guests have to travel). If you’re planning to spend a few days in the park before or after your elopement, why not get married on a Tuesday?

Finally, the time of day you choose for your elopement makes a big difference in how crowded the most popular overlooks and vistas will be. Sunrise and sunset are the most picturesque times of day in terms of lighting, but sunrises are always less busy—so if you don’t mind an early morning, you can plan an intimate ceremony first thing in the morning, bathed in golden light, and enjoy the whole rest of your day being newly married.

Adventuring Before and After Your Canyonlands Elopement

One of the reasons I love photographing adventure elopements is that we get to plan a whole day that feels true to you as a couple. Canyonlands National Park has so many options for activities to showcase your love off the grid, and I’ll help you plan an itinerary that takes into account weather, lighting, and timing your ceremony and anything else you want to do with your day.


There are hundreds of miles of hiking trails in Canyonlands—these are just a few of my favorites! They’re organized by length, so you can pick the hike that fits perfectly into your day.

Mesa Arch

Location: Island in the Sky

Length: 0.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 88 feet

This short trail leads to an iconic arch on the edge of a cliff that is especially stunning at sunrise, with views of the La Sal Mountains.

Cave Spring

Location: The Needles

Length: 0.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 59 feet

This short loop takes you to some amazing artifacts—a historic cowboy camp and prehistoric rock paintings—and requires climbing two ladders.

Grand View Point

Location: Island in the Sky

Length: 1.8 miles

Elevation Gain: 164 feet

This trail, starting at one of the ceremony sites above, follows the edge of a canyon with panoramic views.

Aztec Butte

Location: Island in the Sky

Length: 1.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 225 feet

This trail follows a sandy wash, then splits in two, leading to the top of Aztec Butte for spectacular views, or to two ancestral Puebloan structures.

Gooseberry Canyon

Location: Island in the Sky

Length: 4.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 1400 feet

The steepest trail in the Island in the Sky area of Canyonlands, this trail switchbacks across cliffsides for views you just can’t get without a little challenge.

Big Spring Canyon to Lost Canyon

Location: The Needles

Length: 8.7 miles

Elevation Gain: 820 feet

This loop hike takes you between two canyons in an area where dense vegetation, birds, and other wildlife are plentiful. There are three backpacking sites along the trail, and reliable water sources. This is one of my absolute favorite hikes ever!


Location: The Needles

Length: 10.8 miles

Elevation Gain: 1400 feet

This hike crosses through three canyons—Wooden Shoe, Lost, and Salt Creek—and requires scrambling across slickrock and climbing two ladders to reach prehistoric rock paintings near the end of the trail.

Druid Arch

Location: The Needles

Length: 10.8 miles

Elevation Gain: 1450 feet

This hike follows the Chesler Park Trail before branching off to follow Elephant Canyon. This hike is challenging, with deep sand, loose rock, steep scrambling, and one ladder climb, but offers one of the most stunning views in the park.


If you have a 4WD vehicle (or you and your partner want to follow along in mine), an off road trail can be a fun activity to slot into your elopement day, and can take us to some parts of the park not accessible otherwise. I also have a partnership with an amazing jeep company local to Moab!

The National Park Service has regulations on what kind of vehicles can use these trails; make sure you review these before you set off.

These are some of my favorite 4WD trails in Canyonlands!

Shafer Trail

Location: Island in the Sky

Length: 18.3 miles

Shafer Trail winds from a mesa down a colorful sandstone cliff, and is considered a challenging trail best suited for high-clearance vehicles because of the steep switchbacks. The road has a fascinating history that only adds to the experience of this ideal day trip.

Lavender Canyon

Location: The Needles

Length: 19 miles

Lavender Canyon follows a canyon bottom with deep sand and deep water, two major creek crossings, and many arches and archeological sites along the route. This route requires a day-use permit for the section inside the park, though the trail extends outside the park.

White Rim Road

Location: Island in the Sky

Length: 100 miles

White Rim Road loops around and below Island in the Sky, with the whole route taking 2-3 days to complete in a 4WD vehicle. The road is considered moderately challenging in good weather, and sections of the route can flood. All trips along White Rim Road require a day-use or overnight permit.


There are many trails in Canyonlands National Parks that take several days to complete—but these are perfect for a backpacking elopement or honeymoon! I have the gear and know-how to navigate the most adventurous couples on a multi-day hiking trip to the farthest corners of the park. Do keep in mind that most backpacking trips in the park require a permit—which I can help you navigate if you include backpacking as part of your elopement plan!

Lower Red Lake Canyon

Location: The Needles

Length: 18.8 miles

Elevation Gain: 3050 feet

This strenuous hike climbs in and out of rock formations called the Grabens, then descends towards the Colorado River.

Salt Creek Canyon

Location: The Needles

Length: 22.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 685 feet

With less elevation gain than other backpacking trails, this route starts at Cathedral Butte and wanders through dense vegetation and past archeological sites and arches.

Backcountry Trails

The Maze offers primitive, difficult to access trails in the backcountry that are perfect for backpacking for the most adventurous among us. Many trails require 4WD to access, and are subject to permitting and backcountry rules; you can find more information on the National Park Service’s website.

Plane and Helicopter Tours

Several commercial companies offer scenic tours of Canyonlands National Park via small airplane and helicopters. Imagine getting on a helicopter on your wedding day and seeing Canyonlands from above (and the amazing pictures and views you can’t get any other way)!

Here are a few of the companies offering tours—I’m happy to help you pick the best option:


In addition to the group campsites you can book as ceremony locations, there are two other campsites in Canyonlands National Park for the night(s) before or after your elopement.

Both of these campsites are open year-round. Some spots can be reserved in advance, and others are first-come, first-serve. You can view the rules and regulations, as well as the current operating status, for all the campsites in the park on the National Park Service’s website.

Island in the Sky (Willow Flat) Campground

Open Season: year-round

Number of Sites: 12

Reservations: first-come, first-serve

Fee: $15/night

The Needles Campground

Open Season: year-round

Number of Sites: 26 individual, 3 group

Reservations: Some individual sites can be reserved spring through fall. Group sites can be reserved between mid-March and mid-November.

Fee: $20/night for individual sites


Canyonlands has some of the darkest skies in the continental US, which makes it perfect for stargazing—and star photography!
If you’re set on the perfect starry backdrop for your elopement, I can help you determine when and where the Milky Way will be most visible. You can also check sunrise and sunset times and moon phases on Discover Moab.

Rules for Canyonlands National Park Elopements

The National Park Service lays out rules for weddings and elopements in Canyonlands that keep everyone safe and the nature pristine for all visitors. Don’t worry, I’ll go over them here so you can plan and prepare accordingly!

Wedding Permits

You’ll need a special-use permit to elope in Canyonlands National Park. These permits can be requested up to one year in advance of your wedding date, and require at least four weeks to process. To apply, you’ll need to submit a completed Form 10-930s and a confirmation (more below) to

Permits are $185, payable through You can find instructions for paying permit fees on the National Park Service’s website.

Permits are written for one hour of ceremony time. They do not include the cost of vehicle entry to the park.

Photography at other locations throughout the park is allowed before or after the ceremony—so let’s take some amazing portraits! 

Other Elopement Rules

  • No Exclusive Use: Permits do not grant exclusive use of the area, and you cannot ask other members of the public to leave the area. You may not obstruct sidewalks, trails, parking lots, or other visitor facilities. Wedding activities are restricted to slickrock, dry washes, or maintained areas of the park.
  • Decorations: Dried plants, including grasses, are prohibited in bouquets. Throwing birdseed or rice or releasing butterflies (or any other living or inanimate objects) is prohibited. Balloons, arches, and other decorations are also prohibited.
  • Food: Catering and other food service is prohibited.
  • Noise: Loud music and other noises are prohibited and must be kept at normal speaking volume.
  • Vehicles: All vehicles must be parked in designated areas only; no off-road traffic. Carpooling is recommended and may be required at specific locations.
  • Pets: Pets are generally not allowed at ceremony sites.

Other Places to Elope in Utah

If you’ve read through this post and aren’t sure if Canyonlands is right for you, no worries! There are so many amazing places around southern Utah that might be a better fit for you. You can reach out to me at any stage in the planning process—including if you’re not set on a location yet—and I can help you find your perfect location.

Here are some of my other favorite elopement locations in Utah:


Moab is such a fun, centrally located town, between several national parks and monuments and with all the amenities you could want if you’re not quite sold on a camping elopement. Comprehensive Guide on Eloping in Moab coming soon!

Arches National Park

Another great option in the Moab area, Arches also has a variety of ceremony options and beautiful red rock views. Check out my guide on how to elope in Arches here!

Grand Canyon

If you were attracted to Canyonlands for its canyon views, the Grand Canyon is another equally stunning choice, with more bold canyon views and lots of designated sites along the South Rim. More information on the National Park Service’s website, or reach out to me to start chatting through ideas!

Other Unique Utah Locations

If nothing has struck your fancy so far, no worries! I have the rundown on all the beautiful places in Utah, some more “secret” than others, that are perfect for your elopement day. When you hire me as your elopement photographer, you’ll receive a comprehensive Location Guide full of location and activity ideas customized to you—including stunning places like these:

Meet Your Canyonlands National Park Elopement Photographer and Planner!

Hey there, the name’s Sam!

I spent two years living in and exploring the state of Utah, and oh my gosh is it stunning. Southern Utah has a special place in my heart, and I spend at least a month here every year capturing incredible wedding days at some of my favorite spots. Being an ex-local I know a whole bunch of hidden gems that you won’t be able to find unless you too spend a lot of time taking “wrong” turns in the middle of the desert.

Let’s Start Planning Your Elopement!

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