Updated: Apr 26, 2021
The Needles District of Canyonlands is one of the more remote and isolated of the National Parks in Utah. The road that takes you to the park from Highway 191 literally ends in the park. The Needles is well-known for its back country hikes, backpacking and long day hikes like Chesler Park, Druid Arch and Lost Canyon. However, the park also offers some shorter hikes for young families and people of all abilities who want to experience the epic views this park has to offer without being a seasoned back country hiker. Here are 4 family friendly hikes to check out on your next trip to the Needles District of Canyonlands
4. Roadside Ruin - this is the shortest hike in the park that leads to an ancient storage structure used by Native Americans that inhabited this land hundreds of years ago. The structure is tucked underneath a cliff and is visible from a viewpoint about 30 feet away. The hike is a mere .3 miles round trip, making it doable for kids with even the shortest legs. We took 3 and 4 year olds on this trail and they did great.
The trail is a loop with numbered markers that point out native vegetation and other points of interest along the trail. The trailhead is just off the road near the visitor center and parking is available at the pullout next to the trailhead. This hike can easily be completed in 20-30 minutes with time to spend examining the ancient ruin and points of interest along the trail.
3. Pot Hole Point - This trail loops through uneven sandstone and around potholes, that at different seasons catch water providing a bit of life in the desert landscape. The trail provides a great view of the sandstone "needles" that give this section of the park its name - so be sure to bring your camera!
The entire loop is just .6 miles and crosses uneven sandstone, so be prepared for some small ups and downs as you make your way around the loop. The trail is well marked with rock cairns and it can be a fun activity for kids to lead the way as they look for the next rock cairn. There isn't any shade on this hike, so if you plan to do it in the summer it's best as an early morning or evening hike. Like Roadside Ruin this hike is great for even the youngest kids and for folks of all abilities.
2. Slickrock Foot Trail - Located near the end of the road, the Slickrock Foot Trail is a 2.4 mile loop hike that provides a good introduction to much of what the park has to offer. Rock cairns mark the way on the slick rock that makes up a majority of the hike. When you reach the loop section of the hike, take the counterclockwise route as indicated by an NPS sign about 1/2 mile up the trail.
Well placed signs mark the way to four view points along the trail providing views of major landmarks like Six-Shooter Peak, Elaterite Butte, Cathedral Butte, Ekker Butte, the La Sal Mountains, and of course, the Needles. The trail stays on the ridge in between Little Spring Canyon and Big Spring Canyon. Near the end of the hike, the trail turns to give a great view of the Needles and into Big Spring Canyon, where in a wet Spring you might see a small stream flowing in the distance.
This is the longest of the family friendly hikes recommend in this post, and may not be suitable for super young kids, without having to carry them part of the way. Like Pot Hole Point it is very exposed to the sun and in summertime is best hiked in the early morning or evening.
1. Cave Spring - If you are only looking to do one hike in the park, make it Cave Spring. This hike is a 1 mile loop packed with things to see. I recommend taking the loop counter-clockwise. The trail starts by weaving through some native plant life before you come to an old cowboy camp. Complete with hitching posts and relics from the 1800s, the cowboy camp is an interesting first stop.
The trail continues along the edge of a sandstone rock and plaques provide information on some of the native plants in the area. In one of the shaded alcoves, water seeps out of the sandstone giving life to moss and other plants. Look carefully on the alcove ceiling and you'll find Native American pictographs. For some of the native peoples this was considered a sacred place, and is marked with pictographs, hand prints and other signs of ancient inhabitants.
The trail continues in and out of a few more alcoves, which are a pleasant retreat from the heat in the summer months. The trail then climbs up the sandstone using a series of two ladders. Don't worry too much about this however, the ladders are sturdy and can be navigated by just about everyone. Once on the sandstone, the hike resembles Pothole Point as rock cairns mark the way across the uneven sandstone. The elevation provides some good views of the surrounding area before the trail descends from the sandstone and joins the trail just before completing the loop and ending at the parking lot.
The Cave Springs Trail is on the Cave Springs Road, a dirt road that is easily accessed by any 2 wheel drive vehicle. After passing the visitor center, take your first left, after passing the sign to the private residences, take your next left that will turn into a dirt road and lead to the trail head. Full of history, art, a little climbing, native plant life and a little adventure this is a great hike for young families or people looking for a leisurely stroll somewhat protected from the sun.
There you are, four family friendly hikes for your visit to the Needles District of Canyonlands. Hopefully they wet your appetite for exploring this remote but beautiful National Park further and get you excited to attempt some of the longer hikes the Needles has to offer.
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