There are three separate districts to Canyonlands National Park. The busiest and most well known District of Canyonlands is Island in the Sky, just Southwest of Moab. The Maze District is located on the other side of the Green River and is accessed near Goblin Valley and the San Rafael Swell. These areas are unique in their own right and definitely worth a visit, but the place I like most in Canyonlands, and find myself going back to again and again is the Needles district.
The Needles District of Canyonlands is literally located where the road ends about 70 miles South and West of Moab, Utah. Take Highway 191 South for about 40 miles and then head west on Highway 211. The 30 mile drive on Highway 211 to the park is both beautiful and peaceful.
Newspaper Rock is just off the Highway and is worth a quick stop, along with the Indian Creek climbing area. Redrock mountains, aspen groves and the occasional free range heard of cattle dot the majestic landscape as you make your way along the winding highway
to the Needles District. A small visitor center with limited hours marks the park's entrance and provides information on hikes, road conditions and more.
The Needles District is named for its sandstone pillar formations, which, from a distance, look like needles. The park has some great hikes, challenging 4 wheel drive trails and some of the most scenic camping spots you can imagine. It's also very remote compared to the other National Parks in Utah, so if enjoying the landscape without the crowds is something you enjoy, The Needles District of Canyonlands might be for you.
The Needles offers some great desert day hiking and multi-day back packing. Two of the park's most well known trails are Druid Arch and Chesler Park. Both hikes are a little more than 11 miles but are worth going the distance. Druid Arch is an out and back hike and ends with an up close view of Druid Arch. Chesler Park is a loop trail that weaves through some of the Needle formations and a few mini slot canyons. For an extra long hike, there is a trail that connects Druid Arch to this loop trail.
Upper Salt Creek is a favorite of back packers and is almost 45 miles round trip with numerous archeological sites. There are a few short family hikes in the Needles like the Road Side Ruin Trail and Cave Spring Trail, both less than a mile, but the Needles definitely caters to those who enjoy exploring the desert landscape and unique topography with longer hikes. Click here for more information on hiking in the Needles.
One of the things I enjoy most about the Needles is the camping. The campsites here are surrounded by majestic views and are scattered amongst the red rock Needles. Most all of the campsites in the Needles are located near Elephant Hill Road. Camp sites are on a first come first serve basis, except for three group sites which can be reserved in advance year round and 12 individual sites that can reserved March through June and September through October. You can find out more specifics about camping in the Needles here.
With only 26 sites total, it can be difficult to get a site in the spring and fall months if you don't arrive early, especially on the weekends. Any hassle in getting a campsite however, is quickly forgotten as the sun sets over the red rock Needle formations around the camping area, providing a desert experience unlike any other. If campsites in the park are full, there are some sites located just outside the park that aren't as beautiful, but will prevent you from having to drive a long way back towards Moab or Blanding for a campsite.
Roads In The Needles
There are about 50 miles of challenging back country roads in the park that lead to Arches, campsites and many other natural and cultural features. A day permit is required for travel on these backcountry roads and ATVs, UTVs or OHVs are, unfortunately, not permitted. Elephant Hill is probably the most well know back country trail in the park, and is known to be one of the most difficult 4x4 trails in all of Utah. There are other less difficult 4x4 trails in the Needles including Lavender Canyon and the trail to the Colorado Overlook, but the Needles is not a great place for the inexperienced off-road driver. For more information on the back country roads in the Needles click here.
Some General Tips
The best time to visit the Needles District of Canyonlands is in the Spring and Fall months when temperatures are cooler making some of the longer hikes more appealing. I recommend April and Late September or Early October as some of the best times to visit the park.
The Needles is fairly remote compared to other National Parks, so make sure to top off with gas, ice and any other necessities in Moab or Blanding before driving all the way out to the Needles. One of the best parts of the Needles is its camping, so make sure to reserve online in advance or arrive early - probably before 10am in the busy months to get a campsite in the park - you won't regret it!
What are your favorite hikes, trails and things to see in the Needles District of Canyonlands? Have any specific questions about the Needles I didn't cover above? Share them in the comments below or email me at DustinACook@gmail.com And don't forget to get outside and find your adventure!