Visiting Canyonlands National Park should be on everyone’s US National Park bucket list. The park can be divided into four districts (or areas): Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze and the Colorado and Green rivers.
While all of these regions are awe-inspiring, The Needles Canyonlands is home to an amazing natural landscape that is filled with brilliantly colored spires of Cedar Mesa sandstone that will astound anyone who visits this section of the park.
Use this jam-packed guide to help you get ready to take a vacation to Canyonlands, The Needles district:
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Plan Your Trip to Needles Canyonlands
The Needles District of Canyonlands is in a remote part of the park that features extensive hiking trails, amazing geology, and relatively few people, making this a fantastic area to explore when visiting Canyonlands National Park.
To better prepare for your visit to this amazing place, we suggest visiting the National Park Service website to get the most current information. We also recommend stopping by the Needles Visitor Center, which is open daily between early spring and late fall, to learn about current park conditions, purchase essential maps and books, obtain necessary backcountry permits, watch an orientation video about the park, stock up on water, and get an introduction to ranger led programs that occur during most nights throughout the spring and fall.
TRAVEL TIP: Needles Canyonlands is a remote area with few services. There is no food, lodging (only camping), or gas available in the park. Pack everything you’ll need during your time in Needles Canyonlands. Water is available at the visitor center year-round. Electric outlets are not available.
How to Get to Needles Canyonlands
Located just 15 miles south of the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands, the Needles Canyonlands area occupies the entire Southeast corner of Canyonlands National Park. And while the Needles is adjacent to the Island in the Sky region, the geography of the natural landscape means that it is actually a 137 miles drive to visit Needles Canyonlands.
This section of Canyonlands National Park is 40 miles south of Moab and 15 miles north of Monticello, then another 35 miles to the west, in the state of Utah in the USA.
When visiting Needles from either city, drive along US 191 until you reach UT 211. This is the only road into and out of this section of the park.
TRAVEL TIP: When navigating to this part of the park, always use a Canyonlands National Park map since GPS units routinely lead visitors in the wrong direction.
THINGS TO DO AT NEEDLES CANYONLANDS
Visitors will find many different things to do in Needles Canyonlands like walk short trails to granaries, hike through the needles rock formations, and even drive along four-wheel-drive roads that overlook the majestic Colorado River.
Newspaper Rock – Utah State Historic Monument
Newspaper Rock isn’t part of Needles Canyonlands. It is a Utah State Historic Monument you pass as you drive the road toward the entrance of the Needles District.
TRAVEL TIP: Make sure you stop here to see the rock panel carved with one of the largest known collections of petroglyphs dating back 2,000 years!
View of the Needles
To get a good view of the needles formations in Canyonlands National Park, drive along Elephant Hill road. At the top of the hill you will get a spectacular, panoramic view of the needles.
Stop and enjoy the 360 degree view and the geologic processes that lead to the formation of this amazing landscape.
HIKING TRAILS AT NEEDLES CANYONLANDS
There are over 60 miles of interconnecting trails at the Needles. There are short, self-guided trails and primitive backcountry trails.
Surfaces along the hiking trails at Needles Canyonlands can be uneven. Trail guides are available at the visitor center and at the trailheads.
Roadside Ruin Trail
Roadside Ruin is an easy, 0.25 mile long loop trail that uses trail markers to distinguish the species of flora that indigenous people typically used throughout their daily lives. Along this Canyonlands Park hike, which should take you roughly 45 minutes, you’ll find a typical, Pueblan-era granary, estimated to be around 800 years old, that is tucked beneath a charming rock overhang.
Cave Spring Trail
This short and easy loop trail will take you between 30 and 90 minutes to complete. The first point of interest is the Cowboy Camp that dates back to the early 1900’s. Throughout this camp you’ll find remnants of the past like a simple stove, wooden tables, storage chests, assorted kitchen tools, and frying pans. It really is fun to go back in time and see what a cowboy’s life was like during the early part of the last century.
Continue along the trail and you’ll see several alcoves in which the cowboys used to sleep. In the final alcove, you’ll find the Cave Spring. Look for some handprints and simple pictographs at the back of the alcove. They were placed here by Indians who arrived long before the cowboys ever did.
As you continue you’ll encounter two wooden ladders where the trail continues up and onto a slickrock plateau above the alcoves.
HIKING TIP: Small children and anyone with a fear of heights may not want to continue along the trail. You can return at this point back to the parking lot.
Enjoy the breathtaking scenery of the Canyonlands Needles District atop the sandstone plateau. The trail will then drop down and rejoin the original trail back to the trailhead.
Pothole Point Trail
Pothole Point trail is a short, 0.6 mile loop that will take anywhere between 30 and 60 minute to complete. Hike along uneven slickrock and explore diverse pothole communities with views of majestic Needles formations in the background..
To be honest though, this trail was a bit disappointing compared to the rest of the park. The sign indicates you could see pothole puddles teeming with life. It had been raining, and there were puddles, but we saw nothing alive in the pools.
TRAVEL TIP: The best part of this trail were the interesting rock formations in one area. If you don’t have a lot of time to spend at Needles Canyonlands, this is definitely one trail you can skip.
More Needles Canyonlands Hikes
Slickrock – This trail is 2.4 miles long, takes approximately 2 hours, and crosses uneven surfaces. However, the effort is worth it since you get great panoramic views from this trail.
Big Spring to Squaw Canyon – This trail is 7.5 miles long, takes between 3 and 4 hours to complete, and has steep grades as well as exposure to heights. It is a great introduction to the areas beautiful landscape and has 2 backpacking sites as well as water availability seasonally.
Squaw Canyon to Lost Canyon – This trail is 8.6 miles long, takes between 4 and 6 hours to complete, and travel deep in the canyon, with 3 backpacking sites that have water available seasonally.
Confluence Overlook – This trail is 10 miles long, takes between 5 and 6 hours to complete, and crosses open country to a cliff that overlooks the joining of the Green and Colorado Rivers. Only at-large camping is available.
Peekaboo – This trail is 10 miles long, takes between 5 and 6 hours to complete, and has two ladders that must be climbed. But, completing this strenuous hike means that you’ll be rewarded with fantastic views of the natural landscape. One 4 wheel drive campsite is at the end of the trail, with water available seasonally.
Chester Park/Joint Trail – This trail is 11 miles long, takes between 5 and 7 hours to complete, traverses deep, narrow fractures, has 5 backpacking sites (no water), and provides exquisite views of the desert grasses and the colorful sandstone spires.
Druid Arch – This trail is 11 miles long, takes between 5 and 7 hours to complete, goes through canyon bottoms with deep sand and loose rock, has one ladder with a steep climb that involves some scrambling, and has 3 backpacking sites with water available seasonally.
Lower Red Lake Canyon – This trail is a multi-day, 18.8 mile long hike that involves a strenuous hike in and out of the Grabens, as well as a steep descent into the river. Only at large camping is available here.
Salt Creek Canyon – This hike is a multi-day, 22.5 mile long hike that begins at Cathedral Butte and follows drainage that can be obscured by vegetation. You’ll see many arches and archeological sites along the way as well as 4 designated campsites in the upper section. Only at large camping can be found in the lower section.
4×4 Trail Information for Needles Canyonlands
Before you attempt any 4×4 trails through Needles Canyonlands, be aware that all these roads require high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicles.
These trials should not be attempted by inexperienced drivers since there is a high risk of vehicle damage that could lead to towing costs in excess of $1,000.
4X4 OFFROAD GUIDELINES AT NEEDLES:
- keep all vehicles on designated roads
- only licensed drivers may operate vehicles
- ATVs, UTVs, and OHVs are strictly prohibited
- pets are not allowed on trails or in vehicles
- closely monitor weather conditions since flooding can make roads impassable
Additionally, all drivers must obtain a permit for either day or overnight use of any 4×4 trails.
These permits are in high demand throughout the spring and fall so be sure to make permit reservations well in advance.
Elephant Hill 4×4 Trail
Many consider Elephant Hill in Needles Canyonlands one of the most technical four-wheel-drive roads in Utah. Drivers are challenged with steep grades, loose rock, stair-step drops, tight turns and tricky backing.
Once over the initial hill of the trail, equally challenging roads lead to various other geologic features as well as BLM lands in the south of the park.
It’s worth tackling all of these driving obstacles to see some of the most amazing scenery in the Needles Canyonlands area.
TRAVEL TIP: Plan ahead since only 24 day use permits are allowed per day for Elephant Hill.
It was raining when we visited which made the technical trail too dangerous for us to drive. Therefore, we walked to the top of Elephant Hill instead to enjoy the views in this section of the Canyonlands Needles.
HIKNG TIP: If you don’t have a vehicle that can navigate this trail, it’s worth the hike up to some amazing views!
Colorado River Overlook 4×4 Trail
The road to the Colorado River Overlook is a difficult four-wheel drive road. It begins at the end of the visitor center parking lot and starts as an easy sandy road and continues that way for about 2 miles, until you reach the overlook.
You can also hike this trail if your vehicle isn’t fit to drive the road.
WHAT TO PACK FOR NEEDLES CANYONLANDS
To get the most out of visiting this part of Canyonlands, be prepared and know what to pack for a trip to Needles.
Avoid injury from improper footwear. Wear sturdy shoes with ample tread. We always recommend Merrell Moab hiking shoes!
Hydration and Food
Due to the high desert and altitude in Southeastern Utah, you should drink at least one gallon of water per day, and always carry water with you during all hiking activities (water is available at the Visitor Center. Pack and eat plenty of healthy snacks and food. We use Camelbak hydration packs or carry Hydroflask bottles in our packs.
Lip Balm and Lotion
Summer at Needles means soaring temperatures, unrelenting sunlight, and low humidity. To keep cool, wear light colored, loose fitting clothing that does not absorb sunlight. Also avoid sun burn by wearing a wide brimmed hat and by generously applying sunscreen to any parts of your body that are exposed to the sun.
During a winter visit to Needles, wear the right clothing to stay dry and warm. You can also become dehydrated in the cold as it is in the heat. It’s important to carry plenty of water during the winter, and not just during the summer.
National Parks Pass
Before you visit Canyonlands National Park be sure to pack your The America the Beautiful Annual Pass.
Other items we recommend – US national parks packing list
- Darn Tough socks
- Fleece jacket
- Buff headbands
- Hand sanitizer
- Flashlight or headlamp
- First aid kit
- Insect repellent
- Camera gear
Needles Canyonlands Tips & Resources
Check the weather in advance.
Be prepared with the best clothing and gear for the activities you will do.
Take only pictures, and leave only footprints.
Did you know that fall is one of the best times to visit Cayonlands Needles? It’s not as crowded and the temperatures are perfect for hiking.
WHERE TO STAY NEAR NEEDLES CANYONLANDS
If you’ll be visiting Arches, exploring Canyonlands or enjoying the outdoor adventures around Moab, you will want to stay in Moab. There are all types of lodging in and near Moab, as well as a variety of restaurants and places to shop.
The town of Monticello is a bit closer to Needles, but the lodging, food and shopping options aren’t as good. It’s a much smaller town than Moab.
CHECK THIS OUT: $40 Coupon for Airbnb
Camping in Canyonlands Needles
The Needles Campground has 26 individual sites, plus 3 group sites in different locations around The Needles district. You can reserve some individual sites in spring and fall. Other times of the year, individual sites are first-come, first-served. Sites fill quickly in spring and fall.
You can also reserve group sites for nights between mid-March and mid-November. There are toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings in the campground. Read more about camping at Canyonlands.
Canyonlands has an extensive backcountry where people enjoy backpacking, four-wheel driving, bicycling, and more. Visit the backcountry travel planning page to learn more.