Canyonlands National Park consists of four districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze and the Colorado and Green rivers.
Needles Canyonlands is just 15 miles south of the Island in the Sky, but 137 miles to drive there. It is about 40 miles south of Moab and 15 miles north of Monticello in the state of Utah in the USA. It was named for the colorful spires of sandstone that dominate the area.
This remote part of the park features extensive hiking trails, amazing geology, and relatively few people. Visitors can walk short trails to granaries, hike around and through the needles rock formations and drive along four-wheel-drive roads that overlook the Colorado River.
Newspaper Rock isn’t part of Canyonlands. It is a Utah State Historic Monument you pass as you drive the road toward the entrance of Needles. You must stop here to see the rock panel carved with one of the largest known collections of petroglyphs dating back 2,000 years!
The easy loop trail to the Roadside Ruin is only .25 miles long. There are numbered markers along the trail that identify the plants you’ll see in the park.
At the end of the trail you will see a small granary tucked under a rock overhang. The granary is estimated to be around 800 years old. It is important to only take photos and not touch the fragile ruins in the park.
PHOTO TIP: Include the surrounding landscape features by this granary so it shows scale.
PHOTO TIP: The trailhead is a good location to photograph six shooter peak.
Drive along a dirt road to access the Cave Spring Trail. The Cowboy Camp is the first thing you will see on this short Trail. The camp is still set up with a simple stove, wooden tables, storage chests and assorted kitchen tools and frying pans. It’s fun to see what a cowboy’s life was like in the early 1900’s.
Continue along the trail just a short distance past the cowboy camp. You will pass several alcoves were the cowboys slept. The last alcove is where you will find the Cave Spring.
Look for the hand prints and simple pictographs toward the back of the alcove. They were placed there by Indians long before the arrival of the cowboys.
Beyond the cave spring the trail continues under a large rock overhang.
The rest of the trail loop includes two wooden ladders where the trail climbs onto a slickrock plateau above the alcoves. 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 atop the sandstone plateau until the trail drops down and rejoins the original trail near the trailhead.
PHOTO TIP: This trail provides many opportunities to show scale. Photograph people in the alcoves and under the rock outcrop to show how large these features are.
PHOTO TIP: To get a good view of the needles formations, drive along Elephant Hill road. At the top of a hill you will see a spectacular view of the needles.
Stop and enjoy the 360 degree view and read the sign that describes how the needles were formed.
Pothole Point trail is a short loop of .6 miles along slickrock. To be honest, 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.
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 this park, this is definitely one trail you can skip.
Many consider Elephant Hill 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.
It’s worth tackling all those obstacles in order to see some of the most amazing scenery and solitude in the area accessible by four-wheel drive. You must plan ahead if you want to drive this trail because only twenty-four day use permits are allowed per day for Elephant Hill.
It was raining when we visited which made the technical trail too dangerous to drive. Instead we walked to the top of Elephant Hill to enjoy the views.
PHOTO TIP: Get low to enhance an interesting foreground that leads the eye to the subject of the photo.
If you don’t have a vehicle that can navigate this trail, it’s worth the hike up to some amazing views!
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. It starts as an easy sandy road and continues that way to about 2 miles before the overlook.
After that the road has ledges that require high clearance. If the road becomes too challenging for your vehicle, simply park and hike the rest of the way.
The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park is a remote area with few services.
There is no food, lodging, or gas available in this park.
Pack everything you’ll need during your time in the park. Water is available at the visitor center year-round. Electric outlets are not available.
Plan ahead and be aware that some areas and activities require a day-use or overnight permit.
Remember to purchase the US National Park Pass – it’s a good deal!
We use Airbnb (here’s a $40 coupon) or Hotels.com to rent accommodations that have a kitchen. Cooking our meals saves us quite a bit of money compared to eating out, and it’s much healthier! If we can’t find somewhere to stay with a kitchen, we find places that have a microwave and fridge at the minimum. You would be surprised the meals you can prepare in a microwave.
We rely on our Camera Gear Checklist to make sure we pack the necessary, and possibly needed, equipment in our camera bag. We recommend the following items for Canyonlands National Park photography:
We utilize Pinterest to organize the information when researching travel locations. Photo Jeepers has a Canyonlands board and US National Parks board where we only pin things we have read and find worthwhile. Use our board to help you plan a trip to Canyonlands or any other US National Park. Save this to your travel and photography boards and share with your friends!
Resources for outdoor adventure we recommend and use: