8 Things to Do at The Needles Canyonlands National Park

Some of the links on this site are affiliate links, meaning if you book or buy something through one of these links,
we may earn a small commission – at no extra cost to you! Read the full Disclosure Policy.

Canyonlands National Park consists of four districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze and the Colorado and Green rivers.

The Needles District is just 15 miles south of the Island in the Sky District, but 137 miles to drive there. It is about 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. There are a variety of things to do in Moab so that’s where we prefer to stay when visiting Needles.

Needles Canyonlands was named for the colorful spires of sandstone that dominate the area.

The Needles District of Canyonlands is a remote part of the national park. It 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. Click here for more information about hikes in Needles Canyonlands.

Packing Lists for Canyonlands - Click here to Download

THINGS TO DO AT NEEDLES CANYONLANDS

Newspaper Rock

Newspaper Rock near Canyonlands Needles, Utah

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.

You must stop here to see the rock panel carved with one of the largest known collections of petroglyphs dating back 2,000 years!

Roadside Ruin

Roadside Ruin in Canyonlands National Park, Needles District, Utah

The Needles District has many ruins to visit. 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 Canyonlands National Park.

PHOTO TIP: Include the surrounding landscape features by this granary so it shows scale.

Six shooter peak Canyonlands National Park, Needles District, Utah

PHOTO TIP: The trailhead is a good location to photograph six shooter peak.


Cowboy Camp

Cowboy Camp at Canyonlands National Park, Needles District, Utah

Drive along a dirt road to access the Cave Spring Trail. If you are hiking with kids, they will enjoy this trail in the Needles District.

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.

Cave Spring Trail

Cave Spring at Canyonlands National Park, Needles District, Utah

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.

Cave Spring at Canyonlands National Park, Needles District, Utah

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.

Indian petroglyphs in the Cave Spring at Canyonlands National Park, Needles District, Utah

Beyond the cave spring, the trail continues under a large rock overhang.

Gigantic rock overhang along the Cave Springs Trail at Canyonlands National Park, Needles District, Utah

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.

Man atop large rock after climbing a wooden ladder along the Cave Spring trail at Canyonlands National Park, Needles District, Utah

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.

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.


View of the Needles

Needles rock formations at Canyonlands National Park, Needles District, Utah

PHOTO TIP: To get a good view of the needles formations in Canyonlands National Park, drive along Elephant Hill road. At the top of a hill you will see a spectacular view of the needles.

Needles rock formations at Canyonlands National Park, Needles District, Utah

Stop and enjoy the 360 degree view and read the sign that describes how the needles were formed.

Pothole Point Trail

Pot Hole Point trail at Canyonlands National Park, Needles District, Utah

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.

Rock formations along Pot Hole Point Trail at Canyonlands National Park, Needles District, Utah

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.

Elephant Hill 4×4 Trail

Elephant Hill 4x4 Trail at Canyonlands National Park, Needles District, Utah

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.

Elephant Hill 4x4 Trail at Canyonlands National Park, Needles District, Utah

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.

Photographer walking along Elephant Hill 4x4 trail at Canyonlands National Park, Needles District, Utah

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 of this part of Canyonlands Needles.

Rock formations along the Elephant Hill 4x4 trail at Canyonlands National Park, Needles District, Utah

PHOTO TIP: Get low to enhance an interesting foreground that leads the eye to the subject of the photo.

Rock formations along the Elephant Hill 4x4 trail at Canyonlands National Park, Needles District, Utah

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

Colorado River Overlook at Canyonlands National Park, Needles District, Utah

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.

Jeep on a 4x4 trail at Canyonlands National Park, Needles District, Utah

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.

PLAN A TRIP TO NEEDLES CANYONLANDS

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 Needles Canyonlands. Water is available at the visitor center year-round. Electric outlets are not available.


Where To Stay in Moab

There are four types of lodging in Moab:

Hotels/Motels – The majority of the restaurants, shopping and tour guides are along Main Street in town. If the hotel/motel is near Main Street, you are within walking distance of everything you would need.

Ranches – There are two famous ranches in Moab: the Red Cliffs Lodge and Sorrel River Ranch.  They are very nice, isolated from the town, and overlook the Colorado River.  They are more expensive than hotels and condos, but if you want a truly unique western experience, it is worth the money.  The drive from these ranches to town is at least a 15- 20 minutes.

Condo/House Rentals –  These accommodations are best if you are traveling with a large group or family. You may save some money since you will only have one nightly room rate, versus multiple rooms at hotels. And cooking meals in the kitchens is more economical and healthy.  Most of the condos reside just outside of downtown Moab, so you will still need transportation to get around town.

Camping/RV – There are commercial campgrounds and cabins, Bureau of Land Management campgrounds and National Park, State Park and Forest campgrounds. Read more about camping in Moab.

Moab Hotels

 

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.

 

EXTEND YOUR STAY

Just a bit further away you can drive along Highway 12, one of the most scenic highways in America, receiving the designation of ‘All American Road’ in 2002. The highway has two National Parks, Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef, at each end and many other scenic points in between.

TRAVEL TIPS

PIN THIS FOR LATER

Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Needles District - is a beautiful national park in the U.S. Canyonlands Needles is a remote part of the park that features extensive hiking trails, amazing geology, and relatively few people. Check out our favorite 8 things to see at Canyonlands Needles. We also share tips on how to take the best pictures in Canyonlands Needles! You’ll definitely want to read our guide and save it to your travel board before you plan your trip to Canyonlands National Park.  Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Needles District - is a beautiful national park in the U.S. Canyonlands Needles is a remote part of the park that features extensive hiking trails, amazing geology, and relatively few people. Check out our favorite 8 things to see at Canyonlands Needles. We also share tips on how to take the best pictures in Canyonlands Needles! You’ll definitely want to read our guide and save it to your travel board before you plan your trip to Canyonlands National Park.

Related Pinterest Boards:

If you enjoyed this, please share and let us know your thoughts below.


Freebies Library of Travel and Photography Resources - sign up today

 

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

21 comments

Great clicks! I am curious were the rock formations due to volcanic activity or sediments?

Reply

Here’s your geology lesson from the NPS website: The Canyonlands landscape is one of erosion. As this area gradually rose, rivers that once deposited sediment on the lowlands began to remove it from the emerging plateau. The Green and Colorado rivers began carving into the geologic layer cake, exposing buried sediments and creating the canyons of Canyonlands.

Summer thunderstorms bring heavy rains that scour the landscape. Some layers erode more easily than others. As softer rock dissolves away, layers of harder rock form exposed shelves, giving the canyon walls their stair-step appearance. Occasionally, a slab of harder rock will protect a weaker layer under it, creating balanced rocks and towers. Water also seeps into cracks in the rock, eroding and widening them until only thin spires remain, like those found in The Needles.

Reply

The formations here at canyonlands are incredibly cool. This is definitely a place to visit and take good photography like yourself. Awesome post!

Reply

We love Canyonlands – Island in the Sky & Needles. This park provides wonderful opportunities for photography for sure!

Reply

This looks like a great place to explore and brilliant tips. Will surely check it out when I’m in the region!

Reply

I didnt even know the needles canyon had so much to offer! The Newspaper Rock is a gem for history lovers, must have been such an interesting experience for you when you first saw it, right?!

Reply

The rock is HUGE so yes, it was very interesting to see it in person.

Reply

Nice photography tips with stunning pictures of Needle Rock. Though reaching Colorado River Overlook is difficulty but after reaching there it is worth driving on rough paths. Newspaper Rock depicting ancient life is interesting to learn about ancient history.

Reply

Yes, the park if full of ancient Anasazi history – I enjoy learning about the cultures and people of the places I visit.

Reply

Looks like a great place to explore on foot. I’m still giggling at Newspaper Rock. That’s definetly a great name and would make me want to stop and take a look!

Reply

There are wonderful trails in Needles to explore – all difficulty levels so something for everyone. Yes, Newspaper Rock is aptly named for sure!

Reply

This is such an amazing place. First time I am even hearing about it, but Newspaper Rock looks amazing and just the topography is so dramatic an a dream for any photographer. Nature is truly full of wonderful things and Neddles is definitely one of those places.

Reply

Yes, it’s a wonderful location for photography. It truly is amazing the beautiful scenes nature provides for us all!

Reply

Wow this seems like quite the visit. I really like that it’s a bit educational with Cowboy Camp so you can see what it was like. But then you also get those amazing views of nature. Beautiful!

Reply

The park has many educational sites with the granaries, petroglyphs and the cowboy camp. It’s a unique national park!

Reply

What an interesting part of the country. Your photo tips are really useful. View of the needles looks like my fav spot but was hard to choose!

Reply

Thank you Fiona. There is SO much more of the park to explore and showcase. It’s a unique landscape!

Reply

These are excellent photography tips! I went there many years ago, but wish I had you post to advise me. Newspaper rock and the view of the Needles look unreal, I think I need to re-visit 🙂

Reply

We share our photo tips so others can take full advantage of capturing the beauty of the park. And yes, you do need to re-visit!

Reply

Newspaper Rock must be such a special place to visit, thinking of how old they are and how much history lies behind them. it must be really impressive. I would love to see the 360 view of the needles and photograph it. I love hiking when there are nice views around and the trails around the national park definitely have some beautiful stops along the way.

Reply

Newspaper Rock is amazing to see. The Southern Utah area is full of history with the petroglyphs and ruins you can see when exploring the area. The 360 views from various places in the entire park are the best!

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *