Things to Do at Needles Canyonlands National Park

There are so many things to do at Needles Canyonlands like hiking, biking, 4×4 off-roading and more!

Use our Canyonlands National Park guide and this list of activities to plan your vacation itinerary.

Here’s a list of fun outdoor activities to do at Needles Canyonlands, plus tips for where to stay and what to pack! We’ve also detailed what you’ll find at Canyonlands Island in the Sky vs Needles Canyonlands!

Check out these Canyonlands itineraries:

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The Needles Canyonlands district 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.

Check out our article explaining Canyonlands Island in the Sky vs Needles!

Needles Canyonlands Resources

Map of Needles Canyonlands

The Needles Canyonlands map

Printable Canyonlands Maps

Where to Stay Near Needles Canyonlands

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.

Camping in Canyonlands Needles

Needles Canyonlands Camping: 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. 

Canyonlands has an extensive backcountry where people enjoy backpacking, four-wheel driving, bicycling, and more. Visit the Canyonlands backcountry travel planning page to learn more.


Here’s a list of things to do at Needles Canyonlands:

Stop at 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!

Get a 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.

Hike the trails at Needles Canyonlands

Canyonlands hikes range from easy to strenuous, so there’s something for everyone! Remember to stay hydrated and carry a hydration pack or a refillable water bottle in your backpack. And since most of the trails are fully exposed to the sun, you’ll need sun protection like a sunhatsunscreen and sunglasses.

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.

Here’s a list of Canyonlands Needles hikes:

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.

Drive 4×4 Trails at Canyonlands Needles

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.


  • 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 Canyonlands 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.

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  1. Hi,
    Back in the mid 1980’s, we camped at a group site on BLM land in the Needles area.
    It was called, Split Rock Cave. I was telling someone about it, but it seems to have been removed from any lists or maps. I was just hoping to find a photo of it. Can you help?

    1. 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.

  2. 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?!

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

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

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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!

  8. 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 🙂

    1. 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!

  9. 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.

    1. 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!

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