One Day at Needles Canyonlands National Park

If you’re short on time, here’s a list of things to see, do, and photograph in one day at Needles Canyonlands National Park.

Use this Canyonlands National Park guide to plan your one day itinerary to enjoy activities like hiking, biking, 4×4 off-roading and more!

one day at Needles Canyonlands

We’ve also included tips for where to stay and what to pack for visiting the Needles district of Canyonlands.

Canyonlands is a Utah National Park made up of “districts”. The Needles district forms the southeast corner of this park. It was named for the colorful spires of Cedar Mesa Sandstone found in the area.

The Island in the Sky district is atop a stone mesa with stunning views. They are about 1 hour 30 minutes from each other by car.

Here’s a helpful resource if you want to know the difference between Canyonlands Island in the Sky vs Needles!

Here’s our itinerary for spending one day at Canyonlands Island in the Sky.

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Things to Know Before Visiting Needles Canyonlands

The Needles Canyonlands district is in a remote part of the park that features extensive hiking trails, amazing geology, and relatively few people.

We suggest visiting the National Park Service website to get the most current information about services and closures.

We also recommend stopping by the Needles Visitor Center, open daily between early spring and late fall, to learn about current park conditions. You can also purchase 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.

IMPORTANT: Needles Canyonlands is a remote area with few services. There is no food, lodging (only Needles Canyonlands Camping), or gas available in the park.

Pack everything you’ll need to visit Needles Canyonlands. Water is available at the visitor center year-round. Electric outlets are not available.

Needles Canyonlands Resources

Canyonlands National Park Weather

If you’re wondering the best time to visit Canyonlands National Park, below you’ll find specific information about what it’s like at different seasons and months of the year to help you decide. You’ll also find links to different articles we’ve written about each season or month specifically: weather, services, and things to do that time of year.

Spring at Canyonlands Needles: temperatures varies quite a bit from month to month. It’s important to pack for all types of weather because you never know when the weather will change.

It is not unusual to get snowfall in March or even April. We recommend you watch the weather and pack a winter coatwinter hat, and winter gloves when going to Canyonlands in early spring. 

Summer at Canyonlands Needles: the temperatures will be HOT! Since the temperatures are brutal this time of year, plan your outdoor activities for the cooler mornings and evenings!

With the hot summer temperatures, you’ll want to protect yourself from the sun by wearing a sun hatsunscreen and sunglasses. It’s important to stay hydrated and carry a hydration pack or a refillable water bottle in your backpack.

Fall at Canyonlands Needles: temperatures begin to cool down making it a great time to explore the park. There is not much shade to be found at Canyonlands, so fall is a nice time to be in the park on a sunny day when the air isn’t stifling! 

With the cooler temperatures at night, you will definitely want to bring a fleece jacketwarm hat and gloves for the nights and early mornings. 

Winter at Canyonlands Needles: visitor services are reduced and you’ll need to be more self-reliant in the winter. The cold winter weather may not be for everyone.

The roads may be snow-covered and icy or even closed after a storm… so always check the website for current conditions.

road through Canyonlands in the snow
road through Canyonlands Needles in the snow

WHERE TO STAY NEAR NEEDLES CANYONLANDS

Where to stay near Canyonlands

Hotels and Vacation Rentals Near Canyonlands Needles

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

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. 

Needles Canyonlands Camping

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.

How to Get to Canyonlands Needles

From Moab: drive south on US 191 for 40 miles, turn right on UT 211

From Monticello: drive north on US 191 for 14 miles, turn left on UT 211

Drive along UT 211 for about 35 miles heading west. UT 211 ends in The Needles, and is the only paved road leading in and out of the area.

We strongly recommend using a map to reach The Needles. GPS units frequently lead people astray.

Map of Needles Canyonlands

Use printable Canyonlands maps, or pick up a paper map, to help navigate to the various points of interest in the park.

The Needles Canyonlands map

Itinerary for One Day at Needles Canyonlands National Park

 There are a variety of things to do at Needles Canyonlands, and a few ways to spend one day here:

  • Scenic drive and short hikes at each point of interest
  • One day hike, plus scenic drive if there’s time
  • One 4×4 trail, plus scenic drive if there’s time

Needles Canyonlands Scenic Drive Points of Interest

For the first part of the day we recommend driving to the various points of interest at Canyonlands Needles along the scenic drive.

Plan about half a day to explore the scenic drive and short hikes at each location.

We’ll list the points of interest and things to do in order as you drive into the park along UT 211.

Newspaper Rock – Utah State Historic Monument
Newspaper Rock – Utah State Historic Monument

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.

At this short stop you’ll see the rock panel carved with one of the largest known collections of petroglyphs dating back 2,000 years!

Roadside Ruin at Needles Canyonlands
Roadside Ruin at Needles Canyonlands

Roadside Ruin Trail

You can’t see the Roadside Ruin from the road. It’s an easy 0.25 mile long loop trail leading to a Pueblan-era granary, estimated to be around 800 years old, that is tucked beneath a charming rock overhang.

As you hike, read the trail markers that describe the species of flora that indigenous people typically used throughout their daily lives.

Cave Spring Trail at Canyonlands Needles
Cave Spring Trail at Canyonlands Needles

Cave Spring Trail and Cowboy Camp

This short and easy 0.6 mi loop trail takes about 45 minutes to complete. There are two ladders to climb to complete the route, but you can also walk to the Cowboy Camp and back.

cowboy camp at Needles Canyonlands
cowboy camp at Needles Canyonlands

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.

Entering, touching, or climbing on archeological sites is strictly prohibited. View structures from a distance to protect fragile walls.

cave spring at Canyonlands Needles
cave spring at Canyonlands Needles

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.

ladder along the Cave Spring Trail at Canyonlands Needles
ladder along the Cave Spring Trail at Canyonlands Needles

As you continue you’ll encounter two wooden ladders where the trail continues up and 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 of the Canyonlands Needles District atop the sandstone plateau. The trail will then drop down and rejoin the original trail back to the trailhead. 

wooden shoe arch photo credit NPS
Wooden Shoe Arch photo credit NPS

Wooden Shoe Arch Overlook

This quick stop gives you a view of a large sandstone arch that looks like a Dutch wooden shoe. The arch is visible from the paved pullout along the scenic drive.

view of the Needles formations at Needles Canyonlands
view of the Needles formations at Needles Canyonlands

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.

Pothole point trail at Needles Canyonlands
Pothole Point Trail at Needles Canyonlands

Pothole Point Trail

This is a short, 0.6 mile loop trail along uneven slickrock. Plan between 30 and 60 minute to complete the hike.

You’ll see potholes along the trail that will fill with water when it rains. 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.

For us, 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.

hiking trail sign at Needles Canyonlands
hiking trail sign at Needles Canyonlands

Day Hikes at Needles Canyonlands

If you’re interested in doing a longer trail, there are Canyonlands Needles hikes you can do in one day.

Trails at the Needles traverse a mixture of slickrock benches and sandy washes, and some may require negotiating steep, rocky passes with drop-offs, narrow areas, and ladders.

Trails are marked with cairns (small rock piles) and signs at intersections.

Water sources are unreliable; carry all that you will need- 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.

Druid Arch at Needles Canyonlands

Elephant Hill Trailhead Hikes

Chesler Park Viewpoint Trail – 5.8 mile roundtrip hike takes 3-4 hours. This is a popular hike that leads to views of the sandstone spires.

Chesler Park/Joint Trail – 10.7 mile roundtrip hike takes 5-7 hours. The trail continues beyond the viewpoint (above). The southern part along the Joint Trail traverses through deep, narrow fractures in the rock.

Druid Arch Trail – 11 mile roundtrip hike takes 5-6 hours. The first part of the hike follows the Chesler Park Trail, then travels along the bottom of Elephant Canyon. This hike includes deep sand, loose rock, steep climb with one ladder, and some scrambling.

Big Spring Canyon Trailhead Hikes

Confluence Overlook Trail – 11 mile roundtrip hike takes 5-6 hours. This trail crosses open country to a cliff that overlooks the joining of the Green and Colorado Rivers.

Peekaboo Trail at Canyonlands Needles
Peekaboo Trail at Canyonlands Needles

Campground Loop “A” Trailhead Hikes

Big Spring Canyon to Squaw Canyon Trail – 7.5 mile roundtrip hike take 3-4 hours. It connects two canyons across varied terrain with steep grades; not recommended for anyone with a fear of heights.

Big Spring Canyon to Elephant Canyon Trail – 10.5 mile roundtrip hike takes 4-6 hours. This loop trail runs along slickrock benches and the mesa top providing views of sheer cliff walls and unique rock formations. Two ladders must be climbed to pass between the canyons.

Squaw Canyon to Lost Canyon Trail – 8.7 miles roundtrip hike takes 4-6 hours. This loop hike includes difficult sections climbing between the canyons, including one ladder.

Peekaboo Trail – 10.8 mile roundtrip hike takes 5-6 hours. The trail crosses both Squaw and Lost canyons passing high slickrock benches with amazing views. Steep slopes, cliff edges, and two ladders make this a challenging hike!

Jeep on 4x4 trail at Canyonlands Needles
Jeep on 4×4 trail at Canyonlands Needles

Drive the 4×4 Trails at Canyonlands Needles

Over 50 miles of challenging backcountry roads access campsites, trailheads, and park attractions.

Before you attempt any 4×4 trails through Needles Canyonlands, be aware that all these roads require high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicles. They 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

Permits are required for most of the 4WD roads at Needles. The permits are in high demand throughout the spring and fall so be sure to make reservations well in advance.

Colorado Overlook at Needles Canyonlands
Colorado Overlook at Needles Canyonlands

Colorado River Overlook 4×4 Trail

Time: Half Day

NO PERMIT: The Colorado River Overlook trail 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.

There will be large rocks and stair-step drops the last 1.5 miles. If you don’t have a high clearance 4WD vehicle, park on the road (leaving room for other vehicles to pass) and walk to the overlook. 

Elephant Hill 4x4 trail at Needles Canyonlands
Elephant Hill 4×4 trail at Needles Canyonlands

Elephant Hill 4×4 Trail

PERMIT REQUIRED: Plan ahead since only 24 Canyonlands day use permits are allowed per day for Elephant Hill.

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.

Needles formations at Canyonlands
Needles formations at Canyonlands

It was raining when we visited which made the technical trail too dangerous for us to drive. So 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!

Salt Creek (Peekaboo) / Horse Canyon

PERMIT REQUIRED: You’ll need a permit for day and overnight use along this trail.

The Salt Creek / Horse Canyon Trail travels along canyon bottoms where you could encounter deep sand, water, and quicksand depending on the time of year and weather conditions.

Horse Canyon Road leads to several arches and to Tower Ruin.

Lavender Canyon

PERMIT REQUIRED: You’ll need a permit for day and overnight use along this trail.

The Lavender Canyon trail information on the NPS website is pretty basic: “the road follows a canyon bottom where deep sand, deep water, and quicksand are common. There are two major creek crossings with steep banks. You may see many arches and archeological sites from the road.”

We found this article with photos to be very informative for anyone interested in exploring Lavender Canyon in Needles Canyonlands.

BUY AT AMAZON: Arches and Canyonlands Guides and Maps:

Arches Canyonlands guides and maps

Plan Your Canyonlands Vacation

Arches and Canyonlands photography guide

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