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.

Check out these Canyonlands Itineraries for 1, 2, or 3 days in the park!

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A Photo Tour of Canyonlands National Park

Take a visual tour through Canyonlands National Park (and Dead Horse Point) to see the stunning landscape in the parks!

Things to Know Before Visiting Needles Canyonlands

Needles Canyonlands is a remote, backcountry experience with an assortment of natural geologic formations that can only be reached by using one of the many Canyonlands hiking trails or four-wheel driving trails.

It’s a remote area with few services. There is no food, lodging (only camping), or gas available in the park.

Before creating your Canyonlands Needles itinerary, it’s important to know the Canyonlands National Park weather and what activities you can do when visiting during the spring, summer, fall and winter.

The time of year you visit will determine the Canyonlands packing list you’ll need to use!

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.

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

For sunset, we recommend visiting the Needles Overlook and Anticline Overlook. They are technically NOT part of Canyonlands National Park, but they are on the boundaries that provide amazing views of Needles and the Moab area!

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 – this 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.

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 at Needles Canyonlands

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.

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.

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 at Canyonlands Needles
Peekaboo Trail at Canyonlands Needles

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

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.

Afternoon and Sunset at Needles & Anticline Overlook

Late afternoon and sunset are the best times to photograph these locations!

To access both overlooks, look for the turnoff along Highway 191 on County road 133 between Moab and Monticello.

view from Needles Overlook
View from Needles Overlook

Needles Overlook – the 22-mile drive to the overlook is a scenic side trip and worth the time to see the sweeping 360-degree views of the La Sal Mountains, Navajo Mountain, and Monument Valley.

The Needles Overlook sits 1,600 feet above the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. It’s not within the Canyonlands boundaries, or part of the National Park, but managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

view from Anticline Overlook
View from Anticline Overlook

Anticline Overlook – about 14.5 miles after turning off Highway 191, there’s a Y intersection: go left to access Needles Overlook and go right to access Anticline Overlook. The road to Anticline is also called Hatch Point Road.

You’ll see stunning views from the Anticline Overlook:

  • Kane Creek area for 4x4s and ATVs. It’s fun to watch the vehicles traverse the trails from the overlook
  • Colorado River and Arches National Park in the distance
  • Island in the Sky, Dead Horse Point, and the Potash Ponds

BUY AT AMAZON: Arches and Canyonlands Guides and Maps:

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