Dayhike in the Needles District

Canyonlands National Park, Utah, Needles District, La Sals

After two months of being more or less glued to the computer, I was thrilled to head out into the desert and finally get outside again! Our destination: the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, south of Moab, Utah. Above you can see the La Sal Mountains towering over the canyons in the distance.

Joint Trail, Chesler Park, Needles District, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Walking to the glow, in the narrow slots of the Joint Trail.

More photos below!

Canyonlands National Park, Utah, Needles District, hiking

I was excited to go backpacking for a few nights out there, but my naive bubble was burst when we arrived at the visitor center only to find that all of the backpacking permits in the park were completely filled already! Add that to the list of things that bug me about national parks: the fact that they only allow you to camp in designated spots, and more importantly, they only put a precious few of those designated campsites out there! There’s so much space for privacy in the canyons; they could easily add double or even triple the amount of campsites. It’s like they do everything they can pump hordes of tourists in their gas guzzling SUVs through the parks, but god forbid if you want to go pitch your tent off the trail.

But I digress… Although I was a bit bummed to not get to go backpacking, we found a decent car camping spot nearby and the next day did a big day hike through the most spectacular parts of the park. We started from Elephant Hill, hiked through Chesler Park and the narrows of the Joint Trail, then over into Elephant Canyon to Druid Arch and back. At a leisurely pace, it took us most of the day. And what a beautiful day indeed, with crystal clear blue skies and perfect springtime temperature.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah, Needles District, Joint Trail

Claudia prays to the sun gods!

Canyonlands National Park, Utah, Needles District, hiking, Elephant Canyon

Such amazing formations everywhere. This is the segment of the hike between Chesler Park and Elephant Canyon.

Elephant Canyon, Needles District, Canyonlands, Utah

Exploring a little side tunnel.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah, Needles District, hiking, Elephant Canyon

Hiking over the slickrock above Elephant Canyon.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah, Needles District, Druid Arch

Looking up at the massive and spectacular Druid Arch.

Elephant Canyon, Needles District, Canyonlands, Utah, reflection

All in all this was a great hike, and I’m stoked that we went out there anyways instead of rushing off somewhere else to go backpacking. Now I’ve really got the springtime desert bug, and I’m sure we’ll be heading back out again soon!

See some more photos from an earlier 2008 backpacking trip in the Needles District here.

8 thoughts on “Dayhike in the Needles District

  1. Claudia’s back? I thought she was still in Germany. That’s great!

    Nice photos. This has been the mildest winter ever in Moab, it was wonderful, no tourists until just the past week or so and you could get out pretty much anywhere.

    1. Hi Chinle, good to hear from you! Yes, Claudia got back here a week ago… woohoo!

      That’s great you had a nice winter in Moab… I should have been spending much more time in the desert this winter, but instead I’ve been slaving away at some big computer projects. But I’ve got those mostly finished and now I look forward to lots of canyon time in the next month or two!

  2. Looks like great fun, the region is getting some really bizarrely nice weather for this time of year.

    I don’t think Canyonlands is so concerned about the number of tents that will be pitched, as the number of loaves that will be pinched. Just before they imposed a lot of the additional regulation in Canyonlands (chem toilets, etc), there was a ‘loaf’ under every rock within 100′ of any designated camp. It’s an unfortunate side effect of marketing a place to the masses and the influx of people from major population centers looking to escape their daily lives (return to nature, Bruh.)

    The SUV’s in the park are nothing compared to the cars that require all of the bulldozers to plow every road and pave everything! When I was a kid, most of that park was unimproved, but the influx of tourism caused them to have to bring bulldozers and pavers in for easy access for cars. The park isn’t what it used to be now that it has a constant presence of infrastructure and plows to keep the roads smooth and sometimes paved for street vehicles, outhouses in camp sites, and a constant stream of tour companies. Don’t mistake a small car in Canyonlands for an ‘environmentally friendly’ vehicle — as I say, “In front of ever capable Subaru is a bulldozer.”

    1. Great points, Peter! In my view, national parks are like nature Disneylands, and I don’t mean that in a good way. Pretty soon they’ll be charging for parking… ha! In a way this Disneyland scene is good thing I guess, because by being magnets for the hordes of tourists, the national parks are the sacrificial lambs that keep other equally spectacular locations less crowded.

  3. Peter’s loaf pinching essay is perfect! Loaf-pinching and national park car culture aside, isn’t it spring break for like a month of spring? Time to find another desert locale away from the Moab circus.

    1. Hmmm good question. I’m probably not the best person to answer that. I’d suggest to contact the park service or ask at the visitor center… they would know for sure.

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