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There is no doubt that Island in the Sky District at Canyonlands National Park is the most popular section in Canyonlands. It is known for its Mesa Arch, a picturesque scenic drive with many viewpoints and hikes. However, The Needles District is my favorite. Honestly, I like it even better than the famous Arches National Park. The remoteness of The Needles and out-of-this-world rock formations make this area of Canyonlands pretty epic!

In this post, I am sharing the best things to do in The Needles at Canyonlands and ideas on how to spend one day in The Needles at Canyonlands National Park.

If you are planning a road trip through Utah, then check out some of these posts:

One Day in Island in the Sky at Canyonlands National Park

16 Best Stops on Scenic Drive in Arches National Park (Map+Practical Tips). If you are short on time and can only spend a day in Arches, then read 8 Things You Can’t-Miss on First Visit to Arches National Park which ticks off all the major attractions.

Make sure to add Dead Horse State Park to your itinerary, it is located between Canyonlands and Arches National Park and the views at Dead Horse Point are off the charts!

How to Spend One Day at Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

Canyonlands National Park At-A-Glance

Before diving in, here are a few highlights to help you plan your trip:

  • Best Time to Visit The Needles at Canyonlands National Park

Spring or Fall (late April, May, and October) are the best times of the year to visit Canyonlands National Park. The temperatures are mild, the crowds are low, and you can find some solitude in the park. March and November are not bad either, although, be prepared for some chilly conditions (wear lots of layers) and maybe even some snow. Summers are hot with temperatures well into the 100’s F making it rather uncomfortable to explore the park. Winters are cold with freezing temperatures and snow.

  • Where to Stay When Visiting The Needles in Canyonlands 

Moab, Utah is the best place to stay if you are visiting either Canyonlands or Arches National Parks. It takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes (74 miles) to reach The Needles from Moab. My first choice is La Quinta by Wyndham Moab. I stayed at this place a few times and I have no complaints. It is clean, well managed, and it is conveniently located. If La Quinta is all booked, then my recommendation is to try Mainstay Suites Moab. The last time that I visited Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, I stayed at Element Moab, and I liked it a lot. It is modern, yet simple, and it has a full kitchen, which is very convenient.

  • How to Get to The Needles District in Canyonlands National Park

If you are flying then, the best airports would be either Salt Lake City (SLC), Denver (DEN), or Las Vegas (LAS). All major airlines fly into these airports. You will still need to rent a car and drive: Salt Lake City, Utah: 4 hours (249 miles), Denver, Colorado: 6 hours (391 miles), Las Vegas, Nevada: 7 hours 30minutes (453 miles). There are some smaller airports that you can fly to as well: Canyonlands Field (CNY) (11 miles from the park entrance), and Grand Junction Regional Airport (GJT) (109 miles from the park entrance).

Use Skyscanner to browse flights and find the best price.

  • How to Get Around in The Needles at Canyonlands National Park

There is no shuttle service at The Needles. The only way to get around the park is by having your own car. I use dicovercars.com to browse deals on rental cars or rent an RV or campervan with Outdoorsy!

  • How Much Does It Cost to Visit the Needles at Canyonlands NP

It costs $30 per vehicle, to Canyonlands National Park. The entrance pass is good for 7 consecutive days. Make sure to get America the Beautiful National Park Pass, if you are visiting several national parks on your trip. This $80 pass is valid for 12 months and gets you into all 400+ national park sites!

The Needles at Canyonlands

The Needles District at Canyonlands National Park.

One Day in The Needles 

What You Need to Know About Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park offers visitors breathtaking views of mesas, buttes, spires, and fins carved out by Colorado and Green Rivers. Hiking, stargazing, camping, and rock climbing are just a few of the activities, that you can enjoy at the park.

Established in 1964, Canyonlands National Park preserves 527 square feet of land in southern Utah.

The Needles at Canyonlands

The Needles District in Canyonlands National Park.

One Day in The Needles 

There are four districts within Canyonlands National Park. And, even though, they are all in Canyonlands National Park, they all look completely different from each other as if they are separate national parks:

  • Island in the Sky

Island in the Sky District is the most visited section of Canyonlands National Park. It is conveniently located no more than a 40-minute drive from Moab, UT making it the most easily accessible district in Canyonlands. It is well known for its Mesa Arch, an incredible rock formation. In addition, it has a picturesque scenic drive with many viewpoints and overlooks, as well as short and easy hikes along the way, making it a great destination for the entire family.

  • The Needles

The Needles District is located about a 1-hour and 20-minute drive from Moab making it a more remote destination than Island in the Sky. It gets its name from striped spires that look like they are jutting from the ground. If you are an avid hiker, then The Needles is definitely for you. You will find plenty of long and strenuous day hikes, as well as many multi-day backpacking trips.

  • The Maze

The Maze is the most remote and off-the-beaten-path district of Canyonlands National Park. It is only accessible by a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle. It takes 2.5 hours from Green River, Utah to reach the ranger station. Then, from the ranger station, the canyons of The Maze are another 3 to 6 hours. The Maze is perfect if you are into multi-day backpacking trips. Rarely do visitors spend less than three days in the Maze, and the area can easily absorb a week-long trip.

  • Colorado and Green Rivers (The Rivers District)

The Rivers District is a very popular spot for all kinds of water sports. Both Colorado and Green Rivers are calm upstream of The Confluence, and it is a perfect section for kayaking and canoeing. The rivers merge at The Confluence and spill down Cataract Canyon creating a world-class stretch of whitewater. Launch locations on the Green River include Green River State Park, Ruby Ranch, and Mineral Bottom. On the Colorado River, boaters typically use the Potash or Moab ramps. There is no vehicle access to the rivers near the Confluence or in Cataract Canyon.

  • A fifth region, Horseshoe Canyon, was added in 1971.

Horseshoe Canyon is home to the Great Gallery, a historic panel filled with petroglyphs. Most visitors access Horseshoe Canyon from the west. Two-wheel-drive vehicles can usually travel the 30-mile graded dirt road from UT 24 (near Goblin Valley State Park), or the 47-mile dirt road traveling south from Green River. Driving time is roughly 2.5 hours from Moab or 1.5 hours from Green River.

These districts may look like they are close to each other if you are looking at their location on the map. However, there are no roads that directly connect one district to the next, and traveling between them takes from 2-6 hours.

Map of One Day in The Needles District at Canyonlands

Map of The Needles in Canyonlands National Park

Map of The Needles District in Canyonlands National Park. Image Source: NPS

How to Spend One Day in The Needles at Canyonlands National Park

The Needles District gets its name from the colorful spires of Cedar Mesa Sandstone that look like they rise from the ground. Cedar Mesa Sandstone is the remains of coastal sand dunes deposited about 270 to 300 million years ago.

The red and white banded appearance of the spires is a result of periodic floods which carried iron-rich sediments down from the Uncompahgre Mountains during its formation.

Here is how to spend a perfect one day in The Needles at Canyonlands: 

The Needles District at Canyonlands

The Needles District gets its name from the colorful spires of Cedar Mesa Sandstone that look like they rise from the ground.

One Day in The Needles at Canyonlands

NUMBER 1

Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument

Newspaper Rock is not located in The Needles District at Canyonlands National Par. However, it is on the way to The Needles from Moab. Specifically, it is 55 miles from Moab.

Newspaper Rock is 200 square foot rock wall with hundreds of petroglyphs dating back 2,000 years left by people from the Archaic, Anasazi, Fremont, Navajo, Anglo, and Pueblo cultures.

In Navajo, the rock is called “Tse’ Hone'” which translates to a rock that tells a story.

Newspaper Rock

Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument is located on the way to The Needles from Moab. Specifically, it is 55 miles from Moab.

One Day in The Needles at Canyonlands

A Quick Read: 

If you look at the petroglyphs a little closer, you will notice that many of the petroglyphs appear to be depicting polydactyly, the condition of having an extra toe or finger. In other Puebloan sites, burial remains with bifid metatarsals have been found near petroglyphs depicting polydactyly, suggesting that the pictures factually represent a real physical abnormality.

One team of anthropologists excavated 96 skeletons from the nearby site of Pueblo Bonito and found that 3.1% of the skeletons had an extra toe on the right foot. This is a significantly higher rate of polydactyly than is seen in current Native American populations.

There was evidence of those with six toes being buried with items associated with higher social status, like an ornate bracelet, and turquoise. Polydactyl is also considered a moderately heritable condition, with 30-35% of those displaying the defect also having a close relative with polydactyl. This means that it may be possible to use polydactyl to reconstruct ancient Puebloan lineages.

Source: Wikipedia

Newspaper Rock

If you look at the petroglyphs a little closer, you will notice that many of the petroglyphs appear to be depicting polydactyly, the condition of having an extra toe or finger.

Newspaper Rock

There was evidence of those with six toes being buried with items associated with higher social status, like an ornate bracelet, and turquoise.

NUMBER 2

Roadside Ruins

The first stop inside The Needles District at Canyonlands National Park is Roadside Ruins.

You will need to take a short trail (0.3 miles roundtrip loop) to reach the site of one of the best-preserved ancestral granaries left by the Puebloan People.

Roadside Ruins at The Needle

Take a short trail (0.3 miles roundtrip loop) to reach the site of one of the best-preserved ancestral granaries left by the Puebloan People.

One Day in The Needles at Canyonlands

NUMBER 3

Cave Spring Trail

The next stop on this one day in The Needles at Canyonlands itinerary is Cave Spring Trail.

Cave Spring Trail is a short and easy hike that will take you to the old cowboy camp at Cave Spring, as well as petroglyphs left by the Native Americans.

  • Distance – 0.6 miles
  • Time – 45 min
  • Difficulty – two ladders to climb

From the late 1,800s, cowboys used to set up cattle operations in this area and camped in these small caves until 1975 when the cattle ranching ended in the park. Before the cowboys, Native Americans used this site as well. You can see markings on the walls of handprints and figures.

Cave Spring Trail in The Needles

From the late 1,800s, cowboys used to set up cattle operations in this area and camped in these small caves until 1975 when the cattle ranching ended in the park.

One Day in The Needles at Canyonlands

NUMBER 4

Wooden Shoe Arch Overlook

Wooden Shoe Arch Overlook is another great stop. You need no more than 15-20 minutes to catch an awesome view of an arch that looks like a wooden shoe from the distance.

Wooden Shoe Arch Overlook

Wooden Shoe Arch Overlook is an awesome view of an arch that looks like a wooden shoe from the distance.

One Day in The Needles 

NUMBER 5

Pothole Point Trail

The next stop is Pothole Point Trail. It is an easy (0.6 miles round trip) loop hike that is going to take you no more than 40 minutes to accomplish.

This loop hike is named for its depressions in the rocks called potholes. The rainwater collects in these depressions creating a perfect habitat for snails and shrimp.

Potholes Point in The Needles

This loop hike is named for its depressions in the rocks called potholes.

One Day in The Needles 

NUMBER 6

Slickrock Trail

Slickrock Trail is a great trail that forms a loop and along this loop are three short detours to amazing overlooks. You will get a great view down the canyons and see the views of Island in the Sky and the Needles. However, what I really enjoyed are the amazing rock formations on this trail.

  • Distance – 2.4 miles roundtrip
  • Time – 1.5-2 hours
  • Elevation – 137 feet
  • Difficulty – easy
One Day in The Needles at Canyonlands

Slickrock Trail is a great trail that forms a loop and along this loop are three short detours to amazing overlooks.

One Day in The Needles 

One Day in The Needles at Canyonlands

What I really enjoyed are the amazing rock formations on this trail.

One Day in The Needles at Canyonlands

Incredible rock formations on Slickrock Trail. 

NUMBER 7

Big Spring Canyon Overlook

Big Spring Canyon Overlook is located at the end of the road that runs through The Needles in Canyonlands.

At the overlook, you will get to enjoy awesome views of the sandstone spires and the sweeping views of Big Spring Canyon.

Big Spring Canyon Overlook at The Needles

Big Spring Canyon Overlook is located at the end of the road that runs through The Needles in Canyonlands.

One Day in The Needles 

Big Spring Canyon Overlook

At the overlook, you will get to enjoy awesome views of the sandstone spires and the sweeping views of Big Spring Canyon.

One Day in The Needles 

NUMBER 8

Chesler Park Loop Trail

I selected Chesler Park Loop Trail for one day in The Needles District at Canyonlands National Park. It is one of my favorite hikes at The Needles and it is the best hike to see the multi-hued sandstone spires, fins, spires, and knobs, eroded by wind and water into fantastical shapes.

  • Distance:

5.4 miles (round trip) to Chesler Park Overlook

10.0 miles (round trip) to Joint Trail

10.9 miles (loop) to Complete Loop

  • Elevation:

5,120-ft. at Trailhead

5,646-ft. at Chesler Park Overlook

5,706-ft. at Joint Trail

5,647-ft. at Complete Loop

  • Elevation Gain:

526-ft. to Chesler Park Overlook

588-ft. to Joint Trail

1,188-ft. to Complete Loop

  • Difficulty: strenuous
  • Time: 5- 7 hours

At Chesler Park Viewpoint, you will have incredible views of The Needles, La Sal Mountains, and Chesler Park.

After reaching Chesler Park Viewpoint, you will continue on Joint Trail that forms a loop. It is the best part of this trail! You will get to the sandstone spires up-close, and you will hike through the cave and a slot canyon.

One Day in The Needles at Canyonlands

Chesler Park Loop Trail is the best hike to see the multi-hued sandstone spires, fins, spires, and knobs, eroded by wind and water into fantastical shapes.

One Day in The Needles 

Chesler Park

At Chesler Park Viewpoint, you will have incredible views of The Needles, La Sal Mountains, and Chesler Park.

One Day in The Needles 

If You Have More Time in The Needles

If you have more time in The Needles, then there are a couple more hikes that are pretty spectacular as well and you should add them to your itinerary:

The first hike is Druid Arch Trail. It starts at Elephant Hill Trailhead and takes you to some of the most spectacular views of The Needles and the famous Druid Arch.

  • Distance – 10.4 miles
  • Elevation – 1,614 feet
  • Time – 5-7 hours
  • Difficulty – strenuous
Druid Arch Trail in The Needles

Druid Arch Trail starts at Elephant Hill Trailhead and takes you to some of the most spectacular views of The Needles and the famous Druid Arch.

One Day in The Needles 

Druid Arch Trail in The Needles

Druid Arch Trail is a strenuous hike, but if you like a little challenge then it will be a perfect hike. 

One Day in The Needles 

Another hike worth adding to your itinerary is Confluence Overlook Trail. This trail gets its name from the final overlook: the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers. The viewpoint overlooks the merging of the two rivers.

  • Distance – 10 miles
  • Elevation – 1,371 feet
  • Time – 5-7 hours
  • Difficulty – strenuous
  • Trailhead – Big Spring Canyon
One Day in The Needles at Canyonlands

Confluence Overlook Trail gets its name from the final overlook: the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers.

One Day in The Needles 

Confluence Overlook in The Needles

Druid Arch Trail is a strenuous hike, but if you like a little challenge then it will be a perfect hike. 

One Day in The Needles 

What to Bring to The Needles at Canyonlands National Park

Make sure you are prepared for a visit to Canyonlands National Park. Here is what to bring with you:

1. Appropriate footwear Trail shoes are great; hiking boots are even better since they offer more support. You’ll want sturdy, comfortable hiking boots with solid traction. Don’t forget to break in your shoes before bringing them to Canyonlands National Park. Also, do not forget merino wool socks. They will keep your feet dry, and protect you from blisters.

2. Plenty of water – without enough water, your body’s muscles and organs simply cannot perform as well. Consuming too little water will not only make you thirsty but susceptible to hypothermia and altitude sickness. I have been using Yeti Rumbler 26 oz insulated, stainless steel bottle, and I am highly recommending it!

3. Food – food will help keep up energy and morale. I like RXBAR. It is a high-protein bar, gluten-free, and it is super yummy! Make sure to get a variety pack to keep it interesting.

4. Rain gear and extra clothing – the weatherman is not always right. Be prepared for unannounced rain or a cold spell. Dress in layers. It will allow you to adjust to changing weather and activity levels. Two rules: avoid cotton (it keeps moisture close to your skin) and always carry a hat. I have had my North Face Women’s Osito Triclimate Jacket for years, and I love it. Also, I am highly recommending these Patagonia moisture-wicking hiking shirts and Patagonia warm fleece pullovers.

5. First aid kit – prepackaged first-aid kits for hikers are available at any outfitter.

6. Knife – a knife or even better, a multi-purpose tool is always good to have. These enable you to cut strips of cloth into bandages, remove splinters, etc.

7. Protect Yourself from the Sun – if you are visiting Canyonlands National Park in the summer, keep in mind that all the areas are unshaded, so it’s important to protect yourself from the sun. Sunscreen is essential, however, a lightweight long sleeve shirt is a must! My favorite are sun shirts by Columbia. Also, it is a good idea to wear lightweight long pants to protect yourself from the sun and bugs!

8. Wear sunglasses with UV protection. Sunglasses are an important part of your sun-protective wardrobe. When purchasing sunglasses, always look for lenses that offer UV protection.

9. A wide-brimmed hat is a simple and effective way to cover up your face and neck. When selecting a hat, choose one that has a wide brim, which will protect your ears, as well as your head and neck. Avoid baseball hats or straw hats with holes, as these are not as effective in protecting you outdoors.

10. Apply an effective insect repellentinsect repellent is an important step against mosquitoes and ticks that can spread diseases like West Nile and Lyme.  When selecting an effective insect repellent, do not look at the brand names, but rather, look at the concentration of the active ingredients. Concentrations of DEET at 25 to 30% are the best to keep you protected.

11. Daypack/backpack – you need something you can carry comfortably and has the features designed to keep you hiking smartly. Don’t forget the rain cover; some packs come with one built-in. I have Osprey Daylite Daypack and it is perfect for day hiking.

12. Camera!!! – Canyonlands National Park is a photographer’s dream! If you are like me, you will be taking hundreds, if not thousands, of photos. The scenery is just breathtaking and constantly changing. I have a Nikon COOLPIX P1000 Super Telephoto Camera that I bought a couple of years ago and I really like it. Make sure to have a spare battery for your camera. I think there is nothing more frustrating than knowing that you still have half a day ahead of you, yet your camera’s battery is gone.

13. Tripod – if you are taking photos during the golden hour (shortly after sunrise or before sunset) when the light is softer, a tripod is essential for long exposure shots. Also, I like a tripod since it gives me more stability when taking close-ups of wildlife. I have Manfrotto Befree Live Carbon Fiber Tripod with Fluid Head. It is only 3.0 pounds and it fits nicely in my backpack.

14. Binoculars! – if your camera does not have a good zoom, then binoculars are a must.

15. Trash Bag – this will make sure that the trail will stay beautiful for generations to come. A zip-lock bag is a great option as well for keeping the trash you pick up along the trail separate from the rest of your gear.

Intrepid Scout's Tips for A Perfect One Day in The Needles at Canyonlands

  • Just a reminder that there is no cell phone service in the park. So, make sure to download Google off-line maps, and make screenshots of the digital entrance pass.
  • Also, there are no restaurants or snack bars in the park. So, pack your lunch and all the snacks for the day and lots of water.
  • Do not miss a visit to Dead Horse Point State Park! It gets lost between the famous Arches and Canyonlands National Park. It is a hidden gem that you should explore. It is located right between the two parks and could be done as a half-day trip or an all-day adventure.
  • If you are visiting Arches National Park, then check out my post: 16 Best Stops on Scenic Drive in Arches National Park (Map+Practical Tips)

Now, It Is Your Turn, I Would Like to Hear Back from You!

Are you planning your trip to The Needles at Canyonlands National Park?

Please let me know! Drop me a quick comment right below!

Click on any of the images below to get inspired and to help you with the planning process for your trip to Canyonlands National Park!

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