Hikes National Parks/Monuments

Canyonlands National Park (Needles)

These are the needles rock formations for which
this side of Canyonlands is named.

On our trip to Moab this spring, we visited Canyonlands National Park north side, known as the Island in the Sky.  We liked it so much, that we decided to try the southeast side, known as the Needles district while vacationing in Blanding. (If you visit Needles, make sure to plan a stop at Newspaper Rock).

The first thing to note about Canyonlands National Park is that there are three separate sections: Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the Maze. None of them has access to the others due to the rough terrain. In fact, it’s almost 100 miles from the visitor’s center in Island in the Sky to the Needles visitor center. (The Maze has no visitor’s center at all, just a ranger station for accessing trip permits.)

The nice thing about the Needles section of the park is that it is very quiet. We went on an afternoon in June and saw fewer than fifty people. Meanwhile, Arches and Island in the Sky were bloated with visitors. This is for two reasons: first, Needles is way out by itself, far south of Moab and at the end of a 35 mile road to nowhere, and second, because Needles is no Arches.

There are four accessible hikes for families in the Needles area. The first is called the Roadside Ruin. This is a .3 mile RT loop that takes you to a small stone structure built by Native Americans. The structure was used as a granary, and it is pretty cool, but you’ll laugh at it if you’ve been to Hovenweep or Mesa Verde.

The trail is easy and flat to Roadside Ruin.
Here is the granary at the end of the hike.

The second hike here is the highlight, and it is called Cave Spring. This hike is only .6 miles RT and believe it or not, it is shaded for nearly half that distance. The trail is a loop, and as you look at the map in the parking lot, you may be tempted to just walk a hundred yards down the trail and check out the cowboy camp before piling back in the car. This would mean you’d miss the fun of this hike. After the cowboy camp, which was used throughout the first three-quarters of the 20th century, you’ll come to an overhanging shelf off rock. It was quite cool there, even though the outside temperature was over 90 degrees. We followed this overhang past the spring and under the rim of the canyon floor. We saw squirrels, birds, and dozens of lizards. About halfway around the loop, we came to a short ladder. This was the highlight for out 3 boys. Our five and eight year-olds scrambled right up, and Dad even managed with the baby in the backpack. There was a second ladder to climb, too. From there, the trail crosses the rock face (it’s hotter here) back to the car. If you venture to Needles make sure you do this hike above all else.

The Old Cowboy Camp
The rock overhang keeps the hike shady for the first half.
This is the Cave Spring.
There are a few petroglyphs next to Cave Spring.
We loved climbing the ladders on this hike.
There are beautiful views up on the slick rock.
One of the million lizards we saw in Canyonlands.

The third hike we tried was called Pothole Point. Again, this hike is .6 miles, but there isn’t a whole lot to see. The sign describes hundreds of shining pothole puddles teeming with life. The reality is a bunch of dry potholes. There are a few nice views of the Needles from a distance, and the hike across the slickrock is flat and easy for kids, but you won’t see much more than a few lizards.

There were lots of potholes on this hike, but all were dry so it
wasn’t very exciting.

The fourth hike at Needles is the longest (for families– there are some 7 up to 25 milers for serious folks) at 2.4 miles. It is called Slickrock Trail. This trail follows the rim of the canyon and is an out-and-back trail. There are 4 viewpoints along the way, at which you can overlook several small canyons. The brochure says bighorn sheep are “often” seen here, but we didn’t see any, and the back of the brochure asks you to report all bighorn sheep sightings to the ranger. If bighorn sheep were really seen “often” the ranger would get pretty tired of having it reported, I’m sure. This hike is easy and flat, and the views are very nice. Be sure to pack plenty of water, as there is no shade and it is very hot.

This trail is named accurately…you hike on the slick rock the entire way.
There are lots of great photo opportunities.
We spotted a squirrel.

Other than the Wooden Shoe Arch, which is a drive-by there is much else for families in Needles. Still, it’s a nice way to spend half a day.

Wooden Shoe Arch
These are called mushroom formations. Very different from the Needles.
There were lots of beautiful wildflowers during June.

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