Canyonlands National Park: The Needles

On our trip to Moab, 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. Canyonlands National Park Needles section is a smaller area, but has 7 great stops for families. This area is about 90 minutes from Moab.

These are the rock spires called Needles

Canyonlands National Park

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

This map is from the Canyonlands website. Click on the map to enlarge it and for more info.

The Needles Section

These are the needles for which this section of the park is named.

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 are usually 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. Second, because Needles is no Arches National Park.

We have visited The Needles area a few times, and we usually spend about 1/2 a day visiting the family-friendly stops in this part of Canyonlands National Park. Make sure to stop at the Visitor Center and grab your Junior Ranger booklets for the kids. The Visitor Center is very small and there is not much to see, but we always ask a few questions, and participate in the Junior Ranger program.

The Needles area has some amazing rock formations.

Seven Stops in The Needles

These are the seven stops we enjoyed while in The Needles area of Canyonlands. After a quick stop at the Visitor Center, we made a simple loop through the park. This is the order we enjoyed the stops, but feel free to arrange them however you’d like.

Stone Storehouse

The first stop we made was at Stone Storehouse (formerly called Roadside Ruin). This is a 0.3 mile RT loop that takes you to a small stone structure built by Native Americans. The structure was used as a granary. This trail also has an interpretive guide about the history of the area, and the local plants. This walk is very easy, and our young kids easily hiked it.

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

Cave Spring

Next we took the turn off of the main road to Cave Spring. This is our favorite hike in The Needles area. The trail is only 0.6 miles RT and 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. There is a cowboy camp, a spring and some petroglyphs, and two ladders. We love the shade from the overhanging rocks. Don’t skip this stop. Full hike info here.

This is the cowboy camp, but don’t stop hiking here.
This overhang makes the first half of the hike cool and shady.
The ladders make the trail extra fun.

Wooden Shoe Arch Overlook

This is just a quick stop. Make sure to pull over and check out the view of Wooden Shoe Arch. It definitely looks like an old wooden shoe. You can also check out the views of the rock spires, too.

Wooden Shoe Arch

Pothole Point

The third hike we tried was called Pothole Point. This hike is 0.6 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 nice views of the Needles from a distance, and the hike across the slickrock is flat and easy for kids, but there is limited shade and no water when we visited in April or June.

Needles
There were lots of potholes on this hike. When we visited, they were all dried up.
Empty potholes in April.

Slickrock Trail

The fourth hike at Needles is the longest for families with young kids at 2.4 miles. This trail is called Slickrock Trail and it follows the rim of the canyon. It 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 on this trail. We did not spot any, but if you do make sure to report them to a ranger. 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 because you hike on slickrock the entire way.
There are great views and this cute little arch.

Big Spring Canyon Overlook

After you drive past Pothole Point and Slickrock trails, the road ends at Big Spring Canyon Overlook. We like to hop out and take a quick look into the canyon and enjoy the views.

This is the Big Spring Canyon.
There are some really interesting rock formations.

Elephant Hill Trailhead

If you have time, we recommend driving the 3 mile road out to Elephant Hill Trailhead. It is a dirt road, but well graded and taken care of, and any passenger car can make it. The road is very narrow and there are some areas where only one car can pass, so go slow and be courteous. We loved the drive and the views. If you have the stamina, you can also hike Chesler Park Viewpoint. We did this trail when our boys were 17, 14, and 11, and it wore us out. But we loved hiking into the actual Needles rock spires. But even if you don’t hike out here, drive the road to the trailhead and back.

Look how pretty the road is!
Along the trail in Chesler Park.

When to Visit Canyonlands: The Needles

Canyonlands can get very hot in the summer time, so we recommend a Spring or Fall visit. There is very limited shade, so it makes hiking and enjoying the park a little bit tougher in July and August. We have gone the first week of June and still been very, very warm.

Other Info

Do not skip a stop at Newspaper Rock on the way in to Canyonlands: The Needles. The amount of petroglyphs in one spot is amazing. If you’d like to see our ideas for hikes in Island in the Sky, here is our post of all of the Canyonlands Kid Hikes in one spot. There is also a free printable to help you use when planning.

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Angee Draper

    Put Whale Rock on your agenda next time you’re in Island in the Sky. It’s a short hike with a fun climb on red rock.

    1. Natalie

      Thanks! We can’t wait to give this hike a try.