Backpack into the Needles District

Elephant Hill Trailhead

Scaleable itinerary from a day hike to a multi-day backpack adventure. Explore some of the most unique rock formations in the world. Capture some of the brightest stars in the darkest skies. Transport yourself to another world on this challenging yet rewarding hike.

The Needles district of Canyonlands National Park is expansive, difficult, and one of the most visited areas of Canyonlands for hikers. For anyone looking to backpack in Canyonlands, The Needles district is the area to do it in. With quickly changing topography and one-of-a-kind geological formations, Needles is a backpack photographers dream.

First thing is building your itinerary. Most, if not all, Needles district hikes are day hikes or longer. Check out a map from the NPS here. You won't be able to see everything in one day so planning your route and campsites will be important.

The two big attractions are the Joint Trail which takes you through a slot canyon and Druid Arch, a massive arch at the end of a dry riverbed. But the scenery alone through many parts of Needles is destination enough for an almost out of this world experience.

Start your journey at the Elephant Hill Trailhead. Day hikes do not require a permit, but all overnight camping does and you must camp in designated sites. About half the way from the Visitor Center, the road turns to gravel, but you wont need a 4x4 or high clearance vehicle if you're only driving to the EH parking lot. Fill your water BEFORE getting to the trailhead as their is no water at EH and absolutely no water once on the trail. During warmer months, pack extra water. From the trailhead, hike the short uphill climb to Elephant Canyon. Take the relatively flat 2 mile hike to the Chesler Park, Elephant Canyon crossroads. You may continue on through Elephant Canyon to Druid Arch or head into Chesler park over a rock pass and move on to the Joint Trail.

If you're planning a multi-day backpacking trip, head to your campsite and lighten your pack, especially if you're tackling the Joint Trail as you'll need the lightened load to be able to fit through some of the slots. CP1 is the best campsite in Chesler Park with plenty of shade on 3 sides and a great view of the western sky for sunset over all of Chesler Park. Almost all campsites accommodate groups but double check when making reservations on group size restrictions. You must book in advance through the NPS website.

When crossing from Chesler Park over to Elephant Canyon, you'll take a 1 mile pass through steep rocks. It is very easy to lose the trail here and the trail is physically taxing for only being one mile. If camping in Elephant Canyon, all campsites are just off the trail and above the riverbed. Wave to hikers as you setup camp. Once setup, take the fairly flat 2 mile riverbed hike to Druid Arch but leave enough time to get back to camp before sunset.

Remember, anything you pack in you must pack out. The sunlight and heat can be dangerous, even in cooler months, so pack only what you need and calculate your water requirements carefully. You don't want to have to turn around because you run out of water!

Once you hike out and head to your car, take the hour long drive back into Moab, UT and refill your supplies for your next adventure!

Pack List

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Activities Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking
Skill Level Advanced
Season Spring, Autumn


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Chesler Park Backpacking Rocks

My good friends and I just stayed at this exact same back country site in your photos, CP1 and absolutely loved it! So many cool rocks to climb up on to, an awesome canyon behind you to view as well including 10 second echoes! the stars were magnificent too :D I would go back in a heartbeat and do the joint trail too

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