Backpack to Chesler Park, Canyonlands NP

Utah Squaw Flat Trailhead

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This has to be one of the preeminent trails in the American Southwest. A stunning hike through red-rock country to a verdant oasis hidden in the Needles of Canyonlands.

The first draw of this adventure is the roadtrip to the trailhead itself. Set out pre-dawn from Moab, UT and head 77 miles south and west to the Needles District Visitors Centre on Utah 211. En route you'll pass Newspaper Rock, a treasured collection of pictographs well worth the detour if you're making good time.

At the visitors centre pick up your backcountry permit and gather details on water availability on the hike. This is critical. Water scarcity is a major hazard on this trail, but part of the adventure in such remote territory. From here proceed 4 miles on to the well signed Squaw Flat Trailhead. Look for the Chesler Park Trail.

The trail lifts you out onto sedimentary slickrock flats with broad views of the Needles backcountry. Expect to have the trail mainly to yourself. Keep well hydrated.

After 1 1/2 miles pass the intersection with Big Springs Canyon Trail (keep right) and continue south west through mini slots and over small ridges. The landscape changes constantly, the slick rock path mapped out by flat-stone cairns. At mile 5 pass by the intersection with the Elephant Canyon Trail and head into and across the the namesake gorge. This is a great place to find shade and stop for a snack.

From here you make the final and, at times, grueling climb up into Chesler Park. The last push takes you scrambling up vertical red walls though a cleft in the rock. You emerge into a hidden green park of grassland and sage, a visual feast totally at odds with what you have just traveled through.

Upon entry into the park turn left on the loop trail and continue on 1-2 miles to your designated campsite. Ours was in the centre of the park past the relics of an old cowboy camp and hidden under a cluster of needle formations, facing westward toward the setting sun.

Advice is to get on the trail early and make it to camp with daylight to spare. Water was scarce in late May when we did this hike and we had to traverse into the next canyon to re-stock our supplies late in the day.

Chesler Park is surreal and intimate, ringed in by sandstone pinnacles and flanked by the Colorado River. This will challenge you but better yet it will change your perspective on the power of place. And once the sun falls you'll not see a better display of the starlit heavens anywhere.

Pack List

  • Permit
  • Lightweight tent
  • Sleeping bag and pad
  • Water (you cannot carry enough) and water filter
  • Sun screen, hat and sunglasses
  • Bandana - soak in cold water and wrap around your neck for comfort in the heat
  • Light-weight hiking clothing
  • Cooking equipment & food
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Backpacking, Hiking, Photography

Skill Level:



Spring, Autumn, Winter

Trail Type:



13 Miles

Elev. Gain:

600 Feet




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How to Get There

about 1 year ago

One of the coolest places

The trails to and from Chesler Park are some of my favorite that I've been on. I love the joint trail and a lot of the off trail slot canyons you can explore along the way. One of my favorite places. I just wish water wasn't so hard to come by in the area.

about 1 year ago

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