The Needles District of Canyonlands is a massive sculpture garden of fantastical formations, with extensive hidden pathways throughout.
When driving into the Needles District of Canyonlands, the landscape may look unassuming at first. The highway crosses sagebrush prairie with just scattered mounds of exposed stone, but dots on the horizon gradually grow into megalithic sculptures as you get closer. You’ll soon enter a wonderland of sandstone domes, spires, alcoves, and canyons that become more numerous around every corner. It’s an absolute treasure trove to a geologist, and the awe is not lost on a casual observer, either. The sights only get better by leaving the car and hiking into the midst of it.
Of Canyonlands’ three districts, the Needles is best for hiking because of the abundance of trails and their adventurous nature. Paths in the Needles must pick through the chaotic jumble of rocks––tracing canyons and entering secret passages, scrambling over stone barriers, and finding unexpected flatlands tucked into the folds of the landscape.
The name “Needles” comes from a specific collection of rock formations––a row of sandstone towers stacked into a spiny ridgeline. This formation can be seen from many trails in the district, and a handful of trails go near and even among the needle-like rocks, but any trail in Needles District is sure to encounter some natural jungle gym of stone.
Canyonlands National Park is open year-round, but the desert environment is subject to weather extremes. The best seasons for hiking are generally spring and fall when temperatures are milder. Summer is quite hot, and periodic storms bring lightning and heavy rain. Summer is the best time for many people to travel, however, so hiking in the Needles remains popular. If visiting in summer, all but the most experienced desert hikers should stick to shorter and shadier trails as much as possible. Winter is quite cold, and sometimes snowy, but can be an especially beautiful and uncrowded time to visit. Again, in winter, experience is required to cope with conditions on longer trails.
Hikers should know that Canyonlands is also accessible to 4-wheel-drive vehicles, motorcycles, and bicycles, though they are restricted to certain trails. Some hiking routes utilize sections of vehicle trails, and campsites are often available to both backpackers and drivers/riders. The blending of these multiple uses makes Canyonlands a unique national park, and hikers can always find hiker-only trails if desired.
Day hikes and backpacking routes are both numerous in the Needles, with interconnecting trails making many options for distance and difficulty. In this guidebook are some of the top hikes, from easy roadside excursions to grueling backcountry treks. All of these listed are doable as day hikes, but some can be overnight trips instead, with a backcountry permit.