Out of the Big 5 National Parks in Utah, we had heard the least about Canyonlands and it ended up being both of our favorite park. Maybe it was because we’d heard so little… Expectations and all… Regardless, it was absolutely incredible. Canyonlands National Park itself is so huge that it is broken up into three main sections. The Needles (the focus of this guide), Island In The Sky (see our guide here), and The Maze (very remote, only visited by 4WD vehicles). This guide will tackle what active adventurers should do to make the most out of their chance to visit The Needles. Spoiler Alert: It includes our favorite hike in all of the Utah National Parks!
Disclaimer: This is not your typical relaxing, I-have-all-the-time-in-the-world travel guide. Ya it would be awesome to spend 2-3 days in each Utah National Park but let’s be honest no American traveler has the time to do that and see them all! So this guide and all our National Park Travel Guides are written to the frugal and practical American traveler who has squeezed this adventure into a long weekend or around a holiday. It will be short on park descriptions (you’ll learn all the same fun facts about the park while you’re there) and heavy on the hiking and efficient time planning. Little to no time is set aside for restaurants. It is assumed you’ll make one stop at a grocery store to pick up everything you need to eat on the trail or at your campsite. Our goal is to help you pack as many (usually free) fun-filled things into your cherished vacation time and make the most of potentially a once in a lifetime visit to these spectacular places. If you’re looking for something more relaxed, there are plenty of other awesome travel guides out there for you!
We’re just going to dive right into it. This itinerary assumes you have 1 full day to spend at Canyonlands – The Needles. It assumes you drove in early in the morning and plan to camp in or around the National Park the night after your hike.
Your Day – Hike Amongst The Needles
- Wake up at or just before sunrise
- Drive to the Elephant Rock trailhead (you will have to drive down a ~3 mile well maintained dirt road, any car can do it)
- Hike counter-clockwise first going to the Joint, then through Chesler Park, then to Druid Arch and return back to the parking lot (~15 mile total). The trail is pretty well marked, but be sure to grab a park map when you enter the park and have Maps.Me downloaded on your phone (more on Maps.Me below)
- Once you’ve rehydrated, stop by the Visitor Center to see if there are campsites in the park available. If not, grab a campsite just outside the park entrance.
- If you have more time, check out the other viewpoints in the afternoon. No additional hiking is needed today. Nothing else in the park will compare to what you’ve just seen!
TOTAL MILES: ~15
Start your hike as early as you can as it can get really hot and there is not much shade on the hike. Also, be sure to bring more water than you think. We brought 3 liters per person and it wasn’t enough. Bring at least 4 liters of water per person! And better yet, have a back up 5 gallon water cube in your car!
How to Get There
The entrance to Canyonlands – The Needles is a solid 1.5 hour drive from Moab. Moab is about a 3.5 hour drive from Salt Lake City. The drive from Moab to The Needles is absolutely spectacular and we highly recommend doing it at least once while there is light out. Be sure that you set your Google Maps to The Needles Visitor Center as there is a Needles Viewpoint turn off earlier in the drive that you don’t want to take.
You can rent a small, fuel efficient sedan and be just fine. There is a ~3 mile stretch of dirt road to the Elephant Rock trail head but it is well maintained!
Where To Stay
You must, must, must camp in or near Canyonlands – The Needles. You must! I say this because we did not but wish we did! You are way out in the middle of Utah so there is just about zero light pollution. This means on a clear night you’ll get to see the Milky Way stretch across the entire sky along with more stars that you could ever imagine.
There are campgrounds in the park that are first-come, first-serve. Since The Needles is least visited National Park near Moab, there will likely be campsites available in the park for $20/night (there were when we arrive at 10AM). If the National Park are full, there are a couple campground within 30 minutes of the park entrance. Do not expect campsites outside the park to have running water so come prepared with your water cube!
Whether you stay in the park or right outside, you will still see the glorious night sky!
Where To Go Next
The Other Utah National Parks
If you’re looking to plan a week long trip to Utah to see them all, then be sure to check out our epic 10 Day Utah National Park American Traveler Guide!
Probably our favorite travel app ever made. It has all the hiking trails and walking paths clearly marked and has easy to download offline maps. Whether we are in Colombia or Glacier National park, we know we’ll never be lost with Maps.me. Plus, it’s completely free!
Be sure to open the app and download the map when you have WiFi. You download regional maps by zooming in on a certain area. There’s nothing worse than opening up Maps.Me once you’re on trail and realizing you forgot to download your map!
An app that gives you trail distances and recent reviews for hiking trails. It’s worth checking AllTrails a day or two before you do a longer hike as it is updated frequently for hikers. It’s basically Yelp for hiking. Plus, it’s free too!
You’re good to go for Canyonlands – The Needles. You’ve got an itinerary broken down into a power-packed yet manageable day. Plus you’ve got all our lessons learned!
So there you have it, our Canyonlands – The Needles 1 Day Travel Guide! From us to you, happy adventuring!