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The Big Needles Loop, UT

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Rated  Favorite Wish List UT > Southeast
5 of 5 by 3
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Difficulty 2.5 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance Loop 21.92 miles
Trailhead Elevation 5,004 feet
Elevation Gain 935 feet
Accumulated Gain 4,232 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 12 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 43.08
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36  2018-04-19
Canyonlands Needles Backpack
49  2018-04-19
Canyonlands Needles Backpack
8  2015-10-24 toddak
Author HAZ_Hikebot
author avatar Guides 16,882
Routes 16,052
Photos 24
Trips 1 map ( 6 miles )
Age 22 Male Gender
Location TrailDEX, HAZ
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Preferred   May, Sep, Oct, Jun
Sun  6:07am - 6:16pm
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2 Alternative
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    Needles District - 1
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    Needles District - 2
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

Most recent Triplog Reviews
The Big Needles Loop
rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
Canyonlands Needles Backpack
I spent some time in the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands back in early 2016 and wanted to return to check out the Needles District. I scored permits in early 2017 and the months blurred by. Chumley was able to join me for this trip and we left after work on Wednesday afternoon. We car camped by Mexican Hat and completed the drive into Canyonlands and started hiking after a quick stop at the Visitor Center. Our plan is three days backpacking followed by car camping and day hikes and then returning to Phoenix the following Monday afternoon.

Thursday - April 19, 2018
We parked at the Squaw Flat Campground and started our hike to Chesler Park. The first mile is over a traditional trail and then you climb up onto slickrock and follow cairns. This will be the story of our hiking over the next three days. Following cairns is critical to not getting lost. Fortunately there are a lot of them and we also had Route Scout loaded with our GPS Route. This kept us on track. We continued hiking and were blown away by the views! Pictures don’t do this park justice! The hiking is also rugged with lots of easy to moderate obstacles to negotiate. The heavy overnight pack made things more difficult and my knees took a pounding!

After a few hours we arrived to Chesler Park and headed over to our campsite in CP2. It’s a nice site situated between several large boulders. It was a very windy day and this boulders helped as a wind break. After camp was set up, we put on day packs and headed for the Joint Trail. We made quick time and had a quick look from above before heading in. The Joint Trail is world class! The walls are roughly two feet apart and there are several side cuts that run for hundreds of yards. Several of these require you to turn your body sideways and shimmy through. I’m not the claustrophobic type but I felt it in here. We spent some time exploring and eventually exited on the far side where we connected onto a dirt road which we followed north for a bit before joining a single track that led back to Chesler Park and our camp. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing around camp and eating dinner. It was very windy which was annoying but manageable.

Friday - April 20, 2018
We woke on day two and checked the skies for precipitation. There appeared to be rain clouds to the north. We packed up camp and started our hike for Squaw Canyon. Along the way we’ll make the side detour to Druid Arch.

The first mile was relatively easy going and we dropped our packs at the junction with Druid Arch. From there it was two miles north to the Arch. Along the way we stopped by the spring which had lots of water. I filtered a quick liter and we continued on. There is good trail for most of this hike with a few obstacles mixed in. There is also an NPS ladder as you near the Arch. It aids the climb out of the canyon. Once we reached the arch we took our time and took a variety of pics. During this time the clouds moved in and some light snow flurries started to fall. Surprisingly the temps were pleasant and we enjoyed the snow! After we had our fill we started our return. The wet rock made things interesting but was not an issue. After some time we arrived at the spring and filtered more water and took another break. From there we returned to the junction and put on our overnight packs. By this time the snow/rain had stopped and the sun came out. The area dried up quickly!

Once we had our overnight packs on, we continued hiking towards Squaw Canyon. The trails conditions were similar to the day before where we follow cairns as we climb into and out of canyons. We also encountered two more ladders which were a lot of fun. With some effort we arrived at Squaw Canyon 2. All campsites are specific in this part of the park. We set up camp and Chumley headed north to get some beer from the car. I chilled out at camp for a bit before doing my own short hike up Squaw Canyon as well. We met back at camp around 6pm and settled in for the evening. This time with beer! Thanks Chumley!

Saturday - April 21, 2019
After a light rain fell the night before, we packed up and started our exit. We opted for a longer hike through Lost Canyon and this was a great option! Lost Canyon was a lot of fun and featured several fun obstacles and had plenty of water after the rain the night before. Before long we dropped down and connected onto our exit trail that would take us back to the car. The last few miles blurred by and we were back to the car around early afternoon. The first part of our backpack was complete. We would car camp in Indian Creek and then day hike to the Confluence the next day.

Final Thoughts
Water can be an issue. We got lucky. Our first night in Chesler Park was dry. We then had plenty of water north of Druid Arch and more water near our second nights camp in Squaw Canyon. Lost Canyon also had some pools.

We got lucky with the weather. We started our hike with cool temps with overcast and lots of wind. The wind held up all evening and was annoying but manageable. We had rain & snow flurries on our second day but it was actually enjoyable and never got super cold. We had sunshine on our final day.

Campsites are designated sites. I scored these permits back in early January. There is a website that shows real time availability. Securing the permit was quite easy.

I'm guestimating my AEG. There were a lot of short ups & downs. We didn't have any major climbs. I think the biggest one was 400ft.

I really loved the Needles District! I would even say it instantly became one of my favorite National Parks! The terrain is rugged and challenging while the views are jaw dropping. There are lots of hiking options especially if you start looking at off trail options. I will be back! And thanks Chumley for driving!
The Big Needles Loop
rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
Canyonlands Needles Backpack
So John had been pining to hike the Honaker Trail since about 2014, and while that one is an absolute gem, it's still a bit far to drive for a 5-6 mile hike. So we decided to tag on this extra hike while we were near the neighborhood.

The forecast called for windy conditions with snow showers Thursday night and Friday morning, and then rain showers Friday afternoon and night. And while not a washout by any stretch, it made us both pile a few extra pounds of clothes and gear into our packs to be prepared. There are no campfires permitted in the backcountry, so cold evenings at camp are especially chilly. On top of that, there are scarce water sources (and the NPS flatly told us to carry all we need and not count on finding any), and it's a poop-free zone, so wag bags were required too. The result was both of us heading out with unusually heavy 45lb packs!

Squaw Flat to Chesler Park CP2
6.67 miles / 2:45

This was an incredible introduction to this spectacular park. The trail jumps right into the thick of things. Despite gray skies above, the colors, contrasts, and geology were amazing. Every little hill climbed and corner turned provided another indescribable scene. After a relatively short first day hike, we quickly found our assigned campsite in Chesler Park and set up camp as the afternoon wind kicked up sand and dust.

CP2 is a fine site, but I would rank the sites in order CP1, CP4, CP2, CP3, and finally CP5. You really can't go wrong camping in Chesler Park, but for views, geology, space, shade, and wind protection, that's how I would rank them.

Joint Trail [ photoset ]

Chesler Park to Squaw Canyon SQ2
5.42 miles / 2:27

This short day started with an easy hike to the junction of the Druid Arch trail where we dropped our packs for a side trip. We managed to get packed up and out of camp before the snow showers, but it wasn't very cold. I'd think it was close to 45 degrees, pretty ideal for hiking! After the trip to the arch, the skies cleared and the sun warmed things up considerably. We enjoyed finally seeing blue skies contrasting the geology here.

Both forks of Elephant Canyon were fantastic. Along the way, we found a lost Dane and admired the elevated EC3 campsite which would be a joy to camp at. The trail climbs up a canyon before crossing a pass and dropping into Squaw Canyon. We learned that these pass/saddle crossings were a highlight whenever we encountered them.

The trail took a couple of ins n outs around geologic obstacles before dropping to the bottom of Squaw Canyon where we immediately encountered enough water to dissuade any fears we had of a dry camp on night 2. With camp set up, sunny skies and plenty of daylight remaining, we each added another day hike to our afternoons before heading back to camp to enjoy the pleasant evening.

Not ten minutes after crawling into our tents, it somewhat unexpectedly started to rain. It continued steadily for a couple of hours providing a peaceful sound on the rainfly to sleep to.

Druid Arch [ photoset ]
Big Spring - Squaw Canyon Loop [ photoset ]

Squaw Canyon to Squaw Flat via Lost Canyon
6.9 miles / 2:45

Our exit day started by exiting Squaw Canyon in another geology-rich side canyon, wet from the overnight rain. After crossing another divide, we dropped down into Lost Canyon, which was a wider canyon with a flatter bottom than some of the others. But the canyon meandered wildly. Some stretches of trail were in sand, but not enough to get annoying. While there had been pools of water in the highest stretches of rocky canyon, the bottom was mostly dry until the camp LC2, which would have been another excellent place to camp.

LC1 was an anomaly, in a thick grove of oaks which so far had not sprouted and left it exposed. In a month, however, it might be the shadiest site in the park! LC2 was set amongst a couple of huge boulders, one of which provided a sheltered cave large enough for one tent. LC3 was a nice site set in some junipers, but it was nearly a mile to water.

From the LC1 site, which is also the trail junction for the west end of the Peekaboo Spring Trail, it's about 3 miles back to the trailhead. We were surprised at the number of ups and downs because the topo map looks fairly benign compared to the rest of this loop. But the variations in topography provided a pleasant hike with inspiring views that continued until we reached the parking lot!

Three 5-7 mile backpacking days aren't that difficult and allow for plenty of time to do some sightseeing and side hikes. While there are constant ups and downs, there are no big climbs. One 400 foot climb -- but mostly not more than 200 feet, so the terrain is generally what I would consider to be easy. More than half of the hiking is on bare rock and all the trails are marked with endless cairns. I actually decided the place should be called Cairnyonlands. #dadjoke. @bobp could retire and live out his days here. He would not run out of subjects to practice his art! ;)

In a nutshell, you should plan a trip here. It's unlike anything anywhere and needs to be seen to appreciated. Photos simply don't capture it. I don't think there is any glacial drift in the geologic history here, but 9L was quoted three different times saying this is his new favorite national park. And that's saying something.
The Big Needles Loop
rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
Lovely day to wander around the Needles after they had received several days of good rain. From the "A" trailhead at Squaw Flat: out Peekaboo to Lost Canyon then west over to Chesler Park and the amazing Joint Trail, looped around the north side of Chesler and back to the start. Excellent canyon and slickrock hiking with tons of short ups and downs (the AEG is my best guess). This hike is listed in Peter Potterfield's Classic Hikes of the World - I haven't hiked enough of the world to know for sure, but I'd say it's pretty darn classic.

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Canyonlands National Park
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