I have been to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park before, but when a friend suggested we make it the site of our annual spring backpacking trip, I had no hesitation agreeing to it. There aren’t a lot of places I go back to (too many new spots to see!), but the amazing Chesler Park area in Needles is simply too good to pass up. We started by car camping for a couple nights in the Indian Creek area, then headed into the heart of the Needles on Sunday, April 20th for a night under the stars in Chesler. Here are some photos of the trip:


Indian Creek car camping
Indian Creek is a good bet for finding awesome car camping spots. Not divulging the location of this one!

I caught a ride with Jeff and Jackie, and we cruised as fast as we could down to the Needles District. It’s a long ride: 5+ hours from Salt Lake City! We stopped in Moab, which was swarming with people thanks to it being Easter Weekend/Jeep Safari. I’ve never seen the place so busy! But an hour later we arrived at Indian Creek, and thanks to Jeff and Jackie doing some recon work in the truck, we had ourselves a great campsite for the first two nights.

pothole point 2
Pothole Point is a short hike, but dazzles with thousands of features like these. Jackie takes it all in.

Four of us took off the next morning to do some short dayhikes. The sun was bright and the temps were in the high 70s…perfect spring weather in the desert! We checked out the short hikes to Pothole Point and Roadside Ruin. It was a great way to spend a few hours before sinking more beers back in camp.

pothole point 1
Randy and Jeff checking out the sites at Pothole Point in Needles District of Canyonlands NP.

Jeff, Randy and I also took an afternoon hike in the Indian Creek area. We romped over slickrock, then down into the creek for a cooling stroll. This is a beautiful area, and not even the crowds of people enjoying it alongside of us could detract from experience.

Skip, Ryan and Larissa joined us on Saturday night, and the next day we packed up camp and headed out to the Elephant Hill trailhead to begin our backpacking trip.

the crew at indian creek
A group shot before departing for the backpacking portion of the trip.

The journey was to be a good one: Elephant Canyon to the Druid Arch Trail for a side hike, then on to Chesler Park and our camp for the night! 12+ miles in one day…not bad for the first backpacking trip of the season.

hiking through crack in the rocks
Jeff leads the way through a crack in the rocks on the way to Elephant Canyon.
hiking elephant canyon
Skip making his way through the upper reaches of Elephant Canyon in the Needles. The hike is as scenic as it is rugged!

Elephant Canyon is a scenic mix of red, orange, white and gray rock. The trail starts up high, then plunges you down a dizzying set of switchbacks to the wash below. The walls tower hundreds of feet above you, loaded with features to gawk at. Following the trail due south, we eventually arrived at the junction to Druid Arch. We all dropped packs, ate lunch, and then made our way 2 miles to this noteworthy site.

druid arch in needles district
The crew gets goofy under the impressive Druid Arch.

Druid Arch is gigantic; one of the largest I have seen in this state. It’s certainly worth adding the extra mileage to the hike, and everyone was glad we did just that. We retraced our steps, and strapped our packs back on for the final push to camp.

hiking in Elephant Canyon
The trail alternates between slickrock, wash bottoms, and open meadows. Quite the diversity within 12 miles!
chesler park needles district
A good look at the formations that give the Needles District its name. Chesler Park is one beautiful area!

There are five campsites within the Chesler Park region, and sites CP4 and CP5 are the two most coveted. I had booked CP4 back in February; interesting that this was the same spot that Skip and I stayed in during our first trip to the Needles almost 5 years ago. The area was even more beautiful than I remembered. We set up camp and spent the day lounging in the sun and watching storm clouds roll through the sky, never releasing their payload.

That night, we were treated to a spectacular display of stars. The Lyrid Meteor shower was just one day away from its peak, and we all counted as many shooting stars as we could before finally turning in. I slept good, drained from the hike and a couple late nights by the campfire.

chesler park needles district
We made our way to the Joint Trail before heading out of Chesler Park. These early morning views really topped off the trip.

Before heading out, the group decided to hike the mile to the Joint Trail on the south end of Chesler Park. The Joint Trail isn’t a true slot canyon, more like an extended break between mammoth rocks. It was chilly inside the narrow passage, and even a little spooky. Heck of a way to start the day! I didn’t snap any photos inside Joint Trail, but I promise you that if you’re down this way you will want to check it out.

chesler park needles spires
One last look at the Chesler Park area in the Needles. The spires number in the 100s, each with its own unique character. This may be my favorite spot in Utah!

With food and drink gone, our packs were much lighter. The trail out formed a lollipop loop, so new sites were enjoyed on the trek out. Back at the trailhead, we toasted with cold beers and big smiles. The Needles District might be my favorite backcountry spot in Utah, and though it will be a while before I return this way, I can say confidently that this won’t be my last visit.

desert flowers
The desert never fails to stun with natural beauty.

Another incredible spring backpacking trip in the books…now the only question is how we can top it next year!