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Exploring the Pothole Point area

Needles District in Canyonlands: A Day Trip

On our trip one year to Utah in late March (a perfect time of the year to visit), we took one day and drove south from Moab to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. The area is far less busy than the Island in the Sky part of Canyonlands, yet it’s equally beautiful.

The Needles, named for colourful pinnacles of Cedar Mesa Sandstone, sit in the southeast corner of Canyonlands. With over 60 miles of hiking trails – covering all levels of difficulty, you’ll easily find plenty to do in a day in Needles District Canyonlands. Once again, I wish we’d had more time.

Apart from a stop at the Newspaper Rock Archaeological Site outside the park, we spent the day hiking the Slickrock Trail, and doing three other short hikes.

The drive into the Needles District is very beautiful - and empty feeling
The drive into the Needles District is very beautiful – and empty feeling

Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument

If you’re heading for the Needles District in Canyonlands be sure to stop at Newspaper Rock. It’s 12 miles in from Highway 191 on Highway 211. 

The rock, made of Wingate sandstone, is literally covered with hundreds of well-preserved petroglyphs, the first carvings of which were made about 2,000 years ago. Look for pictures of deer, buffalo and pronghorn antelope along with symbols and human figures.

Newspaper Rock Archaeological Site - a petroglyph panel recording about 2,000 years of history though the meaning of the figures is undecided
Newspaper Rock Archaeological Site – a petroglyph panel recording about 2,000 years of history though the meaning of the figures is undecided

Needles District Canyonlands – How to get here

Most people will be visiting from the Moab area, the nearest town of any size. Drive south out of Moab on US Highway 191 and continue for 40 miles to reach the intersection with Highway 211. Go west and follow it for 34.4 miles to reach the Visitor Centre. Allow 90 minutes one way for the drive.

Empty landscape on the way into Canyonlands National Park
Empty landscape on the way into Needles District Canyonlands National Park
Came across these rock climbers on the road in
Came across these rock climbers on the road into the Needles district
View through the fence
View through the fence at a stop on the way to the Needles District

Hiking in the Needles District Canyonlands

There are four short but scenic hiking trails that can be accessed along the paved scenic drive. We did all of them with pictures following the description below. We missed the 8 strenuous trails – with most requiring 4 -7 hours of hiking – or an overnight backpacking trip.

The 0.6 mile Cave Spring Trail takes you to a historic cowboy camp with prehistoric rock paintings. Climb a couple of ladders as part of the hike and enjoy great views.

Follow cairns to complete the 0.6 mile Pothole Point Trail. Enjoy interesting slickrock and views of the Needles.

The Roadside Ruin Trail is only 0.3 miles long and can be done in 10-15 minutes. This is where you’ll see the food storage structure built by Indigenous peoples.

Our favourite trail was the 2.4 mile Slickrock Trail that offered superb views for its entire length as you’ll see in the photos.

Canyonlands National Park is big sky country
Canyonlands National Park is big sky country
Dead trees look like pieces of sculpture
Dead trees look like pieces of sculpture
The start of the Slickrock Trail, Needles District, Canyonlands National Park
The start of the Slickrock Trail
A blast of colour in the desert
A blast of colour in the desert
You can see why it's called the Needles District
You can see why it’s called the Needles District
The hiking is easy in the Needles District - but don't forget the water
The hiking is easy in the Needles District – but don’t forget the water
Don't worry - this rock isn't going anywhere
Don’t worry – this rock isn’t going anywhere
Hiking among pancake like rocks in the Needles District
Hiking among pancake like rocks in the Needles District on the Slickrock Trail
Needles District Canyonlands and views reminiscent of the Grand Canyon
Reminiscent of the Grand Canyon
Needles District Canyonlands and views from the slickrock trail
Views from the Slickrock Trail in the Needles District
Needles District Canyonlands - Potholes area
Needles District Canyonlands – Potholes area
Needles District Canyonlands at the Pothole Point area
Exploring the Pothole Point area
Giant boulders frame a great view
Giant boulders frame a great view
A series of caves most recently used by cowboys - note the blackened ceiling
A series of caves most recently used by cowboys – note the blackened ceiling
Cave Spring has been a reliable source of water for centuries - lots of maidenhair fern and pictographs in the cave
Cave Spring has been a reliable source of water for centuries – lots of maidenhair fern and pictographs in the cave
Climbing out of the cave
Climbing out of the cave
The view from the top of the ladder
The view from the top of the ladder
Overhangs provide much needed shade
Overhangs provide much needed shade
Food storage
Food storage in the Puebloan era – accessed via a one third mile loop trail

Camping in the Needles area

You’ll find 26 individual campsites in the Needles Campground in addition to three group camping locations. The nightly fee in 2020 is $US20 per site. In spring and fall you can reserve individual sites, while the rest of the year it’s first come, first served. It’s busy in spring and fall (really the best time to visit) so plan ahead.

You’ll find a fire ring, a picnic table and toilets, 

For more information visit the Canyonlands National Park website.

More reading related to what you can do in Utah’s national parks

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

A day trip from Moab to the Needles District, Canyonlands National Park

 

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Really Awesome Photo hope i visited this place Thanks for sharing with us keep up it
    Have a nice week ahead.

  2. Thanks for introducing me to this park, Leigh. I love the landscape and though the rocks look small, I bet they’re way much larger.
    I agree, that photo does look a lot like the Grand Canyon.

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