March 2016 – Canyonlands National Park is a stunning and massive National Park full of red rock hoodoos and towering red rock cliffs and wonderful hikes.
There are three districts within the Park, two of which can be accessed by car on a paved road: the Needles District in the south and the Island in the Sky District a 100 mile drive around the park to the north. After our brief stop at Newspaper Rock outside Monticello, Utah, we continued on the same road about 25 miles further north to the Canyonlands southern entrance at the Needles District.
As we stopped at the entrance station to flash our pass and get maps, Mark joked with the attendant who had been making change and issuing passes to a line of cars all day long.
“So, this is what a degree in Forestry gets you…” Mark winked. “You might as well be working at fast food joint!”
The ranger gave him a wry smile. “Actually, it’s even better than that.” He said. “I have a master’s degree in Geology.”
We both got a chuckle out of that, but we understood exactly what he meant when went on, “All my colleagues are in Houston making six figures. But guess who’s jealous of whom?!”
We found out later that this ranger does a Night Sky lecture that is really awesome, but we were there for a daytime hike. He recommended we do the Chesler Park hike, and before we even got the truck parked at the trailhead, we were already immersed in red rock beauty.
This is a 6 miles out-and-back hike that is loaded with fabulous scenery right off the bat, so whether you go the whole distance or do just a small bit, it is really rewarding.
Right from the get go, after a fairly steep bit of climbing, we were within range of the “needles” red rock formations that give this area its name. Along with the spiky needles, we were surrounded by cool rock formations of all kinds, and it was really tempting to stop hiking and just play in the rocks.
The sandy dirt trail is very clear and easy to find in spots.
But in other places it wanders off across vast flat rocks. Fortunately it is very well marked with little rock pile cairns.
The fun thing is that there are hundreds of places to sneak off the trail and explore.
As we followed the trail, continuously tempted by things that were off the trail, it occurred to me that you could do this hike a dozen times and have a totally difference experience each time.
The “needles” stand in neat rows, and some rows are more needle-like than others.
The sky was filled with clouds, and the sun played with the rock formations, alternately shading them and lightening them up.
I was caught up by the incredible vistas of rock formations standing all around us, but Mark looked down at his feet and noticed some beautiful wildflowers.
We had been enjoying all kinds of different scrambles here and there as the trail wandered in and around the rock formations. Then, suddenly, the trail descended into a slot.
It was just wide enough to fit a person. We love little slots like this.
It wasn’t very long, though, and soon we were out at the other end. We took a break under an overhang.
We were both going crazy taking photos. Back in the rig, Mark played with one of his in black and white. Cool!
We turned around to retrace our steps and saw the needles from another vantage point. What a spectacular area.
This is a popular hike, and as we walked back we saw dozens of people of all kinds starting out. It’s a great hike for all ages. Lots of families had brought little kids who ran around on the trail, and older couples came with hiking sticks. We even saw a young couple doing the hike as a trail run. Wow!
When we passed a woman carrying a little while pooch with pink and purple ears, we knew we’d seen it all.
The Needles District of Canyonlands is stunning, and there are hikes galore. Lots of families were camping there for Spring Break (and more than a few mentioned having been caught in the snow in their tents a few nights back like we were).
On the way in and out of Canyonlands National Park, there is a tiny homestead on the west side of the road that begs for exploration.
This little cabin couldn’t have been much more than 250 square feet. We couldn’t resist poking around for a bit.
“Tiny houses” are very popular these days, and lots of people want to downsize into minimal square feet, whether on a foundation or on wheels. Imagine living in this wee cabin, miles from nowhere, during the winter. To stay cool in summertime, it even had an outdoor fireplace!
If your RV travels take you through southeastern Utah, it is well worth the detour to visit both Newspaper Rock and Canyonlands, to check out the intriguing sites in between, and especially to do the Chesler Park hike into the Needles red rock formations!
More info and links below.
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More info about Canyonlands National Park:
- Canyonlands National Park – Needles District – National Park Service Website
- Canyonlands National Park Map
- Canyonlands Needles District Hike Descriptions
- Location of Canyonlands National Park North and South Entrances, Moab and Newspaper Rock
Other blog posts from our RV travels in Southeastern Utah:
- Heavenly Theatrics in Utah’s Red Rocks 10/04/19
- Mexican Hat, Utah – A Special Hoodoo in the Red Rocks 04/05/19
- Traces of Antiquity and the Not-So-Ancient in Utah! 03/29/19
- SE Utah – A Mars Colony, Wide-Angle Photography & Snowy Mountains! 03/22/19
- Monument Valley & Hite Scenic Overlook – Stone Towers from Below & Above! 03/15/19
- Canyon Country Highlights – Lake Powell, Horseshoe Bend & More! 02/01/19
- Goblin Valley State Park Utah – One Gigantic Playground! 04/20/18
- Utah Scenic Byway 24 RV Trip – Capitol Reef National Park 04/16/18
- Canyonlands National Park UT – Island in the Sky (and Night Skies!) 04/28/16
- Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah – Magical Sunrises! 04/23/16
- Arches National Park Utah – A Playground of Soaring Red Rock Bridges! 04/21/16
- Moab Utah – Red Rocks and Snowcapped Mountains 04/14/16
- Newspaper Rock Utah – Petroglyphs and Rock Art from the Ancients 04/06/16
- Valley of the Gods & Goosenecks State Park, Utah – Beautiful! 04/04/16
- Paria Rimrocks “Toadstools” Hike to A Hidden Canyon! 05/25/14
- Wire Pass Trail – Slot Canyon Hiking! 05/22/14
- Natural Bridges National Monument & Utah’s Bicentennial Highway 06/15/12
- Goblin Valley, UT – Where the Ghosts Are 10/16/07
- San Rafael Swell, UT – Pictographs & Dinosaur Prints 10/12/07
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Your photography is amazing. Thank you for sharing!
Thank you! We have a lot of fun with our cameras.
One of our all-time favorite hikes! Your photos of it are gorgeous and really capture the grandeur. The dog is cute, but I thought pets were prohibited on the trails in National Parks?
This hike is now on our all time favorite list too, and we’ll be back to take more pics someday!! I have no idea about pets in the National Parks, as our pets are little stuffed animals that stay on our bed and don’t need walks or food…
Haha, our pets are a stuffed toy raven and chickadee. :-)) We love “real” pets but are waiting until our full-time traveling days are behind us before adding them to our family. We don’t like leaving them in the trailer and it can be challenging to find places to hike with them.
Likewise, and our preferred pets would be a ferret and a cockatoo, probably not the easiest companions in an RV or out on the hiking trails!!
You guys just keep making my bucket list bigger! Thanks for all of the beautiful pictures.
Very funny! Our own travels make our bucket list get longer too, because we never “see it all” and always have to make plans to go back!!! Happy trails.