Needles District of Canyonlands National Park

Everyone who does the Grand Circle in Utah and Arizona goes to Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Arches.  Sometimes those tours will include a lesser-visited but still gorgeous national park called Canyonlands.  Canyonlands National Park has three districts:  Island in the Sky, Needles, and the Maze.  Most people who go to Canyonlands visit Island in the Sky because it is closest to Arches National Park and Moab.  Traffic along the one road can be very heavy and the overlooks are crowded.  Tom and I visited Island in the Sky in 2015 and you can read about that here.

This visit we were coming from the south, so we decided to visit the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.  The Needles District also has a Visitors Center and a paved road leading to it.  We saw a few tour buses and lots of cars, but nothing like the traffic jam at Island in the Sky.  Part of the reason for this is the long road into the Needles District.  This road takes you by some beautiful scenery, part of Bears Ears National Monument.

The Needles

Needles District of Canyonlands National Park is filled with trails perfect for long day hikes or overnight backpacking trips.  Tom and I intended to take a longer hike into the the Needles themselves, but the forecast called for thunderstorms and we didn’t want to get caught far away from the truck with lightning and heavy rain.  Most of the rock in the Needles District is slickrock.  Fine to walk on as long as it isn’t wet.  When it is wet, however, it becomes rock with a thin layer of very slippery mud on the top.  Consequently we opted for several shorter hikes so that we could stay closer to the truck.

Potholes on the Pothole Trail
Whimsical rock formations
Faithful truck
Dutch shoe overlook
Storm clouds moving in
Island in the Sky
Visitors Center

We checked out the overlooks and hiked around Pothole Point.  Pothole Point is a very short, relatively level trail with some wonderful overlooks.  We could see several of the Island in the Sky overlooks.  Island in the Sky District is up looking down on Canyonlands.  Needles District is on the canyon floor looking up at cliffs and rock formations.  Visiting each district gives you a very different view of Canyonlands National Park.

On the Slickrock Trail. You can see all the traffic at the overlook.

We finished off our visit by hiking the moderate Slickrock Trail.  Although the trail is next to the Big Spring Canyon Overlook, most visitors go to the overlook and ignore the trail.  Most of the time we felt like we were the only people on the trail.  We had fun hiking on the slickrock and peering over the edges into the canyons below.  Most of the time the canyons weren’t deep enough for my vertigo to kick in.  Fortunately the rain held off until we got back to the truck.  The trail would have been more treacherous in the rain.

Although we didn’t get to take the longer hike we had planned, we enjoyed the hikes we did very much.  The scenery was beautiful and the trails were not crowded with people.  Needles District is definitely worth the drive to visit.