Hiking Needles District, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

We made it under the wire and entered the backcountry of the Needles region of Canyonlands National Park just hours before the federal government shutdown that would close the park the next morning.

Our itinerary was not well thought out: we were more concerned about being allowed in the park than the specifics of the best places to hike and camp. As such, we camped our first night at Big Springs 1 (BS1) just forty minutes in from the parking lot. Still, it was far enough to escape the political dysfunction in Washington, at least for the moment.

The less-than-a-mile hike up the entrance to the Big Springs Canyon was pretty but not extraordinary.

The primitive camp sits in a wooded area next to a wash that in early October was completely dry. We had carried in enough water to last until the following morning. Later we found a substantial pool about a half mile further up the trail.

Across the trail from the campsite we climbed a short distance up to the canyon plateau and discovered a magical expanse of white and orange-pink sandstone with the views we were hoping for. Now it was starting to look like the Canyonlands we were eager to explore.

The next day we extended the 6.6 mile hike to the Lost Canyon, where we were to camp that night at LC1, with a day hike towards Chesler Park, another 5 miles out and back. The cranky clerk at the Needles backcountry desk who had barely let us into the park had mentioned in a softer moment that this was the most scenic area of the park.

Feeling lighter after caching our packs at the junction of the Big Springs and the Squaw Canyon trails we headed into a mind blowing stretch of white and orange-pink sandstone strata.  First crossing the canyon plateau (watch for the slot where the trail slips into a crevice that opens up on the other side) we descended down a second canyon that borders the needle formations for which the area of the park is named.

Our time is limited but the continually changing surreal beauty pulls us further along the trail. Just one more bend, one more spire, I take hundreds of photos but can never quite capture the feeling of hiking through this maze of canyons and plateaus.

EC2 and EC3 appear to be ideal locations for exploring this region of the park, although water sources are scarce at this time of year.

We retrace our steps and retrieve our packs for the hike to our camp for the night. While less dramatic than the morning’s day hike, the trail through Lost Canyon is much greener with a steady flow of water in the creek.

The camp site at LC1 again is set back in the trees, a pleasant enough spot, but with no nearby water sources. The creek we had been following for much of the afternoon disappears about a mile from camp leaving only a wide dry river bed.

The 2.8 mile hike back to the parking lot the next morning returns us to the spectacular views from the top of the sandstone canyon plateaus.

Trails are well blazed with cairns but require some scrambling up and down rock faces. While not for those with vertigo issues, no technical rock climbing skills are required.

September 30 – October 2, 2013

For a list of all posts is this series see the Hiking in Southern Utah and Arizona page.

3 thoughts

  1. Awesome pictures. This is on my list of places to get to soon! I agree that photos can never truly capture the experience, which is why I always try to take some breaks from photo-taking and just capture the experience wherever I go.

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