The Needles

I don’t know what it is about this time of year, but it seems to be harder and harder to keep the work motivation going. Sometimes my mind wanders to some of my favorite trips and adventures. I thought I would share one of my favorite places with you, the Needles District in Canyonlands National Park.

Canyonlands National Park is vast and actually comprises three distinct areas. The northernmost area is known as Island in the Sky and is located in the region north of the confluence of the Green River and the Colorado River. This is the closest section of the park to Moab, Utah and is quite popular with tourists and mountain bikers. The western section of the park, which is on the west side of the Colorado River, is known as The Maze. It lies in some of the most remote country in the continental United States. The Maze can only be accessed on primitive four-wheel-drive roads. The closest real town would be Hanksville which is dozens and dozens of miles away. I’ve never been to the Maze, but you can see the westernmost section from a place in the park that I’m going to tell you about today, the Needles.

The Needles
This is why this part of Canyonlands National Park is known as the Needles. You are looking west right into the heart of The Needles.

The Needles District is the southernmost section of the park and can be accessed by turning west onto State Road 211 from US Highway 191. The westbound turnoff goes into the park and is about 12 miles or so north of Monticello, UT, considerably south of Moab. Canyonlands Needles District is about 35 miles west of Highway 191. This incredibly scenic country is best visited any time of the year, other than now. Summers in the red rock country can be pretty brutal, with the heat reflecting off of the rock walls. In many places you’re hiking across sandstone, which reflects the heat right back up onto you. No matter what time of year you come, make sure you bring lots of sun protection, a good hat, and more water than you think you could possibly use.

Two campgrounds are located near the Needles District. The first is the National Park campground right in the park, which is quite beautiful. This one has water. Unfortunately, this national park campground is usually full and booked up for months and months in advance. There is another private campground immediately east of the park boundary known as the Needles Outpost. This is where I usually stay as you can almost always find a spot.

My Campsite
This was one of my camp spots in the Needles Campground. As you can see, the area is incredible.

The Needles Outpost used to be run by an older hippie like couple who were always pleasant and welcoming. They kept the campground quite rustic and primitive to really help it blend in and be almost invisible when viewed from afar. The campsites are all quite private but have a nice cooking pit and camp table. There are no hookups here; this is dry camping. But the campground does have immaculately clean bathrooms and pay showers as well as drinking water taps near the bathroom building. Ownership has just recently changed, and unfortunately I cannot comment on the new ownership.

The couple who used to run the campground were wonderful hosts, and when you stopped into the Outpost store after a long and hot hike, often times you would be invited back for a burger and a beer a little later in the afternoon. These were great times as I would end up chatting with the hosts as well as many of the local park rangers. I probably learned more about the park from these afternoon burger chats than I did from anything I’ve ever read. By the way, their burgers were fantastic! It just didn’t get any better, sitting at the counter chatting with these wonderfully passionate people while munching on a freshly grilled burger followed by an ice-cold beer. The little store at the Outpost campground also had a gas station, which could come in handy as some of the four-wheel-drive trails are quite long.

Road in
Heading east into the park area on State Road 221.
Entering park
Another view of the red rock buttes on the way into The Needles.

I thought I would take you on a photo tour of the park. Needles is nearly impossible to describe. It is simply too spectacular! Everywhere you look there’s something different. There are vast vistas with views of faraway mountains offering yet more places to explore. You will encounter tight slot canyons where it is difficult to fit through without scraping the sides of your pack. Some of the rock formations are so strange that it is a wonder how they could have been created. I couldn’t tell you how many miles of trails exist in the park, but I visited there many times. Yet I am still only beginning to explore the hiking trails. If you are into four wheeling, there are trails that range from easy jaunts to incredibly technical traverses where if you make a mistake you’re probably going to tumble down hundreds of feet to your death. I guess I just love Needles because it has everything. And it’s remote enough where you really don’t have much cell phone service, so it’s one of the few places left in the continental US where you can truly get away from everything.

At night the skies are so dark that you can see the Milky Way galaxy. My favorite time of the year to come to the park is in the early spring while most of the kids are still in school. The campground is nearly empty as are the trails. The serenity is quite overpowering, but at the same time it feeds your soul everything you really need.

So I hope you enjoy this photo tour of the Needles District. If you come, please come prepared as the country can be pretty wild and inhospitable. But at the same time, if you come with an open mind you will leave better than when you came in, more relaxed, more happy, and with a more clear vision of why we’re here.

Rock 1
One of the “Needles”.
La Sal vista
On top of a ridge before dropping back down into the Needles formations. The mountains to the east are the Manti La Sals at about 12,000 feet elevation.
Old stump
Amazing scenery on the Overlook trail.
Fin and dome formations in The Needles. The dark soil in the foreground is actually “alive” with micro organisms that are quite fragile is stepped on.
East vista
Looking backward east again down into a canyon as I was heading into the Needles to the west.
Cliff rocks
It is quite interesting how the sandstone layers can be so distinct.
Four Ghosts
These rocks are on the Colorado Overlook trail. They are just plain weird, but cool, really cool.
Cedar rocks
I just liked the contrast of shapes and colors.
River gorge
Looking southwestward from the Colorado Overlook trail. Across the river gorge is the Maze section of Canyonlands National Park.
Colorado River
Far below is the Colorado River, and across the gorge is the Maze.
Overlook trail step 1
My Jeep coming up a steep section of the Colorado Overlook trail.
Cedar sky
An old juniper bush near the end of the Colorado Overlook trail.
BW Stump
I really like how the black and white just brings out the contrast and the textures.
BW Rock
Things always look different in black and white. This seems to bring out the textures more than the color version.

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