Planning a trip to Canyonlands National Park in Utah?
Canyonlands is divided into three districts: Needles, Island in the Sky and The Maze. Each has its own scenery and fun things to see and do. Some activities are easily accessible. Others require a special vehicle and/or miles of hiking in a remote desert.
We usually stick with the easy stuff, and still have been well-rewarded at Canyonlands.
I recently visited the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park for the first time. My 12-year-old son and 11-year-old niece joined me, and we had a great day. I've visited this region several times and regret that it has taken me so long to see this beautiful section of Canyonlands.
We spent about half a day in Needles as part of a short trip to San Juan County, Utah. It was a lot of fun, and we still had time to stop for milkshakes in Moab afterward, then drive home to the Salt Lake City area.
Here are our favorite short hikes in the Needles district of Canyonlands.
The entrance to the Needles district is located about 60 minutes north of Monticello or 90 minutes south of Moab, at the end of Highway 211. It's an easy, scenic drive. Make a quick stop to see the petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock on your way.
You'll find a visitor center and a paved loop road inside the park. The visitor center has a ranger desk, restrooms and a small gift shop. There is a campground inside the park, and other campgrounds nearby.
We visited in late June, and crowds were light. When we stopped in Moab afterward, we found bumper-to-bumper traffic. Needles is still undiscovered!
Temperatures can get hot in the summer, and this region is very dry. Temperatures were unseasonably cool – low 80's – on the day we visited. Spring and fall are the most pleasant times to hike Canyonlands. Winter can be cold and snowy, but most days are sunny and it can still be a nice time to visit.
Food and drinks are NOT sold inside the park. There is a water bottle filling station at the visitor center.
Needles Outpost is just outside the park entrance. It sells gasoline, food and drinks. It also has a campground. Needles Outpost is open from March-November.
The nearest hotels are in Monticello and Moab. On this trip, we stayed at Inn at the Canyons in Monticello. The kids loved the large indoor pool here.
Click the button below to see rates and availability for Inn at the Canyons and other nearby hotels on TripAdvisor.com.
After a brief stop at the visitor center, we took the loop road to Roadside Ruin. This trail is more of a short walk than a hike. You'll be rewarded with an Ancestral Puebloan storage structure sheltered under a rock overhang. It's hundreds of years old, fenced off, and fairly close to the trail.
The Cave Springs Trail was our next stop. This loop trail has a few points of interest that we enjoyed. First, we found a 150-year-old cowboy camp that has been preserved by a rock overhang. Tables, cupboards and other supplies are on display.
Next, watch for petroglyphs on the rock walls along the trail. We spotted drawings of people and handprints. These are hundreds of years old, and fairly easy to see up close.
Cave Spring gets its name from water that seeps through the sandstone. It creates little hanging gardens along the rock wall. There is a cave, but it's very small.
This trail has a sturdy wooden ladder, which we thought was fun. It's chained to the rock, and if I can climb it, nearly anyone can. 😉 You'll be rewarded with 360-degree views of the scenery. The trail gradually loops back down to the parking lot from there.
Pothole Point was our last trail of the day. This trail loops across pocked sandstone and offers views of the “needles” that this section of the park is named for. The kids thought they looked more like fat fingers and used that term instead of “Needles” from then on.
This trail had some fun spots for the kids to climb and explore and play. You may want to throw some snacks in your day pack and take a little extra time on this one.
The Needles district of Canyonlands National Park is easily accessible, with three short and scenic hikes that most families can finish in half a day. There is a lot more you can do and see in this section of the park if you have a 4WD vehicle, or more time to hike.
We had a great day hiking the Needles district, and hope that our experience will help your family plan a great trip to southeastern Utah.