We got up at 7am and grabbed some breakfast in the motel lobby. We left a little after 8am to head to the Needles District of Canyonlands NP. Our plan was to begin the Chesler Park Loop Trail, get to the viewpoint of the park after 2.9 miles, and then decide whether to return for an out-and-back hike, or to continue and add the Chesler Park Loop for an additional 6 miles. A few of the park rangers, plus our books, highly recommended this hike as the quintessential Needles hike.
We checked in with the Vistor’s Center when we arrived in the park at 10:30. Things are really slow in Needles and they don’t staff the park entrance. You have to go to the Vistor’s Center to register.
The people in the Vistor’s Center weren’t particularly helpful about trail information, so we just picked up our windshield receipt and moved on to Elephant Hill Trailhead to begin our hike.
We left the car a little before 11am. We passed 2 park rangers soon into the hike and talked with them briefly. Before long, we were viewing needles in pretty good light for pictures. After that, the trail dropped down into Elephant Canyon. The climb out of the canyon provided the toughest part of the hike.
We soon came to the viewpoint for Chesler Park. The park can be seen from there between the “guardians” (white and rust colored massive sandstone spires that tower toward the sky). To the north, we looked back toward the needles and also saw the mushroom shaped sandstone formations we had passed earlier.
We were feeling good, so we decided to start the loop. We went left. We took a side trail at marker CP1 after half a mile to take a break in some shade and eat an energy bar. We continued around the loop from there. The park looks like a desert meadow with lots of scrub brush. It is surrounded by large sandstone walls.
As we continued clockwise around the loop, we came to the “Joint” section. This is a very narrow passage, or joint, between huge sandstone walls. At times, the passage is as narrow as 2 feet, and the walls tower about 50 feet.
Soon after the joint trail, we came to a 4WD road. The loop trail shares this trail for 0.9 miles. There are no trail markers along the road, I guess since it is difficult to leave the “trail.” Teagan and I noticed a rock cairn along the road. We remarked about it, but thought it just meant we were on the right trail. As we continued along the road, too much time had gone by. So we decided we must have missed the trail sign along the road and retraced our steps. It turned out that the rock cairn was a marker for the turn we needed to make to continue the loop around Chesler Park. Thanks NPS.
We had continued about .75 mile too far along the 4WD road, so we added about 1.5 miles to our hike by missing the trail turn.
After we returned to the trail, we took a rest to regather our wits, and then continued. There was a climb during the next mile that required a bit of scrambling on slick rock, so it was pretty interesting. Then the trail turned to the east to get us to the starting point of the loop.
From there, we returned to the trailhead retracing our earlier steps. The lighting was different on the rock formations, so we took a few more pictures.
We got back to the car around 7:30pm after completing our 12.5-mile hike (including our missteps). We were pretty tired, but we drove around the park all the way to the end of the main road. Along the way, I took a quick walk around Pothole Dome. The most interesting thing to me was the view to the north of Island in the Sky. I took a few pictures.
We returned to Moab, arriving around 9:45pm. We went to City Market to get some microwavable supper, then returned to the motel.