I could not wait to write this blog post (& sorry for the length, I have too much to say!)! Canyonlands National Park (Needles District especially) & Bears Ears were far more amazing & awe-inspiring than I could have imagined! Unfortunately, my pictures do not do the area justice. I barely even got any photos driving through Bears Ears (all 4 times!) as I just couldn’t stop staring (& driving safely) through it.
But first things first –
Day 3 – First day going to Canyonlands, Needles District is about 1.5 hours from downtown Moab. 45 minutes on the main road, and 45 minutes driving through Bears Ears. It’s one road in, one road out, but oh so worth the 45 minute drive to the National Park entrance. First portion looks like Farmland (acreage is for sale!!) you pass Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument when you enter in Bear’s ears protected area (Indian Creek). Newspaper Rock is one of the largest known collection of petroglyphs (rock drawings-per Wikipedia). Estimated creation-no one knows! It’s just really, really cool – no recording of the meetings so it’s all up to interpretation. Thank goodness this area is still protected as a National Monument (unlike 85% of Bears Ears-another topic for another post).
After stopping at Newspaper Rock (which we did in the late afternoon as we were anxious to get to Needles) you continue driving towards the entrance of Canyonlands National Park. The entire way are these these huge sandstone/rock faces; most with crumbled rock beneath it. They just jut out from the land into the sky. It’s breathtaking – again my picture below does not do it justice!
We stop at The Visitor Center (no fee again since I have an annual National Park pass), grab some souvenirs & talk to the ranger to check our route. We plan on doing the Chester Park hike starting at Elephant hill. It’s a primitive road to Elephant Hill (i.e. dirt/rock and needing high clearance vehicle). The plan is Chesler Park to Devil’s Kitchen back to Elephant Hill, totaling over 11 miles and 1900+ elevation gain. We had a chance to join the Joint Trail (and extend the hike another 2-3 miles) but we didn’t take that. It was a mistake! Definitely going back to do that portion again.
Maybe less than a half a mile in you are already in surrounded by sandstone and rock. Maybe a mile in, and you see the Needles. In this District, there is no viewpoint that allows you to see the Needles landscape, it’s all hike in! Most of the hike is climbing up and down rock (serious technical hiking), with some sections of sand and dirt. Crab walking becomes very useful when climbing down the rock if you have any fear of heights (like me!)
Every time you you climb over a new rock face or structure, it’s a different landscape. It’s amazing! (Have I said that enough yet?!) First it’s the Needles, and then it’s these Mushroom rocks, and then it’s rounded tall rocks and over and over.
Halfway through we get to Devil’s Kitchen Campground and have lunch at a little picnic table, it’s covered, it’s cool, we feel refreshed (as the sun is starting to beat down!) And then we go through a sandy, miserable zone through the valley. It’s short (maybe a mile), but feels long. At least you’re surrounded by rock to distract you (somewhat). And then comes more Rock to climb! Up and down, up and down; it was really fun. Then you see the parking lot and have to climb down – And you hope that you prepare properly and have beers in the car waiting for you in a cooler. It’s the best motivation!
Day 4 – We venture to Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. Island of the Sky is slightly past Arches and still fairly close to Moab. Most of this district is short hikes & overlooks, so expect more tourists.
We first stop at the overlook near the Visitors Center (no idea of the name!) for some nice views. Next we drive to Mesa Arch – because it’s the famous one! Short hike down and then you’re there! It’s pretty cool, lots of things to climb on around it (but don’t climb on it!)
Next is Upheaval Dome – two options to view the Dome from different angles. We did 1.5 of these – Dome is pretty cool but not breathtaking. More interesting as to how it was created by the remnants of an impact crater. We then hike into Grand View Point to have lunch at the edge. Again nice views, nothing spectacular. Honestly, I’d just recommend skipping Island in the Sky (unless you have kids) as nothing is really amazing to see.
Day 5 – Last day hiking & back to Canyonlands, Needles District! I was very excited…in the beginning of the day. We plan to hike Squaw Canyon to Big Springs Canyon loop. Take a word of advice, do everything you can do never, ever hike Squaw Canyon. It was miserable (death march? Yes, I’m dramatic) 3.5 miles of slightly uphill, sand hiking in completely exposed desert with nothing really interesting to look at to distract you. The last .5 (if that) you then climb up some rock and get to this really scary (again fear of heights) saddle cross-over when you have to straddle some rock to cross over to the canyon.
I may or may not have thrown a slight temper tantrum at the end of this portion and refused to go further. So I ate lunch. My friends went about a mile further to climb two ladders to see more of the canyon. I was happy in my little cave.
After lunch, we hiked out. Big Springs Canyon was much more fun! Mostly rock scrambling, interesting landscape & technical hiking (my favorite!) Then the very end is more sand, but at that point I had enough rock scrambling in my system to keep me happy. And again, beers waiting in the car cooler!
100% would go back to explore Moab more & Canyonlands, Needles & The Maze (which we didn’t get to). Enjoy!