Canyonlands National Park
Hiking & Backpacking
With over 55 miles of trails, the Needles is a hiker's paradise and the most popular backpacking destination in the park. Four short roadside trails offer a variety of attractions, while longer backcountry trails make excellent full-day hikes or multi-day backpacking trips.
Needles backcountry trails wind through a labyrinth of sandstone canyons linked by high slickrock passes. Trails are primitive and marked by small rock piles (cairns), with signs at trailheads and trail intersections. Some trails may require negotiating ladders or areas with sheer drop offs, which are dangerously slippery in wet or icy conditions. Other trails involve walking through deep sand. Although most trails can be hiked in a day by strong hikers, many form loops and may be combined with other trails for longer trips. Net elevation change is generally several hundred feet or less, except for the Lower Red lake Trail, which drops 1,400 feet to the Colorado River.
Backpackers stay either in designated sites or in at-large camping zones, and should plan on carrying most or all of their own water. Backcountry permits are required for all overnight stays, and reservations are highly recommended for the peak seasons of spring and fall.
Needles backcountry roads range from moderate to very difficult. All require a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle and technical four-wheel-driving experience and skill. Roads may close intermittently due to poor driving conditions or weather. Some travel through stretches of deep, loose sand that may become impassable in long periods of dry weather. In wet weather, travelers on the the Salt Creek Road may cross the creek dozens of times and drive through several long pools of water 18 or more inches deep.
Driving into the Elephant Hill backcountry is considered very difficult under any conditions and involves considerable risk of vehicle damage. Several tight switchbacks, as well as steps from 12 to 18 inches high, make negotiating Elephant Hill and SOB Hill especially tough for vehicles with long wheel-bases. The Colorado River Overlook road is a shorter, less demanding drive with a rewarding view.
Backcountry vehicle campers and bicyclists must stay in designated vehicle sites, and permits are required. (If no sites are available, day trips are still possible into many areas). There is no water available, but vault toilets are provided at all camping areas except New Bates Wilson. Parties camping at this site must provide and use a washable, re-usable toilet system.
Permits are required for day use with vehicles or horses to travel on the Salt Creek/Horse Canyon and Lavender Canyon four-wheel-drive roads. The number of permits is limited, and reservations are accepted. Horses are allowed on all backcountry roads but permits are required for both day and overnight use; special pack and saddle stock regulations apply.
The soft Cedar Mesa Sandstone in the Needles makes climbing dangerous. All technical climbing is prohibited in the Salt Creek Archaeological District. Permits are not required unless climbers are spending a night in the backcountry to facilitate their trip. Climbers are encouraged to check in at the visitor center before beginning their climb.
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