Canyonlands National Park consists of four districts; The Maze, Islands in the Sky, Needles and Horshoe. Only two of them, Needles and Islands in the Sky, are accessible by 2WD vehicles. These are the two that we visited. The others are fairly remote and require a few days to travel to them. Someday we want to visit the Horseshoe district to see the Great Gallery rock art panel where there are life size pictographs.
The Needles district is very distinct from Islands in the Sky district. It is green with vast valleys covered in grass and wild flowers with expansive views of distant rock formations and mountains. We were here in late May during an unusually wet and cool year so our experience may be out of the norm. Given all of our crazy weather patterns perhaps unusual weather patterns are the new normal!
Driving into Needles along State Route 211 you pass a massive rock known as Newspaper Rock. It’s a 200 sqft rock that exhibits one of the largest and best preserved group of petroglyphs in the Southwest.
We took our time driving into Needles, stopping for many photo ops along the way. We were absolutely stunned by the beauty of the place. I’m not sure we would have stopped here if it had not been for the recommendation of Rosemary and Bill who we met in Zion. These tips from fellow travelers have led us to many beautiful spots that we would not have discovered on our own.
We had a quick lunch at Canyonlands Needles Outpost which is privately owned and just outside the park boundary only a few miles before the fee station. There is not any food within the park so this is your only option. Given the remoteness, they have a surprisingly wide variety of food stocked on their shelves and a decent grill / sandwich menu.
Our first stop after the visitor’s center was Elephant Hill. The parking area was very crowded with about 50-60 cars filling all of the spots. This was the most crowded spot in the park due to the density of trailheads starting from this point. Once you started walking along your chosen path the number of people thinned out quickly.
We took a walk along Cave Spring Trail which included pictographs, a historic cowboy camp and a couple of wooden ladders along the trail’s route. The ladders were actually part of the trail.
Our other stops throughout the park included the “Wooden Shoe Arch Overlook”, “Pothole Point” and “Big Spring Canyon Overlook”.
The best part of the trip came at the end of the day when we decided to take the seven mile dirt road from the visitor center out to the Colorado River Overlook. The views from this road were stunning and we crossed paths with only one other vehicle and two hikers. We stopped to talk with the hikers to see if they were ok since they looked pretty worn out and shaky. They were six days into their hike; and for the past three days their only water supply was from muddy puddles. We loaded them up with four gallons of water which really perked them up!
We came up a mile short of the overlook. Time was against us and the trail toward the end was taking us a long time to get through. Although we didn’t make it to the end the views alone were worth the trip. For my part, I continued to gain confidence in our vehicle and in myself along the way. I’m pretty sure that the two hikers we met were glad we came down this route as well!