One of the best hikes in the world is
Other great hikes connecting to Chesler include:
- Devils Kitchen
- Druid Arch
- Joint Trail
A popular variation is Chesler Park/Devils Kitchen. Most trails in this region are short as water supply is limited.
AT A GLANCE
- in the Needles section of the National Park
- Chesler "Park" is a pretty flatland surrounded by red sandstone "Needles"
- you'll never forget the red & white sandstone monoliths, towers, arches and canyons
- moderate hiking with a few tricky sections on the 5.8mi (12.8km) "Chesler Park Loop"
- most hikers will want to do a number of (essential) sidetrips, some much more challenging
- many more excellent short hikes in this Park
- carry all your own water
- no public transportation to trailhead
- worst months are June - Aug when average highs of 104F (40C) can strike down even fit hikers
- open year round, best months are in the Spring and Fall
WHY WE LIKE THIS HIKE
The Needles is the best section of Canyonlands for hikers. It's wonderful. Must see highlights include Druid Arch and Joint Trail.
- hiking permit not required (unless you overnight)
- 5 excellent backcountry campsites available in Chesler
- other amazing hikes nearby including Salt Creek
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Hikers are warned repeatedly about the dangers of the heat and the real risk of getting lost. (This is one part of the world where carrying a GPS is highly recommended.) People have died in this area. You can suffer heat stroke in the day, hypothermia at night. Be careful.
The most common problem, however, is running out of water. Carry more than you need. (You may have to help someone else. We kept a stash of large tap-water-filled soft drink bottles in the vehicle, just in case.)
- National Parks entrance fee required for Canyonlands
- you need a vehicle to hike Canyonlands. Hitchhiking is illegal in the National Park.
- backcountry permits are required for all overnight trips (a good reason to do Chesler and several sidetrips as a long dayhike)
- carry plenty of water and sufficient clothing
- typically hot days, cold nights
- be ready for snow and ice mid-winter
- steep descents and ascents
- flash floods can be dangerous
- beware lightning strikes
- normal mobile phones unlikely to have coverage
- cairns mark the route but may still do a lot of backtracking and route finding. They can be very confusing.
- pets allowed in the Park and in campgrounds, but not on any hiking trails.
- mosquitoes and biting flies may be a slight problem in the spring and early summer.
- if you really look, you may be able to find: black widow spider, centipede, scorpion, rattlesnake or tarantula. They are normally not a bother.
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LOGISTICSIf you sign on with a guided tour, logistics will be organized for you. This section is for independent hikers.
- best itinerary for most hikers is to set up a base camp in the backcountry and do day hikes into the 60mi of connected trails. There are dozens of good options in Falcon Hiking Canyonlands and Arches National Parks (2nd edition) .
- some of the most popular longer hikes - NPS
- if you cannot get a tent site, plan B is to do energetic day hikes instead (also good)
- our favourite base is Chesler Park. Only 5 backcountry sites are available and they are highly sought after. We stayed in CP5 in 2007. (We like CP1 and CP5 best.)
- the most popular trailhead for Chesler or Devils Kitchen is Elephant Hill Parking Area
- the main attractions out of Chesler are Joint Trail (easy) and Druid Arch (challenging, scrambly, some exposure, ladder climb)
- hikers with offroad vehicles often access the area from closer Chesler Park Trailhead off the Devils Pocket 4-wheel-drive road (not shown on this map)
- the 5.8mi Chesler Park Loop is your starting point
- depending on how many nights you have in the Park, it's easy to decide where to go from there each day.
- most essential destination is the Joint Trail, an amazing geological formation
- Druid Arch is a more demanding adventure. Get specifics from the
- there are a dozen other route options, all good for the experienced hiker with desert survival gear and route finding skills.
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- it's nearly essential to have your own vehicle to travel in this part of the world.
- many rent a car in a major city and drive to Moab, Utah. Salt Lake City is 4.5hrs, Denver is 6hrs, Las Vegas further.
- if you insist on coming via public transport, take the Bighorn Express shuttle van from the Salt Lake City airport. You can catch Bighorn in Green River as well which has both Greyhound bus and Amtrak train service.
- American Spirit shuttle can deliver you to Moab from Grand Junction, Colorado
- you could even fly to Moab's Canyonlands Field airport though flights are expensive
- in town the best rent-a-car option is Thrifty Moab . Book ahead as their cars are often "out" during high season. (There are plenty of expensive jeeps and Hummers available though.)
- more transportation options
- driving through Moab on the noisy highway is a drag. Many experienced hikers avoid this over-priced tourist trap except to resupply with groceries and do laundry. But there is a great outdoors shop (Gearheads) if you need camp stove fuel.
- to be fair, if you take any side street in Moab, you'll find a clean, friendly town with amazing bike trails
- Moab has an award winning public library
- free wireless internet is available almost everywhere in town if you have your own laptop
- there are many accommodation and restaurant options
- tent at charming Up The Creek campground in Moab or just out of town in one of many popular spots along the river. (Ask about free tenting spots at tourist information.)
- The visitor center in Needles, Canyonlands is 40 miles south of Moab, then 35mi west on Utah Scenic Byway 211, via the Indian Creek climbing mecca. Allow plenty for photo stops.
- note that you cannot get from Island in the Sky to Needles directly (without swimming)
- en route, everyone stops at Newspaper Rock, "one of the most outstanding Indian Rock Art panels" in canyon country
- the only National Park vehicle campground in Needles is Squaw Flat. But if you arrive late in the day (as we did) it will be full. You'll be pitching your tent in the free overflow Indian Creek camping area (quite good, pit toilet)
- drinking water (Mar-Oct) available at the campground.
- private store just outside the Park has limited supplies
- stop at the National Park visitor center to check on local conditions, trail closures, etc. The staff is very helpful. This is also where you pick up backcountry permits. They have a full selection of maps.
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Hike and bike shuttles from Moab. Negotiate a fee for drop-off and/or pick-up.
If you can handle desert conditions, hike the Needles independently. We don't know of any guided tours. (You could check with the Park for an up-to-date list of official concessioners.)
PERMITS and RESERVATIONS
No backcountry permit needed for dayhiking. There is for overnighters.
If you want to overnight you can "walk in" ... or make a reservation in advance. For Needles, it's quite difficult to get a backcountry permit on arrival, even first thing in the morning. Mid-week is obviously easier than on the weekend.
There was a backcountry fee of US$15 / group (up to 7 people) in 2007.
Reservation office staff are available by phone to answer questions and assist with trip planning Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (Mountain Time), at (435) 259-4351. (sometimes afternoons, as well)... Reservations may NOT be made over the phone or by email."
In Needles you're best to head out to any of the backcountry campsites you can get rather than stay in the only car campground in the Park , Squaw Flat. But if you must car camp, try the fancy Reserve America website to make a reservation. It seems to work. but did not include Squaw Flat last time we checked. (Likely it will be added soon.)
Many hikers cannot book long enough in advance to get a reservation at Squaw Flat. Arrive at the information center just before opening in the morning to try to snag a spot. Or head directly into the backcountry the same day you arive.
There is overflow camping available outside the Park close to Indian Creek.
First stop should be the Moab Visitors Center if you are coming from that direction. Check on local news, road construction, trail closures, etc. For information on Canyonlands itself:
BEST HIKING GUIDEBOOKS
Best is Bill Schneider, co-founder of Falcon guidebooks.
There are a dozen other good Utah hiking books, of course, many of which include Chesler.
OTHER RECOMMENDED BOOKS
Desert Solitaire - Edward Abbey, 1968 is the essential book for a visit to this region. His comic, insightful experiences as a Park Ranger in the early days still resonates with hikers today.
- Falcon Hiking Utah (3rd edition) - Bill Schneider, 2005
- Between a Rock and a Hard Place - Aron Ralston, 2005
- The Colorado Plateau - John Murray, 1998
- Monkey Wrench Gang - Edward Abbey
- Best Hikes with Children in Utah - Maureen Keilty, 1993
- Photographing the Southwest: Volume 1 - Southern Utah, Laurent Martres
- Photographing the Southwest: Volume 2 - Arizona & New Mexico, Laurent Martres
- Standing Up Country - Canyon Lands of Utah and Arizona, C. G. Crampton, 2000
- Falcon Utah Wildlife Viewing Guide - Jim Cole, 1990
- Falcon Scats and Tracks of the Desert SW - James Halfpenny, 2000
- Moviemaking - Canyon Country Chronicles , Greer Chesher
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Trails Illustrated, Canyonlands National Park - Maze District shows hiking routes, recreational activities and is printed on waterproof, tear-resistant plastic material. For about US$10, this was the only map in 2007 that included our backcountry campsite in Chesler Park.
On the Ranger's (mistaken) advice we bought the $3 Trails Illustrated Canyonlands-Needles National Park then couldn't find our campsite. It wasn't on that map.
If you are tenting overnight, mark your site on whatever map you carry. If possible, buy your map at Needles visitor center. Confirm your route with the Rangers right then-and-there on your own map. (The Park Service tends to close and move backcountry camps. Trails are re-routed. Many maps are inaccurate in this region.)
BEST WEB PAGES
After this page, the best links are:
BEST PHOTOS & TRIP REPORTS
MOVIES, VIDEOS, DVDs
There are many DVDs and VHS videos for sale in Utah which include Canyonlands.
Druid Arch - Emma Goddard