Julie United States 10 Comments

If you want to get an up-close look at the “Needles,” the sandstone spires that make the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park so uniquely beautiful, put Chesler Park on your list. It is possible to hike out and back to Chesler Park on a short day hike. But if you don’t mind going farther, hike the Chesler Park Loop with the Joint Trail for the best experience.

The Chesler Park Loop has a little bit of everything…easy rock scrambling, trails that criss-cross between the orange and red sandstone needles, and sweeping views out to the La Sal Mountains and the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park. Throw in a cave and a narrow slot canyon and you have a wonderful adventure in Canyonlands National Park.

This is our favorite hike in Canyonlands National Park. Here’s how to do it.

Hiking Stats

Distance: 10.7 miles
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
Total Ascent: 2,140 feet
Starting Elevation: 5,100 feet
Highest Elevation: 5,675 feet
Length of Time: 5 to 7 hours
When to Go: You can hike the Chesler Park Loop year round. The best time to do this hike is in the spring and fall, when temperatures are mild. During the summer months, temperatures can soar midday. In the winter, expect cold temperatures and snow is a possibility.

Chesler Park Loop Elevation Profile

Chesler Park Loop elevation profile

 

Chesler Park Joint Trail Overview Map

Chesler Park Loop Map

Please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trail, pack out what you bring to the hiking trail, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.

Hiking the Chesler Park Loop

Getting to the Trailhead

The Chesler Park Loop starts at the Elephant Hill Trailhead in Soda Spring. From the Needles Visitor Center, take UT-211 into the park for 3 miles. Turn left onto Federal Route 2444 towards the Needles campground. Just beyond the campground, the road becomes a dirt road that is suitable for standard cars. Follow the signs for Elephant Hill. This road “ends” at the parking lot for Elephant Hill Trailhead. If you have a 4WD, you can drive up Elephant Hill from here, but it requires a day-use permit.

Hiking to Chesler Park

This trail starts off steep and strenuous, but fortunately, it doesn’t stay that way. You will climb up a staircase wedged between two massive boulders and then hike up a small ridge. Once at the top, the trail levels out. This part of the hike is very beautiful, as you are hiking between giant knobs of orange sandstone rock.

Chesler Park Loop Beginning

First Good View of Needles

 

1.5 miles into the hike, you reach your first trail junction. Continue on the trail to Chesler Park.

Chesler Park Trail Sign

Note: The entire trail is marked with rock cairns that are very easy to follow. At each trail intersection (there will be quite a few on this loop), there is sign with trail names, destinations, and distances.

For the next 1.4 miles, the trail gets to be a little more challenging, and a little more interesting. Along the way, you will have short climbs and descents, you will walk through a short, narrow slot canyon, and start to have better views of the needles.

First Slot

In the Needles

Hiking to Chesler Park

The Needles Hike

 

To get to Chesler Park, it’s a short, steep climb up and over a rocky ridge. You will have to do some very easy rock scrambling here.

Saddle Climb

 

From the ridge (labeled “Chesler Park Viewpoint” on the elevation profile), you have spectacular panoramic views over the Needles. To the northeast, you look out over the trail you just hiked. Off in the distance are the La Sal Mountains. To the south is Chesler Park.

View of the Needles

Looking north towards Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park.

You can turn around at this point, making the hike 6 miles out-and-back with a total ascent of 1,250 feet. But if you have the time and energy, it’s well worth it to keep going. The Joint Trail is tons of fun and the walk through Chesler Park is beautiful.

Chesler Park Loop

The next part of this hike is a loop. You can do it in either direction. We did it counter-clockwise and this is the way that I recommend. In this direction, you get the tougher parts of the loop over with early and end the loop on a flat, easy trail with spectacular close-up views of the needles.

As you drop down into Chesler Park, you will walk just a tenth of a mile until you reach another trail junction. Turn right to follow the loop counter-clockwise, towards the Joint Trail and Devil’s Kitchen Campground.

For the next 1.3 miles, you hike alongside a group of sandstone needles. There will be a few short climbs and descents, and the trail is constantly twisting and turning. Keep an eye on the rock cairns so you don’t lose your way.

Hiking Trail Chesler Park

Tim Chesler Park

Hike the Needles Canyonlands

Into the Needles

You will come to another trail junction. At this point, follow the sign for the Jeep road. When the trail hits the Jeep road, turn left to continue on the loop. At the fork in the Jeep road, go left. In 0.5 miles, the Jeep road ends at the Joint trailhead.

The Needles Jeep Road

On the Jeep Road

On the Joint Trail

The Joint Trail is 1.5 miles long. Halfway down the trail, you will have a short but steep climb as you hike through a dense collection of the sandstone spires. This is where the hike really gets interesting.

Joint Trail

After a short, steep, climb up an extremely narrow staircase, you enter a large cave.

Joint Trail Staircase

Joint Trail Cave

The slot canyon, one of the best parts of this hike, comes next. This slot is long, skinny, with a few brief sections where you will rock scramble up and over obstacles.

Joint Trail Slot Canyon

Joint Trail Slot

Julie Rivenbark

Joint Trail the Needles

Once you exit the slot canyon, you are back in Chesler Park. The next part of the walk is flat, fast, easy, with more views of the needles. This was one of my favorite parts of the hike. It’s a nice break from the ups and downs along the trail and the views are amazing.

Chesler Park Hike

Chesler Park Joint Trail Hike Photo

 

Before getting back to the saddle, where the Chesler Park Loop ends, you will get to another viewpoint out over the Needles District with the La Sal Mountains off in the distance.

The Needles Canyonlands NP

Best Hike in Canyonlands

The Return Hike

The loop ends back at the saddle (Chesler Park Viewpoint) in the Needles. From this point, it is a 3-mile walk back to the Elephant Hill parking area and mostly downhill.

Canyonlands Needles View

View on the return hike.

Summary of the Trail

Since there are so many trail junctions, here is a summary of the trail:

  • Start at the Elephant Hill Trailhead and follow signs for Chesler Park.
  • 1.5 miles from the trailhead, at the trail junction, continue to Chesler Park, which is 1.4 miles from this junction.
  • 1.8 miles from the trailhead, cross the sandy wash to continue to Chesler Park.
  • 2.7 miles from the trailhead, at the next junction, continue to Chesler Park, which is 0.2 miles from this junction.
  • 2.8 miles from the trailhead you reach the saddle and the Chesler Park Viewpoint.
  • 2.9 miles from the trailhead is where the Chesler Loop Trail begins. Turn right here to hike it counter-clockwise (follow the trail sign for Joint Trail TH 2.4 miles and Devil’s Kitchen CG 2.6 miles).
  • 4.1 miles from the trailhead you reach a junction. Follow signs for Jeep Road, which is 0.4 miles from this junction.
  • At the Jeep Road, turn left. In 0.2 miles, the road will fork. Turn left here, following the sign for Chesler Park Trailhead. In 0.5 miles you will reach the Joint Trail.
  • The Joint Trail is 1.5 miles long. It ends in Chesler Park. Follow signs back to Elephant Hill to complete the hike.

To simply things, from the trailhead, follow signs for Chesler Park. Once you reach Chesler Park, follow signs for the the Joint Trail. After hiking the Joint Trail, follow signs for Elephant Hill to complete the hike.

Tips to Have the Best Experience

If you plan to visit the Needles from June through September, be aware that it can get brutally hot. Plan to start this hike first thing in the morning, when temperatures are at their coolest.

There is a toilet at the Elephant Hill parking lot.

The trail is well-marked with rock cairns and trail signs. We didn’t have any problems staying on the trail. But with all of the junctions and spur trails, I think it is beneficial to bring along a map. We carry a Garmin GPS and wear Garmin Fenix watches, which come loaded with trail maps. Another option is to purchase the National Geographic Needles District Map, especially if you plan to do more hikes in the Needles. At the very least, take a photo of trail map on the sign at the trailhead with your phone.

Do not expect your cell phone to work. For most of this hike we had zero cellular service. There were a few spots in clearings or at higher elevations where we got a few bars of LTE or 3G, barely enough to send a text message. But don’t depend on your phone to call for help, talk to friends, or send photos to friends and family.

Canyonlands National Park Information

What to Bring on the Hike

Hiking shoes. Don’t do this hike in anything other than hiking shoes or hiking boots.

Hiking poles. Hiking poles take the stress off of your legs and help to ease leg pain and fatigue.

Water and snacks. At least 4 liters of water in the summer.

Sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses. For most of this hike you will be exposed to the sun, with very little shade.

Camera. Even a smartphone will do.

If you are new to hiking or are curious about what you should bring on a hike, check out our Hiking Gear Guide. Find out what we carry in our day packs and what we wear on the trails.


If you have any questions about hiking the Chesler Park Loop, or if you want to share your experience, let us know in the comment section below.

More Information about Canyonlands NP

If this is part of a bigger road trip through the USA, visit our United States Travel Guide for more inspiration and travel planning tips.

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The Needles Canyonlands NP Hike

 

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Comments 10

  1. Thanks for the wonderful articles, they are so helpful! As an FYI, just spoke with a ranger about doing the Chesler Park Loop Trail, and he reminded me that end of July / beginning of August is monsoon season, so he recommended starting very early in the day and probably not going past the viewpoint unless the forecast shows 0% chance of rain.

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  2. I could not believe my good fortune in coming across your write-up on this particular hike! I have enjoyed others of your postings, but this was special. I was just recently reviewing the scans of my slides of this specific hike from back in April 1988. Your images, always excellent by the way, and associated text allowed me to “recall” just where I was on this hike and brought back a lot of great memories.
    I don’t do “Social Media” and/or “Subscriptions” to anyone’s online site, but “Earth Trekkers” may just have to be an exception.
    Thanks for the quality of your submissions.

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  3. Hi Julie! We are going to Utah next month (so excited!!) and I’m having trouble deciding on hikes – there’s just so many amazing options! I’m currently trying to decide between Chesler Park / Joint Trail, or heading down to Capitol Reef a day early to do the Navajo Knobs Trail. Our other option is to do both, but cut our day that we had planned to do Little Wild Horse Canyon and Devil’s Garden. Thoughts? Is there one trail that you think is more amazing than the other? Thanks!!

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      That’s a tough choice!! So I asked Tim, he said out of the 3, he would pick Little Wild Horse and Navajo Knobs. I am leaning towards Little Wild Horse and Chesler Park. 🤣🤣 They are all GREAT, so I guess it really comes down to if you want those spectacular views in Capitol Reef or would you like to visit another section of Canyonlands? Another thing to consider is if you think you would ever come back to Utah again. If you return to Moab, the Needles is a great, easy day trip. If you were ever going to road trip through the Mighty 5 again, it would be easy to add Navajo Knobs to the trip. So, I know that I didn’t really answer your question, but whatever you pick it will be awesome. Cheers, Julie

  4. Hi, I have been reading many of your journeys and i found them very helpful! We will be in Moab in April. For the Chesler park, I am thinking not to do the whole loop. Instead we will just do the Chesler park trail to the joint trail just enough to experience the slot canyon and caves. So from the beginning of the loop we will go clock-wise to the Joint Trail. See the slot canyon and cave and return the way we came. How many miles do you think that will be? Is it a good plan ? Thanks so much!

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      Yes, that works. What you will avoid is a lot of the elevation loss and then gain to get to the Joint Trail in the counter clockwise direction. As a very rough estimate, your total distance will be about 9 miles. But it will be an easier hike since the section between the CP viewpoint and the slot canyon is mostly flat. I hope you have a great time in Canyonlands! Cheers, Julie

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      Yes, we started this hike at 11 am (I checked the time I took a photo at the trailhead). Before doing this hike, we hiked a few of the shorter trails in the Needles. We did this in early November so temperatures were cool throughout the day. Have a great hike…it’s a good one! Cheers, Julie

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