If you’re visiting Canyonlands National Park soon, you probably realized it is comprised of different districts. You may be wondering:
Is visiting the Needles District worth it?
Yes! The Needles District is worth visiting because it offers a scenic drive, accessible rock art, some nice day hikes, and fewer crowds.
Keep on reading for our complete guide to visiting the Needles.
Canyonlands’ Four Districts
Canyonlands has four districts:
- The Island in the Sky is closest to Moab and is the most visited section. Here you’ll stand on the ledge of the canyon, similar to visiting the Grand Canyon.
- The Needles District is the second most visited. It’s located about 1.5 hours south of Moab, Utah. It’s typically visited as a day trip from Moab or as a stopover on the way between Moab and Monument Valley.
- The Horseshoe Canyon and Maze districts are backcountry areas that require 4×4 vehicles to access.
Getting to the Needles District
To get to the Needles District, drive south from Moab on Hwy 191 until you reach Route 211. Turn west on Route 211 and the road will lead you to the park.
The Needles District is about 2 hours and 45 minutes from Monument Valley, so it’s possible to visit on your way between Moab and Monument Valley.
- Check out more things to do near Moab!
Things to see on the Way to the Needles
Since getting to the Needles requires a long drive from just about anywhere, it’s worth discussing what you can see along the way.
Coming from Moab
If you’re coming from Moab along Highway 191, you can’t miss Hole ‘N’ the Rock. This is a fun tourist trap with a petting zoo, tours of the home inside of the rock, and other quirky attractions.
A little further south, keep an eye out for Wilson Arch, an impressive roadside arch.
Church Rock can be seen along Highway 191, but you can’t access it because it’s on private land.
Coming from the South
If you’re coming from the South, it’s worth a pit stop at Edge of the Cedars State Park. This preserves an ancient Kiva and has a wealth of artifacts to browse inside.
Along Route 211
From Highway 191, you’ll turn onto Route 211 before driving about 40 minutes to reach the visitor center. This drive starts out pretty boring but it gets more impressive as you go.
On the way, you’ll see the fantastic Newspaper Rock State Historical Site. This is the face of a large rock that has been covered in petroglyphs. They are estimated to be about 2000 years old.
The rest of the drive is mostly wonderful scenery. You’ll see the cliffs of the Island in the Sky in the distance, as well as the Six Shooter Peaks. This entire area is popular among rock climbers.
Map of the Needles District
Things to Do in the Needles District of Canyonlands
It’s always a good idea to stop at the visitor center to look at the exhibits and ask the rangers questions. But here, you also want to check on the road conditions. Even some of the accessible attractions in the park are accessed via dirt roads.
Roadside Ruin pretty much describes this short little stop. It’s only a flat, 0.15-mile walk to an ancient ancestral Puebloan ruin about 1,000 years old.
Cave Spring Trail
This is the most delightful “easy” hike in the park. In only a 0.6-mile loop you’ll see a cowboy camp, a small spring dripping out of the rock, rock art, and vistas of the district.
Along the way, you’ll climb two small ladders. It’s a fun trail!
Pothole Point Trail
This is a super-easy and flat 0.6-mile loop on slick rock with little potholes all over. This trail provides good views of the Needles formations in the distance.
It’s best after rainfall because the potholes fill with water and organisms come to life in them. So don’t step in the potholes, please.
Some quirky rock formations can also be seen along the trail.
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This is the longest of the “easy” hikes in the Needles district. It’s a 2.4-mile loop that leads to multiple viewpoints into different side canyons.
This fun trail is mostly flat and provides wide-ranging views in all directions, including views of the Island in the Sky district.
Wooden Shoe Arch
This is a roadside pullout to look at an arch in the distance that looks like a wooden shoe.
Big Spring Canyon Overlook
This is a roadside stop to look into one of the canyons that can be seen on the Slickrock Trail.
It’s also the end of the road. You must turn around here.
Chesler Park – Druid Arch Loop Trail
One of the annoying things about the Needles district is that you can’t drive into the Needles. The formation is always off in the distance.
That is unless you’re willing to hike over 10 miles into the formations.
The Chesler Park loop allows you to do that. This is a highly-rated hike with an option for a side trail leading to Druid Arch.
I haven’t done this hike yet, but I will update this article when I do.
What to Know about Hiking in the Needles District
The hikes in the Needles district are mostly on slick rock. That means that oftentimes there is no “trail.” You just walk on the rock.
To guide you, the park sets up rock cairns for you to follow. These are built by the rangers. Please do not knock them over or create new cairns!
- Learn more about hiking in the desert.
There are many long hikes and backcountry hikes in the Needles and Maze Districts of Canyonlands. This is some of the most rugged and undeveloped National Park land you’ll find.
If you want to get away from civilization, visit the Needles!
Canyonlands also allows you to drive a Jeep on certain unpaved roads in the park. Some of these are famous drives, like the White Rim Road.
The Needles and Maze districts also have some four-wheel drive roads.
NOTE: the park does NOT allow ATVs. Only Jeeps and trucks.
There are no restaurants in the Needles District (or in any district of Canyonlands, for that matter). The closest place to eat is in Monticello, Utah, which is about an hour away from the Needles District, but only about 15 minutes away from the intersection of Hwy 191 and Rt 211. There are also many great food options in Moab if you’re heading or returning there.
There are no lodging facilities in the park. The closest facilities are in Monticello, Utah.
- Looking for lodging while visiting Canyonlands? Read 9 Great Places to Stay When Visiting Arches, Canyonlands, and Moab. We like to use booking.com for all our travel. You can find some great deals!
The Needles Campground is the only campground in the district. It has 29 sites, including individual and group sites. Some are reservable on recreation.gov.
Things to Do Nearby the Needles
- Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa National Monuments
- Natural Bridges National Monument
- Moab, Utah, including Arches National Park and the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands
- Monument Valley
Is it Worth it to Visit the Needles District (even if I don’t hike Chesler Park?)
Even if you’re not hiking the famous Chesler Park loop, the Needles District is a delightful way to spend half to 3/4 of a day. It provides a lovely drive, rock art and ruins of indigenous people, and easy but interesting hikes.
It is definitely worth a visit on your vacation to eastern Utah.
Is There Anything Else I Should Know?
Yes! Canyonlands is pretty close to Arches National Park and Moab. There are so many things you can see and do in the area that it can be difficult to know what to choose.
Most travelers want to visit the most popular sites and still avoid crowds. We have a detailed itinerary for Moab, Arches, and Canyonlands that gives you a step-by-step game plan so you can get to the best places at the right times.
- Moab, Arches, and Canyonlands Itinerary
- Our Canyonlands Trip Planner Page
- Our Moab Trip Planner Page
- Our Arches Trip Planner Page
- Can’t Get a Reservation for Arches? Here are 9 Things to do Nearby
- Mesa Arch: The Most Famous Feature in Canyonlands
- Hiking in the Desert: 11 things to know before you go
- Best places to eat in Moab, Arches, & Canyonlands
- 9 Great Places to Stay When Visiting Arches, Canyonlands, and Moab
- Canyonlands National Park Website
- Needles Campground