Hiking Chesler Park Loop: Don’t Miss The Needles in Canyonlands

Male and female hiker doing handstands next to a cairn with needles in the distance on the Chesler Park trail in Canyonlands National Park

Chesler Park & The Needles Section of Canyonlands

The Chesler Park Loop in The Needles section of Canyonlands National Park is a unique experience from hikes in the Island In The Sky Section of Canyonlands. After you step out of your vehicle and up a series of stone steps, you are quickly transported into another world.

The Needles is a more remote section of Canyonlands National Park, tucked away in the southeast corner. It will take a bit longer to get to than the more frequently visited Island In The Sky section, but it is so worth the drive! The road to get to The Needles section itself is beautiful and a great way to do some sightseeing on the way to whatever trail you choose to explore. On the way into this section of the park, you will pass large rock mesas, vast plains dotted with desert vegetation, and meander through vibrant canyons.

The Needles are impressively striped pillars and spires of sandstone. They add to the list of amazingly unique landscapes we saw during our time in Utah. While deeper red, orange, and browns than the bright orange droopy sandcastle Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park, this landscape is also reminiscent of the rock formations found there. Perfectly eroded through time in a way that inspires curiosity and awe.

Female hiker looking at out at the Needles in Canyonlands National Park
Looking out at the striped spires and needles from above the trail

Hiking out to Chesler Park will provide you the best views of “the needles” (the spires and pillars this section of the park was named after) out of anywhere in the park!

Location: The Needles Section of Canyonlands National Park, Moab Utah

  • This is the Southeast section of the park. While you can physically see the Island In The Sky district while hiking in the Needles section, there is no road connecting the two. You will have to drive south from Moab to access this part of the park. It has its own entrance station and visitor center.

Driving Time: 1 hour 45 minutes to the trailhead from Moab

Cost: $30/vehicle for 7-day pass. National Parks Passes accepted. If you paid for entry to the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands, that will count for this section as well.

Parking: After entering the park, continue past the visitor center. You will pass the Needles Campground area and continue on a dirt road, heading towards “Elephant Hill.” During our visit on a Saturday in late May, there was a Ranger at the parking area directing cars where to park. This is a dirt parking lot before Elephant Hill, a popular 4X4 trail that requires a permit.

Trailhead Amenities: There are 2 pit toilets at this trailhead; no water. You can fill water at the Visitor Center.

View of orange and white needles from the Chesler Park viewpoint in Canyonlands National Park
Views of needles in Chesler Park

Is hiking the Chesler Park Loop for you?

If you are an explorer who enjoys getting into more remote areas of parks, avoiding large crowds, and experiencing unique desert landscapes, a trip to The Needles to hike Chesler Park Loop is a great choice! There are plenty of opportunities for additional rock scrambling off-trail, climbing up on top of toadstool-like rocks, and even some stimming opportunities to descend down steep boulders.

This is a customizable, moderate to strenuous hike great for those enamored by quirky rock formations that make you feel like you might be on Mars. Geology lovers rejoice! The views are expansive and if you don’t mind being in the sun and sand this hike makes for a wonderful day’s adventure.

Hike Details:

Distance: 5.4 miles to Chesler Park Viewpoint / 10.4 miles to Chesler Park + Joint Trail Loop

Route: Starting on the Chesler Park Loop you have the option to turn back when you hit the Chesler Park Viewpoint. You also have the option to continue on for a longer hike and make it a loop using the Joint Trail. We had a pup at home in the A/C and with the long journey to get here, we decided not to complete the entire loop. We have heard the rest is amazing as well and you really can’t go wrong either way. If you do decide to turn around at the viewpoint you will still get plenty of amazing views of the needles!

Elevation Gain: 1,151 feet (to Chesler Park Viewpoint) / 1,820 feet (for the entire Chesler Park Loop)

Estimated Duration: 3-6 hours (depending on how far you choose to go)

Add-on Opportunities in Chesler Park:

  • Backpacking, primitive camping
  • Pick up Joint Trail to complete the Chesler Park Loop (10.4 miles)
  • Connect to the Druid Arch Trail. You will see a sign for this in a wash. Continue straight for Chesler Park or go left for Druid Arch (on the way out). Turn right if hitting on the way back from Chesler Park viewpoint.

When to Hike this Trail: We recommend hiking this in the fall or spring. This trail is open year-round, but it would be most comfortable if hiked in Fall or Spring. Winter is an option although you may run into snow. Summer is also an option, but it can get VERY hot in this desert climate. As we mentioned, there is not much shade and no water for solace from those more extreme heat conditions that can turn dangerous quickly if you are not well prepared.

Know Before You Go:

  • Most of this trail requires walking on rocks and through sand as is typical with desert landscapes. The hike includes limited shade opportunities. Bring lots of water and sunscreen.
  • You are in a remote section of the park so there is a higher chance of running into wildlife. Be on the lookout! We did run across a snake through one of the washes we crossed.
  • This parking area can be crowded with cars, even though you may not see many people once you are out hiking. There are a few different trails including overnight backpacking opportunities from this parking area.

Lesson Learned: Keep track of your keys! While climbing down the steep set of narrow stone stairs that lead to the parking area, we met a hiker who had just finished an overnight backpacking trip. He got to his car only to see that he had misplaced his keys. There is A LOT of land out there, especially if you explore off-trail. The chances of someone seeing your keys are slim. We flagged down a ranger to help this fellow hiker and learned a lesson from this tough situation. Always double and triple-check for your precious items when heading out into and back from remote areas.

Be mindful that there is not much (if any) cell service in The Needles section of Canyonlands National Park. Be sure to keep in mind hiking safety tips such as letting someone know when and where you are hiking. Carrying a personal locator beacon like the Garmin InReach Mini or having a phone or device with satellite capabilities (such as the iPhone 14) to help in case of emergencies is important as well. In addition, Starlink might come in handy if you are looking to camp in this area and require internet to work!

Female hiker sitting in the shade under the unique rounded rock formations on the Chesler Park Loop in The Needles section of Canyonlands National Park.

What We Found Fulfilling About Chesler Park Loop

The more we hike, the more we are enjoying trails with opportunities to explore beyond the confounds of the single track. Chesler Park in The Needles district allows for just that. We climbed onto large rocks and enjoyed lunch overlooking the dense section of needles in the distance. Slipping into a shaded canyon, we then climbed down for a view of the trail we took to the viewpoint from above. Feeling energized by the possibilities, we practiced handstands next to cairns, framed by spires and pillars on one side and the majestic La Sal mountains on the other.

We encountered about 10 other hikers during our 6 hours on this trail, dispersed throughout our journey. Not bad for a Saturday with perfect weather at one of Utah’s “Mighty Five” National Parks.

It was amazing getting to see the contrast between the landscape of Syncline Loop in the Island In The Sky district of Canyonlands and the unique features found at The Needles. Although not separated far in distance, they somehow feel worlds apart. We would love to spend more time exploring this section of Canyonlands in the future. We certainly found it worth the extra distance to travel here from Moab.

Unique red rocks and green vegetation along the Chesler Park Loop in Canyonlands

Fulfilling Travel Tips

Be Present. Be Where Your Feet Are.

Travel is exciting! Typically you are visiting a place you love, or a place that has been on your bucket list for a while. You have time away from your work to do the things that bring you joy and spend time with your friends and family, and it is freeing.

This being said, travel can also come with stressors. Unfortunately, travel itself is not inherently guaranteed to cure all your worries or make you forget what is waiting for you back at work or home.

What travel does offer you, is opportunity. Make the most of those opportunities by prioritizing time for things that feel fulfilling. In Canyonlands National Park and while hiking Chesler Park Loop, there is a great opportunity for fun and exploration.

Give yourself permission to let loose and let your curiosity guide you! Play around on the unique rock formations, enjoy a picnic lunch while taking in amazing views, or spend a few moments of quiet just for you. Do what feels right for you, this is your adventure! Try not to overthink it. By prioritizing time for joy and moments you can look forward to, you are more likely to keep yourself in the present moment and push off the tug of outside responsibilities for a while.

Male hiker wedging himself between two rocks along a narrow rock passage on the Chesler Park Loop hike in Canyonlands National Park
Zach having fun exploring a narrow rock passage on the trail

Chesler Park Loop Overall

When you think about opportunities to be more present, immersed in your current experience, and “unplugged,” typically more remote areas come to mind. It makes sense. We are so tied to our phones and computers. Even our watches ping us with texts, calls, and emails now. In The Needles Section of Canyonlands National Park, there is an open invitation to be where your feet are.

For much of the trail, you will enjoy the bliss of having no service, making it that much easier to step away from the constant stimuli of notifications, texts, calls, and emails that can pull you away from the present moment.

Hiking Chesler Park Loop is a great option in The Needles section of Canyonlands National Park as it will be the best way to experience the famous needles that this district is named for. Download an offline map and give yourself permission to enjoy this beautiful place without distractions. If you have time we highly recommend exploring more of what Moab has to offer including the Devil’s Garden Trail, Delicate Arch, and Fiery Furnace in nearby Arches National Park or Dead Horse Point State Park.

Moments in nature (and in time) can be so fleeting and if you aren’t paying attention, you just might miss seeing or finding what you set out to explore in the first place.

Panoramic views of needles in The Needles section of Canyonlands National Park
Panoramic views of groups of spires and pillars (needles) that give this section its name
Please protect these areas; for the wildlife, the environment, and for the enjoyment of future generations. Practice Leave No Trace
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