Moab – Touristy Version, Part III: Canyonlands Needles Hike (Chesler Park / Joint Trail Loop)

Woken up by the bright burning sun – we chowed down on some quick breakfast and headed into CanyonlandsNeedles section before it was even 8.30am. Yes, that’s earlier than when I leave for work…

Elephant Hill Trailhead – Gateway to Chesler Park, Joint Trail, Druid Arch, Elephant Canyon. That’s us!

Geared and ready to go, we ambitiously embarked on an 11 mile hike around Chesler Park and to the Joint Trail. It’s hot – it’s the desert. Be sure to bring plenty of water, snacks (and lunch) plus sun protection. Watch not to take the 4×4 road but the Elephant Hill trail (it’s clearly marked).

The trail is extremely easy to follow. There are signs at each of the forks and cairns (stacked stones to guide hikers) that clearly mark the way.

We started by taking the trail outward towards Elephant Canyon and Chesler Park. The sites throughout this trail are amazing. Natural formations of varying reds and natural beige colors create an incredible landscape of bubbly rock mountains and needles.

And just a little bit into the hike, you’ll hit a teaser slot canyon.

There are many more when you approach the Joint Trail – not to be missed! It’s an fun park of skinny pathways that make for a great hide and chase game (I don’t say seek because the long straight pathways make it easy to seek). They look similar to this other teaser path below, but much cleaner rock and possibly skinnier.

The overall path varies in steepness. There is a good deal of up and down, although you never gain very much elevation. I think it’s around 500 ft of actual gain? Don’t let that fool you though… it was exhausting! I was wiped as it definitely wasn’t as flat of a hike as I expected.

It’ll be about 2 miles into the hike when you see the turn off for Elephant Canyon / Druid Arch.

Continue towards Chesler Park, where you’ll also begin to see some camping spots for backpackers – would be an awesome spot for backpacking (if I were the backpacking kind)!

You’ll know you’ve hit Chesler Park when you see a open meadow of green brush surrounded by needles. It’ll seem endless… especially since the goal is to hike all around the Park. Eek.

If I knew how to ride a horse, I’d take it through Chesler Park and gallop through like an ol’ Western cowgal. Um, yep. Yes, I would. I’d even wear a cowboy hat.

About another two miles in, you’ll start to descend towards the Joint Trail area. It’s easily recognizable as you’ll see an intersecting lot of skinny canyons. The shade, the fun narrow paths – it’ll call your name. You’ll hear it. It’ll be awesome. It’ll be a blast. It totally will…

Step down into the playground, take a quick swig of your water and set your pack down in the shade. You’ll want to be as skinny as possible when you scatter in and out of these narrow canyon trails.

There are few crossways where you’ll be able to squeeze through to above the rock. But, I’m not sure if there’s a way back to the trail after you get out – we just downclimbed and went back through the slots.

This section of the trail is also a great spot to lunch. After the initial intersection of slot canyons, you’ll walk towards a wider hallway. At the end of the hallway, there’s a great spot to sit down for lunch; it almost looks like a bench on the side of the wall. Or continue on and veer off to the left where there’s a shady room perfect for lunch. OR… if you go off just a bit further, you’ll come into a cavern full of diversely sized cairns – another great spot for lunch.

After the Joint Trail section, you’ll round Chesler Park and continue back towards the start of the trail. It’s more majestic Western scenery – full of gorgeous rock formations with dabbles of green shrubbery and brush.

Stay strong, you’re almost there. The loop back to familiar territory is approximately 2 miles after the Joint Trail section where you’ll circle back to the Chesler Park sign. From there, it’ll be another 2.5 to 3 miles to the car. Here’s a map with some numbers: Great day hike! However, we shouldn’t of planned on any other strenuous hikes after… our feet were covered in blisters and our bodies were dead tired. If it’s just being out of shape, I’m glad it wasn’t just me but the group of us. Whew!


2 responses to “Moab – Touristy Version, Part III: Canyonlands Needles Hike (Chesler Park / Joint Trail Loop)

  1. Found this thru a google search: “hiking chesler park”. Thanks for taking time to do this. I think I’ll just do the 6 mile trip to Chesler Park viewpoint and back.

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