Long Hikes in the Needles

photo: Druid Arch

Druid Arch

NPS Photo by Neal Herbert


The Needles District offers over 60 miles of interconnecting trails as challenging as they are rewarding. Many different itineraries are possible, but some of the more popular ones are listed below.

Trail conditions are primitive. Most trails traverse a mixture of slickrock benches and sandy washes. Longer trails are especially rough and require negotiating steep passes with drop-offs, narrow spots, or ladders. Water in the backcountry is unreliable and scarce in some areas. Trails are marked with cairns (small rock piles). Although most trails can be hiked in a day by strong hikers, many form loops and may be combined with other trails for longer trips. Net elevation change is generally several hundred feet or less, except for the Lower Red Lake Trail, which drops 1,400 feet to the Colorado River.

Chesler Park Loop / Joint Trail
Length: 11 mi/18 km round-trip
Start: Elephant Hill Trailhead
Hiking three miles along this trail brings visitors to a saddle overlooking Chesler Park, a scenic expanse of desert grasses and shrubs surrounded by colorful sandstone spires. The loop around Chesler is fairly level and winds through a series of deep, narrow fractures called the Joint Trail. Five backpacking sites. No water.

Elephant Canyon / Druid Arch
Length: 11 mi/18 km round-trip
Start: Elephant Hill Trailhead
This trail offers one of the most spectacular views in the Needles. It follows the Chesler Park access trail to Elephant Canyon, then travels along the canyon bottom across a mixture of deep sand and loose rock all the way to its upper end. The last .25 mile is a steep climb involving one ladder and some scrambling. Three backpacking sites. Water available seasonally.

Confluence Overlook
Length: 10 mi/16.5 km round-trip
Start: Big Spring Canyon Overlook
Unlike other hikes in the district, this trail traverses mostly dry, open country along the northern edge of the geologic faults that shaped the Needles. Trail ends at a cliff overlooking the junction of the Green and Colorado rivers. At-large camping only. No water.

Big Spring to Squaw Canyon
Length: 7.5 mi/12 km round-trip
Start: Squaw Flat Loop “A” Trailhead
A great introduction to the landscape of the Needles, connecting two canyons for a loop across varied terrain. The route between the canyons climbs steep grades that are dangerous when wet and may make people with a fear of heights uncomfortable. Two backpacking sites in each canyon. Water available seasonally.

Squaw Canyon to Lost Canyon
Length: 8.7 mi/14 km round-trip
Start: Squaw Flat Loop “A” Trailhead
Similar to the Big Spring to Squaw Canyon loop, but travels deeper into a canyon with more abundant riparian vegetation, wildlife, and sense of isolation. Three backpacking sites. Water reliably available.

Peekaboo Trail
Length: 10 mi/16.5 km round-trip
Start: Squaw Flat Loop “A” Trailhead
Trail crosses both Squaw and Lost canyons, climbing up and along a series of exposed sandstone rims. Spectacular views are the payoff for this challenging hike. Two ladders must be climbed. One 4WD vehicle accessible campsite at trail's end. Water available seasonally.

Lower Red Lake Canyon
Length: 18.8 mi/30 km round-trip
Start: Elephant Hill Trailhead
The hike from Elephant Hill to the Colorado River is very strenuous, with an elevation change of 1,400 feet. There is little shade along the way as the trail climbs in and out of the Grabens and then descends the steep talus slope of Lower Red Lake Canyon toward the river. This trail is recommended as a multi-day hike. At-large camping only. No water before reaching the river.

Salt Creek Canyon
Length: 22.5 mi/34 km one-way
Start: Peekaboo or Cathedral Butte
The trail follows the main drainage of the canyon past cottonwood groves, through thick brush, and down an old four-wheel-drive road. The trail is often obscured by dense vegetation. Many archaeological sites and arches can be seen. Four designated campsites in upper section. Lower section (along the old road) is at-large camping only. Water is usually available.

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