Needles Section of Canyonlands National Park

Renee Gordon writes about the Needles Section of Canyonlands National Park.

Inspirational Story

My only knowledge of the Canyonlands area in Utah was what I had seen in the movie 127 Hours about the experienced mountain climber who nearly lost his life there. On that Saturday in 2003, 27 year old Aron Ralston parked his car at the Horseshoe Canyon trailhead in Canyonlands National Park and rode south on his mountain bike to the Bluejohn Canyon trailhead just outside of the park. He left his bike there and began to canyoneer down Bluejohn Canyon with the intention of hiking back to Horseshoe Canyon and then retrieving his bike. The Bluejohn Canyon is famous for being part of the Robbers Roost area of Utah, an area that served as a hideout for many outlaws for over 30 years. While he was maneuvering through the Bluejohn Canyon a 360 kg boulder fell and trapped his right arm. He was hiking alone and had not told anyone of his plans to go there that day. The route he had taken was not common, and it was unlikely that anyone would find him there. On Thursday, after spending days trapped with his arm under that boulder he bravely broke his arm and then amputated it using only the small knife on his multi-tool. He then hiked 5 miles back to Horseshoe Canyon before encountering some hikers who arranged his rescue. A very inspiring survival story and it makes you think about how dangerous it can be to hike through this desolate area! [Sam added: Want to know more? We watched the movie 127 Hours which we highly recommend. While I haven’t read the book “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” I’ve been told its better than the movie (books almost always are) and certainly more accurate. If you buy it from the following Amazon link I’ll earn a few cents :-) Between a Rock and a Hard Place]

Canyonlands is very much wild America. The park doesn’t draw the same crowds as Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park – perhaps because the park is still mostly untouched without the “scenic drives” going through the canyons. Canyonlands National Park is made up of 3 very different regions: Island in the Sky to the north, the Maze to the west, and the Needles to the east. We started our visit at the Needles Section of Canyonlands National Park.


On the drive to the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park you pass Newspaper Rock Recreation Site, home to Petroglyphs showing 2000 years of early man inhabiting this area. It is believed that prehistoric people from the Archaic, Basketmaker, Fremont and Pueblo cultures etched on the rock from B.C. time to A.D. 1300.  Unfortunately people of more modern times felt the need to also make their mark on the rock, leaving their names and the dates they visited. Honestly please don’t graffiti over ancient art work! [Sam added: When I visited the Eastside Gallery of the Berlin Wall similar ignorant people had scribbled their names & dates on partially clear sections between artwork or even on the artwork. I saw a woman un-lid a pen to add her mark but was promptly told off by another passerby before she could cause any real damage. Just because someone else before you has done it, doesn’t make it acceptable. Don’t be a sheep, it’s really annoying.]

Newspaper Rock Petroglyphs Detail-1.JPG

Newspaper Rock Petroglyphs Detail

Newspaper Rock Petroglyphs Detail-2.JPG

Newspaper Rock Petroglyphs Detail


Pyramid Rock Formations

Entering the park we could already see some interesting rock formations in the shape of pyramids. It was a hot clear day and for some reason both Sam and I had decided to wear black t-shirts – not recommend. There aren’t many opportunities to escape the harsh sun in this park.

Pyramid Rock Formations Taken from the Road.JPG

Pyramid Rock Formations Taken from the Road


Hikes to do in the Needles section

We went on 2 hikes in the Needles area of the park, The Cave Spring walk and the Slickrock Foot trail. If you are looking for more information on walks and the Needles area here is a PDF map of the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park provided by the National Parks Service.

Cave Spring Walk

The Cave Spring walk is only 1km long and a very easy walk, taking about half an hour depending on how many photos you take.

Firstly you walk alongside a giant rock and see the remains of an old cowboy camp that was established in the early 1900s. Then you climb a ladder and walk above the flat rock before descending again. The walk wasn’t overly interesting but had pleasant views from walking along the rock. We saw some colourful handprints that had been made by the first peoples before the arrival of the cowboy camp. This would be a good walk for families with small children.

First Peoples Handprints.jpg

First Peoples Handprint

Renee Found Shade During Walk.jpg

Renee Found Shade During Walk

Sam on the slickrock.JPG

Sam on the slickrock

Rock Formations.JPG

Rock Formations


Slickrock Foot Trail

The Slickrock Foot Trail is a 4km loop trail. Slickrock is a general term for any bare rock surface, slickrock dominates most of Canyonlands National Park. I would recommend this gentle walk to familiarize yourself with the Needles section Canyonlands National Park. This section is named The Needles after rock pinnacles banded in red and white, you can see them during this walk in the distance. You will also see glimpses of canyons and buttes, conspicuous isolated hills with steep sides and a small flat top, smaller than mesas. Unfortunately we didn’t spot any wildlife but bighorn sheep are known to be living in this area.

Needles Closeup.jpg

Needles Closeup

Needles Zoomed Out-1.JPG

Needles Zoomed Out

Sam on slickrock_2.jpg

Sam on slickrock

Renee Relaxing on Canyon Edge.jpg

Renee Relaxing on Canyon Edge

Sam Going for a Jump.jpg

Sam Going for a Jump

Have you watched 127 Hours? Have you ever been in a life threatening situation?

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  1. Yeah, I saw 127 Hours – with my eyes close. Great movie though. The first People’s Handprints looks really cool. I love stuff like that.