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. ~Canyonlands National Park trail guide description
Distance: 7.7 miles roundtrip
Difficulty: moderate with some sections of steep slickrock
Best season: spring and fall
The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park is always a favorite. It is a hiker’s paradise with impressive geology and scenery. On previous Utah vacations, we’ve done day hikes to Druid Arch and Chesler Park as well as a magical four-day backpack of Salt Creek. It had been a couple years since our last Needles visit, so on our April 2017 Utah trip I squeezed in a short day hike before we began the long drive home to Washington.
Arriving in the park, I went into the visitor center to pay our entrance fee and inquire about the Lost – Squaw Canyons and the Big Spring – Squaw Canyons loop trails. I asked if one would be better for “classic Needles views”. The ranger replied that of those canyons, Big Spring Canyon was definitely the best option but that both loops were nice.
We drove the short distance over to the Squaw Flat Trailhead (elevation 5,182′) in the campground. Here we found a large and well-marked parking area with privy. It was another sunny day in Utah with temperatures in the 60s. A beautiful trail and perfect weather? Life is good.
We headed south out of the parking lot and quickly came to our first trail junction. To the left was Squaw Canyon and the trail we’d return on later in the day. We took the trail to the right toward Big Spring Canyon.
The three mile long stretch through Big Spring Canyon was very scenic with great views southwest into the heart of the Needles.
The climb out of Big Spring Canyon was quite steep, but we had good traction on the dry slickrock.
Views from the saddle between the canyons were some of the finest we’ve seen in Utah.
Dropping into Squaw Canyon was nearly as steep as the climb out of Big Spring. I did a bit of purposeful butt scooting down the steepest section. Was this necessary? No—Jason made it down just fine on foot. Did it make me feel better? Absolutely!
In upper Squaw Canyon, we found several pools of water and a relatively lush canyon. At 1.0 and 2.7 miles after the descent into Squaw, we passed trail junctions for Lost Canyon to the right. Each time, we continued to the left.
The lower stretches of Squaw Canyon weren’t as lush, but we saw some nice formations.
The final mile of trail provided us with some great views northeast toward the snowcapped La Sal Mountains.
It had been another great day on the trail in Canyonlands. Slowly, but surely, we’re hiking every mile of trail in the Needles District!
Directions to trailhead: from the Needles Visitor center, travel west along the main park road follow signs for the campground. Entering the campground, continue straight ahead on loop A road to a large parking area on the left (south) side of the road.