By Mike Koopsen
Some of the most scenic landscapes in the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park can be reached by using a number of fairly easy trails. There are a few loop trails to explore if you have the time but otherwise there are half day hikes that will get you to some of the more popular rock formations in the area. Some of these paths are challenging to follow so you need to pay close attention to signposts at the junctions, as well as the many trail markers (small piles of rocks stacked one on top of another) as you walk across the slickrock.
Squaw Flat Campground is probably one of the best trailheads to start your hike to Chesler Park, Druid Arch, or the Joint Trail, which are all awesome destinations. Rather than use this public campground we chose to get a backcountry permit and camp overnight for a couple of days at Chesler Park. This is a large sandy grassland area surrounded by vertical pinnacles and cliffs.
According to geologists these Needles District landscapes were formed by the erosion of red and white sandstone layers called Cedar Mesa Sandstone which could be as much as 280 million years old. The views are amazing and the formations were quite impressive.
The Joint Trail was one of the highlights of our trip. For about 1,000 feet the trail follows a dark walled ravine, not unlike a slot canyon. In some places the towering rock walls are almost sixty feet high and only two feet across. The wind speed generated in these narrow openings was exhilarating and inspiring.
Druid Arch was also very impressive. This unusually shaped arch is named for its resemblance to the large rocks seen at Stonehenge.
Remember to carry plenty of water with you on your hike since many of the trails are exposed and can be very hot especially in the summer.
Have fun and be safe.
Mike Koopsen of Trails Traveled Photography lives in Sedona. firstname.lastname@example.org