Sunday, 15-June – Canyonlands Needles District - Chesler Park Loop
Trip miles: 11 miles
Route taken: UT-211 W → Scenic Drive → Elephant Hill Trailhead
Average Gas mileage: 27.9mpg
Weather: cool (50F) in the morning, hot (88F) with light breezes in the afternoon
Elevation: 4960ft -> 5706ft
- hiking the Chesler Park Loop Trail, including the Joint Trail
- seeing a hummingbird at the start of our hike
Today we (I) decided to challenge myself to the 11-mile Chesler Loop trail instead of hiking the 7.5 mile Big Spring/Squaw Valley loop as we originally intended. The description of the Chesler Loop promised more panoramic views of the Needles as well as 1.5 miles of passages through the formations along the Joint Trail. We thought the Joint Trail might provide a cool respite from the afternoon heat towards the halfway point of the hike and might make up for not getting to hike the Fiery Furnace 2-mile Ranger-led tour in Arches NP. We were not disappointed. Instead of retracing our steps past CP1 campsite on the return route, we hiked part of the Elephant Canyon trail which ends at the Druid Arch. After hiking about a mile of that trail along a sandy wash we were glad we had not chosen to hike all the way to Druid Arch. It would have been a very hot, slow slog in the wash.
Even with the drive into the park and the 3-mile narrow, winding dirt Elephant Hill road we were at the trailhead and starting our hike by 7:30. We returned at 14:30, taking 7 hours to complete the 11 miles. Although our (my) feet were tired we did not feel as stressed by the heat on this hike. We ate lunch, filled up our four water bottles and refreshed ourselves at the Visitor Center before going back to the campsite. The light breeze was not enough today to deter the insects from buzzing around us. After popcorn and beer, yogurt and strawberries, dinner and chocolate, we cleaned up the campsite quickly, had a shower and jumped into the refuge of the tent before it was even dark.
Chesler Park Loop Trail – The route we followed is one of many options which starts at the Elephant Hill parking area and trailhead. We planned to hike to the Chesler Park Viewpoint 3 miles away and then decide if we could continue on the loop or turn around and go back to the trailhead, based on the trail difficulty to that point. The trail to the Viewpoint has a good surface on either hard-packed clay or slickrock, with the most difficult elevation change at the very beginning from the parking lot. Several steep ascents/descents were made easier by stairs built into or cut out of the terrain. Covering the 3 miles in one hour, we decided to continue further on the loop. The junction points of the many trail intersections were clearly marked with good signage and the trails themselves were clearly delineated with cairns and/or path edging. As promised, there were a lot of views of different Needles formations. We had panorama views from above and close up views from the bases of the rock spires. There was also a section of the trail which crossed a lovely grassy wildflower meadow. Many of the grasses were already their full height and going to seed, while the flowers lightly scented the warm afternoon air. At about the halfway point we followed the 4WD jeep road for .4 sandy miles. The route we took had a total elevation change of about 1188ft, with the most strenuous climbs being from the trailhead to the Viewpoint and from the 4WD jeep road back to the Viewpoint.
Recommendation: If you can't or don't want to hike this far, The Needles is a great place to hire a jeep tour to take you deeper into this amazing area. Be sure the jeep tour stops at 'The Joint' trailhead for the short 2-mile hike to the end of this portion of the trail and back again. Try to find a jeep tour that puts more importance on seeing the formations and less on the wildest, bumpiest jeep ride you have ever experienced.