Chesler Park & the Joint Trail
A full day hike to a surreal landscape of tall, multicoloured sandstone spires surrounding a lush green meadow.
The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park is the least visited area due to its distance from major tourist accommodation. It’s around 35 miles one way from highway 191 to the park entrance, and another 10 more miles to this trailhead.. However, this is really the only way to see this spectacular part of the Utah. Some folks drive to the Needles Overlook a few miles away but that will only give you a distant view. The Chesler Park Trail gets you right in amongst the action.
To get there, take UT191 and turn off on UT211 and drive 35 miles to the Visitor Center where you can pick up a map and get yourself oriented. Then drive out to the trailhead at the Elephant Hill parking lot. The last 3 miles are on an excellent dirt road and suitable for any car. In peak seasons (spring/fall) the lot can be busy. Whilst this is an almost legendary trail, and there are always other vehicles at the trailhead, the trail is anything but busy. It’s 3 miles along a well-signed and cairned trail that, at times, steeply climbs and descends. Most of it is easy though you may need a hand or two to steady yourself occasionally, and it can be hot, especially in high summer. The final push up into a cleft in the cliff walls reveals the splendour of Chesler Park. The green meadow looks so at odds with most of the southern Utah desert landscapes. And under a pure blue sky, the bright red and white striped spires complement the scene perfectly.
You can stop here, wander around the park and return the way you came (what most visitors do) or you can continue for another Needles treat – the Joint Trail – that will add another 5 miles to your day, making the hike a total of 11 miles. The Joint is a real surprise after the wide, airy views you’ve been used to on the trail. It’s a deep crack in the rock into which you descend, much like a confined slot canyon, and a great place to cool down. There are other mini ‘joints’ leading off it and some are barely wide enough to walk in. In places steps have been cut into the rock to make the going easier. Soon after, the trail hits a short section of 4WD road before looping around Chesler Canyon through a small pass and heading back towards the trailhead.
Hiking around Chesler Park in the late afternoon is the perfect time, though you should bring a torch in case you're still on the trail after nightfall. I once forgot mine and it wasn’t easy to navigate!
This is one of the very best hikes in southern Utah and should not be missed.