The Needles District of the Canyonlands National Park is approximately a 1.5-hour drive south of Moab. The distance is also the reason for it being a much quieter and more enjoyable park than either Arches National Park or the Island in the Sky District of the Canyonlands.
What makes the Chesler Park/Joint Trail loop so great is that it is a combination of walking on slick rock, climbing up, down, and over the rocks, walking through flat grassy areas or sand and even narrow cuts between the rocks on the ‘Joint Trail’ that makes it feel like you are walking through a slot canyon. It is a great day hike in Canyonlands.
We enjoy hikes where you have to climb up and over the rocks and pay attention to figure your way out. Our favorite hike of all time is the Frey por el Filo hike to Refugio Frey on the edge of the mountain in Bariloche, Argentina for this same reason.
Chesler Park/Joint Trail Loop Stats
Distance: 10.4 miles
Elevation Change: ~ 1800 ft.
Duration: 5 – 7 hrs.
Parking Lot: Available
Restrooms: Available at the trailhead and on the Joint Trail
Picnic Tables: Available at the trailhead and on the Joint Trail
Water: Not Available
Resource: Canyonlands National Park
Trail Path and Map: Elephant Hill – Chesler Park – Jeep Trail – Joint Trail – Elephant Canyon (Druid Arch Trail) – Chesler Park – Elephant Hill
Chesler Park/Joint Trail Loop Hike
This trail starts at the Elephant Hill Trailhead and to reach the trailhead you have to drive for 3 miles on an unpaved narrow road. Parking and restrooms are available at the trailhead. It is advisable to start this hike as early as possible in the morning during the hot summer months since there isn’t much shade on the trail. We did this hike on the last day of September and the temperature by midday was in the high 90s.
Right from the beginning, the trail starts with a climb to the top of slick rock and for about 1.5 miles the only trail signs to follow are cairns. The entire loop has close to 2000 ft elevation gain, but it is gradual which makes it more bearable. At the 1.5-mile point is the first crossing in the road with a sign that shows all different trail options, follow the path for Chesler Park.
From this point on, the trail starts getting more interesting, walking between massive boulders with narrow paths, and slowly descending into the wash crossing. At the wash crossing continue following the sign for Chesler Park. This is the location where you will return from the loop. Leaving the wash, you will start climbing again and get to the point where needles are all around you. The view all around you is amazing, but it gets even better.
On a side note, the hoodoos at Bryce look more like needles to us than the actual needles, but that may just be us.
Continue climbing, pretty much up and over one of the needles until the view opens up and you are in the beautiful Chesler Park with needles 360 degrees around you. Our first impression was “Are we in the Smurfs’ Village?!”. Some of the sandstone formations look like mushrooms and resemble the Smurfs’ Village, fact!
Chesler Park is where the junction for many other trails is, we followed the Joint Trail sign in a counterclockwise direction. For a while, the trail goes through the park with shrubs and desert plants around and is mostly a flat walk through sandy terrain. Then once again you will find yourself on top of the slick rock climbing up and down and following cairns.
TIP: Cairns are very reliably placed in areas to keep you on the right path. If you do not see them for a while, you’ve gotten off the path.
At the next junction, you will come upon a trail sign for a Jeep Trail and in about 0.4 miles you will find yourself walking on the off-roading road through deep sand. This is only a short section of the trail (0.5 miles) and keep an eye out for the sign to Joint Trail from there.
Once at the Joint Trail trailhead, you will see a toilet and a couple of shaded picnic benches. This is where we rested and had our lunch.
Up to this point, we hardly saw any people on the trail, but while sitting here hikers kept passing going the way we just came from and we realized most people start the loop in the clockwise direction. Since we had the entire first half of the hike to ourselves!
As we set off on the Joint Trail hikers coming from the opposite direction kept saying “You guys are about to get to a really cool part! The best part ahead!”. And yes, the ‘joint’ of the boulder edges so narrowly close together creates a feeling of almost walking through the slot canyon which was, to quote other hikers, really cool. Once in the “joint” there are different little side paths you can explore and it’s another perfect location to take a break in the shade.
Once out of the ‘joint’, more hiking on slick rock and through the park meadows and then down into Elephant Canyon to loop back to the wash junction where we started the loop, and from here the way out is the same as the way in.
The hike through the Elephant Canyon was our least favorite part. Hiking through deep sand is just not something we enjoy. However, the different views and terrain throughout the entire hike make this one of our favorite hikes during our 17-Day Road Trip through Utah’s Mighty 5 and the Grand Canyon.
Other helpful posts…
17-Day Grand Canyon and Utah’s Mighty 5 Road Trip Itinerary
Grand Hike in The Grand Canyon – South Kaibab to Tonto to Bright Angel Loop
Alternative Ways to Hike to the Observation Point in Zion
3 Epic Days in Zion National Park
Must Do Hikes in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (Peek-a-boo and Spooky Loop and Lower Calf Creek)