Canyonlands National Park – Chesler Park and the Joint Trail

Canyonlands National Park – Chesler Park and the Joint Trail

A row of spires in the Chesler Park

Location:  Canyonlands National Park, Needles District, Southeastern Utah
Distance & Gain: 13.3 miles, 1,900 feet
Difficulty:  Strenuous
Type: Lollipop loop
Season: Year-round
Date Hiked: December 15, 2018
Permits and Fees: $30 Park Entrance Fee
Description: A long day hike through the Needles, with a nice tour through Chesler Park, and an awesome secret passage through the Joint Trail.

I hiked through the Needles District of Canyonlands earlier this month, doing the wonderful Joint Trail loop in Chesler Park.  The Joint Trail explored a deep fracture in the rocks, and was really cool.  The crack was nearly a half a mile long, and just wide enough for a person to walk through, much like a narrows.  This was a long day-hike, with a fair amount of gain, but a great loop, and a lot of fun.

Into the Needles

Squaw Flat Campground
Starting out at Squaw Flat Campground

I hiked out from Squaw Flats Campground that morning.  One of the benefits of visiting the park in the winter was free camping in the Needles campground. I got a site right by the trailhead, making for an easy start to the day.

Elephant Hill Canyon
Elephant Hill Canyon

The hike to Chesler Park was around 4.5 miles, cutting across a series of canyons and small washes.  While most of this hike was straight forward, there were a few sections marked only by cairns, making it easy to lose the trail if you’re not paying attention.  In other places, I had to scramble up or down rocks using my hands, nothing too tricky, but still requiring extra attention.

View of the La Sal Mountains from the Needles District
View of the La Sal Mountains from the Needles District

The trail climbed a small expanse of slickrock on the way up to Chesler Park.  From here, I had a lovely view of the La Sal Mountains to the east, full of snow and gleaming white.

The Joint Trail

Spire in Chesler Park
A big spire in Chesler Park

At the first junction in Chesler Park, I headed to the right, starting the counterclockwise loop out to the 4×4 road west of the park.  I had pretty views of Chesler Park here, passing by many beautiful points and spires along the way.

Rows of needles near the Joint Trail
Rows of needles near the Joint Trail

Two miles later, the trail joined up with the 4×4 road, which connected up with the Joint Trail shortly after.  At the trailhead, there was a small picnic area, where I took a short break, and some pics.  By this time, I was deep in the Needles District, and had rows of spires in every direction.

Cave along the Joint Trail
The cave along the Joint Trail

The section through the Joint Trail was very cool.  After a short climb through a canyon, a small set of stairs lead me up into this beautiful cave.  The chamber was big, with an echoing reverb, and beautiful golden light.  Just beyond here, there were a couple boxcar sized boulders that had collapsed through the ceiling, maybe hundreds, maybe thousands of years ago.  It was a magical place, and felt very special.

The crack on the Joint Trail
Walking the crack on the Joint Trail

Beyond the cave, the trail cut through a huge mass of stone, through an incredible crack, just wide enough to walk though.  The crack was almost half a mile long, and was one of the highlights of the whole day.  So cool!

Chesler Park

Chesler Park

The other end of the Joint Trail put me right back into Chesler Park, with beautiful afternoon sun lighting up the spires.  So pretty!

Red and white towers in Chesler Park
Red and white towers in Chesler Park

From here, the trail wound back through Chesler Park, with idyllic scenery all around.  Chesler Park had an amazing meadow, beautiful even in winter, and pretty red and white towers, washed clean of debris from years of erosion.  There were great backcountry sites here as well, with nice options for overnight trips.  Chesler Park was very good.

Sunset in the Needles
Sunset in the Needles

From Chesler, I returned to my van via the 4.5 mile leg I had hiked in the morning.  The sun went down just as I left Chesler Park however, so I had to hike for a couple hours in the dark.  There was a pretty moon out though, lighting up most of the trail along the way, so got to enjoy wonderful night hike, without even using my headlamp much.

Final Thoughts

This was a long loop, taking most of the day to complete, but it took me deep into the Needles District, immersing me into one of the prettiest parts of Canyonlands.  Chesler Park alone, was worth the hike out, but if you have the time, the loop through the Joint Trail should not be missed.  Walking through the huge crack in the rock was a unique experience, and a really special place in Canyonlands.  All in all, I thought the Chesler Park and Joint Trail loop was a great hike, and totally recommend.


Mapping for Chesler Park and the Joint Trail can be found on the Park Service map for the Needles District:

Canyonlands National Park – Needles District Trails and Roads

Other Canyonlands Pages

Needles District

Confluence Trail

Druid Arch Trail

Island in the Sky District

Lathrop Trail

Murphy Trail

Additional Information

General information for Canyonlands National Park is available on the National Park Service website.

Canyonlands National Park – General Information

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