Trip Report: Kate in Canyonlands National Park

Trip Report: Kate in Canyonlands National Park

Customer Support Coordinator Kate spent a week in Moab recently, which included a backpacking trip in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Parks. She graciously wrote up our very first trip report of 2024 to recap her trip! 

Where did you go? 

A landscape view of a canyon

I went on a backpacking trip to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. Most people don’t know that Canyonlands is made up of three separate districts. The most popular and accessible district is Islands in the Sky (where you can find the well known Mesa Arch). The Needles is more remote and has a backcountry focus. The maze is the most remote district which requires extensive time and self-reliance to visit. 

Why there?

A view of a canyon with vegetation at the bottom surrounding a small blue tent
This was my third time visiting the Needles district of Canyonlands, and it has won my heart over since my first visit. I’m a big fan of the desert and Canyonlands is my favorite National Park, even including all the others in the Utah desert. I had a friend who was taking a backcountry navigation course in the park and it didn’t take much convincing for me to meet her for a backpacking trip after her class. I turned the trip into a week-long vacation, with plenty of car camping, day hikes, and exploring the area after the backpacking portion.

Trip details:

Length of trip: 1 night, 18 miles. Originally, we planned the trip to be a 2 night trip and around 40 miles, but we shortened our itinerary due to the chance of thunderstorms and flash floods on the second day.

Weather: A surprisingly cool ~ 60 F and cloudy for the desert in late April, much to our satisfaction after having spent a few days beforehand in 85 degree heat and sun. We had a few sprinkles on the second day of our trip with some thunder in the distance.

Best moment?

Kate climbs a ladder up a rock face with a backpack on her back.
Photo by Elise Ott

Our hike traversed through multiple canyons and similarly to mountain passes, we’d reach a saddle at the transition of each canyon. Getting to these saddles involved scrambling over slick rock and even some ladders, but the view you’d get from each of them was stunning. Each canyon had its personality and distinct differences in scenery; it’s hard to pick a favorite. I had hiked some of these trails before with my mom on my first visit to the Needles District, and being back in the same location at one of these saddles was a huge highlight of this trip. It was great to reminisce back on the trip that solidified my love for the desert and the park.

Worst moment?

This trip was stress free overall, but we did have a thunderstorm scare on day two. We had changed our permits and shortened our trip because of expected thunderstorms and rain on day two and three (had we kept our itinerary). Unsurprisingly, we did start to get sprinkled on and heard thunder relatively close by on our way back out to the car. It was a little concerning as we were on slick rock and exposed at the time, but luckily the storm never got closer and the trail took us lower to a more protected area relatively quickly. 

Gear MVP? 

Kate hikes up a rock face with trekking poles in each hand

My VectoX and Vesica bottles came very much in handy on this trip considering we had to carry all of our water for the entire time. We were mostly on the dry side of the Needles district with no water sources. We passed a few small sources, but the rangers recommend leaving those for the local animals as they truly depend on them and can’t carry any water on their backs like we can. I carried 6 liters for the whole trip and being able to strap my 2L VectoX to the top of my pack made it much simpler to carry. The Vesicas also gave me more room in my pack once they were used and could be collapsed down. 

Who would you recommend this trip to? 

Kate hikes in between two tall rock faces, using one hand for balance
Photo by Elise Ott

I would recommend this trip to folks who are trying to branch out to a more remote location or trying desert backpacking for the first time. The trailhead - while out of cell service and far from town - is easily accessible by a paved road. There are many options for very short trips with sites only a couple miles from the trailhead, or the option to build much longer trips as well. Make sure to reserve your permit in advance though as the popular sites aren’t often available for walk up. Each backcountry site only allows one group, so you’ll have the place to yourself. The “trails” are often low profile or just finding your way along the slick rock, but they are well marked by cairns along the way and signs at any junctions. This makes it feel like a route finding adventure without much risk of getting lost. You should also be prepared for some scrambling and steep ladders if you choose to go on this hike. This is truly a great trip for anyone looking to get their feet wet (by wet, I mean completely dry and covered in sand) with desert backpacking.


Like reading about the trips the Minimal Gear staff goes on? Check out Kyle's write up of his trip to the Enchantments on the Diorite blog here and Becky's recap of her trip along the AT in the Roan Highlands here

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