While the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands provides a birds eye view of the northern part of the Park, the Needles District puts you right in at the base of the action. Even the drive into the Park, which is a pretty long slog from Moab, provides amazing views of valleys and cliffs.
We chose to hike the hike to the Chesler Park Viewpoint trail, with the trailhead at Elephant Hill at the end of a long narrow and not so well paved road. The trail is a 6-mile round trip and is billed as moderate, so be ready to tackle some steep inclines and scrambling up and over rocky areas – and take lots of water.
Once over the initial hill to start the hike, you enter a desert valley with low scrubby grasses, Juniper bushes, and the varying colors of the blossoms on ground hugging Prickly Pear cactus.
Rimming the valley are sandstone hoodoos and pinnacles in varying shades of cream and rusty red, including some short, fat hoodoos that I think are called goblins.
After the first valley, there is a lovely narrow passage to the next valley. It is wide enough to comfortably walk through with a pack and is a refreshingly cool diversion from the heat of the valleys. At the farthest end of the passage, trees and other vegetation have taken full advantage of the milder climate to fill the opening with greenery.
The final climb out of the second canyon to the Chesler Park Viewpoint is challenging, especially at the end of the hike, but the view is well worth it. From this vantage point, you can see not only into Chesler Park, but also far beyond t the surrounding canyons and mountains. You can continue your hike by completing a circuit around Chesler Park – adding another four or so miles to the distance walked.