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Exploring Chesler Park Loop: A Complete Hiking Guide

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Chesler Park Hike Canyonlands National Park
Chesler Park in Canyonlands National Park

If you think the perfect hike doesn’t exist, let me introduce you to the Chesler Park Loop in the Needles District of Utah’s Canyonlands National Park! This hike is the best way to get up close and personal with the Needles, the hoo-doo-like orange sandstone spires that dominate this area of the park.

While there are shorter hikes in the Needles, we recommend the Chesler Park Loop and Joint Trail for the best full-day adventure. The trail has everything a hiking enthusiast could dream of – rock-hewn staircases, views of the Needles and the La Sal Mountains, a cave, a fun slot canyon, and wildlife spotting.

We think the Chesler Park Loop may just be the best hike in Canyonlands National Park. Keep reading for our guide on how to hike it!

Follow the seven Leave No Trace principles: plan your hike in advance, stick to designated trails, carry out all your belongings, dispose of waste properly, leave natural areas untouched, minimize the impact of campfires, show consideration for fellow hikers, and avoid approaching or feeding wildlife.

Chesler Park Loop and Joint Trail Overview

Chesler Park Loop and Joint Trail Info At-A-Glance

  • Distance: 10.2 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous, with some sections requiring scrambling over rocks and navigating narrow passages.
  • Elevation Change: 1,794 feet
  • Time Needed: 5-6 hours
  • AllTrails Link

The Chesler Park Loop delivers spectacular views of the Needles District rock formations, including spires, arches, and canyons. The trail also passes through Chesler Park, a picturesque grassy area surrounded by towering sandstone cliffs.

Note: It’s essential to carry plenty of water, wear sturdy hiking shoes, and be prepared for variable weather conditions, as the desert environment can be unpredictable. Additionally, check current trail conditions and heed any warnings or advisories from park rangers.

Chesler Park Loop Trail Map

The below map provides a general overview of the Chesler Park Loop Trail and landmarks along the way.

Getting to the Chesler Park Loop Trailhead

To get to the Elephant Hill Trailhead, where the Chesler Park Loop Hike begins, you will need to drive south from Moab on US-191 and then west on UT-211. The drive is nearly 2 hours from Moab, so plan accordingly!

You’ll enter the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park on UT-211 W and continue 3 miles towards the Needles Campground, making a left on Federal Route 2444 and then a right on Elephant Hill Road.

The road ends at the trailhead, so let’s park and begin our hike!

Chesler Park Loop Trail Details

Hiking to Chesler Park

This trail is unique from the first steps you take up the rock-hewn stairs through a narrow slot between rocks!

After the initial ascent, the hike levels out for a bit as you traverse a sandy landscape toward the Needles rock formations.

This part of the trail is called the Elephant Hill Trail, and you’ll see the Elephant Hill rock formation to your right (west) as you hike.

Eventually, you will get to Chesler Park Viewpoint, with an outstanding view of the Needles and Chesler Park itself before you.

Chesler Park

Just past the Chesler Park Viewpoint, you’ll arrive at Chesler Park. This is where the loop portion of the hike begins. You can go in either direction, but we opted to hike counter-clockwise.

You’ll need to do some rock scrambling on the descent down into Chesler Park. Once off the rocks and on the sandy ground, you’ll follow the trail until it widens into a Jeep road. Stay on the Jeep road until you reach the Joint Trail.

Jeep Road on Chesler Park Loop

Joint Trail

The Joint is, in my opinion, the most fun part of the Chesler Park Loop trail to hike through. First, you’ll climb a steep staircase between rocks to get to a cave. After hiking through the cave, you will enter the slot canyon.

In the Joint

We spent a long time on this short ~1.5-mile stretch of the hike, enjoying exploring the nooks and crannies of the cave and slot canyon. Do be mindful of snakes in the rocks, though!

Sarah and Tim in the cave on the Joint Trail
Joint Trail hike Canyonlands National Park
Tim on the Joint Trail

When you exit the canyon, you’ll see signs for a short detour to a viewpoint. Scramble up the rocks to get a cool view looking out over the Needles sandstone spire formations!

From here, you’ll follow the flat sandy trail through Chesler Park, past the campsites, and back to where you began the loop.

Return to Elephant Hill Trailhead

Once you’ve completed the loop, it’s back onto the Elephant Hill Trail to return the way you came!

Tips

  • Don’t bust the crust! In Canyonlands National Park, it’s crucial to avoid stepping on cryptobiotic soil, a living crust vital to desert ecosystems. Stick to designated trails to prevent damaging this fragile soil, as even a single footprint can take decades to recover. Respecting cryptobiotic soil helps preserve Canyonlands’ unique beauty and biodiversity for future generations.
  • Spring, fall, and winter are the best seasons to hike the Chesler Park Loop. Summer is brutally hot and should be avoided in my opinion! Especially since there is very little shade on this trail, you do not want to trudge through the Needles in the summer heat!
  • Plan not to have cell phone service. Download your trail maps in advance and consider a satellite communication device like Garmin InReach in the event of an emergency.

What to Bring on the Chesler Park Loop Hike

  • Water: Bring at least 4 liters per person. We recommend a hydration pack and a water bladder.
  • Snacks and lunch: Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are our hiking go-to meal!
  • Sun protection: Wear a hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses
  • Your camera: We shoot with a Sony a7iii, but even your cell phone will work!

>>> Click here to read our complete National Park packing list!

FAQs About Hiking the Chesler Park Loop

Where should I stay when hiking the Chesler Park Loop?

The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park is quite remote, at nearly 2 hours away from Moab. The closest town to the Chesler Park Loop is

  • Monticello: This is the closest town to stay in when visiting the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. Although it is a rural town, there are a few good accommodation options as well as restaurants and grocers.
  • Moab: The most popular base for visiting Canyonlands National Park, Moab will have the most hotel options, as well as a fun food and drink scene. The downside is that it is quite far from the Chesler Park Loop.
  • Tented Camping: Chesler Park is a popular backpacking destination, so if tented camping is your jam, get a reservation for one of the Chesler Park campsites and enjoy a night under the stars!
  • RV or Car Camping: With ample BLM and public land between Monticello and the Canyonlands National Park boundary, there are plenty of options for car camping or RV camping on the side of the road. This is what we did in our Sprinter van.

Is the Chesler Park Loop suitable for beginners or families with children?

While the trail is rated as moderate to strenuous, it can still be enjoyed by families with older children and hikers with some experience. However, it may not be suitable for very young children or inexperienced hikers due to some challenging sections and uneven terrain.

Are there any restroom facilities along the trail?

There are no restroom facilities along the trail, so it’s essential to use the restroom before starting your hike and practice Leave No Trace principles when nature calls.

There is a restroom at the Elephant Hill Trailhead, so go there before you hike!

What is the best time of year to hike the Chesler Park Loop?

The best time to hike the Chesler Park Loop is during the spring and fall when temperatures are milder. Summer can be extremely hot, while winter may bring colder temperatures and the possibility of snow and ice.

Are there any wildlife encounters to be aware of on the trail?

Wildlife encounters are possible, including desert birds, lizards, and small mammals. Be mindful of rattlesnakes, especially during warmer months, and give them plenty of space if encountered.

We had the delight of observing a deer on the trail during our hike!

Are dogs allowed on the Chesler Park Loop trail?

No, pets are not permitted on the Chesler Park Loop trail or any trails within Canyonlands National Park.

Are there any fees or permits required to hike the Chesler Park Loop?

A fee is required to enter Canyonlands National Park, but there are no additional fees or permits specifically for hiking the Chesler Park Loop.

Entrance fees for Canyonlands National Park vary: $30 for a private vehicle, $25 for motorcycles, and $15 for individuals on foot or bike.

For those intending to explore multiple national parks within a year, we highly advocate for the America the Beautiful Pass. Priced at $80 annually, it grants unlimited access to over 2,000 federal recreation sites, including Canyonlands. Perfect for adventurers traversing various parks, the pass includes entrance fees for both the holder and accompanying passengers in a non-commercial vehicle, presenting substantial savings and boundless opportunities to discover the natural wonders of America.

 >>> Buy your National Parks Pass from REI here

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Are there any water sources along the trail, or should I bring my own?

There are no reliable water sources along the trail, so it’s crucial to bring an ample supply of water for the duration of your hike.

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