Canyonlands' finest geologic sculptures stand tall in the Needles: Erosion here is a masterful ― and whimsical ― artist. Proof resides in the rock-hewn castles, minarets, and even "wooden shoes" that decorate the landscape.
Elephant Hill Access Road is passable for sedans until it becomes rugged Elephant Hill Road, which leads four-wheel-drive enthusiasts deep into the park. Here sedimentary spires ― the Needles ― line the horizon like sentries smartly at attention. In the foreground is a grove of mushroom rocks, named for their bulbous caps of hard stone.
ACCESS: The Needles visitor center is 76 miles from Moab via U.S. 191 south and State 211 west.
BEST VIEW: Elephant Hill Access Rd. surrounds you with colorful sandstone spires.
BEST HIKES: Three miles beyond the visitor center, the Cave Spring Trail offers an easy 1x2-mile round-trip hike past a historic cowboy camp, pictographs, and buttetop views.
Chesler Park Trail, 61x2 miles west of the visitor center and next to Elephant Hill itself, offers a moderate 11-mile round-trip trek into the district's backcountry, where you can get up close to the sandstone needles. The Chesler Park area is a surprisingly open grassland, rimmed by rock steeples and studded with pudgy, colorful, car-size mounds of rock.
The Slickrock Trail, 8 miles beyond the visitor center near Big Spring Canyon, features a moderate 21x2-mile round-trip hike with striking views into canyons and the chance to spot bighorn sheep.
CAMPING: The 26-site first-come, first-served Squaw Flat Campground ($10 per night; gravel tent pads, restrooms, water) is Canyonlands' most beautiful. In fall, sites fill early. Overflow campers head to the private Canyonlands Needles Outpost ($15 per night; www.canyonlandsneedlesoutpost.com or 435/979-4007) campground just outside the Needles' entrance.