Breathtaking Drive to the Needles in Canyonlands National Park

Time always flies on vacation! On most trips, there are more things to do than time allows.  It can be really hard to narrow down the to-do list!

In Moab, Utah, you can’t help but face this dilemma! Nestled near 2 National Parks, the Colorado River, and some of the best rock terrain in the nation, it is tough to decide what to include on the itinerary and what to save for another trip!

On our first trip to Moab, we spent time in Canyonlands National Park Islands in the Sky District.  We wanted to visit the Needles District, but there just wasn’t time to make that drive.

On our most recent trip, we debated whether or not it was worth the 1 hour and 45 minutes drive one way to see the Needles.  We decided to go for it and quickly found out that the answer is YES!Indian Creek Scenic Drive Utah

To reach the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park from Moab, head south on Hwy 191. Turn right (west) on SR 211.  This is where the drive starts to get really interesting.

SR 211 is also known as the Indian Creek Scenic Byway. It joins highway US Hwy 191 about 40 miles south of Moab. This Scenic Byway is 18 miles each way and ends at the entrance to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.  The highway winds among spectacular buttes and rock formations!

As you enjoy this scenic drive, don’t miss Newspaper Rock, one of the country’s largest collections of petroglyphs which is also a Utah State Historic Site. This amazing rock art is about 15 miles west of Hwy 191.

Once you arrive at the entrance to the Needles District, the possibilities are endless! And, there are far fewer people in this district than in Islands in the Sky. I think you’ll find a Moab day trip to the Needles along the Indian Creek Scenic Byway to be vacation time well spent!Needles District of Canyonlands National Park

5 Reasons to Get Out of Your Car and Hike Balanced Rock

One of Arches National Park’s most iconic formations is Balanced Rock.  Perched precariously atop a mudstone monolith is a 3600 ton perfectly balanced rock…or so it seems.  In reality, the rocks are attached.Balanced Rock Trailhead Sign

Balanced Rock can be seen from a distance when driving the park’s main road.  The parking lot also offers an outstanding view. So, it might be tempting to just pause, snap a photo, and skip the trail. Don’t.

Here are 5 reasons why it is worth your time to get out of the car and take the hike:

  1. The Trail is Short and Flat: There aren’t many excuses that hold water for not hiking this trail.  At only .33 mile with very minimal elevation gain, it is suitable for the whole family.  It doesn’t take much of your vacation time to enjoy this wonder.Balanced Rock Trail
  2. It’s All About Perspective: Many photos of Balanced Rock are from the same angle. Yet, it has a distinctive and unique shape. To appreciate this feature of Balanced Rock, you must walk around it on the trail. Balanced Rock
  3. Appreciate the Scale: Balanced Rock is big… really big!  It is proported to be the size of 3 school buses… although I suspect that this is an approximation.  Walking around this well-known balancing act helps you better appreciate its uniqueness. Balanced Rock Trail
  4. Stop and Smell the Roses: While there are no actual roses, there are plenty of plants to enjoy. And while I wouldn’t suggest getting close enough to a cactus to smell it, I do recommend stopping to observe the many creatures which call this small section of the park home.Tree on Balanced Rock Trailimage
  5. It Might Be Your Last Chance:  Not to be overly dramatic, but someday it will fall. Like all of the formations in Arches National Park, over time the forces of nature change the landscape. This means that Balanced Rock will eventually come crashing down.Balanced Rock

Balanced Rock is just one of the many special things that makes Arches National Park a great place to visit.  The best way to enjoy this natural wonder is slow down and appreciate this spectacular sight!

Balanced Rock

Toadstools Trail in Southern Utah

A tall toadstool rock formation.
A towering toadstool rock formation against the Utah blue sky.

Toadstools Trail in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is remarkable and doesn’t quite get the attention it deserves.  The rock formations on the trail are astonishing and provide lots of eye candy for the nature lover or photographer.  For a trail so accessible and family-friendly, I’m surprised it isn’t more crowded.  It’s likely due to its location in Southern Utah – an area full of amazing rock formations and spectacular scenery which steal the limelight.

What to expect. No need to hike across the desert uphill for miles in order to take in these unique formations.  This family-friendly trail is only 1.5 miles round trip.  Even a non-hiker can enjoy these sites with minimal effort.  The trail begins with a hike along a dry wash.  Don’t let the dry wash fool you.  The entire trail isn’t this flat.  There are several places where one has to go up and over small hills and rocks.  It isn’t that strenuous, but it probably wouldn’t be a fit for someone with a mobility issue.

Toadstools trail wash.
A good portion of the Toadstools Trail is a dry wash.

The end of the trail almost looks like an amphitheater with small cliffs surrounding the main toadstool features.  Because there are so many interesting and unique rock formations, plan to spend some time here marveling at them.  This is not a place to rush. Rather, slow down and enjoy.

Toadstools trail amphitheater area.
At the end of the trail, are amphitheater shaped cliffs surrounding a variety of “toadstools.”

What you’ll see. I immediately noticed the painted-desert-style striated rocks along the trail. I’d seen many while driving through the area.  However, this trail provided a good opportunity to enjoy a closer view and take some photographs.  The color variation makes for an incredible sight.

lake-powell-toadstool-trail-trip

Once we reached the area containing the toadstools, I noticed the color of the cliff walls – almost white with a yellow cast.  It makes a nice backdrop for the toadstools. My kiddo enjoyed playing in the sand here which afforded us the opportunity to just enjoy the scenery.  The toadstools come in various shapes, sizes, and colors.  Some of the formations are quite large.  On many, the top appears to be purposefully balanced on the base.

Rock toadstool formations.
Toadstool rock formations can be seen in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Overall, this hike was a win for my family.  If you are near the area, it is worth a stop. While I had seen some information about this trail before our trip, I certainly wasn’t expecting a trail which was so accessible to be so amazing.