Located in the often-overlooked Needles District, the hike to Druid Arch in Canyonlands is absolutely amazing and certainly one of the best hikes in southern Utah! This challenging 10.5 mile trail rewards hikers the entire way with epic scenery of canyons and dozens of towering spires known as “needles” reaching into the sky, culminating with the breathtaking Druid Arch and an out-of-this-world view down Elephant Canyon.
In the article below, we’ve detailed everything you need to known to prepare for the Druid Arch hike. If you are contemplating visiting the Needles district of Canyonlands, we hope that this hike alone will tip the scale in favor of making the trip to this incredible place!
Druid Arch in Canyonlands National Park
Rising 150 feet high, Druid Arch towers over the Needles District in Canyonlands National Park. Located at the end of the stunning Elephant Canyon, Druid Arch can be reached via a difficult 10.5 mile roundtrip hike requiring minor rock scrambling and route finding.
We spent two nights and three days backpacking through the Needles and, without a doubt, the hike to Druid Arch was the highlight of our trip. Druid Arch is definitely the best hike in the Needles and maybe all of Canyonlands!
Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park is made up of 4 distinct districts: Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze and the Rivers.
Island in the Sky is the easiest area to access and by far the most popular. The Needles district is more remote and takes more effort to reach. The Maze is the most remote area of the park, accessible only via dirt roads requiring a high clearance 4WD vehicle.
Lastly, the Colorado River and Green River which wind through the park are considered their own district.
The Needles district
The Druid Arch trailhead is located in the often-overlooked Needles district of Canyonlands. Located about 2 hours from the more popular Island in the Sky and 1.5 hours from Moab, most visitors do not make the trip to this remote area of the park.
But those who do are rewarded with completely unique scenery, unlike anywhere else in the park, or the country (maybe the world?), for that matter. While this area takes a bit more time to reach, the access road is paved, unlike the Maze.
Aptly named, the Needles District is known for its towering, striped spires or “needles”, epic views, and some of the best trails in Canyonlands. Perhaps most importantly, due to the remote location, you are certain to find some ever-elusive solitude.
Those who don’t visit the Needles are definitely missing out on one of the best parts of Canyonlands.
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Druid Arch Canyonlands Hike Details
- Hiking distance | 10.5 miles
- Elevation gain | 1600 feet
- Total time | 5 – 7 hours
- Epic-ness rating | 9
- Difficulty | hard
Find this hike on AllTrails: Druid Arch Trail
Note: AllTrails rates the Druid Arch trail as moderate difficulty – we’ve rated it as hard due to the length of the hike, some simple route finding and rock scrambling required towards the end.
How difficult is the hike to Druid Arch?
The majority of the Druid Arch hike is fairly flat with only slight elevation gain. The most challenging part of the hike comes in the last half mile up to the arch, which requires a very steep climb with some moderate rock scrambling.
The trail can be difficult to follow, as the ground you’ll be hiking across is mostly rock, meaning that there is no well worn path. You must keep an eye out for cairns (stacked piles of stones) marking the trail in order to avoid getting lost.
We highly recommend getting AllTrails Pro and downloading the GPS map just to be safe. We were able to follow the cairns for most of the hike and didn’t have any major route finding issues, but it’s important to have a safety net in case you do go off trail and end up turned around.
Parking and getting to the trailhead
The Druid Arch hike begins from the Elephant Hill trailhead, which is about 2 miles down a narrow, windy dirt road from the Needles Visitor Center.
While the road is typically accessible with a 2WD vehicle, be sure to to drive slowly and use your horn to alert oncoming cars as you approach sharp turns. In most spots, the road is too narrow for two cars to pass side by side.
The parking lot near the trailhead is a fairly large but can fill up quickly on busy days during the peak seasons. We arrived around noon and had to park on the side of the road a few hundred yards before the parking lot.
Druid Arch Trail map
The map below highlights the most direct trail to reach Druid Arch from Elephant Hill trailhead in blue.
This is the path that most people take to reach the arch, but there are plenty of ways to customize your route if you have more time. Chesler Park is amazing and has some of the best views of the Needles, and the Joint Trail is a super fun stretch through a large crack in the canyon rock.
The optional detour through Chesler Park on the way to Druid Arch is highlighted in green.
The first mile and a half of the hike leads through the Elephant Hill section of the trail, with the first quarter mile almost straight uphill. You will definitely be feeling the burn and second guessing your decision to hike 10.5 miles.
But fear not! The trail quickly flattens out and after 1.5 miles, you’ll reach a junction with a sign. Take a right here, towards Druid Arch.
Option detour: Chesler Park
Continue for 0.6 miles before reaching another junction. Take a left to continue through Elephant Canyon, the most direct route to Druid Arch.
Alternatively, you can continue straight to take a detour through Chesler Park (see the map above for details on the route), one of the most popular sections of the Needles district known for its expansive views of the Needles.
The detour leads through one side of the Chesler Park Loop and adds a total of 3.1 miles to the hike to Druid Arch. The trail leads you through a wide-open field with sweeping views of the Needles and is totally worth doing if you have the time and energy!
If you don’t take the detour through Chesler Park, you will continue for 1.3 miles until you reach another junction, which marks the final stretch of Elephant Canyon leading towards Druid Arch.
Druid Arch is located at the far end of a narrow rocky canyon, called Elephant Canyon. To reach Druid Arch, you’ll hike through the wash of Elephant Canyon.
This is where the hike starts to get interesting as you will be surrounded by crazy and colorful rock formations at every turn!
Pay particular attention for cairns inside Elephant Canyon, as the trail sometimes leads up the side of the canyon to avoid deep sections of water. There are a few minor rock scrambles on the trail through Elephant Canyon, but nothing too challenging.
Final scramble to Druid Arch
With about a quarter mile to go, you’ll tackle the hardest part of the hike: scrambling up to Druid Arch. At this point, the trail gets very steep. As you start the scramble, you’re actually facing towards the narrow side edge of the arch, so it will look like just another needle from this angle.
About 3/4 of the way through the scramble, you’ll round the corner and suddenly Druid Arch comes into full view. The sheer size of the arch is astounding, and it’s sudden appearance even more shocking!
While the arch itself is seriously impressive, the view looking down Elephant Canyon from right beside the arch may be even more mesmerizing. Walking across the orange-swirled, mushroom-shaped rock formations feels like a scene taken from Super Mario.
These views looking down Elephant Canyon from Druid Arch are perhaps the best anywhere in in Canyonlands!
Once you’ve satisfied your appetite for epic views, make your way back through Elephant Canyon and retrace your steps return to the trailhead.
Make sure to look out for trail intersections and signs, or keep an eye on AllTrails – it can be easy to miss a turn with so many beautiful distractions!
Planning your Druid Arch hike in Canyonlands
We hope you’re sold by now that hiking to Druid Arch is worth the detour to the Needles District. If so, read on for all the details you need to plan your hike!
When to hike
Druid Arch is best hiked in the spring (April/May) and the fall (September/October) when daytime temperatures in Canyonlands are more moderate (60-80 degrees Fahrenheit).
In the summer, temperatures can soar – reaching well above 100 degrees. Winter can be a bit chilly, with nighttime temperatures dipping below freezing.
Where to stay before hiking Druid Arch
As mentioned, the Needles District is fairly remote, so camping inside the park is your best option to get an early start on the hike to Druid Arch in the morning.
Campgrounds in the Needles
The Needles Campground has 26 individual sites and 3 group sites in different locations throughout the district. Reservations can be made from spring through fall and are first-come, first-served at all other times. Individual sites cost $15 per night.
If you are visiting during peak season, you will need to book your site well in advance. If the Needles Campground in the park is full, you have a few options. You can check out the Needles Outpost Campground, which is located only five minutes outside the park.
Dispersed camping near the park
There is also plenty of BLM land in the area where you can find a place to dispersed camp. While dispersed camping will put you further from the Druid Arch trailhead than other campgrounds in the park, this free option gives you more privacy than a typical campground.
- Check out the Utah BLM website for more information.
Backpacking in the Needles District
While the hike to Druid Arch is primarily a day hike on its own, we highly recommend spending a few days backpacking in the Needles. There are many backcountry sites throughout the district within a relatively small area, making it a perfect backpacking option.
You will need a permit to backpack and reservations can be highly competitive during peak season. All backcountry permits become available to reserve on a seasonal basis, four months before the start of the season.
You can learn more about the permitting system on the NPS website, but know that you should be ready to reserve your sites as soon as they become available if you are planning a peak season trip.
If you are planning a backpacking trip in the Needles District of Canyonlands, Druid Arch is a can’t miss stop on your itinerary!
If camping or backpacking isn’t your cup of tea, the closest towns are Moab, located about 1 hour 30 minutes away, and Monticello, located about an hour away. While Monticello is closer, you’ll definitely find more lodging options and amenities in Moab.
Tips for a great hike
We’ll leave you with a key takeaways to make sure you hike to Druid Arch goes smoothly:
- Be on the lookout for cairns to keep you on the trail. Better yet, download the trail map on AllTrails or carry a GPS device to help you stay on track! We always hike with our Garmin InReach mini, which allows you to communicate with the outside world in case of an emergency, providing some much-needed peace of mind on a trail that can be difficult to follow.
- Get an early start – parking is limited and fills up quickly. More so, hiking in the morning will allow you to avoid the intense heat of the afternoon sun.
- If you aren’t staying near the Needles, it’s tough to get an early start due to the remote location. To enable you to start your adventure early in the morning, book a campsite inside the Needles District, check out the private campgrounds outside the park, or better yet, plan to dispersed camp on BLM land.
- We can’t reiterate this enough – bring plenty of water! There are very few, if any, available water sources on the hike and temperatures can soar. Be sure to bring plenty of water with you.
- For entrance to Canyonlands and all other U.S. National Parks for one year, purchase an America the Beautiful Pass before you go.
Other useful resources
Planning a road trip through southern Utah? We think you may also be interested in the following:
- Utah National Parks: How to Plan an Epic Utah National Parks Road Trip
- Grand Staircase: How to Hike Zebra Slot Canyon: Grand Staircase Escalante
- Grand Staircase: Peek-a-boo and Spooky Slot Canyons Hike
- Bryce Canyon: How to Hike the Figure Eight Loop in Bryce Canyon
- Bryce Canyon: A Complete Guide to Hiking the Fairyland Loop in Bryce Canyon
- Zion: Backpacking the West Rim Trail in Zion National Park
For all things Utah: Utah Travel Guide
Interested in hiking to Druid Arch in Canyonlands? Questions or comments about this hike? Let us know below!