Tom’s Experience hiking the Chesler Park Loop:
The Chesler Park Joint Trail Loop is one of the best hikes I’ve ever been on. It is an 11 mile round trip, loop hike. The trail-head starts at the Elephant Hill Trail-head (the same starting point as the Devils Kitchen Loop), in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. The trail wasn’t very crowded when we were there, we did occasionally pass some people hiking the opposite direction, but it wasn’t very frequent. The trail is pretty flat in most areas with a few steep up-and-down sections. The trail is very well marked with cairns along the way and at every intersection there is a sign letting you know the mileage, and which way each fork leads. There are many routes you can take to lead you into (and out of) Chesler Park and to the Joint Trail, which means you can spend days exploring the area. This is probably one of the best hikes in the world.
The trail starts off going through some man made steps between two rocks, then on top of and between rocks for about 2 miles. The cliffs and rock formations are really interesting and the views are great. I couldn’t put my camera down and was constantly taking pictures. We even got off the trail to climb around on a few rocks, which was fun.
After 2.1 miles, my wife and I decided to head towards Druid Arch in order to get to Chesler Park. This meant we would be doing the loop in a clockwise motion. This added overall .2 miles to our journey, but I would say it was totally worth it. The first 1.3 miles towards Druid Arch was in a dry stream bed through Elephant Canyon, which was under steep red rock cliffs that were pretty–but not the best part of the hike. While we were hiking through the stream-bed, I was wondering if I made a wrong choice and should have taken the shorter route. It was a pretty canyon but not nearly as awesome as the first 2 miles into the canyon. There were cairns marking the way, and since we were in a wash there wasn’t much of a trail.
There is a fork on the way Druid Arch trail, we took the path that leads toward Chesler Park. The Trail to Druid Arch is an out-and-back trail that would have added an additional 4 miles to our day plan, which was a little too long for us. The mile from the fork to Chesler Park was one of the most fun miles of hiking on this trip. It is all on sandstone and through interesting rock formations; the views of the surrounding canyons are breathtaking. We passed numerous caves and canyons that were right off the trail and we had a fun time exploring some of them. We went into one slot canyon that was barely wide enough for my wife and me to fit into without our backpacks, once we got through the canyon it opened up and was pretty awesome. This section, until Chesler Park, was a little steep, but well worth your time. I would recommend going this route.
The trail returned to the normal Chesler Park trail inside of Chesler Park, which is a valley that is surrounded by the red cliffs (Needles District is famous for these cliffs). This was a great place to stop for lunch and enjoy the views. Right before the Joint Trail begins, there is a sign pointing towards a look out that is .5 miles away. My wife and I went to the lookout and I wouldn’t recommend doing that. It was neat to look back over Chesler Park–and the trail to get there had some fun steps cut into the rock–but after having already spent quite a bit of time in Chesler Park, I don’t know if the additional mile out-and-back was worth it.
The Joint Trail was really fun to hike through and truly spectacular. It is a slot canyon that we hiked through for about 1.5 miles or so. A cool thing about the Joint Trail, is that you hike through the canyon which is maybe two and half feet wide, then you come to several intersections where the trail continues to go straight forward, backward, or left and right. My wife decided to explore one of the intersections off of the main trail and after about 100 feet, there was another intersection going straight, left or right. At this point we decided to head back to the real trail but it seems that you could spend a few hours just inside the Joint Trail exploring if you wanted to.
Near the end of the Joint Trail was my favorite spot of the whole hike. There is a room that is open at the bottom but at the top is a narrow canyon so it isn’t really a cave, but regardless, still fantastic. In this room, there were dozens of cairns that people had made. It was almost like a museum full of cairns. Some were huge, some were small, and some climbed up the side of the canyon walls. It really was a neat area, and something that I would recommend everyone seeing at some point in their life. While we were in the canyon taking pictures and making a cairn, a family of maybe twenty people passed us. They had young children and no backpacks which I thought was interesting. At this point my wife and I had been camping out of the back of our car for 3 days and she mentioned how clean they smelled and seemed a little jealous. I wondered how they could make it to about the halfway point of the hike without backpacks and without seeming tired at all. I realized a few steps later that after the trail goes through the room with the cairns and a steep climb down some stairs, it then opens up to a wider trail. This trail leads to a 4×4 trail where we saw a few jeeps parked, they must have belonged to the family we passed, which explained how they got there without water or being tired.
We hiked on the 4×4 trail for about a half mile and then exited to hike back through the rocks. It’s about 2.5 miles from leaving the 4×4 road back to the turn off to Druid Arch. The trail is very well marked and still very pretty. Once you hit the turn off for Druid Arch it is 2.1 miles back to the trail-head. The exit out of Elephant Canyon is pretty steep. At this point we passed many people who were just coming into the trail for a few miles but not doing the whole loop.
Dogs are not allowed on trails in Canyonlands National Park so you are unable to bring your dog on this adventure.
We saw no water on the trail except for a very stagnant pool on the way to Druid Arch. I don’t think anyone could pay me to take a drink from that, even if it was filtered. I would suggest bringing all the water you will need for the trip with you. The only outhouse I saw was at the trail-head. This trail is in the desert so make sure you bring plenty of water if you are hiking in the summer heat.
Trail Info: The trail-head for Chesler Park and the Joint Trail is about 6 miles inside of the Needles District in Canyonlands National Park past the visitors’ center. There is a dirt road the last 2.7 miles but it should be doable in almost any vehicle, as long as the road is dry and there isn’t snow. The fee to enter Canyonlands is $15. There are places to camp in the back country but they do require a permit. There are a few places to camp near the trail-head inside the park but it is first come first serve and they fill up fast. It is a national park so no dogs are allowed on the trails.
GPS: Trailhead = 38.141809, -109.827227
Please comment on you favorite parts of the Chesler Park Loop. If there are other great hikes in the area please comment on those as well because my wife and I would love to make it back down here again. Also don’t forget to sign up for the newsletter to get updates about new adventures by entering your e-mail at the top of the page.