Working for San Juan County Visitor Services and answering the calls that come in on our toll free information line, a question that I’m often asked is, ‘When is the best time to visit?’. This is such a no brainer- FALL! In the fall, temperatures are perfect for spending the entire day outside, no need to get an early start to try to beat the heat of the day. The coming of fall means we’ve yet again survived the heat of summer, and can start hiking & exploring in the desert again.
Two weekends ago the weather was looking perfect for getting out for a hike, so we decided to hike the Slickrock trail in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. There are two ways to get from Monticello to the Needles District entrance, (directions at end of post) but I definitely recommend taking the mountain road- it’s more scenic than Hwy 191/Hwy 211. The views out over Canyonlands are really beautiful, and you can always see deer, cows, (it’s Open Range out here, so if you’re wanting to see some cows while you’re ‘out west’, this is a good place to do it! 🙂 ) and in the fall- you can often see turkeys on this road as well.
When we got to the trailhead and were loading up our backpacks, a car with three women inside pulled up behind us and as the women started to get out, a crow landed on the roof of their car. When the woman in the passenger seat opened her door to get out, the crow jumped onto the door and just sat there cawing. At first it was kind of cool- they were taking pictures and I was taking pictures, but then the crow wouldn’t move! We started talking about the crazy crow, and I found out that they were from Switzerland and were on their first visit to Utah. Eventually, after lightly trying to swing the door closed for about the 10th time, the crow decided to move on. Weird. (*I made sure to tell them that this wasn’t normal crow behavior!)
After the crazy crow finally flew away, we were ready to start down the trail. We weren’t more than a minute in when it started sprinkling on us. No problem- since there had been a slight chance of rain, I had brought rain jackets for my son and I. My husband on the other hand, had not brought his, and the light rain quickly turned into a heavy downpour. We decided to try to find a little overhang to hide under until the rain passed, but after spending a couple minutes looking without finding anything, we just gave up and kept hiking.
The rain probably lasted about 10 minutes at the most, and when it was over we were left with 2.4 miles of awesome potholes to keep my son happily hiking along! It’s no secret that kids LOVE water, and what better way to keep a 4 year old boy happy (read: walking on his own and not asking to be carried) than thousands of potholes full of water to splash in?!
This trail is what’s called a ‘lollipop loop’- you begin the hike on a trail that takes you out to a point where a loop starts. After completing the loop, you hike back to your car on the same trail you started on. I definitely prefer loop trails when possible- I like to see as much different terrain as possible. Whether I’m driving or hiking, I try to avoid backtracking whenever possible.
My son had so much fun watching the little waterfalls and trickles of water running from one puddle to the next. Once they dried out to the point that they weren’t flowing on their own, he was happy to help them along!
For some reason, in my son’s mind, lunch is always one of the highlights of our ‘adventures’. I’m not sure if it’s because he’s worked up an appetite from hiking, or that we get to sit on the ground and eat it, or maybe because I’m not nagging him about sitting down and eating over his plate like I do at home, but almost every time we hike, within about the first 10 minutes my son is pointing out places that he says look like ‘a good spot for our lunch break’.
When we finally sat down for lunch the sun had been out long enough that except for the potholes, the ground was completely dry. We found a good, flat place to sit on the slickrock and enjoyed our lunch while looking at the amazing view. I think we were near ‘Viewpoint 2’ on the trail, and while we were eating, several other groups & couples came past and walked up to the edge to take pictures.
We hiked the rest of the trail with frequent stops to check out what seemed like every, single pot hole we passed. But I’m not complaining! I was so happy that my son was so interested and excited about everything, and I know my husband was happy that he didn’t have to carry him on his shoulders for 2.4 miles! Finally, when we were probably within about .2 miles from where the loop trail met back up with the trail that led back to the parking area, my son started to ask to be carried. My husband told him that he’d carry him when we got to the next sign, and then we spent the next .2 miles trying to distract him and keep him hiking on his own.
He made it, and I was so proud of him! He hiked about 2 miles on his own at 4 years old! And when I say ‘on his own’, I mean it- he climbed up and down the slickrock with very little help the entire day. I put out my hand to help him many times, but usually he would tell me that he could do it by himself. I know I whined a lot when I had to hike that far at even 10 years old, so I think he’s doing great! Some days he does great and hikes a lot on his own, and some days he wants to be carried pretty much the whole time- we never know what we’re going to get! But we happily take these days whenever we get them!
As we hiked, I was struck with the same feeling I get every single time we go down there- that we’re so lucky to live in such an amazing and beautiful place. On the trail, we were only 1 hour from our house, and we had run into the group from Switzerland and several others from across the US. (Long Island, NY & Florida) Meeting people who have traveled so far to visit a place that we’re so lucky to have in our ‘backyard’ really reminds you to appreciate it and to get out and enjoy it as much as possible.
It had been a while since we had hiked in Canyonlands, maybe close to a year, and it turned out to be a ridiculously gorgeous day. In the 7.5 years we’ve lived here, I honestly can’t remember a more beautiful day we’ve ever spent in Canyonlands. It’s one of those days where the clouds and lighting are perfect the entire time, and you just know that all your pictures are going to be amazing, and that you can’t take an ounce of credit for it!
Hike length: 2.4 miles
Total Time: 2.5 – 3 hours
From Monticello: Head north on Hwy 191 approx. 14 miles to the turn for the Needles District of Canyonlands. Turn left onto Hwy 211 and drive approx. 34 miles to the park entrance station.
Head east on 200 S (the street north of the Visitor Center) and follow that road up the mountain as it turn into Forest Road 105/Co. Rd 101. After about 25-30 minutes, this road ends where it intersects Hwy 211, from there turn left and continue on that road into the park. (*The driving time is about 1 hr for either route.)
From Moab: Head south on 191 approx. 40 miles to the turn for the Needles District of Canyonlands. Turn right onto Hwy 211 and drive approx. 34 miles to the park entrance station.
Whichever way you choose to drive to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, you will pass a large petroglyph panel at Newspaper Rock, and many other rock art sites as you pass through Indian Creek. For more information on petroglyphs in Indian Creek, visit my ‘Indian Creek Petroglyphs‘ blog entry.
Distance from Canyonlands Needles District Visitor Center to lodging in San Juan County, Utah:
- Monticello: 48 miles/50 km
- La Sal: 60 miles/67 km
- Blanding: 70 miles/113 km
- Bluff: 96 miles/155 km
- Mexican Hat: 122 miles/196 km
- Monument Valley: 147 miles/237 km
For more information or to request travel brochures, please call Utah’s Canyon Country at: 800-574-4386
Or e-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org