Chesler Park / Joint Trail Hike – Canyonlands NP

Moab, UT

Our stay in the Moab area is quickly coming to an end.  For our final hike we decided to repeat a trail we did two years ago in Canyonlands NP.  Canyonlands had three districts around two canyons formed by the Green and Colorado Rivers.  For this hike we drove south of Moab to visit the area of the park known as The Needles.  We left Moab before 8:00 AM (mid-day for Paul and Marsha!), as it is quite a long drive to get to this remote area.  From Moab we drove forty miles south on Hwy. 191, then turned west on Hwy. 211 for another thirty-five miles.

Last time we didn’t get such an early start as we had a hike planned of about five miles.  But after speaking with a ranger at the visitor center, we changed plans and decided to hike the eleven miles on the Chesler Park/Joint Trail.  At the half way point during that hike we realized that, at our current pace, we would run out of daylight and still be on the trail.  So the return hike that day was at a fast pace and didn’t allow any time to enjoy the beauty along the trail.

But this year we were prepared and, after a stop at the visitor center to make sure the trail was open (it rained the night before in Moab), we were on the trail by mid-morning with plenty of time to complete the hike.

The scenery along Hwy. 211 before entering the park


The Wooden Shoe Arch near the visitor center

The trailhead

We really enjoy this trail as it has a great variety of trail difficulty and scenery.  As soon as you enter the trail it goes up sharply through gaps in the huge rocks.

Once through the first set of rocks things flatten out a bit with great views of needle rock formations in the distance.

Then it’s back into the rocks going through another narrow slot . . .

. . . then down steeply into a wash.


After crossing the wash the trail winds steeply up through more rocks before entering another relatively flat area with beautiful views all around us.

Then it’s back up a steep area, again through the rocks, to the highest point in the hike (no photos we were in total concentration mode).  Here things open up into a wide valley called Chesler Park. At this point the trail splits and provides hikers with a number of options.   We turned to the right on to the Chesler Trail, knowing that we would loop around the “park” and return to this spot after about six miles. If you do this hike, we recommend doing the loop in this direction (counterclockwise) as the views around you are beautiful in all directions as you meander through the rocks going generally down in elevation.

A blooming claret cup

This part of the trail is a bit primitive in spots with a bit of scrambling needed, but nothing too difficult for most hikers.

After about a mile through the rocks, we came to a sandy Jeep road that, about another mile, takes you to the trailhead for the Joint Trail.

About a half mile up this trail we reached a very cool, long slot area.  First we climbed up a rough set of steps through a narrow passage in the rocks.

At the top of the steps we entered a wide area where the rocks above us were so close together the area feels like a cave.

At the end of this cave-like area the trail turns to the left and goes through a long, narrow slot with rock walls soaring overhead.

The trail is sandy along the slot except in two locations.  The first requires a short climb up a crude ladder (steps carved in a log).

Then there is a brief scramble up some large rocks.

But for the most part, the walk through the slot is on a smooth, sandy flat surface.

Once out of The Joint the trail goes through a flat, sandy section for about a mile right through Chesler Park.

We completed the loop and returned to the main trail ready to head back down toward the trailhead.  This point is called The Viewpoint, as it is the high point on the trail and provides a great view looking back down toward the trailhead hidden in the rocks in the distance.

The Viewpoint

Heading back down from the Viewpoint.

Going back through one of the slots

As we approached the final descent through the rocks to the trailhead, we were treated to one last vista, with the snow-covered La Sal Mountains in the distance.

After hiking over eleven miles, we returned to the Jeep in the brilliant sunlight of late afternoon, compared to our last time here when we just made it back at sundown.  We celebrated our day with a nice cold stout and dinner at the Moab Brewery!

That’s it for our visit to Moab this year.  We really like the area and are already planning for a future visit.  But now it’s on to Torrey, UT for a visit to Capitol Reef NP.  More on that later . . .

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21 Responses to Chesler Park / Joint Trail Hike – Canyonlands NP

  1. Laurel says:

    We stayed in Canyonlands for the first time several years ago and fell in love with it. Thanks for bringing back great memories of the Chesler Park hike — I’d like to do it again. Great photos, as always!

  2. Lenore says:

    What a spectacular hike! Love all those slot canyons. It’s not so easy to get to and see Needles park, but so rewarding!

  3. explorvistas says:

    Just beautiful! What were your morning temperatures? Is it still ahead of snake season in that area?


    • placestheygo says:

      Jim, the weather has been quite warm. We only wore our light jackets for less than a mile and pants were actually a little warm. It was in the high 50’s in the shade when we started but the sun was very warm. We haven’t seen any snakes anywhere.

  4. pmbweaver says:

    8:00 is a very respectable time…at least for you two.

    Wooden Shoe Arch is dang cute.

    That is hike is so amazing. It has a little sometime for everyone. I love the slots. The views are magnificent. We only did the Chesler Park trail, and it rained while we were way out. Glad to see the beauty of the area with blue skies and sunshine.

    The La Sal Mountains didn’t have snow in early September. They looks so lovely.
    Safe travels to Torrey. We have never been to Capitol Reef NP. Looking forward to your adventures.

  5. Box Canyon Blogger Mark says:

    That trail is a slow go but worth the time. Did it a long time ago but tented one night. Had to remove backpacks to get through some of those narrows :))

  6. FAB-U-LOUS!!!!!! Thanks for the info on getting there. We’re thinking we may attack that trail from Monticello (which is still about 60 miles away!). It’s too bad the forest campground has a length limit of 28 ft.

  7. Mary says:

    I love that area, and haven’t done that particular hike. That looks awesome. Torrey is one of my favorite towns and surrounding area. We love going there. That’s how my dog Torrey got her name actually.

  8. Jodee Gravel says:

    The photos from both of you just keep getting better and better – I feel like I was on the trail with you (without heavy breathing and pounding heart and straining muscles I would really have). The Viewpoint is amazing and such a contrast to the narrow slots. I love the many make-shift stairs and ladders to keep you moving through the trail. So smart to check on the trail after a rain. Too many people don’t “get” that about the desert.
    Do your poles fold up small enough for your pack? I notice sometimes when you’re scrambling they aren’t with you.

    • placestheygo says:

      Our poles are the folding type that are only about a foot long and they fit so nicely in our packs. They weigh nothing. However, when you see me without them as I was climbing, John had them and then gave them to me once I was up (or down). I only used them coming out.

  9. Nancy says:

    A-W-E-S-O-M-E! What climbers you are. You both really enjoy where you stay! Can’t wait for your next adventure. Safe travels to you!

  10. Sherry says:

    Well Jodee wrote my comment. I really did feel like I was doing this hike with you and for sure it is a great one that I definitely want to do. Your pictures are fantastic of the slots and the views. That last one is a great ending. Thanks for the hike! The 3 National Parks so near together are big favorites of mine. It’s been nice visiting them again with you. Looking forward to Capitol Reef perhaps my #1 favorite. We had a campsite very close to PIE!

  11. Thanks for taking all these challenging hikes for me while I sit in my armchair. Beautiful scenery!

  12. Holly Ritger says:

    What a spectacular hike!I couldn’t believe how many times the trail moved back into the slots and narrow canyons… And, what views!!! Thanks for sharing.

  13. Erin says:

    Magnificent. I love a trail that offers a variety of terrain … don’t mind the steep parts as much if I can rest on the flat sections.

  14. Gay says:

    A hike with everything! We do hope to explore Needles one day. I am loving those slots! Great photography …

  15. Sheila says:

    What a gorgeous group of photos; I especially LOVE the one of the clouds and rock formations in the distant as seen through the slot walls! Beautiful shot!! We visited the Needles and enjoyed it very much. Did not see it as you and hubby did – at floor level!

  16. What a fabulous looking hike! We didn’t spend near enough time in Canyonlands.
    Look forward to your see where your legs take you in Cap Reef.

  17. harleyhawk43 says:

    Excellent! Great pictures and commentary.

  18. LuAnn says:

    What spectacular views! We may have to reevaluate our travels next year. You have given us so many ideas for southern Utah. Fabulous photos!

  19. rommel says:

    Good word! Those are THE dream views!!! Absolutely stunning, remarkable! No wonder you had to redo it.

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