Trail Report: Hiking to Druid Arch from Chesler Park

Druid arch in needles district
Spectacular Druid Arch in Needles, Canyonlands
This is the trail report of my hike from Chesler Park to Druid arch deep in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.  I slept at Chesler Park Campground number 4 and enjoy the beautiful sunrise in the park.  I then began hiking toward Druid arch.  The trail is well marked the entire way.

This trail goes directly east from Chesler Park through a crack in the surrounding sandstone towers.  On the other side of this passage is Elephant Canyon.  When I first saw Elephant Canyon, I was very high above the canyon floor.  It is not direct or intuitive to reach the canyon floor.  Nevertheless, that is where you must go in order to continue hiking.

Following the cairns, I traveled north over sandstone boulders for about 15 minutes before the trail dropped into another fissure in the rocks.  Following this down, the trail gradually works its way down a moderate cliff.  The hiking is not difficult nor technical.  I made it down to the canyon floor without trouble.

Take a good look at this location where the trail meets up with the Elephant Canyon Trail.  You will need to remember this location in order to return to Chesler Park.  This particular intersection is not well marked and would be easy to miss on your return trip.

Hiking up Elephant Canyon, the main trail follows the stream bed.  There are a few tributaries that come from the left and right which could be a detour but you cannot go very far before realizing that it's not the main trail.  I had no trouble following the footsteps in the main path.  Elephant Canyon itself is spectacular with its beauty.

Although it is 3 miles to Druid arch, it feels like 5 on the way there.  It took about 2 hours of slow steady hiking.  Once the arch comes into view, you still have quite a bit of hiking to do.  The arch high above the streambed.  This requires hiking up a lot of loose rock and climbing a fixed metal ladder.  Once you reach this higher shelf, you'll have a wonderful view.

My photograph of Druid Arch above is taken in midmorning from the northeast side.  I took this photograph with a 17 mm tilt shift lens and stitched 3 photos together.  The arch itself is very spectacular but I found photographs of it without a foreground subject less appealing.  This landscape photograph is my favorite one from that day.

Hiking back is much easier than going there.  It seemed more the like 3 miles that are advertised as the distance.  Perhaps seeing the wonderful arch made the hiking a little bit easier.

Unexpected Beauty in Chesler Park

Yellow wildflowers Chesler Park
Unexpected Beauty:  Wildflowers find a Home in a
Sliver of Sand
Planning for a specific shot in Chesler Park, I wandered all around the sandstone towers at dawn and sunrise.  After I had done a a lot of photography, I took a break for breakfast with my daughter.  We climbed on top of a boulder to enjoy the view.  Between our boulder and another boulder, a sliver of sand allowed yellow wildflowers to grow.  This was unexpected yet so beautiful, I had to stop and try to capture this.  This unexpected moment is now one of my favorite memories from that morning.
Boulders in Chesler Park canyonlands
Another view from my breakfast boulder

Trail Report: Around Devil's Kitchen

sunrise at needles devils kitchen
Rounded boulders of Devils Kitchen
The Devils kitchen is an enchanting place to spend the night.  The scenery from Camp is breathtaking.  I have another post regarding that.  I wanted to share some other photographs from the surrounding area.  From the campground it is easy to climb to the east and south onto a plateau.  This plateau is filled with towers and potholes.  I spent one memorable sunrise hopping around here and enjoying the views.  I hope you enjoy them too.
Devils kitchen sunrise sandstone tower
Sandstone Tower in Needles District
dawn at the Devils kitchen
Potholes photographed early dawn

Colonnade Arch (Five-Hole Arch): A tough place to visit

5 hole arch over the green river
Colonnade Arch shows 3 of its 5 holes
Colonnade arch fascinated me from the moment I first saw it in a photograph.  I had never seen anything like it:  3 windows opening out over an infinite view of canyons and mazes.  It took a little while to figure out exactly where this arch is located.  It appeared promising enough to me that I decided to special detour into the San Rafael Desert on my way to Canyonlands' Needles District just to visit this spot.

I began hiking early in the morning and was deceived by the landscape as well as other trails in the area.  I hiked down towards the edge of the cliff and did not find my destination.  Looking around in all directions, I found it high on a cliff above and to the east.  I hiked back up and up and up.  You must be above this arch and then descend to it.  This can only be reached by downclimbing from above.  The problem is that you can't see if you're in the right place.  As a result, I down climbed  multiple areas without finding this.  After about one hour of searching, I finally found the right niche to climb down and visit this special place.

Knowing what I know now, I could find it much easier but the first visit is not easy.
san rafael desert arch
Room with a View:  Colonnade Arch
After finding this location, I got some time to enjoy the view.  This is also called Five Hole Arch because their windows looking out to the south and their 2 windows in the roof.  This allows light to come inside more easily than you would expect.  It is impossible to include all 5 arches in one photograph.  The most I could do is 3.  I also enjoyed focusing on just one window (the furthest east) for my "room with a view" shot.
Five hole arch sunrise
Colonnade Arch Columns