Date hiked: 12/02/16
Mileage: 19.8 mi
Head Count (how many other hikers I saw): 0 groups.
While Canyonlands National Park may be known more for its sweeping vistas and one-of a kind landmarks, there are actually a number of access points throughout all three districts that eventually lead to the water. Most are within the Island in the Sky district, but my first experience came from the Needles district with Lower Red Lake Canyon.
There are two options at reaching Lower Red Lake Canyon. The first is from the Big Spring Overlook trailhead (20.8 miles), or this 19.8 mile approach from Elephant Hill.
From the Elephant Hill trailhead, the route heads west along the 4X4 road. 1.3 miles in, you’ll reach an intersection. Head left. At this point, you’ll be travelling with traffic along a one-way road, so keep an eye out behind you, especially on busy summer weekends.
Millions upon millions of years ago, as sea levels in the area dropped, a thick layer of sandstone covered the evaporated salt deposits that were left behind. As red sand and silt were deposited by rain and snowmelt, white sand also blew in, forming dunes. These geologic processes are still on display today in the alternating bands of red and white rock throughout Canyonlands.
During a period of tectonic unrest (which also formed the Rocky Mountains), these salt layers were pulled towards the Colorado River, causing a series of valleys (or grabens) to collapse.
The road follows a wash to where it empties into one of these grabens, and to far off views of the Needles.
Log the mileage, and 1.9 miles out you’ll reach a second intersection. Turn right, and after a short distance, you’ll come to your final turn at Devil’s Lane.
To reach Cyclone Canyon (another graben), the trail transects a horst, or a raised fault block thrown upwards between grabens. It’s a truly amazing experience to see earth’s history up close and personal like this.
Once the trail meets up with Cyclone Canyon, the route then enters one last horst, funneling you into Lower Red Lake Canyon.
(From Moab): From Center Street, follow highway 191 south for 39.6 miles. Turn right onto UT-211. In 5.7 miles, pay at the fee station, then continue another 3.1 miles and turn left where 211 wraps north. Turn right towards Campground B and Elephant Hill after .3 miles, then take another right towards Elephant hill .2 miles beyond that. The parking lot is 2.9 miles further, just before the road becomes 4WD.
80.2 mi; 1 hr 45 min
Fees: $25/car to enter Canyonlands National Park