The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park is nestled just 1.5 hours south of Moab in a rolling terrain of parched desert landscape. Similar to the popular Island in the Sky, which is in the northern region of Canyonlands National Park, the Needles District is filled with jaw-dropping rock formations, glowing orange earth for you to camp out on, and countless opportunities to bask in the breathtaking views. After spending a few nights around Moab, we snatched up a coveted backcountry permit, loaded up our vehicles, and headed south for a backpacking trip through the lesser known Needles District.

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After parking and grabbing our packs, we venture out on a well-marked trail toward the designated campsite reserved for our group. Most trails are well defined or marked in this area, but it’s important to research where you are going and bring along navigating tools like a compass and map.

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It’s late morning and we’re already dripping with sweat as the sand swallows our feet for part of the trail. A key to backpacking is being prepared, so we make sure to carry enough water for our trek through the hot desert.

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As we move further into the backcountry, the small rocky forms we saw in the distance are soon standing magnificently before us. Sheer walls and vast valleys flank our trail as we continue on our way.

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Contrary to popular belief, the desert does not mean lack of life. The organisms here, both flora and fauna, are incredibly resilient and beautiful. Here, a vibrant cactus flower prepares to bloom.

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We find our campsite and set up our tents, eager to explore the surrounding area without our packs. Daypacks on and stomachs growling, we navigate the nearby area until we find the perfect place to cook dinner. Open fire is not allowed, so we light our stove and start assembling some much deserved burritos as the sun sets before us.

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Our dinner spot is nothing short of spectacular. We watch as the last light of the day disappears from the sky and linger as long as we can, not wanting the evening to end.

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Backpacking doesn’t need to be all hiking and exploring. We spend some mornings nestled in sleeping bags, drinking tea, and reading adventure books.

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Morning hikes allow us to view much of the landscape before the desert heat engulfs the air around us. When backpacking, it’s vital to keep track of water sources and consumption. Water weighs quite a bit, so when choosing where to backpack, make sure to include water needs in your decision.

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We spend our days exploring the trails nearby. Cairns mark trails along sections where no dirt path can lead us, taking us between colorful towers of rock and hardy valleys filled with vegetation and dried stream beds.

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The hot desert days are split between exploring and keeping cool, but we always leave energy for stargazing. The Needles District is far from major cities and towns, allowing the infinite amount of stars to leave us feeling small in the wake of their brilliance.

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Reluctant, we pack up our sand-covered tents and hike out a little later than planned. The late morning suns beats down on us, making our departure all the more difficult as we make our way back to society. Despite the heat, the Needles left us awestruck, sweaty, and wanting only to come back for more, but maybe earlier in the spring next time.

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