Big Spring – Squaw Canyon TrailNeedles District, Canyonlands National Park, Ut
Big Views from the Pass, Neat Geology, and Stunning Canyons
Length: 7.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 660 ft
Approximate Hiking Time: 4-6 hr
Features: Stunning Canyons
Nearest Town: Monticello, Ut
Big Spring – Squaw Canyon trail takes you across the open bottom of these two canyons and over a steep slick rock pass as you climb in and out of the canyons. Hiking and backpacking through the Needles District is arguably one of the best ways to see and experience this area of Canyonlands. Complete this trail as a day hike or book a camping spot to extend your adventure.
- Trail Condition 80% 80%
- Usage 70% 70%
- Trail Head Easy to Find 100% 100%
- Kid Friendly 25% 25%
Hike Tips & Tricks
1. When To Go
Year Round, although April – May and September – October are cooler. Summer is hot and in the winter snow and ice can make exposed parts of the trail slippery and dangerous.
2. What To Do
Book a backpacking campsite in advance and enjoy a night under the stars. The closest sites are only 1-2 miles from the parking area making them good for beginners.
3. What To Bring
Water, Water, Water (and some snacks). Make sure you’re hydrated, especially in the summer heat. Remember heat kills and there’s not a lot of shade on this hike.
Take the main park road from the Visitor Center for 2.8 miles and turn left onto Federal Route 2444 toward Needles District Campground. Follow the road for about a mile and you’ll arrive at the parking area for the trailhead. You’ll pass several campsites on the road. There a couple trails that leave from this parking area, some of which are social trails so make sure you follow the right signs.
Big Spring and Squaw Canyons can be done as a day hike or as an overnight trip. Both canyons have campsites that can be booked in advance if you choose to do an overnight back country adventure. At large camping is not permitted.
A couple of the campsites are great for beginner backpackers and families as they are relatively close to the trailhead, within 1-2 miles.
We highly recommend completing this trail clockwise if you are doing this as a day hike. Start with Squaw Canyon first as it offers the best views for the entire loop.
The trail starts out in an open grassy meadow before climbing over the slickrock and dropping into Squaw Canyon. Once in Squaw Canyon you’ll follow a very well-established dirt trail that runs along a stream bed which will most likely be dry. Keep an eye out to your left for a great view of the Wooden Shoe.
We hiked this trail in reverse of the recommended direction as it made more sense due to our campsite location, and when we finally saw the Wood Shoe our oldest son said: “You mean to tell me we hiked all this way just to see a stupid shoe?” All jokes aside, you really do get a spectacular view of the shoe from Squaw Canyon.
Nearing the end of Squaw Canyon, the trail starts to climb back up the slickrock following a cairn marked path. On this section of the trail, you’ll need to cross a crack in the rock that drops about a hundred feet down into the canyon.
You’ll want to cross at the narrowest spot where it’s only about a foot wide, but the slickrock dips down towards the opening and may create a pretty uneasy feeling. Our kids were able to cross this area with help, but you may not want to look down if heights make you nervous.
From this point the trail continues to climb to the pass between Squaw and Big Spring Canyons.
This area has some exposure so those who are afraid of heights may not find the pass particularly fun and may even consider an out and back hike.
The top of the pass offers spectacular views of both canyons and is a great place to rest and simply take it all in.
A steep climb following cairns down the slickrock drops you into Big Spring Canyon of the other side of the pass.
The trail through Big Spring Canyon weaves through the trees following the canyon floor before opening up into the wider part of the canyon. Views of the red rock walls are one of the highlights of this part of the hike.
Finally, as you near the end of the hike you’ll start to climb back up the slickrock. There are a couple areas where you’ll need to use hands and feet to climb up the rock and onto the bench before dropping back into the grassy field and returning to the trailhead.
Why is this hike hard?
The hike through the canyons is very well trodden and easy to follow, however, you will need to follow cairns for navigation on the slickrock. Climbing the pass is steep and exposed so people who are afraid of heights might want to consider an out and back. You’ll also need to jump a crack in the rock in Squaw Canyon. It’s only about 12-18 in wide, but a couple hundred feet deep. If you are hiking with kids, they’ll need help to pass this obstacle. There are also areas where you’ll need to use hands and feet to get in and out of the canyons.
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