Chesler Park is a 600 acre open area of grass and sand dunes inside the towers, fins, pinnacles, cliffs, and spires of the Needles District in Canyonlands National Park. All hikes into or through Chesler Park are between 10 to 13 miles, depending on the route chosen. Our trail started at Elephant Hill and looped through the southern end of Chesler Park, through the Joint Trail, and then back by the Chesler Loop, about 5 hours of hiking.
Along this trail stand the towers (Needles) looking like an impassable wall, but the trail cleverly winds through gullies and over slickrock to the enclosed, nearly circular “park.”
Around every corner are new views: arches, windows, slot canyons, sandstone waves, mushroom-rocks, slickrock ramps, and alcoves.
All of Needles is a giant maze of rock obstacles, but with many opportunities to explore too. Trails follow sandy washes and canyons, then traverse up and over ridges to the next canyon. Although the trail junctions are signed and the rock traverses are marked by cairns, we can strike off the trails in any direction to find hidden gems.
To the north is the high mesa of Island in the Sky and to the west across the Colorado River is The Maze, both parts of Canyonlands.
The 11 000+ foot La Sal Mountains flank the Needles on the eastern side.
All of the trails in the Needles District are a wonder for any hiker. A return trip to explore more trails is a constant call for us.
On a cold fall day we hiked on the Mt. Hilliam Trails. A skiff of snow covered the edge of the trail at higher altitudes and many of the summer flowering plants had been knocked down by a hard frost, but there was still much to see. Rosehips bring color to the landscape.
Meltwater collects in puddles and then freezes to form interesting shapes.
Snowberries line the trails.
Lichens and liverworts peak through the early snow.
The bare trunks of aspen trees contrast with the fading colors. Scratches from bears can sometimes be seen:
Seedheads stop developing and are frozen into their winter shapes.
If we are lucky, hoar frost crystals can be spotted in the ryegrass.
“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!” (Dr. Seuss)
The Mt. Hilliam trail system is a network of old backroads on the south-facing slopes overlooking Skimikin Lake. The trailhead can be accessed by going through Turtle Valley from the west or from the Skimikin Road from the Trans Canada Highway. Park at the campsite on the west end of Skimikin Lake and cross the road to pick up the trail. These are horse-and-hiker trails and the trail signage uses a horseshoe image and a trail number so bring a map if you go (see below).
On a cold and sunny fall day, we started up the trails using trail signs to create a “lollipop” route (trails 4 > 16 > 22 > 36 > 34 > 32 > 30 > 22 > then retraced our steps back down). This was a 4+ hour hike starting at 558m elevation ( feet) and climbing 710m (2330 feet) to 1268m (4160 feet).
A skiff of snow was on the trail’s edge in sheltered spots, but for the most part the forest was quiet and frozen. We enjoyed the Douglas fir forest in the lower areas and aspen groves on the upper slopes. Many open spots revealed views south to the Fly Hills and east to Bastion Mountain and Shuswap Lake with the Hunters Range snow-capped in the distance.
These trails offer forested uphill hikes on good double tracks. Some of the lesser-used tracks are a bit overgrown and not as well-marked. We found the Trail 36 section hard to follow and rough. They would also be fine for mountain biking and snowshoeing.
In the maze of trails within the Needles District in Canyonlands National Park is a 2 mile trail worth the effort to get out there (at least 9 miles, depending on your route). We hiked over from the Chesler Loop Trail. From a rugged trail on rock, we dropped down steps into a cleft between cliffs and followed the slot canyon down to the bottom.
Some sections of the trail are narrow with a level sandy floor and some sections require some scrambling to get past obstacles.
On a hot day, this section was cooler, hidden from the sun. Part way along the is deep, narrow fracture is an amphitheater called the Keyhole, then through the Cave of Cairns.
We wound our way to the far end of the “joint” and emerged into Chesler Canyon, heading west.
The trail finally descends to join the Devil’s Kitchen Road. We followed this 4WD drive road north to another junction back to Chesler Park (another story to follow).
The route into Lyons Lake is a fine walk/hike, but has been out-of-sight-out-of-mind for many years. We have hiked and biked to the end of the lake a few times and we returned to hike it again this fall. We were surprised that the old backroad had seen lots of traffic, and had been widened, cleared, and was a bit muddy for the first two kilometers. We could hear logging underway on the eastern sideslopes below the Knouff Lake Road, but we encountered no trucks on our track.
The old track was still there, but it started closer to Lyons Lake. The moderate hike to the end of Lyons Lake and back is 10km. Lyons Lake is a quiet and picturesque spot between wooded ridges, but the grasslands of Sullivan Valley stretch off to the north.
The double track along the west shore of Lyons Lake is the attraction. At the end of the lake are fences separating private land off the Vinsula-Knouff Road. The Lyons Lake route is a simple out-and-back.
To hike this route, turn off the Sun Peaks Road to the Heffley Dump. Pass the transfer station and look for a sideroad going into a gully on your right. Park up the Dump Road a short ways past the junction, then follow the double track through the gully. At an intersection 2km up, take the road that goes left to the lake. Turn around at the end of the lake and retrace your steps.
This route is also a good snowshoe or mountain bike route. The roads going to the right climb up the hill, eventually joining the Knouff Lake Road. Lyons Lake is the spot, though, for a quiet lunch before returning to the trailhead.