Sometime I find pictures of things, maybe from a guide book, an online article or now days social media. The first time you see it kind of strikes an interest in you, then you start to notice it more and more. This is just what Druid Arch did to me a long time ago. Druid Arch has been a bucket list hike for me for a long time, I think the first time I saw it was in a guide book. At 11.5 miles round trip the hike is so long that I had to wait until the ideal time to attempt. You must consider hours of daylight available, temperature, even parking.
As always our day started from our Moab Vacation Rental Condo. We planned ahead the night before and had everything packed and ready for an early morning departure. We packed a lunch to carry with us in our day bags and also a sandwich from the Moonflower Market to have when we returned to the car. It is important to note that the trailhead is approximately 75 miles from our condo in Spanish Valley with no services in between.
To do this hike, you will need to start early. We left Moab in the dark and arrived at the Elephant Hill Parking area just as the sun was coming up. This is the very end of the road into the Needles District in Canyonlands National Park. This is important because this parking area is small and if you arrive after it has filled up you will be extending your hike by up to several miles or worse yet, be forced to do a different hike altogether. If my memory serves me correctly there is a pit toilet at the trailhead, and nothing else for the rest of the day.
In my opinion spring and fall are the best times of the year to attempt this hike. During the winter you may not have enough daylight, especially if you wait for things to warm up. In the summer it would 100% be too hot and nearly impossible to carry enough water.
The trail starts off with a steep climb up and over Elephant Hill. Once you pass through the crack it is like you have entered into a different world. The views of the Needles are amazing. I have taken short family hikes just to this point many times. The farther into the trail you go the more pronounced the "Needles" become. If you are like me and like to explore, it is easy to get sidetracked by all of the cool rocks to climb on. But at 11.5 miles it is best to stay focused on the task at hand, getting to Druid Arch.
You must hike up and over several ridges of needles on the Chesler Park Trail before reaching the Druid Arch Trail proper. There are actually several different trail options in this area and for many people Chesler Park is the highlight of their day. You can even make a loop using the Big Springs Trail.
Once through the beautiful Chesler Park you will enter the Elephant Canyon wash. This wash will lead you the rest of the way to Druid Arch. There is a clear hiking trail along the edge of the wash, but we found it more interesting to walk in the wash itself. When in the wash you will be surrounded interesting rock formations that have formed in the Cedar Mesa Sandstone.
Elephant Canyon continually gets deeper and deeper as you near Druid Arch. This is where the hike truly gets to be awe inspiring. The needles are just so interesting to me, I just love their colors and shapes. One of my best Moab memories was talking my young daughter to the Needles after reading the book The Big Friendly Giant by Ronald Dahl. We spent all day finding giants that were frozen into the rock formations.
This is the scene as you approach the arch. Most hikers will not see this view. We misread a hiking description that said a small scramble was required to reach the arch. This was an extreme scramble to get to this vantage point. It boarded on rock climbing but the picture speaks for itself. This was also our lunch spot for the trip. We spent about 45 minutes up here just enjoying life. Every time I take a vacation to Utah I come away with a new favorite spot, but I think this really might have been the most scenic spot in the Moab area. I just wish the sky was blue, guess I will have to go back. Dang.
After lunch we some how made our way back down to the main trail, its always easier climbing up than it is getting down. After short hike farther up the canyon we came to the scramble to get to this point, it was no scramble at all, there was a ladder.
Druid Arch is huge! To get an idea of the size of this massive arch, first look at the size of the bushes near the 6 foot tall man in the center of this picture. Now look at the same size bushes near the base of arch. It is rare to find such a large free standing arch with nothing behind it but sky. If you have a Jeep or UTV there are other arches of nearly the same size in Arch Canyon. Speaking of Jeeps, if you have one you could access this arch from the Joint Trail which makes for a whole other adventure.