Big Spring Canyon - Elephant Canyon Lollipop Loop, Needles District: Squaw Flat Trailhead, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Big Spring Canyon - Elephant Canyon Lollipop Loop - 10.8 miles

Needles District: Squaw Flat Trailhead

Needle formations and the La Sal Mountains from Elephant Canyon

Needle formations and the La Sal Mountains from Elephant Canyon

Round-Trip Length: 10.8 miles
Start-End Elevation: 5,120' - 5,550' (highest point on route)
Elevation Change: 430' net (with many challenging up and down sections)
Skill Level: Moderate-Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Big Spring Canyon - Elephant Canyon Lollipop Loop - 10.8 Miles Round-Trip

The Big Spring Canyon - Elephant Canyon Loop is highlighted by long slick rock benches, rugged canyons and open desert. Connections with the Chesler Park Trail network offer extended routing and backcountry camping options in the heart of the Needles District.

There are several trail intersections on this loop, and a good map will eliminate confusion. The following description travels clockwise from Big Spring Canyon to Elephant Canyon:

The trail heads south from Squaw Flat Trailhead A for about 50 yards to a split - bear right for Big Spring Canyon. It moves quickly through flat, open desert and sparse pinyon-juniper woodlands interspersed with minor scrambles.

At 1.2 miles the trail splits; bear left again for Big Spring Canyon. The trail narrows and becomes more rugged as it heads up the canyon.

The trail generally remains on the canyon floor (occasionally rising above it) for 1.5+ miles until making a sudden - and sparingly marked - left turn up a side canyon. You'll stay in this narrow canyon for about 100 yards until making an abrupt, cairn-marked exit. Anticipate these turns and keep close track of cairns through the canyon.

The trail climbs steeply fto a slickrock pass with amazing views. From this high point you can look down and see a trail junction for Squaw Canyon - Elephant Canyon (3.8 miles).

Turn right for Elephant Canyon to begin a surreal 2.1 mile stretch on high slickrock benches. The cairn-marked slickrock trail leads to a narrow notch in the rocks. This 15 yard passage is dark and footing may be tricky, especially with a large pack.

Once through the notch, more cairns lead to a short ladder that places you up on a high ridge. Several steps away is another ladder that drops back down.

Here the trail begins a winding descent into Elephant Canyon to the Druid Arch Trail - Elephant Canyon junction (5.9 miles).

Turn right to remain in Elephant Canyon and head north in the sandy wash. The trail stays in or near the wash bottom to the Chesler Park Trail junction (6.7 mile mark). Keep right.

The trail squeezes through an narrow slot, then spills into a flat, scenic area. In .6 miles you'll come upon another junction with a trail leading to Elephant Hill; bear right for Squaw Flat.

The final 3.5 miles lead out of Elephant Canyon back into open desert, alternating short scrambles and well-defined segments. Follow signs back to Squaw Flat Campground A.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N38 08.612 W109 48.213 — 0.0 Miles: Squaw Flat Trailhead A

Worth Noting

  • Keep track of cairns and always note the last cairn you saw. Cairns may be difficult to see, especially leading in and out of washes.

  • The Needles are formed of a resistant red and white sandstone layer called Cedar Mesa Sandstone, which comprises most rock features in the Needles District. This 245 - 286 million year old layer was once a dune field on the eastern edge of a shallow inland sea that extended to California.

Camping and Backpacking Information

Permits are required for all overnight backpacking trips in Canyonlands National Park. Permits can be acquired at Visitor Centers the day of or day before your trip. Advance reservations can be made up to 4 months out and are recommended during peak season.

Call the Backcountry Reservation Office for more information: 435.259.4351

Click here to access the online reservation system.

  • There's a $30 fee per party to backcountry camp in Canyonlands National Park.
  • Hikers must camp in designated sites where explicitly stated. You may otherwise choose your own campsite in designated at-large zones.
  • At-large sites must be at least 1 mile away from any road and 300' from any archeological site, historical site or water source.
  • Mountain Bikers and 4WDs must stay on established roads and camp in designated sites at all times.
  • Fires are not permitted at backcountry campsites or within the backcountry in Canyonlands National Park.
  • Desert water sources are scarce and fragile. Do not bathe or wash dishes in creeks or pools. 


Squaw Flat Campground is an ideal base camp for day hikes to popular destinations like Chesler Park, Druid Arch and the Joint Trail. There are 26 sites available on a first-come, first-served basis. Bathrooms, fire grates, picnic tables, tent pads and water are available year-round. Fee is $15 per night. Squaw Flat typically fills every day from late March through June and again from early September to mid-October.

Rules and Regulations

  • There's a $25 fee per vehicle to enter Canyonlands National Park (defined as private passenger cars with 15 people or less). Passes are good for 7 consecutive days.
  • $15 per motorcycle.
  • $10 per person (walk or bike).
  • Dogs are not permitted on trails in Canyonlands National Park.

Directions to Trailhead

The Big Spring Canyon - Elephant Canyon Loop is accessible from Squaw Flat Campground A in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.

Drive 2.7 miles past the visitor center and turn left into the Squaw Flat Campground. The road will soon fork; bear left toward Campground A for trailhead parking and access. There is also trailhead parking and access from Campground B, but this adds additional mileage and climbing before reaching the main trailhead area at Campground A.

Contact Information

Canyonlands National Park
2282 SW Resource Blvd
Moab, UT 84532

Backcountry Reservations

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