Spring 2021 Needles / Capitol Reef

We left Telluride on the third week of April. Our first stop was Canyonlands National Park – Needles District. Friends had secured the Woodenshoe group camping site and there was room for us.

The Woodenshoe group site was really nice. It’s off by itself, separated from the main campground, with sweet little alcoves for individuals and it’s own outhouse and water supply. It’s nearly impossible to secure a site in the park so this was a real bonus for us.

The Chesler Park/Joints Trail is a favorite and it had been years since we last hiked it. We also explored some new variations to other previous hikes. After a great third day of hiking in the Needles we moved on and camped that night in Butler Wash along the Comb Ridge.

The Comb Ridge has a lot to offer. Ruins, rock art and slickrock all combine to provide a very enjoyable and interesting hiking experience. We finished our one day of hiking there in the mid afternoon and continued on to Capitol Reef National Park.

I’m losing track of how many times we’ve visited Capitol Reef. So much to do there, especially if you’re inclined to get off the trail system. It’s a relatively compact area but complex and rugged. Good navigation and careful route finding skills are required.

We have done some pretty extensive overnight backpacking in Capitol Reef and elsewhere on the Colorado Plateau. Generally we depend on finding pothole water along the way. But, after 2-3 years with little to no summer monsoon rains, water is scarce. Without reliable water, multi day backpacking options are limited.

To compensate for this reality, we spent a partial day carrying two MSR dromedary water bags up to a high passage that provided access into a remote zone we wanted to explore. We returned the next day with our overnight gear and all set for two nights out based off our cached water.

This worked out well for our mission. We actually did find some water near camp. Two potholes, a small one with some brackish water, and a larger one below….with a full size drowned big horn sheep in it! We could have existed on the water in the smaller pothole but all things considered it was good to have what we carried in.

The access to this area is a beautiful hike in itself. With plenty of time left in the day, we did a really sweet loop around some new territory. We saw one set of old footprints and no other signs of people visiting this remote spot.

On day two, we went on an unforgettable hike with complex route finding into a slickrock paradise. I’m sure we are not the first to venture into this remote part of the park, but we saw no signs of anyone having traveled along the route we took. Seldom visited for sure. We again found some limited water including one surprisingly large and beautiful pool.

We did some more killer day hiking, connecting areas previously traveled and thereby combining previous routes into loops. Super fun, somewhat challenging and a great trip overall. We still have more to do in Capitol Reef!

See the “best of” photos from the trip Here.

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