Hiking Big Spring Canyon in Canyonlands

Explore the other side of The Needles District with a day hike through Big Spring Canyon. This moderate loop hike has plenty of beautiful scenery without the crowds of Elephant Canyon and Chesler Park. Take this hike for a chance to immerse yourself in a red rock canyon and enjoy a moderate half-day hike in Canyonlands National Park.

How to Access Big Spring Canyon

Located in the heart of The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, Big Spring Canyon is an easily accessible loop hike you can’t miss. If you’re camped at The Needles District campgrounds, you simply have to cross the road to the south to access Big Spring Canyon.

Coming from Moab, you want to make your way south along US-191 until you reach the SR-211 junction. You’ll see signs for Canyonlands National Park Needles District. Keep following the main road for about 30 minutes until you reach the park entrance.

Continue into the park past the Visitors Center. You’ll eventually make a left-hand turn on Elephant Hill Road. Turn off of the well-maintained dirt road when you see signs for The Needles Campground. Park at the parking area to reach the trailhead.

Do I Need a Permit?

Day hikers do not need a permit to visit Big Spring Canyon. However, The Needles District has world-famous backpacking and backcountry campsites. You’ll need to reserve a permit well in advance (up to four months) for any overnight stays.

Big Spring Canyon has two backcountry campsites. Create your own epic backpacking loop by combining Big Spring Canyon with Lost Canyon, Elephant Canyon, or Chesler Park. The combinations are endless, but you really can’t go wrong.

Pro Tip: Big Spring Canyon is one of the few canyons that hold water year-round. Interestingly, there are bears that occasionally venture through the canyon. If you plan to spend the night, you’ll need WAG bags for human waste and a bear can.

Practical Information

The Big Spring Canyon loop hike is a well-maintained trail with plenty of signage. This moderately-rated hike winds through the beautiful Big Spring Canyon before meeting up with a series of junctions.

From here, you can opt to continue down Big Spring Canyon, connect with other areas of the Needles District, or simply take the Squaw Canyon trail back to the starting point.

Here are a few handy trail facts to help you plan your Big Spring Canyon hike:

  • Distance: 6.6-mile loop
  • Elevation gain: 656 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Estimated Time: 3.5 hours
  • Dog Friendly?: No

Hiking Big Spring Canyon

As you make your way across Big Spring Canyon, you’ll likely notice the lush vegetation. Well, lush by desert standards, Big Spring Canyon offers one of the only reliable water sources in The Needles District.

You’ll gently enter the mouth of the canyon and work your way south towards a junction in the trail. From here you can continue down the Big Spring Canyon Trail until you reach Elephant Canyon. Although it is possible to hike out of Elephant Canyon, it is more strenuous and would be better suited if you are staying overnight.

Otherwise, follow signs to Squaw Canyon and head back towards your vehicle. Passing out of Big Spring Canyon and down Squaw Canyon requires you to navigate steep, rocky terrain. Follow cairns over slick rock and take your time. The exposure here feels pretty real and it will either excite you or make you nervous (or both). If you’re afraid of heights, you may want to go back the way you came.

Nearby Attractions

One of the best parts about the Big Spring Canyon Trail is the access you get to other incredible hiking trails in The Needles. Big Spring Canyon ties into Elephant Canyon, Lost Canyon, and eventually Chesler Park. You can also make your way to Druid Arch.

If you’re backpacking Big Spring Canyon, you may want to add a night at either Chesler Park or Elephant Canyon. Either of these is a worthy adventure. Just be sure to plan your water sources and backcountry permits before heading out.

It is possible to loop back from the Elephant Hill Trailhead about 3 miles of walking a boring dirt road. If you’re willing, you can often hitch a ride back to The Needles Campground.

Although the main attraction of The Needles District is certainly the Elephant Canyon and Chesler Park trails, Big Spring Canyon provides an excellent half-day adventure. You’ll catch distant views of the inner Needles, beautiful rock walls, and lush scenery in Big Spring Canyon.