Druid Arch
(Needles District)

excerpts from the book
Canyonlands National Park
Favorite Jeep Roads & Hiking Trails

by David Day

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Favorite Jeep Roads and Hiking Trails
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Distance: 10.2 miles (round trip)

Walking time: 6 hours

Elevations: 800 ft. gain/loss
     Elephant Hill Trailhead (start): 5,120 ft.
     Elephant Canyon: 5,220 ft.
     Druid Arch: 5,740 ft.

Trail: Well marked, easy to follow

Vicinity: The trailhead is at the Elephant Hill picnic area.

USGS Maps: Druid Arch, The Loop


Druid Arch

 

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High on the rim above Elephant Canyon, with nothing but blue sky behind it, stands the stately, chiseled profile of Druid Arch. The ancient arch reminds many people of Stonehenge in southern England; hence its name. (The Druids are the people who built Stonehenge.) In her book, Desert Quartet, Terry Tempest Williams shares with us her first impression of Druid Arch:

Red Rock. Blue sky. This arch is structured metamorphosis. Once a finlike tower, it has been perforated by a massive cave-in, responsible now for the keyholes where wind enters and turns. What has been opened, removed, eroded away, is as compelling to me as what remains. Druid Arch-inorganic matter-rock rising from the desert floor as a creation of time, weathered, broken, and beautiful. 

There are several possible hiking routes to Druid Arch: If you have a 4WD you can begin at the Chesler Canyon Trailhead and walk only 4.5 miles to the arch. Otherwise you must begin at the Elephant Hill Trailhead or the Squaw Flat Trailhead and walk 5.1 miles or 7.2 miles respectively. Elephant Hill Trailhead is the most popular place to begin a hike to Druid Arch, and that is the route described below.

For the first 1.3 miles the trail winds across the slickrock in a southerly direction, threading its way through a forest of stone pinnacles and spires on the east side of Elephant Canyon. After 40 minutes will come to a junction where you must bear right, and from there the trail turns west to begin its hunt for an easy descent route into Elephant Canyon. You will arrive at the sandy bottom of the ravine 10 minutes after leaving the junction.

Once inside Elephant Canyon the trail follows the bottom of the desert wash the rest of the way to Druid Arch. Along the way you will pass three more junctions where trails from Chesler Park and Squaw Canyon join the Elephant Canyon Trail. In each case be sure to take the trail that continues south along the bottom of the wash.

For 3.2 miles the trail along the canyon floor passes beneath a never ending spectacle of spires and needles that line the sides of Elephant Canyon. The ancient Cedar Mesa Sandstone, from which the pinnacles have been etched, was originally deposited in many distinct layers, and now the spires are heavily banded with horizontal stripes of red, white, orange, and pink. They present an awesome example of nature’s handiwork. There are also numerous springs in the bottom of the canyon, and although there is not normally enough water to form a stream you should pass an occasional pool.

Druid Arch is located at the head of Elephant Canyon, and just before you get there the trail climbs up the eastern side of the ravine and circles around to a viewpoint on the east side of the arch. The best time to see it is before 10:00 a.m. when it is bathed in the morning sunlight.

 


The book includes more text, more photographs, and trail maps.

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If you are interested in a supplemental map of Chesler Park, we recommend:
Canyonlands, Needles District (Trails Illustrated, map #311)

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