The Confluence Overlook Trail in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park takes you away from the crowds and through a maze of slick-rock canyons to the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers.
Time: 5-6 hours
Elevation gain: 50 ft
When to go: Spring or Fall
As it turns out, there are no established campsites along the Confluence Overlook Trail, and only one permit is issued per day for an overnight group. Because there are no established campsites, you are required to camp off-trail on slick-rock, where your impact is minimized. In other words, I would have the whole place to myself. I told her to sign me up!
This route is in the North Needles area of the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. The nearest town is Moab–about 75 miles away. You’ll stop at the Needles District Visitors Center to pickup your permit–$30 at the time. Follow the main road from the visitor’s center to it’s end and you’ll be at the trailhead.
This out-and-back route requires careful attention to cairns for navigation. The “trail” often crosses slickrock, climbs up and down improbable ledges that require some scrambling, and can be tricky to follow when you happen to miss a cairn. You could easily get lost back here if you aren’t mindful. It is a quiet, special place.
The trailhead begins just past the Slickrock Loop Trail–at the end of the paved road–and runs 5.5 miles to the edge of the canyon where you have a spectacular view of the confluence.
A large sign provides an overview of the trail and marks the start of the trail, which begins by winding down into a small canyon, following cairn to cairn. No sooner do you reach the bottom than you begin climbing, quite literally. Sections of this trail require careful hand-over-foot scrambling that make it unsuitable for small children or anyone squeamish about heights.
Climbing up the opposite side of the first canyon, you reach this window-like view over Canyonlands.
The trail continues in this same manner, climbing down, across, and up out of one canyon, then another. Sometimes you’ll have a ladder to assist you. Cairns are carefully placed along the entire route to help keep you on track. In many places, the trail is difficult to see without them.
At the 1.5 mile mark, you enter a sandy wash that you follow for almost a mile before climbing again over slickrock.
Climbing up and down can be tricky. Some of the sections are steep with rock-hopping and light scrambling required. At the 4 mile mark, you reach a meadow. The trail crosses a jeep trail and continues through the meadow for a mile, reaching a junction with Cyclone Canyon Trail. Keep right to rejoin the jeep trail, which you follow to the left (west) for 1/2 mile. At the end of the jeep trail you’ll find a rare bit of shade, a pit toilet and a picnic table. And you’re almost to the overlook.
Climbing the final 1/2 mile to the overlook the terrain began to fall away and the views open up.
And finally, you find yourself standing 1,000 feet above the Colorado River.
Soak in the views and the energy, and prepare for the trip back. In my case, I was going to be sleeping out here. I had to backtrack across the jeep trail and at least another 1/2 mile past that. As there are no established campsites (thankfully!), you find a flat space atop the slickrock where you are less likely to cause harm to the fragile environment. I ended up hiking about nine miles to a section of slickrock, then climbed up and off trail. The views extended for miles in every direction.
Pitching my tent, boiling water for dinner (vegetable korma from Good To-Go; highly recommended). Watching the sun set, and the stars pop out.
I awoke before sunrise, and the sky was already light. It was cold, but not freezing, and I sat in my sleeping bag and watched the light show, purple and pink, yellow and blue hues changing by the minute.
I fired up the Jetboil and heated water for Starbucks Via and drank it all in.
The 2-mile hike back to the trailhead went quickly in the cooler morning air with a lighter pack (with less food and water).
This was a short trip as far as backpack trips go, and could have easily been hiked as a day hike. But experiencing this place in the afternoon, evening, stillness of night, and the first light of morning, was well worth the time.
Confluence Overlook Trail Map & Elevation Profile
Confluence Overlook Trail Tips
- This trail has no shade to speak of. Wear sun protection and be mindful of the weather forecast.
- There is no water on the trail. I carried four liters, for both drinking and cooking, with another two gallons in my car.
More Canyonlands National Park Resources
- I carried and recommend the National Geographic Illustrated Map for Canyonlands National Park
- Canyonlands National Park – official website
Canyonlands National Park Weather Forecast