Cave Spring

Round Trip Distance: 0.8 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 4899 - 4979 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 30 mins.
Trailhead: Cave Spring
Fee: $30/vehicle
Attractions: Cowboy camp, pictographs, scenic geology

The Cave Spring Trail is located within the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. The trail leads to a series of overhangs with the first being that of an old cowboy camp that is nestled beneath the cliff. Further along the trail is the cave with the spring and a few pictographs. The Needles District is well off the beaten path. To get there you either drive south from Moab, Utah for 40 miles or north of Monticello, Utah for 14 miles and turn west on Highway 211 and drive for another 35 miles. Highway 211 ends in the Needles District so there is nowhere to go from there except back the way you came. With all that said, the Needles District is well worth the effort especially if you really like desert hiking.

The Cave Spring trailhead is off the Salt Creek Canyon road. The best bet is to stop at the Visitor Center and get a copy of the Needles District Trail and Roads brochure. To get to the trailhead from the Visitor Center take the first left turn after passing the Roadside Ruin trailhead. Turn left again at the sign for Cave Spring and Salt Creek Canyon and continue straight ahead for about 1 mile to the trailhead.

When you begin hiking take the left fork in the trail to follow the loop in the clockwise direction. You can pick up a trail guide at this point to learn more about the cowboy camp and Cave Spring.

The cowboy camp was used from the late 1800's through 1975 when Canyonlands was closed to grazing.

Many of the items from the camp were left behind by the cowboys and are now on display in the alcove.

From the cowboy camp the trail continues around the cliff passing under various alcoves for much of the distance. The trail passes a large wooden box with leather straps that still has a few oats inside. The box was built tight enough to keep rodents from getting to its contents.

Hiking beneath the alcoves is very pleasant. There is a good deal of vegetation that shields the openings from the outside weather and sun. Cave Spring is in one of the larger more roomy alcoves. These overhangs served as temporary homes for the ancient inhabitants that farmed and hunted the area.

The spring is producing water even during a drought year. The sandstone above this spot is very porous, even though it looks quite solid, and soaks up a lot of water from the rain and snow. The water seeps through the rock until it hits something like a shale layer which it cannot penetrate. The path of least resistance leads to this very spot where it seeps out onto the ground.

There are several pictographs on the wall around the spring. This one looks kind of like a bird man.

The trail continues past Cave Spring and comes to the first of 2 ladders that lead up the cliff to the slickrock. A lot of people turn around at this point but to do so is to miss out on some fun hiking.

The second ladder is a little shorter than the first. You can almost walk right up this one without using your hands. The ladders are well secured to the cliff and feel perfectly safe to climb.

The trail follows the slickrock to form a loop around Cave Spring and the cowboy camp. There are some nice distant views of the Needles and Six Shooter Peak.

After looping around on the slickrock the trail descends once again to the sagebrush. There are no ladders on this side of the loop and no need for them. There are several dry alcoves and a few attractive sandstone formations to keep you amused.

The evident signs of the history of the Cave Spring area covers over 1000 years. Better than a museum the history here is living and breathing right in front of you. It can get really hot here so bring a little water if you are going to hike the entire loop. As it is in other desert places be sure to bring your own water and leave these meager amounts that you find while hiking for the native plants and animals. Cave Spring is a good second stop, after the Roadside Ruin, on your trip through the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.