Squaw Canyon/Big Spring Canyon Loop

Round Trip Distance: 7.2 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 5077 - 5530 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 4 hrs.
Trailhead: Squaw Flat Trailhead "A"
Fee: $30/vehicle
Attractions: Scenic canyons w/views of Needles, backpacking, camping

The Squaw Canyon/Big Spring Canyon Loop trail is within the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. The trail travels up to the head of Squaw Canyon where it climbs over a ridge to Big Spring Canyon and follows it back to complete a loop. The level of technical skills needed are minor involving no more than using your hands in a few places to help yourself along while scrambling around on the slickrock. There is one area of exposure while descending the slickrock into Big Spring Canyon where the slickrock is rounded like a loaf of bread and your feet are on a slight slope rather than a flat path. The exposure lasts for only a few yards but it might bother anyone with an extreme fear of heights. The location is described later in this post and there should be plenty of pictures in the YouTube slideshow at the end. (you could always sit on your butt and crab walk it)

The trailhead is located in the Squaw Flat Campground "A". There is a good brochure that shows the trails in the area that is available at the Visitor Center that is highly recommended before hiking in the Needles District. The brochure can also be printed from their website and studied before hand. You might also bring it with you just in case the Visitor Center is closed when you arrive. If you plan on backpacking in and camping at one of the backcountry sites you must first obtain a permit at the Visitor Center.

The loop begins about 50 yards from the trailhead. The route into Squaw Canyon follows the path to the left.
Note: The distances shown on the signs are all one way measurements unless it is a loop trail. The only loop trail on the sign is the Squaw Flat Loop which is this hike. The sign shows a distance of 7.8 miles for the loop while our GPS indicated only 7.2 miles when we had finished. Looking at an older map it appears that the trailhead was further east at one time which was probably enough to account for the discrepancy.

For the most part this trail is pretty easy to hike. The trail climbs over a couple of small hills before entering the bottom of the main draw. From there it is an easy trail to follow as you work your way toward the head of the canyon.

A fork in the trail comes up just within the first mile into the hike. The left fork leads over to Lost Canyon and Peekaboo Springs. The right fork continues up Squaw Canyon.

There is apparently ground water close enough to the surface to support the growth of all the vegetation. Cottonwood trees and various types of brush and grasses cover the bottom of the canyon with junipers and pinyon trees along the dryer edges.

The first backcountry campsite is around the 2 mile point. The backcountry campsites are neatly secluded away from the main trail.

The next big junction is close to 2.9 miles. A left here once again leads over to Lost Canyon and Peekaboo Springs.

The trail begins a gradual climb along the edge of the canyon.

The views of the red and white cedar mesa sandstone that makes up the Needles are spectacular.

Big Spring Canyon is on the opposite side of the towering cliff on the right. The trail follows the drainage over a low spot in the ridge.

There is another trail junction right before the trail begins making the final assault on the ridge. The left fork leads the rest of the way up the canyon and around to Elephant Canyon and Druid Arch. This hike could be turned into a bigger loop by taking that route. It would add another 2.5-3 miles of much more strenuous hiking.

The scramble up the slickrock is pretty easy when it's dry.

The only place that you might have to put a hand down to steady yourself is while making the transition from the rock to the step carved into the sandstone.

The view back down Squaw Canyon is incredible from the saddle of the ridge. Six Shooter Peak can be seen off in the distance.

The scene looking over Big Spring Canyon isn't too bad either with the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands dominating the distant background.

Getting down the saddle is the spot that might bother some people. The cliff is rounded enough that it doesn't feel like you are actually on the edge. The best route is to go to your right a little and then descend 2 or 3 feet where you will be on a better angle to simply traverse the slickrock along an easier route. It is really just 3 steps down and less than 10 across and you are on your way. (I'm afraid of heights when there seems to be a real chance of falling and this didn't bother me much at all.)

Note: This spot may get icy in the winter since it is on the shady side of the ridge.

The rest of the traverse across the slickrock is much flatter with less exposure. Toward the other end of the slickrock the trail descends a little more and then switches back the other direction as it works its way a little lower where it quickly finds its way into the bottom of the wash.

After that it is back to easy hiking with only a couple of places where the trail momentarily climbs out of the wash to get around something. Big Spring Canyon seems a lot drier than Squaw Canyon. The big difference appears to be that there is much more soil in Squaw Canyon to support the lush vegetation. The places in Big Spring Canyon that have more soil also have a lot of plants and trees growing until you reach the lower end of the canyon where it is more spread out.

The next junction is a 'Y' fork where the trail leading over to Elephant Canyon and Chesler Park splits off on the left. There is also a backcountry campsite near this intersection. From this spot it is just under a mile back to the trailhead.

A right turn is made at the next fork where the trail climbs back over to the Squaw Canyon side of the ridge. You might find yourself using your hands more on this little ridge than you did on the big ridge you crossed earlier. The left fork leads over to Squaw Flat Trailhead "B" which is quite a spectacular hike by itself.

Some of the best views of the Needles are from this small ridge.

On the east side of the ridge the trail follows a neatly crafted route between a separation in the cliff before dropping back down to the sandy bottom of Squaw Flat.

The Squaw Canyon/Big Spring Canyon Loop has a lot to offer including a real feast of scenery. Hiking in the Needles District is rewarding with its feel of adventure. Plan on bringing all the water and drinks that you will need and leave the water in the potholes and elsewhere for the animals that live in the area. There is potable water in the campground near the main restroom and from several spigots by the campsites. The campsites are nestled in the trees situated around the cliffs. Each has a picnic table, fire pit and tent pad. Most also have room to park a small to medium sized RV. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.