Confluence Overlook

Round Trip Distance: 10.5 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 4824 - 5090 feet
Elevation gain: 1,989 feet
Cellphone: 0-2 bars
Time: 5 hrs. 15 mins.
Trailhead: Big Spring Canyon Overlook
Fee: $30/vehicle
Attractions: Scenic views

The Confluence Overlook trail is in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park between Moab and Monticello, Utah. The trail begins at the end of Highway 211, the main road in the Needles District, at the Big Spring Canyon Overlook. From there it extends for a little over 5 miles through canyons, over ridges and across open spaces until it reaches an overlook above the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers.There are several places along the route that require scrambling up and down slickrock domes and ridges as well as one short metal ladder to climb. Besides the views from the overlook hikers will enjoy spectacular geological scenes of hoodoos, distant views of the needles and the graben of Cyclone Canyon.

To get to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park drive south out of Moab on Highway 191 for 40 miles, or north out of Monticello for 14 miles, turn west onto Utah 121 and follow the paved road for 35 miles. The trailhead is 6.3 miles past the Visitor Center. Maps and current information can be obtained at the Visitor Center as well as access to restrooms with running water and flush toilets. There are no facilities at the trailhead itself although there is a toilet near the end of the trail.

From the trailhead the route descends into Big Spring Canyon where it continues across the wash.

Once across the wash the trail climbs back out of the canyon. For this post we waited at the trailhead for the sun to come up in order to have enough light for taking pictures. This hike was done in mid November when the sun doesn't get high enough in the sky to shine into all of the canyons. If you attempt this hike during the winter months while there is snow or ice on the ground the Park Service recommends carrying a pair of crampons in case they are needed for shady areas of the trail like this. Also be sure to have plenty of drinking water no matter what time of the year you are here.

After climbing out of Big Spring Canyon the trail passes through a hole near the top of a ridge as it continues on to the next canyon. Off in the distance through the hole you can see part of the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park.

A ladder that makes easy work of an otherwise difficult situation comes up after a short distance.

The hiking gets easier as the trail nears the 3/4 mile point. Here there are a few open spaces separated by small sandstone ridges and easy stretches of canyon trails. As the trail nears the 2 mile point it crosses the wash that drains Elephant Canyon. As a point of reference, if you were able to turn upstream at this point you would be following the same wash that leads up Elephant Canyon to Druid Arch.

From a few high vantage points you can catch glimpses of some of the towering needles that the district was named for.

The next mile of trail has some easy hiking that is interspersed with 2 or 3 more difficult scrambles. A few well placed steps are notched into the rock to aid with footing. When all else fails just have a seat and crab walk your way down. We had no problem getting back up any of these on the return trip. It is spots like this that add to the adventuresome nature of the trail and that are typical for backcountry trails in the Needles District.

Just before the 3.5 mile point the trail crosses a 4-wheel drive road that runs from Devil's Lane to near the overlook.

Rather than following the road from here to the overlook the trail takes a cross country shortcut. At the 4 mile point it intersects with the Cyclone Canyon trail and rejoins the road from there.

From Cyclone Canyon the trail follows the road for about 8 tenths of a mile to where it comes to an end. There is a vault toilet and picnic table at the end of the road. From here the trail climbs over another ridge before reaching the overlook.

Below the overlook is the confluence of the Green and Colorado River. John Wesley Powell climbed up from the river at this point to get a closer look at the Needles District. We camped near the confluence on a rafting trip through Cataract Canyon from Moab to Lake Powell.

Just downstream and around the corner are where the Brown Betty Rapids begin. In Cataract Canyon there are rapids with house sized boulders and equally as huge swells. Across the canyon on the north side of the Colorado River is the Maze District of Canyonlands National Park.

On the return trip we followed the trail for a short distance into Cyclone Canyon. Cyclone Canyon is in the Grabens area of the Needles District. Graben is a German word meaning ditch or trench. Geologically it is a depressed block of land bordered by parallel faults. (Wikipedia)

There should be enough pictures in the following slideshow to give a better idea of what you can expect on the hike. The pictures on the return trip show some of the scrambles better than those taken on the hike heading to the overlook. It is hard to take good pictures during the winter months when the sun doesn't get as high in the sky.

The entire trail is well marked with cairns but it is always a good idea to print out a few maps to take along. The map on the right shows the topographical features around the trail. Another good map to print out and bring with you is on the Park Service website. It has all of the trails in the Needles District marked on it. While on this hike we saw quite a few fresh bighorn sheep tracks and scat but never actually saw the bighorn themselves. There are no primitive campsites on the Confluence Overlook trail but you might stop at the Visitor Center and ask them about 'at large camping' and see if you can get a permit for that if you are interested in backpacking. As far as hiking goes the Confluence Overlook trail is a good option. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.