Cave of 200 Hands

Round Trip Distance: 13.4 - 17.2 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 4988 - 5558 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 10 hrs. 45 mins.
Trailhead: Elephant Hill
Fee: $30/vehicle
Attractions: scenic views, pictographs

The Cave of 200 Hands is located in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, in a branch of Chesler Canyon, about 1 mile from the lower end of the Joint Trail. Besides the large number of painted hands that wallpaper the small, sheltered overhang there are a number of other images that include a long line of little men carrying backpacks. Further up the same side canyon another 500 feet or so is another nice panel of pictographs, while just above the main stream bed, just outside of the mouth of the canyon, are 3 or 4 panels of faded pictographs.

Begin by finding your way to the Elephant Hill trailhead by either entering it into your driving app for turn-by-turn directions or by starting at the Needles District Visitor Center, picking up a map, and following that. The parking area fills up fast on the weekends so be sure to get there early to avoid getting turned away or having to park a long way off. The map at the end of this post shows 3 of the routes that can be followed to get to the Cave of 200 Hands. For this post we hiked there via the Chesler Park route and returned by Devil's Lane for a round trip distance of 17.2 miles. The fastest hiking route should be the 14.6 round trip Devil's Pocket route.

Route finding from the trailhead to the Chesler Park turnoff to the lower end of the Joint trail is easier if you have a map although all of the intersections do have good signs. To make it even easier be sure to download the file for you GPS at the top of this post that has waypoints for most of the pictographs that you will pass along the way. Like many of the trails in the Needles District this route requires scrambling up and down various obstacles that add to the difficulty and make the hiking slower than what you might anticipate for the distance travelled.

At the 4.6 mile point from the Elephant Hill trailhead the route spills out onto the Devil's Lane Road where to turns left heading south.

After hiking down the road for about a tenth of a mile there is an interesting pictograph just off the trail on the right that we call the Little Mud Man. It's like a finger painting that was made with a mortar type of mud. (We have no idea what the material is called.) Looking closely you can see how the images were made by drawing and dabbing them with a finger that was dipped into the clay or mud mixture. Anyway, it is only 15-20 feet off the trail and well worth taking a look at.

At the 5.3 mile point, or thereabouts, the road reaches the Joint trailhead where there is a restroom and several picnic tables and plenty of parking for those 4x4 enthusiasts that were able to drive. From here it gets much harder to give directions but what you want to do is to follow the Joint trail for about 400 feet and then drop down into the wash.

Continue up the wash for another 300 feet and look for a place to get up onto the left bank where the hiking is much easier. If you miss that opportunity there will be another one further up the wash and if you miss that then just stay in the wash for about 4 tenths of a mile and follow the left fork of the wash when it comes up. The wash gets blocked with tumbleweeds in places so if you can find the trail that is up on the left bank it is much faster and easier. That trail does dip down into the wash in a couple of places for short distances so if you miss it in one place you might be able to find it in another.

After taking the left fork at the 0.4 mile point from the Joint trailhead continue for another half mile looking for a short side canyon on the left. At the mouth of that short side canyon look for an overhang on the right corner where you should be able to spot some of the painted hand pictographs of the Cave of 200 Hands.

As you can see the back and top of the cave is papered with painted hands that are in several shades of red. Most of the hands are stylized but a few look like prints.

At about eye level on the back of the cave are a couple of anthropomorphic images and a small number of zoomorphs, one of which looks like it is stuck with darts.

There is also what looks like a caravan of pack carrying traders from who knows where. It is known that some traders came from far away in that items like macaw feathers and seashells are found from time to time.

 From the Cave of 200 Hands head on up the wash for another 500 feet or so to where it gets clogged with boulders and seemingly ends. Scramble up onto the first shelf and look off to the right to spot some more pictographs beneath another overhang.

The paint still shows up pretty well on these well sheltered images.

Back at the mouth of the canyon on the side opposite of the Cave of 200 Hands there are a few more panels all along the south facing cliff. Most of these are pretty faded but enough of them can be seen to make them worth noticing. Above the shoulder on the left of this central anthropomorphic image with a round head is another narrow image that was painted in white. You have to click on the photo and zoom in to get a better look at it.

We hiked back to the Elephant Hill trailhead by following the Devil's Lane Road. While that route was a couple of miles longer the hiking was much easier and the time was almost exactly the same. Plus there are some really nice pictographs going this way if you haven't seen them before.

The fastest route back to the trailhead would probably have been through Devil's Pocket. That route would have cut about a mile and a half off the distance and all but about a mile of it is along 4wd roads. Getting to the Cave of 200 Hands on foot is quite the undertaking. The temperature was in the 70's the day that we went so it wasn't too bad temperature wise. I went through 180 ounces of fluids over an ~11 hour period so if it would have been much hotter out you can just imagine what it would have been like. The spectacular scenery of the Needles District provides plenty of awe inspiring enjoyment while you are hiking and the pictographs are an added bonus. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.