This is a long, very strenuous hike through the Needles down to the Colorado River. It can be done as a long day hike but is better as a backpack trip. Red Lake Canyon provides the only reasonable access to the river from the Needles District. Hikers come out the way they went in.
Trail Head: 38.1417, -109.827
Trail Type: Hiking
Length: 18.8 miles round-trip
At Red Lake, the Colorado is flat and docile. Its banks are overgrown with tamarisk brush so you've got to hike a short way along the river before you have access to the water.
The muddy river is the only water source along the Lower Red Lake trail. (There is no lake in Red Lake Canyon, and no flowing water except during and immediately after storms.)
The hike begins at the Elephant Hill Trailhead, just off the main access road in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. The trail extends west, through Cyclone Canyon and then down Red Lake Canyon. A very rough jeep road runs through Cyclone Canyon; people with serious off-road vehicles may be able to drive to that point and then start the hike. That would reduce the round trip to only about 8.4 miles.
Lower Red Lake Canyon opens to the Colorado River across from the area known as Spanish Bottom. (You can hike to Spanish Bottom from the Maze District of Canyonlands.)
The mouth of Red Lake Canyon is about 3.6 miles below the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers. A primitive trail along the river provides access to this area.
Red Lake Canyon is about 0.7 miles above the first rapids in Cataract Canyon. (The best rapids in Cataract are some 4 miles downstream). You can hike a primitive trail along the river down to the first rapids.
There are dozens of reasons to visit Monticello, but we know you’re busy and overstimulated. One of them is to see the Needles District in Canyonlands National Park.