The Colorado Plateau has endless hidden corners, more than can be understood in one human life, but from the distance of inexperience most of them seem like variations on a theme. And rock and sand and emaciated vegetation can only form so many combinations.
This is as false as it is true, and the variations on display in the Needles District of Canyonlands unspool before the hiker with a speed that is difficult to properly internalize. This richness of subtly, combined with the extent to which the Needles themselves remain absolutely hidden from a distance, makes them my longstanding first recommendation for neophyte canyon backpackers.
Despite making that recommendation a few dozen times in the past two years, there was a big section in the heart of the Needles where I had never been. Thankfully last week the wind died out and the rain stopped and the whole family made the trek.
Trail building in the Needles hearkens back to an era when creating a spectacle was higher on the list than practicality or safety. Presumably the same kind of folks who choose Lady Mountain as the very first trail in Zion (look it up, makes Angels Landing very tame by comparison). The ladders are few and far between, but complex routing through cliffs, tunnels, cracks, and steps chopped up steep bits are routine.You trust that they drilled anchor bolts as well as they routed paths along slickrock benches.
Exposed places aside, the hiking in the Needles could not be better for toddlers. Endless rocks to throw, slopes to climb, and traverses for testing the limits of newfound balance.
We were out all day, because these miles are not fast ones, even without extended toddler explore breaks.
Add it to the long list of must gos in southern Utah.