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Stage 6 : Needles Outpost - Butler Wash

National Geographic
NatGeo MAB S06 merge4.png
Sat MAB S06 merge4.png

Possible water source


Upon leaving Needles Outpost, we head down to the highway, turn right, and then take the old park road on the left (S06P05), towards Cave Spring. We are now entering the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. Note that a backcountry permit is required for an overnight stay within the National Park, and that a hard-sided bear-resistant canister is obligatory for camping in Salt Creek.


From Cave Spring, a good dirt road leads us to the trailhead for Salt Creek and Horse Canyon. A good trail leads us along the main canyon, where at the junction after 2.7 miles, we head into Salt Creek. The route continues through magnificent canyon country for another mile where there may be some water close to Peekaboo (S06P10).


The trail continues along the main canyon until we reach the confluence with a significant side canyon. We will then take several further side canyons, the first couple if which may have some water. However, where there is water in a drainage, there is also usually tamarisk. Thus, some bushwhacking may be required in these canyons, although game trails can usually be followed by veering towards the higher benches. Finally, after following the final wide sandy wash, we arrive at the edge of the National Park. 


Unfortunately, exiting the National Park here requires ascending a steep rubble slope to a saddle, and then dropping down the other side into the Butler Wash Wilderness Study Area. This is a rarely used route, so no established trail will be found, although game trails may help in route finding. It is probably best to try to ascend on the left side of the drainage. The route up involves ascending a series of tricky rubble chutes to reach higher benches, working round the edge of each bench to find the next suitable chute. A nice small arch (Anne’s Arch) can be seen beside the edge of the highest bench. Just after this point, the obvious final steep talus slope is found. At the top of this, we will finally see the Butler Wash WSA on the other side. The descent into the large open pocket is steep and slippery, but much easier than the ascent we have just completed.


The walk across the grassy pocket is straightforward, as we make our way towards the main wash. Look out for some small ancient structures in this area. The sandy wash leads through some shallow canyons, before reaching wide Butler Wash.

More detailed information on the route described can be obtained by contacting me directly.

The route discussed is challenging due to its isolated nature, the long distance without access to reliable water, and also the difficulty in scaling the rubble slope at the edge of the park. A realistic alternative to reach Beef Basin via an established trail, which provides more water sources, is to take a route through Salt Creek. After leaving Canyonlands National Park, the backcountry route heads west via the Bright Angel Trail, before eventually arriving in Beef Basin. This option requires obtaining a backcountry permit and carrying a hard-sided bear-canister.

Total Ascent
Total Descent
Min Elevation
Max Elevation
16.2 miles
Useful Locations

S05P10          N38° 10.507' W109° 44.489'        Needles Outpost

S06P05          N38° 09.971' W109° 44.427'        Route to Salt Creek trailhead

S06P10          N38° 06.913' W109° 45.331'        Peekaboo Spring

Water Availability
S05P10          Needles Outpost
S06P10          Spring
Water/Food Cache
Elevation Profile
S06 Elev v1.png

Salt Creek

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