Backpacking the Needles District in Winter


Nov 22, 2016
I'm considering a winter trip and have a few questions. After the visitor centers close for the year, it looks like it's self register for any trip, is this right? Can you just show up on a given day and choose your route and campsites without a reservation? Is there decent water in winter? Does the Cathedral Butte TH every have access in winter? I'd probably be shooting for February just so the days are slightly longer.
I've backpacked in December, but the visitor center was still open and reservation/permits were required. Water was still scant but the rangers had slightly out of date info. Nights were long and very cold.
I attempted a trip there February of this year. The entrance gate was unattended and there was a sign that said no one had to pay the entry fee. I'm not sure that that is always how it is though.

The visitor's center was closed, and permits were self serve. We couldn't find any way to pay, as there were no envelopes or anything. Just slips to fill out. No way of telling where other people may have been planning on camping. There was no one else camping anywhere near us in Chesler Park, so we were fine. Ravens ended up getting our food though, so we bailed early.

Lots of ice, even when it's fairly above freezing (because of all the constantly shady spots), so you absolutely should bring some traction device.