Moab to Hanksville
We pretty much diverted from the guide book Hayduke all the way from before the town of Moab (Section 1|23.6) to Poison Spring (Section 4|27.1) just before the crossing of Highway 95 and the hitch into the town of Hanksville, Utah. Our route here was split into two sections; a kayak down the Colorado River, followed by a hike away north of the river following the Happy Canyons.
Colorado River kayak alternate
Why Do it? A few weeks before we started we decided to incorporate some kayaking into our Hayduke trip by paddling down the Colorado River for some 66 miles or so. Overall this was a wonderful little adventure in itself. The kayaking down the Colorado was easily the most relaxing part of our journey as the water carries you downstream at maybe 1 mile an hour without any effort! By arranging to rent sea kayaks (from Tag-a-Long expeditions in Moab) and also coordinating with Tag-a-Long to collect the kayaks from us, it meant that we could continue hiking on without returning to town. However it did cost us money to rent kayaks and pay for their collection, so is definitely more expensive than the standard Hayduke route here.
The red canyon walls are an ever changing beautiful sight and the scenery gradually got more dramatic and wilder as we headed downriver away from Moab. Seeing only two other groups in open canoes in four days on the river made for a superbly quiet trip although there was also a daily tourist motor boat travelling the river. It was tranquil journey, contrasting with the hiking, and recommended if you fancy even more variety on the Hayduke!
The river is mainly flat but there is one short section of rapids (The Slide) before the Green River confluence. We heard a roar from the rapids from a fair distance upstream which caused a little shiver up our spines but they turned out to be short lived at about 30m and pretty easy to paddle through in sea kayaks. Our main excitement was the swirling eddies after the rapids.
Most days we got out the kayaks for a couple of hours and hiked away from the Colorado River just to explore. We saw a couple of natural arches at Corona Arch from Golden Bar, picked up some fresh drinking water and a dip at Lockhart Canyon near to the normal Hayduke route at mile 58.4 and hiked up to the top of a wonderful gooseneck on the Colorado above the Green River confluence. There are lots of Native American sites to discover and we saw some cool petroglyphs.
How? Our plan was to paddle for four days to a place called Spanish Bottom a few miles downstream from the confluence of the mighty Green and Colorado rivers. This is roughly the same distance as hiking the Hayduke to nearby Needles Outpost.
Setting off paddling from Moab dock just north of the Highway 191 bridge over the Colorado (Section 1|23.6), meant that we had a continuous journey as we had already hiked to that point and then into the town of Moab.
The water in the Colorado is silty, murky and cappuccino in colour as it drains the sandy, desert plateau. We used this water for our drinking supply but by taking care to let the silt in the water to settle to the bottom of our containers overnight, then treating with aquamira chlorine dioxide tablets, we didn’t have any trouble.
Alum salts are worth considering also, they accelerate the coagulation of the silty water and mean that you can separate the water from the silt after a couple of hours rather than waiting til morning. On the downside we got stomach cramps which we thought was from the Alum though so didn’t make much use of them (cramps possibly caused by using too much Alum and I am sure others could make the salts work without stomach problems!).
You need a permit to paddle down the Colorado River in Canyonlands National Park but that is easy to obtain for a fee and I don’t think there is a limit to the numbers of permits. We also had an extra backcountry permit for Canyonlands NP to cover hiking away from the river and camping in the park for a night. A park warden came out before we launched to check that we had enough safety equipment and that we would abide by environmental rules- carry out waste, no naked fires (we had to take a barbecue foil in case we decided to have a fire – we didn’t).
Also you need to carry a portable toilet which the kayak rental company supplied and (thankfully!) carried away when they collected the kayaks. We were given throw bags to aid in the rescue of someone falling in the water- as a bonus these make the most luxurious camp sitting mats and were a real treat to us hikers!
Spanish Bottom was our stopping point on the north shore of the Colorado, but you could easily finish across the river on the south side at lower Red Lake Canyon. There is a trail for 3.3 miles up canyon from here connecting with the Hayduke at Section 3|6.7 in the Needles area of Canyonlands NP. The north side was our choice as we were attracted to the continuation hike from there.
We got by with Canyonlands Trails Illustrated maps and our Hayduke maps but the best map for the river is this one from Belknap which we probably should have invested in….
You can get up to date information of the Colorado river flow levels from USGS river flow.
From Spanish Bottom we had arranged to have the kayaks picked up by the kayak rental company Tag-a-Long expeditions in Moab. That worked out well and I recommend Tag-a-Long – they were very helpful. Although renting kayaks and having them collected down river is more expensive than simply hiking! We carried a total of 9 days food with us in the kayaks to allow us to continue hiking for 4-5 days from Spanish Bottom on the north side of the Colorado River.
Maze – Happy Canyon alternate
Why Do it? This route takes a much more direct line from Canyonlands National Park to the Hayduke at Poison Springs just west of the Dirty Devil river crossing (Section 4|27.1) and was convenient for us as we had a much later start to the Hayduke than is ideal (we started 13th April but a month earlier might have been better). It allowed us to catch up some time but is also a splendid expedition in its own right through some spectacular and varied country. Highlights included hiking round the edge of the Maze, the Golden Stairs, the wild subtle beauty of the Happy Canyons, the exceptional slot of Happy Canyon just before it reaches the Dirty Devil River, the petrified logs on the west cliff sides of the Dirty Devil and reasonable water sources….
How? From Spanish Bottom take water to cover about 5-6 hours to Lou’s Spring and climb west steeply away from the river on the well made Spanish Bottom trail.
This link ‘Utah Trails’ gives clear instructions through to Lou’s Spring and the Golden Stairs trailhead along with interesting background- it’s a great hike.
Hike through the Dollhouse on jeep tracks.
At the west end of the Dollhouse camping area, find unsignposted Ernie’s Country east trailhead and then follow the good hiking trail south west down to the meadow, Main Flat.
Clell’s Spring had water when we passed but we waited to camp and take water at Lou’s.
Lou’s Spring is reliable and by following the description in ‘Utah Trails’. It is easy to find but remember it is off the trail so stay alert!
From Lou’s climb north west on trail to the jeep track of the Flint Trail.
Head south west down the Flint Trail for a mile or so then take the ‘Golden Stairs’ trail to the right (north) to climb through the cliff band above you.
You cross a great narrow rock ridge to arrive at the Golden Stairs Trailhead. From there follow jeep tracks south west on the Flint Trail, firstly over flattish terrain then steeply up to the plateau between Flint Flat and Lands End- we saw plenty of people here- well it was Easter week.
Follow good jeep tracks south through pinyon juniper.
Turn right at the signpost to Happy Canyon and at the campsite sign further on pointing left, go straight on following the track which is blocked off by juniper wood.
Keep going a short distance down to the road end and the descent route is cairned going down left into Happy Canyon south fork. You will be entering some really remote country here…
This old mining track zig-zags down into the south fork until joining the wash itself. It provides a good descent with great views although it hasn’t been maintained and is a bit bouldery in places.
The track follows benches through colourful Chinle rock formations before descending steeply down to Happy Canyon south fork wash. We found good pools of water in the wash here.
Now follow the wash with easy navigation down for a long way (25 miles?) into Happy Canyon itself, past ‘The Pinnacle’, to the entrance of Happy Canyon slot. The going is pleasant but with deep sand in parts and is exposed to the sun so could prove very tough in the heat I would think. There were more pools of water intermittently along the wash but I reckon they would dry up later in the season.
The slot is wonderfully scenic and after a short, maybe 6 foot slickrock descent, had little technical difficulties. We found no water here.
Exit the slot and cross the Dirty Devil River. This was an easy ankle deep splash for us but the Devil can live up to it’s name and rise quickly so watch out! The Dirty Devil water gauge provides data on water levels. We camped and took water from the Devil with no ill effects after treating with aquamira. This is the last until Poison Spring probably 5-6 hours away.
You now have to climb the west slopes above the Dirty Devil. We hiked north a few hundred meters and then picked up a faint trail through the first steep band and followed the odd cairn and trail straight up to an excellent old mining track contouring on a bench southwards in general. There are great views from the mining track to the Dirty Devil and petrified logs abound.
The track eventually swings roughly westward above the Hayduke in Poison Spring canyon and joins it at Black Jump (Section 4|25.4).
Some water in the wash above Black Jump but there is better at Poison Spring.
Section 4|27.1 Poison Spring is about 20m to the right of the jeep track at the foot of the wingate canyon wall with cottonwoods nearby. You need to be careful to keep an eye out for it is hidden from the road by shrubbery- we were alerted to it by hearing a faint dripping.
From here we followed the Hayduke and Poison Spring canyon out to Highway 95. The road is quiet but we got a lift quickly into the small town of Hanksville to the north which provided a welcome stopover for us. See the hand drawn street map of the town in the pic. We stayed at the Whispering Sands and would stay there again. The Slick Rock Grill is pretty fine too.
Some links to hiking accounts in the area: