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Your Definitive Guide to the Hayduke Trail

The Hayduke Trail is perhaps one of the most understated yet most passionate rogue trials in the world. It’s typically not the kind of trail you’d find in your local guidebook or detailed on a map. Still, it does exist, and it’s one of the most rewarding trails in the world – but only if you’re up to the challenge of hiking it.

Measuring in around the 800-mile mark, the Hayduke Trail is not for the faint-hearted. If you’re ready to commit to the experience of a lifetime, creating memories you’re never going to forget in some of the most beautiful places on Earth, then it doesn’t get better.

Whether you’re looking to get started or you’re simply interested in what this trail has to offer, you’ve come to the right place. In this guide, we’ll detail absolutely everything you need to, so let’s get straight into it!

What is the Hayduke Trail?

Young woman travels Bryce Canyon national park in Utah, United States, people travel explore nature. Bryce is a collection of giant natural amphitheaters distinctive due Hoodoos geological structures

To cut a long story short, the Hayduke Trail is an 812-mile (1,307km) backpacking trail that stretches from the south of Utah and twists and turns all the way up to the north of Arizona. Officially, although it’s still kind of unofficial, the beginning is in the stunning Arches National park near Moab, Utah.

You then make your way through the park, into the Needles District, into the Canyonlands National Park, then the Capitol Reef National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and the Grand Canyon National Park. As you can see, that’s some of the most incredible national parks in the world. This alone should show you just how breathtaking this journey would be.

Finally, you’ll end in the famous Zion National Park. The entire route is set out on public land. You’ll be able to travel along the many ridgelines, which means that this route doesn’t break the law. Instead, you’ll follow drainage ditches, rivers, and dirt roads.

As we mentioned above, this is a trip that isn’t for the faint-hearted. If you’re going to attempt it, you need to make sure you’re an experienced backpacker. This is both in terms of getting from start to finish, as well as scaling huge hills and peaks. You need the endurance to continue and carry all your gear, including sleeping gear and supplies. You’re also going to want to be prepared with first aid training, in case you need it.

The highest point is at Mount Ellen, found in Utah, which measures around the 11,419ft mark. This should give you an idea of the elevations of this trail. On the other hand, the lowest point is around 2,000ft, at the Grand Canyon. Clearly, there’s a lot of walking and a lot of ups and downs in this route.

However, if this sounds right up your street, then your only regret will be that you haven’t heard of it sooner.

The History of the Hayduke Trail

View to Monument Valley from the Forrest Gump Point between Utah

It started in 1998. Joe Mitchell and Mike Coronella of Utah combined several treks through several national parks, including a 94-day expedition in 1998 and another 101-day expedition in 2000. Together, this created the Hayduke Trail. It was named after George Washington Hayduke, a fictional character in the novel, the Monkey Wrench Gang, written by Edward Abbey.

Fast forward to 2005, The Hayduke Trail. A Guide to the Backcountry Hiking Trail on the Colorado Plateau was published, and the Hayduke Trail was cemented into backpacking culture forever.

Mike and Joe’s adventure was not an easy one. Where they started in snow conditions that went up to their waists, they ended in scorching, skin burning heat. They crossed mile-long stretches on cliff-side edges that they could only grasp onto with their fingers and toes while carrying 60-pounds worth of equipment and gear on their backs. As Mike recalled in one interview, ‘one wrong move would have been fatal.’

Planning Your Own Expedition

SUV driving the Cottonwood Canyon Road in Grand Staircase Escalante National Park, Utah

If that hasn’t scared you off and this is still a route you want to commit to, you’ll want to plan ahead. This isn’t a trail where you can easily just turn up on the day, and then off you go. The route is very much ongoing in terms of design, and there’s plenty of room for making it up as you go along. Even in the guidebook, the details of the route are sketchy at best.

However, there is a suggested route you can follow. It starts at Cottonwood Canyon Road, right next to the Kodachrome Basin State Park. You then hike southwest and over to the Rock Springs Wash next to the Paria River. Keep going for around 3.75 miles and up to the Sheep Creek.

From here, you want to take a right and head northwest for another 3.75 miles onto Willis Creek and then head in a westward direction. Continue for 2.5 miles on the dirt road (#500) and then head northwest for about a mile until you reach another dirt road (#530).

Continue for around eight and a half miles until you get to Agua Canyon and take the connecting trail here, which follows the Bryce Canyon Under the Rim Trail. Finally, head eight miles southwest to the Rainbow Point Trailhead.

Of course, this is only a small section of the total trail, but it’s a great 35-mile route for checking out some outstanding scenery, and it’s a part of the most accessible bit that most people can do. If you want to try out the full route, consider planning your own route with what works best for you. It will also depend on what time of year you plan on going.

Some of the Key Locations

Mother with her baby son stay below Skyline arch in Arches National Park in Utah, USA

There are many beautiful places to stop off and see throughout the trail; it would be hard to list them in order of best to average. Of course, you might have an amazing time overlooking the Grand Canyon, but watching the sun go down in the middle of nowhere followed by a sky full of stars could be just as awe-inspiring.

However, to wet your whistle when it comes to what you can see here are some of the places you’re going to want to keep your eyes open for:

  • The Skyline over the Arches
  • The Tower Arch in the Arches
  • The desert tower in the Bears Ears National Monument
  • Rock formations throughout Canyonlands
  • The Dark Canyon
  • The Sandstone Walls of Kane Springs
  • Countless scenes in isolated and remote places

The Best Time to Go

You’ll want to think about what time of year you should go, depending on what section of the trail you’re going to embark on. Of course, if you’re planning to do everything, you’ll start in one season and end two seasons away, so think about where you’re going to be and when.

The sweet spot for most of the locations will be between March and May, so plan to visit a certain part of the trail. These are the ideal months because water sources are at their greatest and most bountiful, and the temperatures are ideal for both the easy parts and the hardest areas.

You’ll find there is still plenty of water during the winter months, but the cold temperatures may make progress slow. During the summer months, it can be very dry and sweaty, which will probably make this the worst time to hike for many people, especially where water is involved.

Think About Transport

Moab 21 miles road sign near Casttle Valley in Utah, winter sunrise scenery - travel and recreation concept

Since most of the trail is on dirt roads and out in the middle of nowhere, there is no real established public transport system. But there are, however, several shuttle services that run between certain locations. These can help you cover a lot of ground if you’re strapped for time.

Some services include Moab Taxis, St. George Shuttle, FlixBus, and Salt Lake Express. Again, what’s available to you will depend on what time of year you go and what part of the trail you’re doing. Make sure you’re taking your time to do your research and keep contact details to hand in case you ever need them.

Since transport is around these areas, these are also going to be the ideal places to stock up on food and supplies. Most towns and sections will have shops and grocery stores, and you won’t need to worry about running out.

Acquiring Your Permits

For a lot of the trail, you will need permits to hike there. Focusing just on the suggested route above, you’ll need a Grand Staircase Escalante permit, which is free and can be acquired from the website. You’ll also need a Bryce Canyon permit, which costs around $5 per group and has an entrance fee of $20.

As you can go into the varying national parks and areas, you’ll need to acquire permits beforehand to make sure you’re allowed to be there. Otherwise, you can face serious trespassing fines, and maybe even prosecution.

This is why it’s so important to plan your route ahead. You can get organized and avoid any unnecessary problems that could ruin your overall experience. Some permits will require processing times, so aim to acquire all your permits before you leave, or at least have someone at home who can reach out and get in contact with you in case anything needs to be organized.

Consider the Risks

Two Young Female Friends Hiking Through the Narrows, Zion Nation

As we’ve spoken about before, the majority of this route is off-road and not a designated track or trail, so you need to make sure you’re careful. Ensure you think about the risks before you set off. There are also many more natural things you’ll need to consider, including high waters, flooding rivers, and even lack of water. These are all possible at any time of the year.

For example, regarding the water situation, you need to make sure you’re treating or boiling any water you use from natural sources. This will ensure that it’s safe to drink and won’t cause you harm. What’s more, Rock Spring has arsenic-tainted water, so you’ll want to avoid drinking water from this area entirely.

A Final Note

While you’re hiking these trails, you’re going to see some of the most unique and most beautiful areas of the world, and it’s important to make sure that stunning places like this are preserved for both present and future generations. This means following the Leave No Trace etiquette that helps to make things beautiful for everyone. This means respecting water sources and following procedures like burying human waste in a hole at least 6 inches deep and at least 200 yards away from campsites and water sources.

You can find more information on this kind of etiquette online, but mostly it’s going to be common sense. Be respectful to the land, the nature, and the people that came before you and will visit after.
Most importantly, enjoy experiencing the Hayduke Trail, a trail like nowhere else on Earth!

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