Pets allowed
Not Allowed
Elevation Gain
4,000.00 ft (1,219.20 m)
Trail type
There-and-back
Distance
50.00 mi (80.47 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

The Maze District of Canyonlands National Park is one of the most remote areas in the lower 48 states. In 2016, Canyonlands National Park as a whole received 776,000 visitors, and only 11,000 of them ventured into the Maze District. This can be attributed to the fact that simply getting to the Maze is a journey that could easily take multiple days, and either requires a highly modified 4X4 vehicle, crossing the Colorado River at Spanish Bottom, or hiring a jet boat from the town of Moab. 

Regardless of how you choose to enter the Maze, once you're in, it feels like a step back in time. The dirt roads are rough and long, and the trails are more like routes that are marked by cairns. A good GPS, map, and understanding of the area are essential for a backpacking trip in the Maze. 

This long out and back utilizes most of the marked trail network in the Maze, and the longest maintained trail in the Needles District. To start, park at the Elephant Hill trailhead, and walk for 3.5 miles down the Elephant Hill jeep road. This is one of the most technical jeep roads in Utah, so don't even think of driving it to shave off miles. After 3.5 miles, you will see a sign for the Lower Red Lake trail, which winds through the beautiful Grabens country to the Colorado River. From the car to the Colorado River is about 9 miles. 

This part of the Colorado River is called Spanish Bottom. It is a very wide, gentle part of the Colorado and is ideal for a crossing. Packrafts or any sort of inflatable boat would most likely get the job done. Once across the river, there are plenty of flat campsites. This whole process of hiking Lower Red Lake trail and crossing the Colorado River would take most parties the better part of a day. 

Next up is the climb into the Dollhouse, which is about a 1,000ft climb and is cairned. The views of the Colorado River and its canyons are beautiful. From the Dollhouse, you will quickly see the sign for the Green/Colorado rivers confluence and viewpoint trail. This trail is cairned and takes you into the Land of Standing Rocks, which to me is the highlight of the trip. Wandering in and out of washes and slickrock, this trail is incredibly entertaining. After 4-5 miles, there is a junction, and a left turn will take you towards Water Canyon. 

Water Canyon is aptly named for its reliable water source, and thus, is an excellent place to basecamp. The cairned trail will take you right into Water Canyon where the natural spring flows, and water is abundant, clear, and cold. This area of the Maze is absolutely stunning and is characterized by red and white sandstone domes and large grassy meadows. 

From Water Canyon, you can basecamp and explore the area as you like. For example, a 17-mile loop up Shot Canyon and into Pictograph fork to view the Harvest Scene Panel, which is one of the most stunning pictographs in the country. Exploring Water Canyon all the way down to the Green River is possible, and it would even be possible to float the Green River back down to Spanish Bottom. The Maze District is full of possibilities for the curious explorer. 

If you stash your inflatable boat at Spanish Bottom, make sure you fill out a cache form with Canyonlands National Park and return to the car on the same trails previously used.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Spring
Fall

Congestion

Low

Parking Pass

National Park Pass

Open Year-round

Yes

Days

4

Pros

Solitude. Beautiful scenery. Pristine setting. Well maintained.

Cons

Very difficult to access.

Trailhead Elevation

5,300.00 ft (1,615.44 m)

Highest point

5,500.00 ft (1,676.40 m)

Features

Near lake or river
Backcountry camping
Historically significant
Geologically significant
Big vistas
Native artifacts

Typically multi-day

Yes

Permit required

Yes

Permit self-issue on site

No

Location

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