View Full Version : Backpacking in Canyonlands NP.
This question is slightly off topic. I hope it doesn't violate the rules of the forum. I am toying with the idea of a backpacking trip in Canyonlands NP. in early or mid May. I normally shot with my beloved Arca 4x5, but probably I will not bring it with me on this trip in addition to all the camping gears, foods and water. So the question is a LF question by association( through a LF shooter ).
If I make it, I will be traveling with my wife. Both of us only have limited backcountry camping experience, a 4 day trip in Grand Canyon. We have been to the Canyonlands before, but we didn't do the Needles and Maze. I really like to do a 3-4 day hike into Maze and some short day hikes in Needles. So, I am asking for the suggestions on the trails. Because we are averagly fit and know nothing about climbing. I would like prefer the trails that have some water source so that we don't have to carry three day's water supply, and trails without climbing. Some scramble is ok.
From what I read, all the trail heads in Maze seem miles away from where a passenger vehicle can go. Do I have to rent a 4 way drive or there are some outdoor services that will provide a lift with some fee? Because I am not going to carry my LF gear, I need a light weight camera. I think that I may like to rent a Hassablad/Fuji xPan. Any comments? This is primarily a hiking trip not a photo trip. I could live with a point-and-shoot camera, but the xpan doesn't weight much more.
First of all hope you have a wonderful trip, but check with the National Park service you may find that you will have to all the walking to get where you want to go. Vehicular travel in the backcountry of a national park is most likely strictly forbidden. This may seem draconian but if you think about the tremendous pressure put on these area's the only way to maintain their beauty is put limits on travel as a former forest service volunteer I can attest to what unrestricted travel does to an otherwise pristine wilderness. As to camera's I personally purchased a 6x9 rollfiln folder just for these reasons. Fuji has an excellent 6x9 that is like a lieca on steroids but a very fine unit. I have one of the Russian Zeiss Ikonta copies(Moskva 4) that you can usually pickup for $50 to $70. The lenses are excellent,at least for B&W I've never shot color with mine, fold into a very small package. Be aware you should check the rangefinder for accuracy also the tripod mount is 3/8th not 1/4. Have fun
I do geophysical research in the grabens of the Needles District of Canyonlands. So here is some info. There is a campground near the district visitor center with water, but once you go beyond Elephant Hill, there is no water. There are pit-toilets at the Devil's Kitchen campground, which is a nice place to camp and start hikes. You would have to be driven in with camping gear and water. You can hike in, about 2-3 hours, but you can't possible carry enough water to stay. We have hiked out for emergency supplies.
The park service licenses several outfitting companies in Moab to do 4-wheel trips into the area. We use them to truck in camping equipment and water and to maintain our camps. Two you might contact are NAVTEC Expeditions and Tagalong, both in Moab. Good luck. It is spectacular country but it demands careful planning of logistics.
Canyonlands is an amazing place, much of it unexplored and uncharted. The Maze is one of those places that challenges even experienced backcountry travelers. I would not advise going in there alone with no prior knowledge of the place. I would definitely seek someone familiar with the area to join you.
Another alternative is to do a raft trip into Canyonlands down the Colorado. There are a number of outfitters in Moab who arrange them. You can carry a lot more gear, camp out, and hike into areas that are otherwise inaccessible.
The best description of the Maze that I've seen is in Laurent Martres guidebook (phototripusa.com). The driving there appears to be hairy, because of the chances of damaging your vehicles and/or getting lost. Given that you are not particularly experienced in the backcountry and not in particularly good shape, I would recommend you do first a one-day backpacking trip in the Needles, for instance Druid Arch, as a warm up. This is an area that is not crowded at all, and still doesn't require complicated logistics. The rangers wil give you more ideas when you get there to ask for your permit.
H C Mandle
I live in Moab. You should be aware that it is already in the mid-70s during the day & that by mid-May you may be looking at the mid-90s +. In Needles there is limited water available, however the walking can be done in day stretches to some very interesting areas. Salt Creek normally has constant water and is a very nice 2-3 day hike. The Maze has no reliable water source once you leave the river and is much more remote and unforgiving.
As suggested you may want to look into outfitters to either take you in or re-supply. Canyonlands is beautiful, but if you don't have a solid grounding in desert backpacking you would be better off thinking of the Needles rather than the Maze.
Thank you for all the anwsers.
I knew it's difficult and dangerous. I guess I should change my plan to focus on Needles or other more accessible areas. Although Canyonlands is beautiful, I don't want to cut my arm off, esp. if I have to do it myself.
I know this is late for this string, but I thought I'd add my 2 cents for future readers. I just got back from The Maze over Labor Day weekend of 2004. My first time there. You can use a regular car to get to the Hans Flat ranger station, but after that it is definitely 4x4 only. Even then, on some roads, stock 4x4's may not be enough and modified 4x4 may be required with off road tires. I drove to the Maze Overlook Campsite and it took 3 hours from Hans Flat ranger station. I have a good stock 4Runner and did scrape once or twice. Once you leave the pavement near Goblin Valley, it is probably 1.5 hours to Hans Flat R.S. Make sure you have a full tank of gas as well. Some of the farther campsites and trailheads would require supplemenal gas as well. Weather can be unpredictable, we got everything from snow to weather in the 80's in three days. It can be much much hotter and it can snow a lot too. Permits are required and you can get them in advance or try you luck when you show up. Busy seasons are spring and fall. Car Campers are required to bring a toilet and carry their own poop out. There are no reliable water sources either. Backpackers can dig their own poop holes. Call the Hans Flat office for questions and details. The Maze Overlook trail is a bit tricky and not for someone who is afraid of heights, obese or not fit since you have to scramble down ledges, pour-offs, squeeze in cracks, etc. You do not need to be a techincal climber, but you should be confident and fit. If you have packs you will need a 25 foot rope to lower packs in a few places.
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