(updated fall 2019, fall 2020)
These are organized section by section, east to west. I’ll probably add a few more things as they pop into my head, but these are the ones that stood out today. All things that weren’t obvious to me at first…
Please do not cairn this route unless you are very lost and have no other way of back-tracking. Everyone seems to think they’re smarter than other hikers, the only one who “gets it,” and the only one who has found the “correct way.” Great, fine, but do not leave permanent record of your supremacy (you may later cringe to discover you were wrong). Most hikers enjoy the challenge of finding their own way, and all hikers are annoyed when a cairn leads them astray. Moving rocks can devastate delicate ecosystems and small animals, and building random/inaccurate cairns can be deadly to hikers lost in the desert. Need I also remind Hayduke hikers to not leave graffiti? Unfortunately I do. This seems obvious, but I’ve found “tagging” along the route. Don’t leave ANY human trace, not even stacks of sticks. If you build something, take it down before you leave. Let folks behind you experience the outback as you found it, or cleaner. Pack out trash, even if it’s not yours and you’re ultralight. Leave all valuable relics you find behind, where you found them. There will likely be well over 200 hikers on the Hayduke this year, compared with <50 in 2019. Your impact COUNTS.
Get the Hayduke Trail book. Read it. Carry it (I, uh, photographed every page and stored it on my phone). I’ve read every sentence in this book at least five times. There’s a lot buried in there. You need it.
There are GPX tracks available online but please understand how GPX tracks can cause trouble. For one, so many people have their noses in their phones they are missing obvious signs of trail: beaten path, markers, blazes, cut trees, direction and aim (and maybe footprints, if you trust them). They create braided/threaded trail (I’ve come across areas with three parallel HUMAN trails!) without even noticing, because they are so dead-set on keeping on their GPX cursor. Another problem with that is more often than not, the person who created the GPX is a fast-packer who hikes 40 miles a day and gave zero shits about whether his route was safe for humans or ecology. And so while so many people are nose-down trying to match a GPX, they’re on the wrong route, missing the easy route right under their noses.
I say this from experience. This is how I learned. I started out using other people’s GPX tracks, now I make my own loose ones, and correct them afterward. I think it’s more rewarding to have a general sense of where I’m going (from looking at the map), then look around at the earth and see where others have gone before. Once you know what a trail looks like — any type of trail — it’s not only more difficult to get lost, but discoveries abound! I now bump into tent circles, piles of broken arrowheads, and even petroglyphs near my house. The animal trails lead me there. Humans have always followed game trail, and white people stole most their trails from the natives who were better at tracking. Get good at tracking, let go of the need to follow the GPX, and you’ll be great! Happy on the Hayduke!
Get ready for shoes full of sand, and then wet shoes.
I recommend the main Hayduke trail out the gate, because the alternates involve significant erosion, especially as more and more people hike the Hayduke. The places they visit are really better done like the tourists do them, from the car, because for the pretty parts you’ll be thronged with tourists anyway. The Hayduke heading East from the Park gate is a road walk, but it’s got a good view, is a good build up, and has full cell signal so you can say your goodbyes… for the next day or so. Hah.
Use the waypoint in my Caltopo map (38.7389, -109.6352, near mile 7.5) to find the corner of the fence you will be following south, and stay close to the fence. I found ONE set of footsteps along the fence in 2017, which is concerning, because the point of following the fence is to minimize impact to the cryptobiotic soil. Make sure to follow rivulets and washes where possible to avoid stepping on these living soil crusts. Put your feet down on rocks and sand, not on the booger-looking stuff. It’s alive and crucial. The “Slickrock alternate” has views from above but sends you through two major fields of crypto in a National Park – the only truly “protected” land in America. Everywhere else on the Hayduke – National Forest, BLM – you will see the crypto has been trampled by cattle. Only in National Parks is it only trampled by humans. I do not recommend this alt, and so am not sharing it freely on my map. Other alts which pass my anal cryptobiotic soil checks ARE shown. There are plenty of other chances to play on slickrock and get the views, such as with the Halls Creek/Stevens Canyon alt.
Once you leave Moab, both the main route and the Jackson Hole route are great, I slightly prefer the main route because Kane Springs Canyon is beautiful and the tourist traffic is interesting. You will find bathrooms and trash cans at campgrounds and car parks all the way up to the base of Hurrah Pass. Also, loads of petroglyphs along the way. Do not geotag.
Make sure to get water from the River soon after mile 4.5 because it could be a dry stretch until Lockhart Canyon, where the water is alkaline. I don’t encounter alkaline (saline) water on the Hayduke as much as some other people, but where I do encounter it is in the first three sections. The Colorado River has the best water after Kane Springs. Next tasty water is near mile 45.
This section is where you will start to really figure out how dryfall bypasses work. For example, there’s no way you can downclimb the Rustler Canyon dryfall without webbing, but to your right (west) as you approach it you will probably notice cairns… On the Hayduke, always have a lookout to your right and left, especially when you are approaching an obstacle. Watch for cairns or other markers, signs of footpaths, trodden ground, trimmed branches. Practice this. I found the alternates to fully avoid dryfalls were not necessary – I may have long legs, but I had no trouble getting up and down off the bench without rope or a helper. Granted, I do always carry 40′ of Dyneema cord, and you definitely should as well on the Hayduke. When you find how to get up/down Rustler, you’ll wonder why anyone makes it sound hard. It’s stupid easy.
There are no bathrooms or trash cans at the Big Spring TH at the end of Section 2. The water in the spring below (a class 4+ downclimb) is lovely but slightly alkaline.
Deep sand, lots of it. Butler Wash is a bit of a pain in the ass, especially in the lower part with sand. Consider yourself lucky if it has rained recently! This section is just such a treat. Section 1 and 2 got you ready, and now’s your first real test: how big a dryfall or waterfall can you handle? Are you ready for a huge climb? Do your spidey senses tingle when it’s time to cross to the other side of the river (and avoid an obstacle around the corner)?
I’m torn whether I liked the Hayduke or the Salt Creek alt better. If you don’t mind tourist traffic, can get Canyonlands overnight permits, and don’t mind carrying a HARD-SIDED bear canister (required – and there ARE bears), try Salt Creek. On the other hand, the Fable Canyon trail and getting down Youngs Canyon are a real treat. Both are a staple of the NOLS and Outward Bound circuit, so you will definitely find desire paths, and complete a rite of passage! Look, if dozens of 13 year-olds can get down Youngs, so can you. Again, it’s just not as hard as people make it sound, especially when you’re going down. If it’s too hard, you’re doing it totally wrong. Stop, have a break, listen (you might hear voices), and assess your options. Back up if necessary to get a better view.
Step carefully when leaving the trail off the road at the top of the Sundance Trail climb. The path is well-cairned and obvious at first, but then drops you off in a crypto field rife with braided trail before you hit the road again. By 2020, there should be very well-worn trail all the way to the road (after you hit/cross the first road). Try not to leave new footprints in the crypto, or even step in old footprints in the recovering crypto. Let it grow back, help build the main trail.
Traversing the Red Benches is a slog, and the climbs onto it and off it could be challenging for some, especially shorter folks. Don’t get too nervous about these steep sections because once you are on them you’ll see they are actually very manageable.
The Dirty Devil is a capricious river and should be taken seriously. Before I approach it from town, I look at the flow rates (there’s a gauge right at Poison Spring Wash confluence) to psyche myself out. If you try to cross where you see riffles (meaning there is probably a rocky bed), you can avoid most of the quicksand. If you sink, just keep moving, even if it means falling over forwards a bit. Use hiking poles to prod around. The deepest I ever fell was just above my ankle and my momentum pulled me right out. Except the first time I ever stepped in it, when I sunk to my upper thigh. It does provoke anxiety! The track shows maybe 20 crossings but if you’re strategic you can pull it off with 10 crossings. The alt is also splendid (I’ve enjoyed both) with views from above if you need to use it, but the Dirty Devil river bed is absolutely stunning. Watch for bighorn above.
Also keep an eye out for petroglyphs especially in Poison Spring Canyon – they’re everywhere. Do not touch petroglyphs and pictoglyphs. Oils in your hands will speed their demise. Do not geotag them. The easier you make it for vandals to find remote art, the faster it will be cut from the rock.
Hanksville is probably my least favorite trail town on the Hayduke. The food/resupply selection is miserable and pricey and the locals hate the BLM and probably hikers, too. To their credit, they are friendly to your face. The main hotel (Whispering… ) has nice, affordable rooms and wifi. If you can avoid going into this town, I recommend spending more time in Escalante or even Tropic instead. In 2016 I walked from Moab to Escalante without visiting any resupply depot, and just using two caches (one was near the 95 highway crossing with a gallon of water (more than enough) and food to get me to Escalante). This was wonderful. Recommend.
Bison. Bison are your “guides” in secction 5. The “alternate” off the west side of Mt Ellen is not as good as the real Hayduke. I don’t show it on my map for that reason. I have hiked both. I’ve learned that when in doubt, stick to the actual Hayduke. It’s well-researched and… genius.
That said, there may be a nice way off the fire road at 8000′ that is NOT Granite Creek but rather the ridge to the north. Bison use this and have put down some really good track. I have added a marker where this would start at the east end.
Once off the Tarantula Mesa keep a close eye out for desire path (kept up by bison), as beautiful track clear down into Capitol Reef National Park. If you can find it and follow it, your way down will be much easier. I have edited the route on my maps to reflect most of this.
Camel up on water in Granite Creek, because it’s likely your last tasty water in Section 5. Also, if anyone tells you to avoid the water with “white stuff” around it because it’s “alkaline,” ignore them. You’ll be surprised – salty shores is not an indicator of how water will taste. Make sure the gate at the National Park border is CLOSED.
For what it’s worth, there is decent traffic at the road crossing and up the road at the beginning of this section in Spring and Fall, unless the (dirt) roads are wet. My sense is that not many people are really hiking the actual Hayduke through section 6 anymore, and that is because the Escalante has become overgrown and is no longer type 1 fun. The Halls Creek alternate (a folder in my Caltopo map) is a wonderful route outlined by Jamal over at AcrossUtah.com. It could involve some short swims if water is high in Halls Creek, but otherwise saves you many miles of wading down the Escalante. Have a way to waterproof your essential gear if you take this route. Halls also shows off some incredible red and white rock and unique canyon formations, and gets you about as close to “Lake” Powell as you’ll get on the Hayduke. The Halls Creek route has desire path almost the entire way, and you’ll likely run into other people. Jamal has another alt for this section which in my opinion is even more incredible than the Halls Creek alt. You’ll have to do your research!
This section is a little tedious, but if you do some research about the Kaiparowits, 50-Mile Mountain and the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, it can become a lot more interesting. 50-Mile is in fact one of my favorite things about the area. One thing I recently learned is this area has more species of bees than the entire East Coast. Enjoy your time on the top, and close any cattle gates behind you.
Take water from higher up in Rogers Canyon before hitting Navajo. The further you go down Rogers, the worse the water will taste. And definitely, definitely filter this water. Believe it or not, cattle graze in upper Rogers Canyon (I’ve been there, and it’s freakin’ nasty).
The wells along Last Chance Creek gush clear, somewhat warm water that tastes sulfuric. Great time for a bath, especially if you have any wounds – the sulfur will clear that right up! If you’re lucky you will find water in Paradise Canyon. But to be safe, do take it from Last Chance. And filter it please. Remember you’re in cattle country, and your “fresh” water is actually full of cow pie.
You will probably need to yogi some water from tourists at Grosvenor’s Arch. There are pit toilets. Don’t leave trash unless with someone who agrees to pack it out for you. If there’s no one at the arch, folks traveling this road will often stop and offer you water. This should be easy, as long as the roads are dry. But if the roads are wet, you can drink from the puddles. You can’t lose.
Round Valley Draw is MUCH more difficult to hike north than it is south. I recommend having cord or rope for this, especially if you are alone. If solo, chimneying DOWN after lowering your pack shouldn’t be too bad. Then you’re mostly set except one or more further smaller drops. If your ankles and knees are strong, you’ll be fine.
Take water from higher up in Hackberry because by the time you reach Cottonwood and Paria it will be very foul. COWS. Cows. Are you starting to sense a theme? Cattle ranching and our love for burgers and steak are a huge factor in the destruction of our sacred outdoors, and our health. If anything, the Hayduke was a repeat lesson about how livestock affects ecosystems. Whereas these impacts are normally hidden from us (we tend to not live so remotely), a ramble of Utah should bring them front and center for you.
Yellow Mountain is worth summiting. There’s trails approaching from the south and the West. It’s just a nice distraction with a great view.
The further north in the Paria you go, the better the water is. Water entering from side canyons is tasty. Keep an eye out for petroglyphs and cowboyglyphs along the Paria clear up to Willis Creek. Do not touch. Do not geotag. Side trips — such as a Bull Valley Gorge out-and-back or as an alt — are worthwhile.
The Willis Creek parking lot has no bathroom or trash but offers a great opportunity to hitch into Tropic with tourists. It’s not too far that it can’t be walked. I’ve done it.
The Willis Creek road walk west is a bit creepy especially where there are ranches. Do not trespass to swim or to shortcut. Close gates or cattle will get into Bryce.
If you do not have Bryce permits, there are incredible alts to explore such as the 78 mile-long Grand View Trail. It’s also worth it if you’ve never seen Bryce to hike into the park directly west out of Tropic, then south back to the official Hayduke.
Unfortunately after you leave Bryce you’re in for another slog in the deep sand, but “good news” is it’s mostly a road walk clear to the highway.
Buckskin Gulch had water Spring 2016 but was dry Fall 2017 so be ready to perhaps drink from muddy potholes lower in the gulch or yogi water near Stateline if desperate, at the parking lot or in the campground. If you wander the slickrock, you may find cleaner potholes than those in the gulch. But don’t wander if you are desperate. Stay close to the road and someone will come. Worst case there is a cow ditch (Adams Reservoir) with water in it between the parking lot and the campground. Bleach and/or filter and flavor it, close your eyes and plug your nose and…
FWIW don’t poach The Wave. It’s on a permit system because of erosion. Rangers have deputized guides to issue tickets, and it’s really obvious when you don’t have a permit…
There is reliable tasty water 4 miles into section 10.
I recommend getting your hands on the AZT water report for this section before/during your hike. Water is abundant in this section but finding it can be tricky.
Staff is friendly and the cookies are locally famous, but Jacob Lake does not accept packages due to storage issues. You can send mail “General Delivery” to South Rim or North Rim Grand Canyon. Here’s an example of how to do that for the North Rim:
YOUR NAME, eta: date
c/o General Delivery
6225 N HWY 67
North Rim AZ 86052-9901
Plan your camping around the burned area south of Jacob Lake, especially if it is windy. Otherwise the trees will howl, you won’t have much wind block, and it’ll just be sorta creepy. The burn extends from approximately mile 32 to mile 39 (ends at Telephone Hill if headed south). Many of the camps along here have bathrooms, but don’t leave your trash for someone else to deal with unless they agree, and don’t steal toilet paper. Hayduke hikers can ruin things for everyone else by abusing the rangers and custodians who care for this area.
Do be very cautious in the Grand Canyon. If it feels like you’ve gone off route, you probably have. Except for in a few short stretches, and while walking along shore, you should see worn (human) use path beneath you. It is safer to back-track until you’re on an obvious path than it is to plow ahead. Read “Death in Grand Canyon” by Ghiglieri and Myers and you will see that bad choices are deadly above and below the rim.
THERE IS TRAIL all the way between the mouth of Nankoweap Canyon and Kwagunt Canyon, along the Colorado. The trail is well above the water, so if you find yourself bushwhacking along the shore, I’m sorry. You’re doing it wrong. The trail is there because many people (rafters) hike a loop from Kwagunt around Horsethief, down Nankoweap back to Kwagunt. Don’t be surprised to meet boaters who have hiked more of the Grand Canyon than you have at this point — or any part along the way. They might have nice tips for you. Before you go into full yogi mode for your hitchhike across the river, check your attitude and ask yourself what you can do for them, even if it’s just taking names and writing thank you notes, offering to share candy or cash. Many of the boaters go down the river repeatedly every year, and you want their community to LOVE Hayduke hikers, not resent them… because hikers after you, their lives depend on that hitch.
Don’t make a big deal out of hitching the Colorado. Commercial boats aren’t likely to pick you up (though it has happened in special cases), but most private trips are excited to meet hikers, and will spoil you rotten. Praise be!
Scout the Little Colorado carefully when fording. My first time fording it I ended up in water up to my neck. The second time it only came to mid-thigh. There is quicksand and it can be scary. Whatever you do, go high enough upstream so that if you get swept down river, you do NOT end up in the Colorado. That would be very bad. Personally when fording scary rivers, I do a little extra something when waterproofing my backpack: I inflate my bladder and empty my bottles, put a little air in my Thermarest, so that I might have a flotation device if things go sideways. If somehow you end up being swept into the Colorado River below the confluence, a float will be a huge asset, but you should research what happens in the Colorado River, and never assume you can swim it. While you’re down there it’s interesting to have an idea what the current flow is, and how that compares historically.
Once you cross the Little Colorado there is trail (or basic canyon ambling or road walk) clear to the end of the Hayduke (except some miles in Saddle Canyon, which is the worst bushwhack of the entire Hayduke). Can you find it?
This is probably the most difficult section of the Hayduke, but if you’re hiking westbound, you’ll be ready for it. Just keep in mind if walking the North Rim to Swamp Point, water sources are not reliable year-round. Contact the North Rim ranger station for beta. Usually they have some recent info. Queen Anne Spring near Teddy’s Cabin is reliable and tasty, though it is a tiny bit out of the way.
I’ve hiked it twice and I still don’t quite understand the Saddle Canyon dryfall bypass. So many people hike this there should be a use trail, but it’s hard to find. Frankly, it’s a shit show. Good luck. After that you’ll find foot paths clear to Thunder River where trail picks up. Be careful in Tapeats and definitely follow the advice of Mitchell and Coronella about it! Because of how steep it is, it flows quickly. That creek is NO JOKE, and takes lives regularly.
When you get back to the Colorado, the 7-mile walk along the shore isn’t too bad, at least not the first four miles of it. If you’re not a purist, I recommend hiking the first four miles — the bypass climb is actually fun and follows a lovely old path past a couple dripping springs — and then hitching the last three miles on a raft. Because the last three miles are tedious and talus-y, and there is no good or right way to cover them.
Kanab Creek is like an obstacle course with fallen boulders and water, and side-trips are recommended. Don’t sleep at Showerbath Spring unless you’re in a tent – this is where I got stung by a bark scorpion. The neurotoxin had me sideways for 16 hours. Be very alert if you are in Kanab Creek during monsoon season; Kanab drains a LOT of Utah.
Water from Black Willow Spring is probably no more radioactive than other water on the Hayduke, and may actually be tasty depending on the condition of the tank.
There is trail all the way up east Hack Canyon. Watch for the HUGE cairns.
Yellowstone Spring is not worth finding. Look for the dug out trench lined with black plastic and surrounded by a fence. The spring is piped into this. Fill up with uranium water!
I recommend avoiding Colorado City unless curiosity gets the best of you. It’s creepy as hell, and sad. I suppose if you’re not a female hiking solo, it wouldn’t be so weird. But even if you’re not female, it should be weird, and should not be normalized. I, for one, refuse to shop there. At least read up on it before visiting.
There’s use path most the way up the Virgin River. Keep an eye out for poison ivy, though, especially on the west end. There are two ways up and out of the River to Checkerboard, both are easy to follow and well-cairned. This area gets heavy traffic by canyoneers. They all seem to use Fat Man’s Misery, and I also definitely recommend using this short alt — if only to see some more nice narrows the river passes through. If you’re struggling like that boy struggled in the “Hayduke movie,” you’re doing it totally wrong. Mitchell and Coronella describe the obstacles along the Virgin River well enough, so definitely review the book again.
How do you feel?
Ready, I hope!
If you’ve got deep pockets and want someone with deep knowledge of the areas on and around the Hayduke to follow and assist you along, I’m available for hire for one client/group starting Fall 2021 (assuming the Pandemic is under control). I will take care of logistics such as permits, water and food caching, shuttles, hotel booking, side trips, gear management and repair, and health tracking as desired/required.