Canyonlands National Park
Credit: CanyonlandsNPS, flickr.com/photos/canyonlandsnps


The Maze District of Canyonlands National Park is no joke. Many of the hikes throughout this cavernous district are considered some of the most dangerous hikes in the world. It's not that they are outwardly threatening, but the trails test both physical and mental endurance through its poorly marked, maze-like pathways that have hikers climbing over sandstone walls and out of deep canyons in temperatures that often rise above 110 degrees F. While the Maze Overlook Trail is not the easiest trail in Canyonlands National Park, it is a trail that looks out over the Maze District and cautiously heads inside of it. The Maze Overlook Trail is often considered a good precursor to some of the harder trails so hikers can prove to themselves that they can hack it.

 

mesa arch Canyonlands National Park
Credit: tsaiproject, flickr.com/photos/tsaiproject/

Quick Stats:

Trail Length: 5.8 miles City/State:  Moab,
  Utah
Bikes Allowed: No
Elevation: 580 feet loss
County:   Grand Dogs Allowed: No

 

Getting There:

As it turns out, the Maze District is not only a challenge for hikers to navigate; it is a challenge for hikers to get to. After taking Hans Flat Road to Recreation Road 777 into the park and to the Hans Flat Ranger Station, it is another 14 mile drive up the Green Fork jeep road. This is a 4-wheel only road so those with 2-wheel drive cars will have to hike the 14 miles to the trailhead.

 

The Hike:

anyonlands National ParkCanyonlandsNPS, flickr.com/photos/canyonlandsnps

From the small parking lot near the trailhead at the end of the road, the trail begins clearly enough, heading up the wind-polished slick rock trail. From a distance, the trail appears to dead-end into the canyon. However, it leads up to the abyss before dipping into a break in the white sandstone that makes up the rim, leading downward. Before heading in, be sure to stop and gawk a bit, this area is named the Maze Overlook for a reason and the view from the rim over the Maze District is truly breath-taking. The remainder of the trail heads down into the Maze District where a number of scenic side hikes are possible without much risk of getting lost.

Dipping into the narrow crevasse, hikers will lose a few feet of steep elevation before the path flattens out and curves south around a large mushroom-shaped rock formation that has been lovingly named the Nuts and Bolts. Hikers traverse a shale bench for a few yards before the trail dips down again. The route continues to head down to the South Fork Horse Canyon. This section can be a bit of a scramble, but there are plenty of ledges to hang onto when climbing. As the sandy dirt is so loose and the descent is so steep, this can be a dangerous portion if caution is not exercised. However, stone cairns mark the best and easiest route to get down with some portions having chiseled foothold to help. It is not advised to slide down the sections on your feet or butt unless it is accidental. The loose sands hide sharp rocks.

Maze District of Canyonlands NationalPierce Martin, flickr.com/photos/pierce-martin/

After traversing over a mile into the canyon, hikers should be relieved when they reach the dusty flat ground of the canyon floor. From here, there are a number of side trips that showcase a number of the unique pictographs and rock formations that are found within the Maze District. The nearest area of interest is the Harvest Scene Pictograph Panel in Pictograph Fork canyon to the left. After travelling the canyon trail, hikers should keep right at a junction with an unnamed canyon and continue onwards to the mouth of the Pictograph Fork canyon. At the massive canyon mouth, hikers should look up to get a peek at the Chocolate Drops rock formation that rises from the canyon's rim to the southwest.

Just a few steps into the Pictograph Fork canyon, hikers will come across the famous prehistoric rock art panel named the Harvest Scene. Located just above a sandy stream bed, the picture depicts faded ancient people harvesting rice grass, an important food of the native tribes of the area. Archeologists believe that the Harvest Scene was painted by the Archaic People that lived in the Canyonlands from 8,000 to 2,000 years ago.

Maze District of Canyonlands National ParkPierce Martin, flickr.com/photos/pierce-martin/

While getting to the Harvest Scene was easy enough, getting back can be tricky. It's amazing how different the canyon looks in reverse. Since the trails in the Maze District are notorious for being badly marked, it is also easy to walk right by the trail that heads back up to the Maze Overlook and the canyon rim. While there are other side trips and trails abound in the area, visitors should always be careful not to get lost. It would also be prudent to save a fair bit of energy from making the steep climb back up. It is infinitely more difficult heading back up.

 

          

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