Only adventurous and experienced travelers will want to visit this rugged land west of the Green and Colorado Rivers. Vehicle access wasn't even possible until 1957, when mineral-exploration roads first entered what later became Canyonlands National Park.
Today, you'll need a high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle, a horse, or your own two feet to get around. The National Park Service plans to keep this district in its remote and primitive condition. An airplane flight, recommended if you can't come overland, provides the only easy way to see the scenic features here.
The names of erosional forms describe the landscape—Orange Cliffs, Golden Stairs, the Fins, Land of Standing Rocks, Lizard Rock, the Doll House, Chocolate Drops, the Maze, and Jasper Canyon. The many-fingered canyons of the Maze gave the district its name. Although not a true maze, these canyons give that impression. It is extremely important that you have a good map before entering this part of Canyonlands. National Geographic/Trails Illustrated makes a good one, called Canyonlands National Park Maze District, NE Glen Canyon NRA.
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area borders the Maze District on the west with scenic canyons, cliffs, rock monuments, and overlooks of its own. The Hans Flat Ranger Station (435/259-2652, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily) for the Maze District lies inside Glen Canyon NRA. (In winter the station may close, but a ranger is usually available.) There are no developed sources of water in the Maze District. Hikers can obtain water from springs in some canyons (ask a ranger which are flowing) or from the rivers; purify all water before drinking.
The Trails Illustrated topo map of the Maze District describes and shows the few roads and trails here; some routes and springs are marked on it, too. Agile hikers experienced in desert and canyon travel may want to take off on cross-country routes, which are either unmarked or lightly cairned. Extra care must be taken for preparation and travel in both Glen Canyon NRA and the Maze. Always talk with the rangers beforehand to find out current conditions. Be sure to leave an itinerary with someone reliable who can contact the rangers if you're overdue. Unless the rangers know where to look for you in case of breakdown or accident, a rescue could take weeks.
Dirt roads to the Hans Flat Ranger Station and Maze District branch off from Highway 24 (across from the Goblin Valley State Park turnoff) and Highway 95 (take the usually unmarked Hite/Orange Cliffs Road between the Dirty Devil and Hite bridges at Lake Powell). The easiest way in is the graded 46-mile road from Highway 24; it's fast, although sometimes badly corrugated. The Hite Road (also called Orange Cliffs Road) is longer, bumpier, and, for some drivers, tedious; it's 54 miles from the turnoff at Highway 95 to the Hans Flat Ranger Station via the Flint Trail. All roads to the Maze District cross Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. From Highway 24, two-wheel-drive vehicles with good clearance can travel to Hans Flat Ranger Station and other areas near, but not actually in, the Maze District. From the ranger station it takes at least three hours to drive into the canyons of the Maze.
One other way of getting to the Maze District is by river. Tex's Riverways (435/259-5101 or 877/662-2838, www.texsriverways.com, $110 per person) runs jet-boat shuttles on the Colorado River from Moab to the Spanish Bottom. After the two-hour boat ride, it's 1,260 feet uphill in a little over a mile to the Doll House (see Spanish Bottom Trail).
Hans Flat Ranger Station, and this peninsula that reaches out to the east and north, lie at an elevation of about 6,400 feet. Panoramas from North Point take in the vastness of Canyonlands, including the Maze, Needles, and Island in the Sky Districts. From Millard Canyon Overlook, just 0.9 mile past the ranger station, you can see arches, Cleopatra's Chair, and features as distant as the La Sal Mountains and Book Cliffs.
For the best views, drive out to Panorama Point, about 10.5 miles one-way from the ranger station. A spur road to the left goes two miles to Cleopatra's Chair, a massive sandstone monolith and area landmark. The trailhead for North Trail Canyon begins just down North Point Road (or 2.4 miles from the ranger station).
Two-wheel-drive vehicles can usually reach this spot, where hikers can follow the trail down seven miles (1,000-foot elevation change) through the Orange Cliffs, follow four-wheel-drive roads six miles to the Maze Overlook Trail, and then one more mile into a canyon of the Maze. Because North Point belongs to the Glen Canyon NRA, you can camp on it without a permit.
Land of Standing Rocks
Here, in the heart of the Maze District, strange-shaped rock spires stand guard over myriad canyons. Six camping areas offer scenic places to stay (permit needed). Hikers have a choice of many ridge and canyon routes from the four-wheel-drive road, a trail to a confluence overlook, and a trail that descends to the Colorado River near Cataract Canyon.
The well-named Chocolate Drops can be reached by a hiking route from the Wall near the beginning of the Land of Standing Rocks. A good day hike makes a loop from Chimney Rock to the Harvest Scene pictographs; take the ridge route (toward Petes Mesa) one direction and the canyon fork northwest of Chimney Rock the other. Follow your topo map through the canyons and the cairns between the canyons and ridge. Other routes from Chimney Rock lead to lower Jasper Canyon (no river access) or into Shot and Water Canyons and on to the Green River.
Tall, rounded rock spires near the end of the road reminded early visitors of dolls, hence the name Doll House. The Doll House makes a delightful place to explore in itself, or you can head out on routes and trails.
Spanish Bottom Trail (2.4 miles round-trip) begins here, then drops steeply to Spanish Bottom beside the Colorado River; a thin trail leads downstream into Cataract Canyon and the first of a long series of rapids. Surprise Valley Overlook Trail (3 miles round-trip) branches right off the Spanish Bottom Trail after about 300 feet and winds south past some dolls to a T junction (turn right for views of Surprise Valley, Cataract Canyon, and beyond). The trail ends at some well-preserved granaries.
The Colorado/Green River Overlook Trail (10 miles round-trip) heads north from the Doll House to a viewpoint of the confluence. See the area's Trails Illustrated map for routes, trails, and roads.
Getting to the Land of Standing Rocks takes some careful driving, especially on a three-mile stretch above Teapot Canyon. The many washes and small canyon crossings here make for slow going. Short-wheelbase vehicles have the easiest time, as usual. The turnoff for Land of Standing Rocks Road is 6.6 miles from the junction at the bottom of the Flint Trail via a wash shortcut (add about three miles if driving via the four-way intersection).
This overlook sits at the edge of the sinuous canyons of the Maze. You can stay at primitive camping areas (backcountry permit needed) and enjoy the views. Maze Overlook Trail drops one mile into the South Fork of Horse Canyon; a rope helps to lower packs in a difficult section. Once in the canyon you can walk around to the Harvest Scene, a group of prehistoric pictographs, or do a variety of day hikes or backpacks. These canyons have water in some places; check with the ranger when getting your permits. At least four routes connect with the four-wheel-drive road in Land of Standing Rocks (see the Trails Illustrated map). Hikers can also climb Petes Mesa from the canyons or head downstream to explore Horse Canyon (a dry fall blocks access to the Green River, however).
Hikers can descend this steep foot trail (4 miles round-trip) to the Land of Standing Rocks Road in a fraction of the time it takes for drivers to follow roads. The trail offers good views of Ernies Country and the Fins but lacks shade or water. The upper trailhead is east two miles from the road junction at the bottom of the Flint Trail.
Just before the end of the Land of Standing Rocks Road, at the Doll House trailhead, this trail (2.4 miles round-trip) drops 1,260 feet to Spanish Bottom beside the Colorado River. A thin trail leads downstream into Cataract Canyon and the first of a long series of rapids. If you've boated into the Maze District, you'll be taking this steep hike uphill.
Flint Trail 4WD Road
The narrow, rough, four-wheel-drive Flint Trail 4WD Road connects the Hans Flat area with the Maze Overlook, Doll House, and other areas below. The road, driver, and vehicle should all be in good condition before driving it. Winter snow and mud close the road late December-March, as can rainstorms anytime. Check conditions first with a ranger. If you're starting from the top, stop at the signed overlook just before the descent to scout for vehicles headed up (the Flint Trail has very few places to pass). The top of the Flint Trail is 14 miles south of Hans Flat Ranger Station; at the bottom, 2.8 nervous miles later, you can turn left and continue two miles to the Golden Stairs Trailhead or 12.7 miles to the Maze Overlook; keep straight and go 28 miles to the Doll House or 39 miles to Highway 95.
The Maze District has nine camping areas (two at Maze Overlook, seven at Land of Standing Rocks) with a 15-person, three-vehicle limit. A $15 backcountry permit is needed for these or for backpacking. Note that a backcountry permit in this district is not a reservation—you may have to share a site with someone else, especially in the popular spring months. Also, as in the rest of the park, only designated sites can be used for vehicle camping. You don't need a permit to camp in the Glen Canyon NRA or on BLM land.
© W.C. McRae and Judy Jewell from Moon Utah, 9th Edition