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For years I have wanted to explore the American Southwest, with its iconic walls, rock formations, and mesas. But as a college student I’ve always struggled to get out there, due to the summertime heat and aridity.
This year, however, record snowpack in the Four Corners kept the region wet later in the season. So I marked my calendar for a section-hike of the Hayduke Trail.
What is the Hayduke Trail?
The Hayduke Trail is not a trail. Rather, it’s an 800-mile network of standalone trails, dirt roads, and off-trail segments that form a semi-cohesive route. It was pioneered in the late-1990’s by Joe Mitchell and Mike Coronella, who spent hundreds of days exploring the region.
The name “Hayduke” pays homage to the main character in The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey, a fictional story that takes place in this region.
In the original guidebook, the Hayduke Trail is broken into fourteen sections, the start and finish of which is relatively accessible.
What Will I See?
As the founders explain it, the Hayduke Trail is, “not intended to be the most direct route, but rather, to showcase the stunning beauty of the southwestern United States.” I would concur. The route starts and finishes in a National Park and passes through two more along the way, in addition to three National Monuments.
Recommended Direction and Spring Challenges
The Hayduke is traditionally hiked westbound, starting in Arches National Park and finishing in Zion National Park, since the western half of the route receives more and later snowfall than the eastern half.
Sections of the route that are most likely to be snowbound in the spring include:
- Mt. Ellen (Section 5)
- Bryce Canyon National Park (Section 9)
- Kaibab Plateau (Section 10 and parts of Section 11, as well as Section 13)
- Zion National Park (Section 14)
The HDT is about 800 miles long. Strong hikers can complete it in 40 to 50 days by averaging 16 to 20 miles per day, including rest days and excluding delays for travel or weather. The sweet spot for section-hikes is 1 to 2 weeks, which is enough time to find your rhythm, connect with the trail, and have a resupply or two.
Unless you are a hardened thru-hiker with a track record, I would allow for one zero-day per week. The Hayduke passes through rough country, and the sun is intense — both take their toll.
Build some cushion for travel delays if you must hitch, bus, or shuttle to/from a regional airport. It’s stressful to be racing against the clock.
The Hayduke rewards fast hikers with frequent water sources, which are generally spread out. If you can cover large distances quickly, you can avoid caching water beforehand and you can reduce water loads between sources.
Miles on the Hayduke are of two varieties: fast and slow. Fast miles are on dirt roads, flat mesas, and sandy canyon bottoms. Slow miles involve tricky climbs out of and descents into canyons, brushy bushwhacks, dicey slickrock scrambles, and cryptic off-trail navigation.
Andrew’s advice to me was to estimate your “Hayduke” mileage as 75% of your normal “trail” mileage. I think that’s a pretty good estimate. On the Hayduke I averaged around 23 miles per day in 12-14 hours, with around 1500-2500′ of elevation gain per day. My normal “trail” mileage would be closer to 30 miles with 3,000-4,000′ per day, so there is a clear downtick for the Hayduke.
When to go
To keep the Hayduke safe and fun, you must time your hike to balance temperatures and water availability.
In the winter, there is ample water but freezing cold conditions.
In the summer, it’s dry and wickedly hot.
The sweet spot is March through May: there is still enough water, but temperatures are manageable.
I hiked in May 2019. High temperatures were in the 80’s, but with low humidity I found it pleasant. At night the temperatures dropped into the 40’s or 50’s, depending on the elevation.
Below I’ve included normal monthly temperature and precipitation data for three locations:
- Phantom Ranch, AZ, as an example of the hottest parts of the Hayduke;
- Bryce Canyon, UT, as an example of the coldest parts of the Hayduke;
- Hanksville, UT, as a location in between.
For snowpack, contact backcountry rangers and local outfitters with pointed questions. Also consult NOAA’s Interactive Snow Information Map.
For water, use Andrew’s Hayduke Trail Bundle, which includes a water sheet. Later in the season and/or after dry winters, you may need to cache water. As a precaution, always be skeptical of water availability.
For both thru- and section-hikers, reaching the Hayduke Trail can be challenging. The route begins in a remote part of Arches National Park, and it travels through some of the least inhabited and developed regions of the country.
1. Dig Through Your Contacts. . . Find Those Friends
For my section-hike of the Hayduke, I relied heavily on friends who lived or were travelling in the area to meet me at remote trailheads and provide me with my resupply. This was a nice luxury to have. I would mail my resupply package to them and specify the meet-up location with a shared Google Maps pin. We would meet up at the pin, exchange the resupply, and keep on going.
For many of my past trips I’ve relied heavily on Rome2Rio as a search engine for getting to and from remote trailheads (see my blog post). Enter your origin and destination, and Rome2Rio will show you options of how to get there using planes, trains, and automobiles.
For much of the Hayduke, Rome2Rio will not get you much, simply telling you that driving by yourself or private shuttle are the only options.
Unfortunately, public transportation throughout the desert southwest is not well established. It’s remote, open country.
Private shuttle services are available for hire, particularly near towns like Moab, St. George, the Grand Canyon, etc. They are expensive, but allow you a great amount of flexibility. Some private shuttle services include:
Backcountry or wilderness permits are required by some land agencies. Each system is different.
Permits are issued in person at the Arches National Park Visitor Center up to 7 days beforehand.
“You can make a reservation no more than four months, and no less than two days, before the permit start date. For very popular sites, you may have to make a reservation at midnight mountain time, exactly four months before the start date. ” – courtesy Canyonlands NP website
“All backcountry users are required to have a free permit. Hayduke Trail hikers, please email the park for information related to permits for the section of the trail within Capitol Reef National Park.” – courtesy Capitol Reef NP website
“A Backcountry Permit is required for all overnight stays in the backcountry. Permits may be purchased at the Visitor Center from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.”- courtesy Bryce Canyon NP website
The Grand Canyon recieves heavy backcountry traffic. Thankfully, the Hayduke is usually in remote areas, so the permits are not in-demand like the main corridors. Still, apply early.
Overnight stays in the backcountry require a permit, which can be reserved up to 3 months ahead of time. Walk-up permits are available up to one day ahead of time.
“A backcountry permit is required for overnight stays in the Escalante District of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.”
As mentioned, applying early only helps your chances of securing the necessary permits. Often times your permits can be modified if your trip dates change. Many national park rangers understand what “hiking the Hayduke” entails, and will allow for a greater level of flexibility when applying for permits. That said, do not count on their generosity.
Southern Utah and northern Arizona are lightly inhabited, and there are few outposts of civilization. The Hayduke passes through only a few towns, and it only occasionally crosses paved roads. Your best bet will be friends in the area (if you have any) and locals, as well as a few self-supply opportunities:
Moab, UT (section 1)
Section 1 passes directly through Moab, UT, where there are grocery stores, a US post office, and many other supplies and services. This is an easy resupply, but very early into the trip.
Hite, UT and Hanksville, UT (section 4)
Section 4 takes you past Hite, UT, where there is a general store with some basic provisions for hikers, such as trail mix, granola bars, etc. You will NOT have cell service in Hite.
The end of Section 4 is along Utah State Route 95, a short hitchhike from Hanksville, UT, which has a grocery store, post office, a few restaurants, and other services.
Henrieville, UT and Cannonville, UT (section 7)
The end of Section 7 gets you close to the small towns of Henrieville, UT and Cannonville, UT. Both have a US post office, a few motels and lodges. Not much else.
Jacob Lake, AZ (section 10)
Section 10 intersects plenty of dirt roads, US Hwy 89A, as well as the town of Jacob Lake, AZ. There is a Chevron gas station and the Jacob Lake Inn in Jacob Lake.
Keep in mind that the road to the North Rim from Jacob Lake does not open until May 15 most years, so check for closures. This may not impact your ability to hike, but may affect the availability of resources in the area and the ease of hitchhiking.
Grand Canyon, AZ (section 12 & 13)
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon has a full grocery store and plenty of lodging and campgrounds, but you need to hike up and out for them. There is a basic mess hall at Phantom Ranch just as you pass over the Colorado River; meals and food are very expensive here though. You could probably mail your package to Phantom Ranch, but would likely pay a pretty penny to do so, as all supplies are carried down by mule to Phantom Ranch.
Basic snacks and beverages are available for purchase on the North Rim in the North Rim village; keep in mind that the North Rim Village does not normally open until May 15. The Grand Canyon Lodge receives packages and has a full store, as well as laundry, but does not open until May 15 most years.
Colorado City, AZ and Zion NP (section 14)
Section 14 will take you near Colorado City, AZ, where there are a few restaurants, lodging options, and places to purchase groceries and supplies. Section 14 ends in the heart of Zion National Park, where there are free park shuttles to visitors centers and other services.
Gear for the Hayduke will vary greatly depending on what time of year you decide to attempt the route. Earlier in the season, you will be dealing with cold; later, the heat. So packing will vary. A few year-round conditions that should be accounted for are:
Your clothes, shelter, and sleeping bag will likely get sandy — the entire region is made of the stuff. Often times you can just shake it out or off, but keep it in mind. Especially consider sand when choosing your footwear; consider that highly breathable shoes with porous membranes will quickly fill with loose, powder-like sand.
Much of the Hayduke is set on vast desert plateaus, which can mean high winds, especially during the stormier months of February and March. Keep wind in mind when choosing your shelter. If you opt for a conventional tent, consider that you may be pitching your tent in loose sand. If you opt for a tarp of some kind, consider how you will pitch the tarp in loose sand, and consider your tarp geometry.
Water will be sparse, which will mean that you will often be carrying most of your weight in water. I often carried around 3-4 L, or around 6-7 lbs of water.
Challenges and requisite skills
Review your map and compass skills
Much of the Hayduke is overland, off-trail travel. You will need to be comfortable following landmarks, such as canyon washes and rivers, as opposed to trail blazes.
Get comfortable with scrambling
When travelling through canyons you will need to scramble up and down pour-offs, many of which are Class 3, some of which can verge on Class 4.
Understand you will likely be alone
It’s unlikely you will see many people on the HDT, especially during the more remote sections outside of frequently trafficked areas like national parks. Unlike the AT, which sees thousands of hikers every year, the HDT might see one hundred per year, and that’s probably an overestimate.
Get ready for bushwhacking, river crossings, and lots of mud
The Hayduke can be rough; there will be sections where you will have to cross rivers and streams, push through dense brush, and slosh through thick mud that verges on quicksand.
- The Hayduke Trail: A Guide to the Backcountry Hiking Trail on the Colorado Plateau by Joe Mitchell and Mike Coronella
- Facebook Groups
- Blogs from former HDT hikers
More resources are also available on the Hayduke Trail website under Resources.