Canyonlands Packrafting Rough Draft

Desertratgal

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Apr 18, 2022
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I plan on doing a 5-6 day solo packrafting trip in Canyonlands in the next few weeks. I am currently working out potential routes and I wanted to share what I have so far and get some feedback. This is an overview: I would start in Island in the Sky, float to the Maze, then come out in the Needles.
Screen Shot 2022-05-06 at 12.22.39 PM.png

Day 1 I would hike the 10 miles down Lathrop Trail, then take Lathrop Canyon Rd to get to the Colorado River where I would camp for the night.
Screen Shot 2022-05-06 at 12.24.24 PM.png

Day 2 and 3 would be spent rafting down to Spanish Bottom. It is 30 miles to get there, so I will be doing around 15 each day.

Day 4 would be a day in the Maze! I have read reports of people caching their main gear at Spanish Bottom and heading up with the essentials for a day hike, but that worries me a little bit. I was also not seeing much guidance in terms of the best spots to check out in the Maze, so the 10 mile loop on the map below is what I came up with. Let me know if there is a better way to see the Maze in a day from Spanish Bottom.
Screen Shot 2022-05-06 at 12.24.00 PM.png

Day 5: Cross the River and take Red Lake Canyon Trail into the Needles. From there I planned to hike to Elephant Hill TH to finish my hike, while taking a short detour towards Chesler Park. This route is also 10 miles. If I am missing any must-see views in that area that I could re-route to see, let me know. I am not set on lending at the Elephant Hill TH.
Screen Shot 2022-05-06 at 12.23.39 PM.png

That concludes the rough draft. This plan only includes 5 days, which brings up the possibility of another night. I don't live too far from the Needles, so I think it would be worth it most to do a night in the Maze rather than the Needles. If anyone has ideas towards 12-20 miles of the Maze I could do as an overnight (coming from Spanish Bottom) let me know.

I'm all ears towards what you all think of this route, especially those who know the park well; I have only visited Island in the Sky.

Side note: I have looked into the Figure 8 and it's a bit more than what I want to take on for a solo trip. My limits are around 10 miles of hiking or 20 miles of paddling in a day.
 

RyanP

Formerly bob32
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Honestly, that day hike in the maze is just scratching the surface there, and doesn't really get to the best parts of the Maze IMO. If it were me, I would either spend that extra day in the Needles, or do a trip more centered around the Maze so that you can spend more time there. But if you really want to do an overnighter in the maze, one option would be to head over to the spring in water canyon (verify that it has water beforehand!) and camp there, and then on day 2 you could head up Shot Canyon to the top (near chimney rock) and then return to Spanish bottom via the road. I'm assuming you have the permits for this?
 

Desertratgal

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Honestly, that day hike in the maze is just scratching the surface there, and doesn't really get to the best parts of the Maze IMO. If it were me, I would either spend that extra day in the Needles, or do a trip more centered around the Maze so that you can spend more time there. But if you really want to do an overnighter in the maze, one option would be to head over to the spring in water canyon (verify that it has water beforehand!) and camp there, and then on day 2 you could head up Shot Canyon to the top (near chimney rock) and then return to Spanish bottom via the road. I'm assuming you have the permits for this?
Thank you, this is the type of feedback I was hoping for! I have been eyeing the Shot to Water canyon option and floating back down to SB, but information on the route is minimal, which worries me. I'll be going solo, and I have read mentions of some tricky spots, but information isn't consistent. I'll be giving the Rangers a call Monday, but they don't always know their land as much as you'd think. Do you have any info on that portion of the hike?

Also, I have my permits!
 

RyanP

Formerly bob32
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No problem! What you mention is a different route (which would also probably be fun), and like you said, a trickier one. I was mentioning hiking up Shot Canyon to chimney rock, then hiking back on the road to the doll house and then to Spanish bottom.
 

b.stark

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I'd much rather at least head over toward the confluence overlook in the Maze rather than the route you have drawn. Water and shot canyons are pretty cool. The exit out of Shot canyon is fun.

Be sure to get permits and follow rules in the Maze. I've never seen so many backcountry rangers anywhere else, and they were very aware of what groups were expected in the backcountry.
 

Desertratgal

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I'd much rather at least head over toward the confluence overlook in the Maze rather than the route you have drawn. Water and shot canyons are pretty cool. The exit out of Shot canyon is fun.

Be sure to get permits and follow rules in the Maze. I've never seen so many backcountry rangers anywhere else, and they were very aware of what groups were expected in the backcountry.
Really great info, thank you! I've been suggested by another person to re-route the Maze portion towards the confluence overlook too, so I'll definitely be doing that. I am eyeing the trail from the confluence overlook to Water Canyon, and toying the idea of coming out to the River through Water Canyon and floating back down to SB, but a bit worried about getting through Water Canyon to the river. Info online is limited about the route, and what I have heard doesn't seem easy. Do you know anything about that route?
 

b.stark

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Really great info, thank you! I've been suggested by another person to re-route the Maze portion towards the confluence overlook too, so I'll definitely be doing that. I am eyeing the trail from the confluence overlook to Water Canyon, and toying the idea of coming out to the River through Water Canyon and floating back down to SB, but a bit worried about getting through Water Canyon to the river. Info online is limited about the route, and what I have heard doesn't seem easy. Do you know anything about that route?

Unfortunately I can't help you much with the water canyon route, at least not with any specific info. Back when I did hike in the Maze I remember reading about that route but now I can't remember anything more than that. Actually had some info on it at one point but can't seem to find it.
 

regehr

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for what it's worth, here's a page from the Kelsey Canyonlands book that mentions Water C. sounds a little sketch.

20220508222026_001.jpg
 

IntrepidXJ

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I have not hiked downstream Water Canyon from the ledge spring, but my understanding is that it's not too difficult, unlike the upper end of Water Canyon to Chimney Rock is (which I just hiked a couple weeks ago and it wasn't bad, just one tricky ledge). According to David Day's book, this is what he says about the lower section of Water Canyon:

"There is a primitive trail that follows Water Canyon all the way to the Green River. The distance from the spring to the river is only 2.1 miles, but the elevation loss is 750 ft. If you are careful the route is not particularly dangerous, but it is very steep and rocky."

I have found his descriptions pretty accurate and if you look at Google Earth you can see a trail the entire way.
 

Desertratgal

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I have not hiked downstream Water Canyon from the ledge spring, but my understanding is that it's not too difficult, unlike the upper end of Water Canyon to Chimney Rock is (which I just hiked a couple weeks ago and it wasn't bad, just one tricky ledge). According to David Day's book, this is what he says about the lower section of Water Canyon:

"There is a primitive trail that follows Water Canyon all the way to the Green River. The distance from the spring to the river is only 2.1 miles, but the elevation loss is 750 ft. If you are careful the route is not particularly dangerous, but it is very steep and rocky."

I have found his descriptions pretty accurate and if you look at Google Earth you can see a trail the entire way.
That sounds doable! Thank you!
 

Stephanie B

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For what it's worth, when we were camped at the Doll House a ranger out there wasn't very encouraging as far as hiking to the confluence. She said you have to hike beyond what's indicated on maps and even then it's hard to see. So we didn't bother. Perhaps others on this site who've made the hike can comment.
 

b.stark

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It would be a reasonably challenging dayhike out and back from the Dollhouse, too much for some. We made it from Spanish Bottom to the confluence overlook on day 1 of our hike (I stopped a bit short, for reasons I regret) but we did camp in the area of the confluence overlook. So we made it there with packs full of food and enough water to get us to Water Canyon on day 2.

It is correct that the confluence overlook proper is beyond what is on the map, but it's not terribly far, and that last bit is not the most challenging part of the hike. I recall it being marked with cairns.
 

John Morrow

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For what it's worth, when we were camped at the Doll House a ranger out there wasn't very encouraging as far as hiking to the confluence. She said you have to hike beyond what's indicated on maps and even then it's hard to see. So we didn't bother. Perhaps others on this site who've made the hike can comment.

can't say I agree with that ranger, I liked the views, though the confluence itself wasn't fully visible:

Green/Colorado confluence overlook by John Morrow, on Flickr


Spanich Bottom below, Maze District by John Morrow, on Flickr
 

Desertratgal

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It would be a reasonably challenging dayhike out and back from the Dollhouse, too much for some. We made it from Spanish Bottom to the confluence overlook on day 1 of our hike (I stopped a bit short, for reasons I regret) but we did camp in the area of the confluence overlook. So we made it there with packs full of food and enough water to get us to Water Canyon on day 2.

It is correct that the confluence overlook proper is beyond what is on the map, but it's not terribly far, and that last bit is not the most challenging part of the hike. I recall it being marked with cairns.
This is good to know, I think I was overestimating what would actually be doable in a day. I've revised my route, and now I will be hiking from SB to the confluence, then camp near the spring in Water Canyon (~7 miles). The next day I'll finish hiking out of Water Canyon and float the Green back down to SB. If the ascent exhausts me more than expected, my plan B would be to just camp in the Dollhouse area for the night, and hike down the next day.
 

Desertratgal

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R@nger

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Maze Ranger here! Please keep in mind that this is just my personal thoughts/advice - I'm not officially representing the NPS in this comment.

David Day's description of the hike through Lower Water Canyon is still accurate. It is not a particularly difficult hike (for our standards) although it can be tough with a full pack on - some steep sections with loose pebbles and talus. I've always found it to be cairned well enough.

The Maze portion of your trip is doable in the time you have (I've done the same trip myself). However, while the ascent from Spanish Bottom is short it can be exhausting (>1,000 ft. elevation gain), so a backup plan is smart. Keep in mind that our regulations prohibit camping in the Doll House area or within 1 mile of a road. If you get to the Doll House and are too tired for the drop in via Water Canyon, please hike out past Beehive Arch to set up camp.

You mentioned camping near the spring - please make sure you're at least 300 feet away. Camping on water out here prevents other animals from utilizing those springs.

A couple important considerations about water: we've been shocked to see that due to drought and with increasing visitor demand, our springs - including Water Canyon - are in the worst condition we've seen in years. It's important for visitors to understand that springs and seeps are primarily for wildlife. As such, we are directing 3+ day backpackers to carry as much of their water in as possible, and strongly discourage overnight backpackers and vehicle campers to rely on springs and seeps. Simply put, there are no truly reliable backcountry water sources in the Maze aside from the rivers. Since you'll be at the river at some point on each of the two days, we'd greatly appreciate you carrying it in.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask - I've done a good deal of packrafting in the Maze area. I spend much of my time in the backcountry, but I try to check this account every now and then.
 
Last edited:

dennisrodman

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Mar 29, 2022
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Sounds fun! I agree with whoever above said to maybe spend more time in the Maze - as it is so inaccessible, if you DO have access to it I say take full advantage. I think if I only had a couple days, I'd go up Shot/Water canyon, fill up on water there, and then past Chimney rock to the Plug route down into the Maze and then to the Harvest scene, which I assume you want to see. The Plug route (does it have another name? By this I mean from the Plug, walking north on a trail not marked on all maps but easy to find, into the Maze). There is a part of that route that is easily one of the most spectacular scenes I have ever witness, where you're essentially on like, an isthmus in between two massive canyons. Hard to describe, but it did literally take my breath away.

I also would personally skip going to the confluence overlook. It's wonderful but in my opinion not as wild as what I mentioned above, and getting into more of the "heart" of the maze. Though the area between the Doll House and right before you drop down into Water canyon before the spring is absolutely nutso gorgeous too.
 
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