Hayduke Trail Days 1 and 2: Marches through Arches and Moov’in and Grooving

The Daily Neat Beat

Day 1
Total Miles: 8.1
Cumulative Miles: 8.1
Dark blue line shows the hike the first day which starts at the north boundary of Arches

The Hayduke “Trail” (or more acccurately described as a route) begins on the north side of Arches National Park in a broad open valley with sagebrush that is upheld on two sides by rock walls.  I chuckle to myself as we get ready to begin the hike. It is already so different than the last two thru hikes we’ve done. Two summers ago when we started the John Muir Trail in California, my family flew out from Illinois, Michigan and Ohio to see us off. In the busy and hot Yosemite Valley they gave us a great send off.  Even clapping for us as we started down the trail. Then last summer we had several good friends get up bright and early to see us off in Denver, Colorado as we made our way in the dawn down the spine of the Rockies on the Colorado Trail.

This time at the beginning of the Hayduke Trail, I look around and see cows.  Our send off party for the Hayduke Trail is a bunch of cows. What does this say about this hike??
Our “send off “ party for the start of our Hayduke hike
The Hayduke Trail starts at the boundary of Arches National Park on the northwest side

On top of a send off party that is is busy chewing it’s cud instead of cheering us on, there is no sign to mark the beginning of the trail or any part of the trail for that matter.  You see, the Hayduke Trail is a parch work of mostly off-trail routes that wind around through Arches, Canyonlands, Capital Reef, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks.  It’s path does not go straight or seem to have any goal. 

A map of the 800-mile Hayduke Trail from the hayduketrail.org website

It winds around through canyons and mesas for 800 miles. We expect it to take us about 2 months to hike with an extra 13 days to shuttle vehicles between sections. Unlike the John Muir Trail or the Colorado Trail, we don’t expect to have trail buddies. About 3,000 people per year hike the John Muir Trail, about 400 people per year hike the Colorado Trail and only a few dozen per year hike the Hayduke Trail. And, those several dozen are split between Spring and Fall.  It’s a lonely ride.

Our plan for the first 2 days is essentially to hike through Arches National Park and come out just north of Moab where we will have our second vehicle parked. We will then take a day in Moab to shuttle vehicles and taking a vehicle down to the Needles District in Canyonlands for the second section which will take us from Moab to Canyonlands.
We start off down the road in the broad sage valley and cut across to the red sandstone ridge. 
Ray cutting across Salt Valley with the Dark Angel spire on the ridge to the right

We hike up the ridge towards the Dark Angel. Dark Angel is a distinctive spire on the horizon and it boldly pierces the landscape as if to lead the arches behind it on the ridge in a parade. As we work our way up through the ledges towards the Dark Angel it feels like we are alone out here. But that changes as soon as we get close to Dark Angel.

Petroglyphs in Arches National Park

We spot a petroglyph panel that we didn’t know was here and we take a break as we ponder their meaning. These petroglyphs had a lot of figures with horns on their heads. A very interesting panel.

Dark Angel is about 150 feet high

The Dark Angel is at the end of the Primitive Loop Trail which begins at the Devil’s Garden Trail Trailhead. It is a popular 2.34 mile hike and we soon join the crowds as we head toward the Devil Garden Campground where we have a reserved campsite for the night. On the way down we see a few of the arches which are incredible to see in person.

Double O Arch

Landscape Arch

People look at us a little funny as we have backpacks and this is a day hike trail where some are wearing shorts and samples  and nothing else. I tell one guy who asks why we have such big packs that we are hiking the Hayduke Trail. He gives me a blank stare and then says he had Coronal Arch all to himself for an hour and a half and asks me if I have seen all the arches. There is some irony here and I have to chuckle to myself. We arrive early at the campground where we are happy to have water we don’t have to filter and a picnic table! Luxuries the first day out.

Campsite at Devil’s Garden Campground in Arches National Park. 
Day 2
Total Miles: 19.54
Cumulative Miles: 28
Day 2 of our Hayduke Trail is in light blue
When I was planning for this trip, Arches National Park was not issuing backcountry permits (this has recently changed but still very limited). Their reasoning was that only 3% of the people that visit Arches go into the backcountry and because of limited resources they decided to not issue permits. So today we are planning to hike through the rest of the park and out to Moab where we will arrange our next shuttle to hike from Moab to the Needles District in Canyonlands.
This means a long day of 19+ miles so we get up early to get going. There is a beautiful glow on the rock fins as as we get started. This is such a beautiful area.
Beautiful Glow on the rock fins in the early morning light

We also take a quick detour to see Sand Dune Arch. It is quiet as it is still too early for people to be out hiking around the arches.

Sand Dune Arch

After visiting Sand Dune Arch we head to the pipeline where we will follow it across the valley, cut cross country to a gpx route from Nic Barth where we will drop into the lower half of Courthouse Wash and hike out to Moab.

Ray walking along the pipeline across Arches National Park

After walking the pipeline to the fence line, we take a bearing and head cross country to a route that drops down into Courthouse Wash. Most of the routes we are using are from Nic Barth, a geologist who has made his Hayduke gpx files available on his website. We are using the Gaia App on the phone and as a backup hard copy topo maps with route information from Andrew Skurka.

Courthouse Wash is a beautiful end to the hike and has flowing water in the lower part which is so nice to experience after hiking cross country through the sand. Arches National Park has been a good start to our trip.
Courthouse Wash



  1. As we have always used the bovine population or as we affectionately refer to them “les moos” as our trip delineators….being the only apparent wild life on the Euro-continent and the most common friend of the field here, we consider your send off a tremendous sign of good luck! Happy travels my friends.

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