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Backpacker Magazine – October 2008

Canyon Connections: Link Grand Canyon To Zion

Trek empty terrain all the way from the Grand Canyon to Zion.

by: Charlie Wood & Casey Lyons

Avoid flash floods by looking for debris on canyon walls (Mark Lisk).
Avoid flash floods by looking for debris on canyon walls (Mark Lisk).

The Hike
When we asked the creators of the 800-mile Hayduke Trail, which winds from Arches to Zion National Parks, to name their favorite section, the answer was easy: Sections 13 and 14, the final 157 miles of this long-trail tribute to Edward Abbey's cranky anti-hero. "No one hikes this surreal landscape if they're not on the Hayduke. You have the whole desert to yourself," says co-founder Joe Mitchell. Starting near Kaibab Lodge at the Grand Canyon's North Rim, you'll spend two weeks linking dirt roads, trailless open desert, wind- and water-carved sandstone, and confounding slot canyons. The section ends at Zion's wet and mossy Weeping Wall. Along they way, you'll cross the Kaibab Plateau through quaking aspen stands, ford the Colorado River in Saddle Canyon, skirt the aptly named Vermillion Cliffs, and scale 6,486-foot Cable Mountain–through some of the desert Southwest's most iconic scenery.

The Crux
Staying hydrated. The Hayduke links water sources (one every 20 miles on average), but the 38-mile section from Yellowstone Mesa (near Colorado City, Arizona) to the East Fork of the Virgin River (south of Zion NP) is completely dry.

The Key
Advanced scouting and supply caching. Thru-hiker Ryan Choi buried five-gallon plastic buckets along the waterless 38-mile stretch (at Yellowstone Road and Pine Spring), then wrote detailed descriptions, took photos, and entered corresponding waypoints into his GPS. Another valuable resource is the Arizona Game and Fish Wildlife Water-Catchment Map Book ($35,, which catalogs the state's "guzzlers"–troughs and springs that traditionally provide water for wildlife and cattle but work fine for parched hikers, too.

The Way
From Jacob Lake, Arizona, take AZ 67 south 43.7 miles to the Grand Canyon's North Rim Visitor Center. From St. George, Utah, take I-15 seven miles north to UT 9. Merge right, and head 18.4 miles to Kolob Rd., which leads 15.2 miles into Zion's Kolob Canyon Visitor Center.

Plan It
Check for current beta and maps. Read Hayduke Trail: A Guide to the Backcountry Hiking Trail on the Coloado Plateau ($20, University of Utah Press). And contact Deep Desert Adventures ( for resupply and shuttle assistance.

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Reader Rating: Star Star Star Star Star


Star Star Star Star Star
AZ Hiker
Apr 11, 2013

Sometimes getting lost can be easier than staying found and that's what makes short hikes the most dangerous. No matter how well they know the trail, many people never consider that they might end up unexpectedly spending the night outdoors or waiting for medical help --and so they hike without the essentials. Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart (Amazon) teaches essential day-hiking skills, items to pack, how to navigate your way with and without a map or compass, and how to get rescued. Learn to stay found by using a compass and paying attention to your surroundings. A compass doesn't need a signal or batteries and works in all types of weather but you need to know how to use it and this book makes learning how to use a compass easy. This book is for all ages --parents, friends, and children can learn together. It's a fast, easy read that could save your life and will definitely make your hike more safe and enjoyable!

May 10, 2012

The river crossings are before the North Rim in Sections 11 & 12 of the Hayduke Trail. The first crossing is by ferry and the second via the footbridge to Bright Angel. Technically, there is no fording of the Colorado River since you won't even get your feet wet.

Mike D.
May 10, 2012

Would you please explain how any route starting at the North Rim and ending in Zion could possibly include crossing the Colorado River?


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