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Canyonlands National Park: Golden Stairs-Sweet Alice Loop

Outrageous spires and hidden springs highlight this 3-day loop through the Maze District.

Rating

Every spring, thousands of hikers and 4WD campers head into the Maze, drawn by Ed Abbey’s paeans to its remoteness and beauty. But most ignore the spectacular Fins country in the district’s southern end, with its imposing towers of banded sandstone. This 30.7-mile tour connects three lightly visited slickrock canyons in that area via sketchy trail, easy scrambles, and a fast return trek on a dirt road. Several reliable water sources make extended stays feasible, and you can tailor your challenge level by wandering to the many isolated ledges and spur canyons. The only hitch? You’ll need a 4WD vehicle to reach the Golden Stairs trailhead.
Your hike starts spectacularly as you cross the narrow stone ramp of China Neck, with dizzying views off either elbow, then wind 2 miles down the rugged Golden Stairs Trail to the Standing Rock jeep road. A short road mile leads to an unmarked parking area beneath twin redrock pinnacles known as Mother and Child. From here, a faint trail threads down into Range Canyon past a hidden Anasazi ruin and a historic cowboy water source called Lou’s Spring; then an established trail takes you through the tight hallway of the Chute before arrowing across open basins toward the distant Doll House.
 The big attraction, however, is a side trip into the forks of Sand Tank Canyon, both walled in by corkscrewing sandstone pinnacles banded in pink, orange, and white. Don’t hurry through this country; surprises and secluded nooks are everywhere. You can follow established trail east all the way to the Doll House, but a more interesting exit climbs from the upper reaches of Sweet Alice Canyon to deposit you on Standing Rock Road near its namesake formation. From there, it’s a fast 9-mile road walk back to the foot of the Golden Stairs Trail. You can complete this last section with a 4WD or mountain-bike shuttle, but Standing Rock Road is long and tortuous, even for the toughest vehicles.
Mapped by Steve Howe

To Trailhead

From the Maze District turnoff just south of Goblin Valley junction on UT 24, go 46 dirt miles east to the Hans Flat Ranger Station (open 9 to 4:30) and pick up your permit. Continue south 14 high-clearance miles to the 4WD Flint Trail, then descend 4 miles to the Golden Stairs trailhead.

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