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Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park: Golden Stairs-Sweet Alice Loop

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

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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

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 49.4



Location: 38.143867, -110.08313

Golden Stairs Trailhead: Hike east up the China Neck


Location: 38.143799, -110.077187

Plateau rim


Location: 38.135715, -110.078903

Road; turn left


Location: 38.139568, -110.070686

Range Canyon Trailhead: This trailhead is unsigned. Small rectangle of rock sits just beneath twin pinnacles The Mother and Child. Start counter-clockwise loop.


Location: 38.134418, -110.062614

Range Canyon. Turn left for short out-and-back to spring


Location: 38.1357, -110.061134

Lou’s Spring, a developed cowboy spring with reliable water and catchment tank


Location: 38.132717, -110.060349

Trail leaves wash


Location: 38.133049, -110.047333

Continue east


Location: 38.132732, -110.040016

Small potholes sometimes hold water


Location: 38.13335, -110.019981

Turn L into Sand Tank Canyon


Location: 38.136333, -110.02108

Turn L into sidecanyon of Sand Tank Creek


Location: 38.139668, -110.02552

Dryfall blocks passage up canyon fork


Location: 38.13905, -110.024918

Slab climb detours around impassable dry fall


Location: 38.138351, -110.025764

Excellent campsite


Location: 38.142834, -110.033134

Small arch and porhole at upper reach of canyon fork, possible water source in wetter seasons; return to Waypoint FNT011 and hike north up main canyon


Location: 38.144966, -110.017067

Possible water during wetter seasons in miniature slot canyon, center of wash


Location: 38.146198, -110.017464

Superb views of fins, good campsites


Location: 38.15456, -110.010246

Continue north


Location: 38.161865, -110.007263

Possible water from spring and pool hidden inside small rock arch


Location: 38.165066, -110.012184

End Canyon: No exit. Backtrack to FNT010 and turn left.


Location: 38.131966, -110.017136

Well-cairned trail leaves Sand Tank Canyon to east.


Location: 38.138882, -110.007484

Very subtle trail leaves wash, following scant cairns to east-northeast


Location: 38.151066, -109.993431

Potholes, possible water in wetter seasons


Location: 38.154316, -109.9907

Standing Rock pinnacle becomes visible ahead. You’ll meet the Standing Rock road just east of it.


Location: 38.169483, -109.988747

Follow canyon all the way until it dead ends in cliffs and three distinct forks. Follow right hand/east fork. Several slickrock potholes at junction may hold water.


Location: 38.168335, -109.987297

Canyon Rim. Find faint trails across slickrock to east


Location: 38.168098, -109.986351

Scramble up 20-foot cliff to next level of rim. Turn north and avoid cryptogamic soils by hugging rim


Location: 38.175968, -109.988297

Standing Rock Road–Standing Rock pinnacle sits some 300 yds to east. From here, pickup second car, mountain bike, or hike road 9 miles back to FNT004.

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