Start: Chimney Rock Trailhead
Distance: 8.7 miles; loop
Maps: Trails Illustrated Canyonlands National Park and USGS Spanish Bottom
Finding the trailhead: From Hans Flat Ranger Station, drive 2.5 miles to the Panorama Point junction and take a right (south) onto Gordon Flats Road. After 12.1 miles turn left (east) and head down the Flint Trail switchbacks for 2.8 miles to Maze Overlook Road, where you take a right (south). Follow this road through Waterhole Flat for 3.5 miles to a four-way junction with Doll House Road. Turn left (northeast) and head for the Doll House and Land of Standing Rocks. The map might show a cutoff trail where it looks like you can save some time, but this is deceptively incorrect. You actually can make faster time on the longer route because of the excellent roads in this section. Once on Doll House Road, stay on it for 17.1 miles to Chimney Rock Camp. At the east end of the camp, you find a parking area and a major trailhead. The trails aren’t signed, but watch for strings of cairns heading off on each side of Chimney Rock, which mark the two trails you want for the Harvest Scene loop.
Trailhead GPS coordinates: 38.186419, -109.974434
The trail goes to one of the most famous rock art sites in the world, Harvest Scene. Plus it passes through two beautiful canyons indicative of hiking terrain that has made the Maze so popular. The difference is that you’re on designated routes instead of off-trail canyon routes.
Although the routes are designated and marked by cairns, this hike is not for beginners. It requires some steep climbs and experience in following routes marked only (and sometime sparsely) with cairns. Most of the trail goes over slickrock or follows canyon washes, and there are several side canyons quite capable of confusing the hiker. Cairns mark the trail, but backpackers sometimes set up unofficial cairns to mark the location of their camp and cairns sometimes fall down, so you must be able to find the correct way on your own. Keep your topo map in hand all the way, constantly noting your location.
This trail description follows the counterclockwise route, not because it’s easier but because it’s slightly less confusing at one critical spot where you turn out of one canyon and into another. To take the counterclockwise route, start on the trail just east of Chimney Rock. Be careful not to start on a trail on the far east end of the parking area. This is an off-trail route up Shot and Water Canyons.
The first section of trail stays on top of a slickrock ridge between two unnamed canyons. In some sections the cairns are sparse, so stay alert. To your right you can see into precipitous Jasper Canyon, which is closed to all entry to preserve a unique biological resource.
At the 3.5-mile mark, the trail takes a sharp left and makes a steep but safe descent into the dry wash of an unnamed canyon. This is the most confusing stretch of the hike, so keep the topo map out and note your progress carefully. There are at least three side canyons that could get you lost.
After a mile walk in this canyon, you reach a major junction of canyons. It’s not an exaggeration to say that canyons head off in every direction.
You need to take the sharp left into an unnamed canyon and head for the Harvest Scene (named on most maps). If there’s any doubt in your mind, backtrack or take the extra time to make sure you’re headed in the right direction.
Any doubts you have will be erased after about a half mile when you see the spectacular Harvest Scene rock art panel on your left. (Just before you get to Harvest Scene, you get a good view of the massive Chocolate Drops formation on the canyon rim near the Maze Overlook Camps.)
Like other rock art panels, the Harvest Scene is an extremely precious treasure, so don’t touch or damage the rock art in any way. It has lasted 3,000 years, and if all park visitors treat it with exceptional care, it might last another 3,000.
After taking a break at Harvest Scene, continue south down the unnamed Maze canyon, a side canyon to sprawling Horse Canyon. Again, keep the topo map out to make sure you don’t accidentally get in the wrong canyon.
Both canyons you follow on this hike have intermittent and unreliable water sources. On many spring hikes you can see little gemlike pools with their biotic communities of snails, worms, and water striders.
After a pleasant 3-mile walk up Petroglyph Fork, you climb up to the canyon rim. This is a fairly steep but short climb. From this point it’s an easy mile or so on slickrock back to Chimney Rock.
Backpacking in Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park offers a spectrum of backpacking opportunities — from short trips at designated backcountry campsites to longer, adventurous trips that require extensive planning and desert canyon navigational knowledge.