Along with Island in the Sky and the Needles, the Maze makes up Canyonlands National Park. In addition the Orange Cliffs district of the Glen Canyon NRA is also managed by CNP.
The Maze is so remote and rugged that it receives only a small fraction of the park visitors. Unlike Island in the Sky and The Needles, The Maze doesn't even have a visitor center and the ranger station is a long drive along a dusty road. All the trailheads are lengthy 4wd endevours as well. Those who have been to the Maze will agree the area is worth the trouble.
Modern day explorers will be the latest in 10,000 years of visitors. Here you will find ancient pictographs, graneries, chirt quarries, and occasionally broken pottery and other artifacts. As inhospitable as it is, mankind found a way to live in the canyons. Be sure to seek out places like Harvest Scene to add something extra to your backpacking trip.
Perhaps the biggest draw is the geology. The landscape has been beautifully carved over time and it is almost difficult not to take great photos here. Besides the sheer cliffs over deep river gorges there are rock towers and even a few arches to be found.
The Maze is enjoyed by backpackers, campers, four-wheel drivers and mountain bikers (outside of the Maze proper), and whitewater rafting. It can be unbearably hot during summer so the best time to visit is during the spring or fall. Water is more available in the former.
For more information:
Hans Flat Ranger Station
Closed Christmas Day
Rough road to the trailhead
The Maze District is often described as one of the most remote backcountry destinations in the US.
The desertusa.com says it best: "A high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle is necessary for all Maze four-wheel-drive roads. Descending into the Maze requires traversing slopes of bentonite clay that are extremely slippery when wet and should not be attempted in poor conditions."
Visitors to the Maze District need to realize that not only will you travel long distances on infrequently travelled roads, once you reach the entrace/ranger station you still have a significant journey to the trailhead. That drive can be accomplished in factory stock high-clearance 4x4 vehicles, and I would bet some high-clearance 2wd vehicles could do it too. Expect a slow trip regardless of what you drive.
Make sure you leave civilization with sufficient gas.
Foremost, Jasper Canyon is completely closed to all forms of travel.
Next, permits are required for all overnight stays. The Park Service says, "During the spring and fall, demand for permits frequently exceeds the number available. If you plan to visit Canyonlands during peak season, it is recommended that you make reservations well in advance." That form is here
. Whether one really needs to reserve a spot for the Maze portion of the Canyonlands is debatable. Call 435.259.4351 (M-F 8-12:30 MST) or email firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance with trip planning. Groups are limited to 5 people (per permit).
Within the Maze proper, camping is "at large" but above the rim near the 4wd trailheads, car campers must stay in designated sites and must "provide their own washable, reusable toilet systems".
Car camping costs $30 and all backpacking costs $15.
Within the Maze is "at large camping" which means a person can camp anywhere, which means people generally camp near the few water supplies. When picking up your permit be sure to have the ranger mark the water supplies on your map!
Above the Maze at the trailheads, visitors need to stay at the designated campsites. All vehicle camping cost $30. All backpacking cost $15. This rule is also extended to all the "Orange Cliffs" district of the Glen Canyon NRA, which is managed by Canyonlands National Park.
See Red Tape.
As you might have guessed, the page author has been to the area. At the risk of seeming self-promoting, I have a few movies to share that are particularily instructive regarding the scrambly canyon-floor-access-part.
Negotiating the cleft
Down the ladder
Up the narrows
A caveat: I personally never needed to take off my backpack to negotiate any of these obstacles nor did I find them particularly challenging. I'm not saying that to brag but to illustrate that the difficulty of the climb in and out will vary dramatically depending on experience. The park service recommended bringing rope (which I carried) to lower packs! My friends weren't newbies (indeed, they are even technical climbers), but there is a big difference between walking down a trail and accessing the Maze.
Biological Soil Crust
The high desert of the Colorado Plateau has a living crust of "soil". Often mistaken for dark dirt, the bumpy crust is actually alive. It is composed primarily of cyanobacteria (bluegreen algae). Along with green algae, bacteria, microfungi, lichens, and mosses, cyanobacteria forms a complex mesh that holds water and protects the soil from erosion.
Needless to say, the fibrous network cannot survive a footstep or tire. Always stay on roads and trails or bare rock so as not to damage the delicate living crust.
National Park Service Maze page
Desert USA page