Canyonlands National Park: Lathrop Canyon

Take a plunge off Island in the Sky Mesa with this 11.1-mile out and back that drops 1,500-feet for excellent views of the White Rim bench and Lower Lathrop Canyon.
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Take a plunge off Island in the Sky Mesa with this 11.1-mile out and back that drops 1,500-feet for excellent views of the White Rim bench and Lower Lathrop Canyon.

From the Island in the Sky Mesa, this trail drops below sheer cliffs in the red-tinted Wingate Sandstone to a mine-flanked road and views of Lower Lathrop’s cliffs. To begin, follow the easy trail south from the trailhead across Grays Pasture.

At mile 1.6, the trail begins a three-tier descent over pot-holed and cairn-marked slickrock to a narrow bench along the top of the sheer, Wingate Sandstone cliffs. The trail stays mostly level as it winds westward along the top of the vertical cliffs, but turns steeply downhill at an ancient landslide and drops over 1,500 feet in less than a mile down a series of steep, rocky switchbacks.

The last few miles of the trail follow a long-abandoned, boulder strewn mining road—you’ll pass several closed uranium shafts—before turning right and dropping down a ridge into a sandy wash. Follow the canyon 0.6 miles east to the White Rim Road and killer views of the bench above Lower Lathrop’s snaking southern reaches.

The southern exposure makes this an excellent afternoon fitness hike or a great spot for an evening photo shoot, but allow plenty of time before sunset for the challenging uphill return.

-Mapped by Steve Howe

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 17.9

Waypoints

LRC001

Location: 38.4337167, -109.8269833

Hike southeast across the grassy meadow from the signed Lathrop Canyon Trailhead.

LRC002

Location: 38.4165, -109.8141667

The descent begins at mile 1.6 and the terrain turns from grassy pasture to dome and pothole-covered slickrock.

LRC003

Location: 38.4129, -109.8095167

Continue down 2 easy switchbacks, following the cairn-marked trail.

LRC004

Location: 38.4135833, -109.8064833

As the trail turns south, it continues over a third drop-off before reaching a cliff-top ledge.

LRC005

Location: 38.4100333, -109.8066833

This photo-op-worthy overlook has excellent views into lower Lathrop Canyon and of the Colorado River, 3.3 miles to the southeast.

LRC006

Location: 38.4133333, -109.8132667

There is a log handrail to ease your descent on this steep, eroded, and rocky switchbacking traverse.

LRC007

Location: 38.4090833, -109.8116167

From a staircase to a more defined trail, the terrain flattens and the hike gets easier near mile 3.8.

LRC008

Location: 38.4093167, -109.8141

The trail joins a long-abandoned and eroded mining road for the last 1.5 miles of the descent.

LRC009

Location: 38.4085333, -109.8141333

At certain times of the year, water flows in a stream bed below the trail. Groundwater here may be contaminated by uranium-mine tailings, so bring plenty of drinking water with you on this trip.

LRC010

Location: 38.4081667, -109.8135333

Stay left and follow the main trail past vacant signs at user-created trail junctions.

LRC011

Location: 38.4011833, -109.8038667

A short drop from the ridge lands in a sandy wash. Follow the trail east toward the White Rim Jeep Trail.

LRC012

Location: 38.4017167, -109.7939833

Turn around at White Rim Jeep Trail after admiring the views of Lathrop Canyon from the overlook. The popular jeep road continues southeast to the river from here.

Mesa

Location: 38.4299251, -109.8241425

Looking southeast across the Island in the Sky Mesa © Karen Henker