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Perched above the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers, the aptly named Island in the Sky is a huge, level, triangular mesa that looms over the blond sandstone benches of the White Rim country. This 14-mile trek begins on the Gooseberry Trail (also known as the Government Trail) as it dives, almost literally, from the Island to the White Rim 4WD Trail, a 100-mile uranium exploration road that circles the mesa. While jeeps and mountain bikes dominate this established track, our route quickly crosses it, wanders out across secluded sections of the rim, then winds down into twisting canyons filled with hoodoo pinnacles and isolated ledges. Once you descend to the Gooseberry 4WD campsite on the White Rim Trail, cross the two-track road and continue east-southeast along the White Rim’s dramatic slabs, with expansive views north into Gooseberry Canyon and east to the distant La Sal Mountains.
Locate the lone break in the White Rim cliffs, and pick your way down into Gooseberry Canyon, meandering back westward and down, over, and around ledges and rockslides. Gooseberry offers plenty of nooks and forks to explore, and several small seep springs in the streambed hold out the possibility—but no guarantee—of easy water. Most trekkers will want to camp near the Colorado River, a reliable (if silty) source. Adventurous hikers can fashion an interesting loop by exiting Gooseberry’s lower end, bushwhacking south along the Colorado for a half-mile to Dogleg Canyon, and returning via a climb out of its upper end. From there, it’s a 2.6-mile hike along the White Rim jeep road, then a precipitous staircase climb back to the trailhead.
USGS quad: Monument Basin
Mapped by Steve Howe
- Distance: 28.2
Location: 38.32275, -109.849564
Gooseberry Trailhead: Drop off Island in the Sky and descend north.
Location: 38.323284, -109.847397
Canyon Rim; trail drops very steeply
Location: 38.335117, -109.828835
Trail merges with the White Rim Trail; turn right
Location: 38.3311, -109.827202
Gooseberry Campsite (permit required). From here, pick your way west along Gooseberry Canyon to find a lone break which provides a ramp into the canyon.
Location: 38.337051, -109.801666
Slab descent in Gooseberry Canyon (no ropes required)
Location: 38.336617, -109.805099
Descend white boulder pile thru red cliff bands
Location: 38.3363, -109.807884
Descend bouldery gully to canyon bottom
Location: 38.338234, -109.807701
Location: 38.339901, -109.806168
Seep Spring, possible water in wetter seasons
Location: 38.343067, -109.803635
Side canyon on left; continue down Gooseberry
Location: 38.343315, -109.799866
Seep Spring, possible water
Location: 38.346951, -109.786163
Pour-off: Detour to left (north) to go around impassable overhang.
Location: 38.347198, -109.784584
Bottom of pour-off detour. Easy climb/descent thru narrow crack.
Location: 38.348801, -109.776718
Colorado River: Turn south and skirt the shoreline to Dog Leg Canyon, the next canyon on the right
Location: 38.343666, -109.772018
Enter Dog Leg Canyon
Location: 38.335022, -109.797836
Climb out of Dog Leg
Location: 38.320156, -109.792503
Head due west to join the White Rim Trail
Location: 38.328899, -109.808617
Head back to Gooseberry Campsite, then backtrack to trailhead