Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park: Upheaval Dome

Is it a meteorite or a salt formation? Gather your own conclusions about the origins of this mysterious ring of rock on this challenging, 7.6-mile loop in Canyonlands National Park.

Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.

The literal centerpiece of this 7.6-mile loop is an anomaly in an already otherworldly landscape. Two theories attempt to explain the deformed rock in the 3-mile wide Upheaval Dome area, but whether it’s a meteorite or a long-dissolved salt formation, you’ll catch a spectacular panoramic view of the jumbled geology near the trailhead.
From the parking area, the route turns right and follows the Syncline Loop Trail counterclockwise through pinon and juniper woodland along the east side of the formation. The trail descends steadily until just before mile 2 and then turns more sharply downhill before following a cliff band through a pour-off and into a shady, riparian landscape near the top of the Syncline Valley. The trail follows the valley floor until joining the Upheaval Canyon trail at mile 4.5. You’ll follow the Upheaval Wash west for a quarter mile and then turn uphill. The first mellow mile of climbing is followed by a steep scramble back toward the Island in the Sky.
A difficult climb and navigational challenges (read: scattered cairns) are almost guaranteed on this hike and extreme desert temperatures are always possible. If you question your route-finding skills, fitness, or level of preparedness consider the short-and-sweet Overlook Trail as an alternative.
-Mapped by Steve Howe


Trail Facts

  • Distance: 12.2



Location: 38.4262984, -109.9261844

Hike north from the trailhead. Most of the traffic at this well-developed trailhead is for the short Overlook Trail.


Location: 38.4268469, -109.926002

Turn right and follow the rocky Syncline Loop Trail through pinon and juniper woodland along the ridge.


Location: 38.4503667, -109.9285333

At mile 2.5, the trail descends a steep ramp and passes above a pour-off (a chute linking two wash areas) on a cliff band. Although the entire park is prone to flash flooding, be especially wary of this area during inclement weather.


Location: 38.45385, -109.9344667

A fairly reliable stream flows through the Syncline Valley and near its beginning, you’ll encounter a lush, garden-like riparian area, a good spot for a break. There is a quick, 80-foot climb as the trail climbs the cliffside just past this point.


Location: 38.4529733, -109.9447855

At mile 3.7 you can crawl through a rock tunnel in a scattered boulder field. After this point, you’ll begin another sharp descent into the valley.


Location: 38.4528472, -109.9450108

Both the trail and the valley make a sharp left (south) turn.


Location: 38.4520833, -109.9451833

One of several freshwater springs in the canyon.


Location: 38.4493167, -109.9493333

There are several flowing, freshwater pools about halfway through Syncline Valley and uphill from the route’s only campsite before the Upheaval Canyon junction.


Location: 38.444575, -109.9528643

Near the base of Syncline Valley, you’ll hit the Upheaval Canyon Trail. This route turns right, continuing toward the loop’s low point and eventually it’s eastbound return leg. Following the Crater Spur Trail to the left will add 3 miles (out-and-back) to your hike and will land you back at this spot after a 2-hour detour.


Location: 38.4446149, -109.9565363

After a quarter mile along the Upheaval Canyon Trail, leave Upheaval Wash by following the Syncline Loop Trail to the left.


Location: 38.431606, -109.9494231

A little over a mile after leaving Upheaval Canyon Trail, the Syncline Loop begins the 1,200-foot, 1.7-mile climb back to the Island in the Sky and the trailhead.


Location: 38.4312615, -109.9475026

At mile 6.2, the trail climbs steeply to rock notch. Stop to catch your breath–and down valley views of the Green River.


Location: 38.42795, -109.9396062

The last 0.8 mile of the trail along the mesa top continues uphill, but it’s a mellower climb toward the well-developed trailhead and the Overlook Trail.

Upheaval Canyon

Location: 38.4445729, -109.9527705

This view of Upheaval Canyon rewards those who travel this rugged desert loop.