Awe striking desert hike around an ancient Meteor Crater or collapsed Salt Dome (geologists are still arguing this point). A great full day hike or quick in and out "looksee" hike depending on your timeframe. Wonderful views of the Green River and surrounding Canyon Country await.
Take I-70 west to the Moab/HWY 191 exit. Travel south about 10 miles to the HWY 313 turnoff and travel an additional 17 miles to Canyonlands National Park and an additional 2 miles to the Island in the Sky Visitor Center. About 6 miles from the visitor center follow the sign by turning right (West). Travel an additional 5.5 miles to the Upheaval Dome Parking Lot.
The first thing we suggest to do is to pick up the Upheaval Dome/Crater View Trail Guide which will explain much of what you will be seeing as you hike. The next suggestion is to take the overlook trail to get a lay of the trail before you embark, especially if you do not have a GPS unit. The trail to the first overlook point is about a quarter mile if you want to take in the second one it is about half a mile so it won’t really add much to your hike time. Since this is a loop you can choose to go either way around the crater. This trail description will assume you are taking the counter-clockwise route around the crater. We will split up the trail into 4 segments: Trailhead to North Ridge, Descent to Syncline Valley, Crater Center, and South Ridge/Final Ascent.
Trailhead to North Ridge: From the Trailhead you will start out going northeast for a small distance until you meet up with the main trail. To get to the overlooks, continue to go straight, otherwise turn right. You will follow the south ridge as you start to circle the crater. About half a mile the crater rim will slope down enough to see a great view of the Syncline Valley leading from the center of the crater to the Green River to the northwest. The trail will then start to peel away from the crater and start to follow the outer rim. Once you meet up with the outer rim you will follow this around the east side for about another mile. From here you will see that erosion from wind and water has cut away a small canyon that leads down to the crater floor.
Descent to Syncline Valley: Here the trail will follow a deep cut in the eastern rim and will descent fairly rapidly for about a quarter mile. Once you exit from this part, the canyon will head west for about a mile. This section will be hot and dry with little shade, especially in the summer, being in line with the sun so make sure you are prepared. Since the valley is so narrow it channels what little water there is here through this portion of the canyon thus there will be more vegetation here than in other parts of the hike. At the end of this mile you will come to the final descent into the Syncline Valley. As you start to go down you will descend through a number of switchbacks going from the north side of the canyon to the south for about a quarter mile. The trail will start to flatten out here as you reach the valley floor. Another half mile from here you will get to a trail junction in the middle of the Syncline Valley.
Crater Center: At the junction take the trail east. The trail through the crater will wind through a dry stream bed and is just over 4 miles to the crater center and back. About half a mile from the trail junction you will make it through the outer-ring of the crater. Another ¾ mile you will get through the inner ring. There isn’t much difference between these two rings when hiking the trail besides the different colors of the rock formation. The center of the crater is like a solar oven during the day as the surrounding rock focuses the sunlight into the center. Make sure you have plenty of water before you go in. In the middle there is an uplift of rock giving more evidence that this is an impact crater instead of a collapsed dome. You will hike around to the north side until you get to a small channel that leads up to the big hill in the middle. The top of the hill is a perfect spot for a panoramic picture. Once you have had your fill, hike the same trail down to the junction. At the junction continue past this for another .3 miles to reach a second junction.
South Ridge/Final Ascent: From the Syncline Valley junction take the trail on your left going in a southward direction through another dry stream bed. This bed will wind around for about 2/3 of a mile and will then straighten out as you slowly start to rise along the outer ring of the crater. The straight part of the rim will go about half a mile which you should enjoy while you can because the next part will be the hardest part of the hike. As you look up you will see the trail climb steeply with an elevation gain of nearly 400 feet in a quarter mile. There are a number of switchbacks here that will get monotonous after the first few. But luckily you will see yourself rise out of the canyon. The trail will then straighten out for about half a mile with a moderate elevation gain. Then you will see another ridge above you that the trail will wind up with a dozen or so switchbacks. Once you get past this, the worst is behind you. From here you will still rise in elevation but nowhere as much as you have just done. From this point you have less than a mile to make it back to the parking lot. This part will make you anxious since you are so close as you go over the last remaining little hills.
Canyonlands National Park
2282 SW Resource Blvd.
Moab, Utah 84532
Fax: (435) 719-2300
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