The Upheaval Dome Trail Hike is one of my favorites in the Island in the Sky area of Canyonlands National Park. It has some interesting views of this weird crater that has a few theories on how it was formed. We were also very lucky in that we hiked early in the day and hand the entire trail to ourselves. If you are planning to hike the trail too, follow along for advice and information about the hike.
About the Hike
Distance: 1.6 miles | Type: Out & Back | Avg. Time: 40 mins | Difficulty: Easy
The Trail consists of two different outlooks to view the crater from. We explored and did both of the outlooks on the trail, and if you have time it is certainly worth visiting both. I actually really liked the 2nd one, and it had a few good spots to sit, relax and enjoy the dome/crater views.
There is also another trail that starts from the same trail-head, the Syncline Loop Trail that circumnavigates the crater. However, from descriptions you don’t get a crater view, there’s some path finding, and you’ll see even fewer people. We opted to not do this hike. If you do, please let us know more about it in the comments or by email.
Story about the Dome
The dome actually has two different “theories” about it’s formation. Or at least two different prevailing theories. I’m pretty sure there’s at least a 3rd theory that involves aliens. There’s always one isn’t there?
The dome is a circular depression, 2 miles wide with various tilted and cracked rocks below.
If you do the hike, you’ll learn from the displays about the theories behind the formation.
Theory 1: The Salt Dome
About 300 million years ago, an inland sea covered the area of Canyonlands (and even more so, since areas of Wyoming were part of the inland sea as well). The Basin concentrated the water and salt in the area. Through evaporation, the water eventually dissipated and salt remained. Lots of Salt. The salt and water pushed down the sides of the land, thus causing the dome formation you see today. Over many millions of years, the salt caused the rocks to start to crack as it continued to push further and further. And thus we have what we see today as the upheaval dome.
Theory 2: Meteorite Strike
This is the always more fun and violent one. Roughly 200 million years ago a meteor on a collision course with earth entered the atmosphere. The strike of the meteorite hit the ground with so much force that all the water evaporated. The force cracked the rocks and created the upturned crater. Continued erosion over the millions of years led to what we see today.
Currently this is the prevailing theory of the two.
Hiking the Upheaval Dome Trail
The trail starts from the upheaval dome parking lot off upheaval dome road. It’s actually a pretty good spot to visit after checking out Mesa Arch for those who are doing that trail as well.
The first sign you arrive to after the parking area discusses the options for where you can hike. You can do the Syncline Loop Trail if you prefer, although you won’t get the views of the crater and you’ll be unlikely to see other folks.
If you are short on time, you can head to at least the first overlook. It is about 0.3 miles and pretty straightforward on where to go. You just follow the trail and it will lead you to the first overlook. It also has some good information on the “theories” behind the dome (which is described above anyway).
From here the Trail continues to bear left from where the first overlook is (if you are look towards the overlook). The trail leads to the second overlook has a bit of up and down hiking to get to that viewpoint.
The path continues along the rock and its not as easy to find as the first overlook (but not too bad). Be sure to look out for the various cairns that are positioned at points along the trail.
After about a half mile of hiking along the rocks you’ll come to the second overlook. It’s a very open area and a good spot to sit and have a snack or water. We ended up having our breakfast here as it was still very early in the morning.
Beyond that, there’s a small outcropping you can walk out to. It’s got some nice views as well but nothing that is much different from the overlook. At this point, you can head back the way you came to return to the parking lot.
Tips and Advice
- I would recommend doing the hike early. We did the hike right after visiting Mesa Arch and it was perfect and zero crowds.
- Temperatures in particular during the summer can be very hot. The area is very exposed, so be sure to dress appropriately, wear sunscreen
- Bring water.
- Wear good footwear. I think you may able to get away without boots/hiking shoes, but I still recommend them. The rocks are slick in places.
- I think it was worth visiting both viewpoints. Although if you are super pressed for time, you’ll still see enough from the first one.