Upheaval Dome Trail

Upheaval Dome Trail

Canyonlands National Park

Type: Out and back day hike
Distance: 1.6 miles (2.6 km)
Cumulative Elevation Gain/Loss: 462 feet (141 m)
Date Visited: Thursday, March 29, 2018
Upheaval Dome Trail Map

One trail we wanted to hike in Canyonlands National Park was the Syncline Loop. It’s an 8.3 mile route that surrounds Upheaval Dome in the Island in the Sky District. The trail is long and difficult, so unfortunately we didn’t have the time to do the hike. Instead, we decided to do Upheaval Dome Trail, a short 1.6 mile out and back hike. The path goes to two overlooks with views of Upheaval Dome. We hoped it would give us a glimpse of what the Syncline Loop would offer.

What is Upheaval Dome? I’m glad you asked. It’s an area roughly three miles across where the rock layers are deformed. In the center, the rocks are pushed up into a dome-like structure (an anticline). A downward fold in the rock (or syncline) surrounds the dome. What caused it? No one is quite sure, but there are two prevailing theories. The first is that it is an impact crater caused by a meteorite hitting the Earth. The second is that it’s a salt dome, where salt flows while under pressure and creates deformities in the surrounding rock over millions of years. Most recent research supports the impact crater hypothesis.

Canyonlands: Upheaval Dome Trailhead Sign
Upheaval Dome Trailhead Sign
Canyonlands: Upheaval Dome Trail Distance Signs
Starting the trail

First Overlook

After checking out Mesa Arch and Aztec Butte, we drove to the end of Upheaval Dome Road. We parked in the lot for Upheaval Dome and the Syncline Loop. The trail begins on the west side of the lot. After starting the hike, we came to an intersection with Syncline Loop Trail almost immediately. It would have to wait for another time, so we kept going straight on Upheaval Dome Trail.

The trail started to ascend. The first overlook is only 0.3 miles from the intersection, so it took no time at all to get there. Situated on a large sandstone rock face, the first overlook gave us an initial view of the dome.

Greenish rocks surround a red rock formation inside the crater. We later talked to a ranger who said the green color was caused by iron, while the red is due to oxidation (rust). It looks otherworldly, but also familiar. A nearby sign gives some geological information about Upheaval Dome. Even though there are only two official “overlooks,” there are plenty of other opportunities for views into Upheaval Dome.

Canyonlands: Ascending to First Overlook on Upheaval Dome Trail
Ascending toward the first overlook
Canyonlands: Upheaval Dome Trail First Overlook
First Overlook
Canyonlands: First Look into Upheaval Dome from Overlook
Our first view of Upheaval Dome from the overlook
Canyonlands: Informational Sign at Upheaval Dome
Learning about the geology of Upheaval Dome
Canyonlands: Newberry Twinpod Along Upheaval Dome Trail
Almost flowering Newberry Twinpod (Physaria newberryi) along the trail. It typically flowers from April to June.

Second Overlook

Following rock cairns along the trail, we ascended and descended over more sandstone. The second overlook is only half a mile from the first. In places, small steps had been cut into some sandstone to assist hikers. We admonished a small boy who was rolling rocks down the sandstone. Normally, we might not say anything, but…it seemed pretty dangerous.

Surrounded by metal fencing, the second overlook was much like the first. It didn’t offer a radically different view. So if time is short, you could skip the second overlook. Nearby I found some spring wildflowers, including Indian paintbrush, which I was more interested in.

While I’m glad we did Upheaval Dome, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the hike overall. It was very cool to see the dome initially, but the hike got kind of same-y after the first overlook. The views are interesting, and I did enjoy the geology and mystery of its formation. Even though I wasn’t wowed by this trail, I’d still like to go back to do the Syncline Loop someday…maybe as a one-night backpacking trip!

Canyonlands: Stairs Carved Into Upheaval Dome Trail
Stairs carved into the sandstone
Canyonlands: Descending Toward Second Overlook On Upheaval Dome Trail
Descending toward the second overlook
Canyonlands: Upheaval Dome Second Overlook
Read the sign
Canyonlands: Fenced Second Overlook at Upheaval Dome
A fenced area at the second overlook
Canyonlands: View of Upheaval Dome from Second Overlook
View of Upheaval Dome from the second overlook
Canyonlands: Indian Paintbrush Along Upheaval Dome Trail
The vibrantly red Desert Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja Angustifolia) along the trail

Upheaval Dome Trail

Date: Thursday, March 29, 2018
Out and back day hike
Total Distance:
1.6 miles (2.6 km)
Cumulative Elevation Gain/Loss:
462 feet (141 m)
Time: 1.5 hours, at a leisurely pace including photography
Trail Markings: Wayfinding Cairns
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Crowds: Moderate
Water: None
Highlights: Geological Features, Views, History
Directions to Upheaval Dome Trailhead: Google Maps Directions
Notes: It can get hot, so bring plenty of water.

Trail Directions

  • 0.0 mi – From the parking lot, head north toward the Upheaval Dome Trailhead. Start on the trail, and after 250 feet, continue straight at the intersection with the Syncline Trail to continue on the Upheaval Dome Trail.
  • 0.3 mi – A short (~180 feet) side trail to the right leads to the first overlook. After checking it out, head back the way you came and turn right to continue.
  • 0.9 mi – At the end of the trail is the second overlook. When ready, turn around and retrace your steps back to the trailhead.
  • 1.6 mi – The hike is finished!




Elevation Graph

Interactive Map

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