Moab, UT

3 Tough-but-Beautiful Hikes You Must Do in Island in the Sky, Canyonlands


When the going gets tough, you're the hiker who cinches up your backpack and powers through it. No hike can hold you back from an amazing vista.

For the tougher hikers among us, the Island in the Sky district in Canyonlands National Park offers some impressive trails to conquer. You can do all three of these hikes as a long single-day trip, or you can do an overnight trek and camp under the expanse of stars. Remember to check with the NPS about permits to camp in the backcountry before you go.

Want to push yourself on your next adventure? Check out these top three difficult hikes in Canyonlands' Island in the Sky:
When you're ready for a tough adventure, the trails in Canyonlands await.Greg | Pexels

1. Alcove Spring Hike

Well known (and well-loved) for its incredible scenery, the Alcove Spring hike is an 11.2 mile out-and-back hike that balances both challenge and leisure. Starting at the high trailhead, you'll need to descend down the high mesa wall. Don't worry - though the trail gets rough in places, there are plenty of man-made steps to help make it safe.

Once you're at the lower elevation, this hike leads you along a dried riverbed into Trail Canyon. You'll get breathtaking views of several famous rock spires and a natural ampitheater that wind and water have carved into the rock. You'll then travel down Trail canyon, where you'll have amazing views of the sheer rock walls of this canyon.

Be sure to bring topo maps of this area when you go. In some places, the trail isn't well-marked, and the cairns that do exist aren't always obvious. Because cell service can be spotty, be sure to bring a paper map as well.

2. Syncline Loop Trail

Circling the massive (and mysterious) Upheaval Dome, the Syncline loop trail is a fairly moderate 8.4 mile hike. What makes it difficult is a very strenuous rock scramble about halfway through the hike. The rest of the trail is a moderate trek around the rim of the dome.

The Upheaval Dome is a topic of speculation for many geologists. What makes it so interesting is that geologists still don't know how it was formed. For some reason, there are rocks at the surface of this crater that used to be buried over a mile underground. How did they get there? Geologists have settled on two leading theories - you can read about them both in a brochure from the visitor's center.

If you're attempting to do this hike all in one day, be sure to start early, and bring plenty of water. The dry desert air draws out more sweat than you realize, and if you don't have water to replenish yourself, you're asking for trouble.

3. Murphy Loop Trail

This 10.8 mile lollipop loop trail will give you a taste of Canyonlands you won't get anywhere else. You'll start out on the high mesa for about a mile before quickly descending more than 1,000 feet into Murphy Basin. There are plenty of steps built into the trail to make it safe, but it'll still be strenuous.

This trail meanders along stunning rock formations to give you a different angle on the geology of the area. Murphy Loop will take you past a vehicle campsite (where you can choose to pitch camp), through a dried river wash, and back around to the mesa wall. The climb back up looks really challenging, but it's easier than it looks. When you get back to the top, you'll be rewarded with a fresh perspective on the amazing vista below.

The NPS recommends you tackle this loop going counterclockwise. It will save you from a long uphill walk on White Rim Road. Be sure to bring plenty of water, and like with other hikes, remember to get a permit if you're planning on an overnight stay.


When you're looking to bust out some miles on the trail, there's no place more beautiful to do it than in Island in the Sky. Wherever you go, you'll have the perfect views along the way.

Got a favorite from this list? Let us know in the comments!

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I am a travel writer and sustainable lifestyle blogger. As a world traveler, I love giving others tips on budget travel, new cultures, and how to see the planet in a sustainable, ethical way. I also write on being a digital nomad, hiking and outdoor activities, as well as living an adventurous lifestyle.

Santa Fe, NM

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