Murphy Loop Trail, Island in the Sky: Murphy Trailhead, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Murphy Loop Trail - 10.75 miles

Island in the Sky: Murphy Trailhead

Looking north across Murphy Basin from the Grand View Point

Looking north across Murphy Basin from the Grand View Point

Round-Trip Length: 10.75 miles
Start-End Elevation: 6,235' - 4,826' (6,248' max elevation : 4,826' low elevation)
Elevation Change: -1,409' net elevation loss (+1,713' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate-Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Murphy Loop Trail - 10.75 Miles Round-Trip

The Murphy Trail runs across open prairie on the Island Mesa before dropping into Murphy Basin and looping through a desolate backcountry wash and open brush flats linked by White Rim Road.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

Visitors will enjoy diverse terrain and exceptional views over Murphy Basin, Soda Springs Basin and the Green River from high points along the trail:

The Murphy Trail begins on Grand View Point Road, 8.9 miles from the visitor center. It heads west through grassy flats peppered with blackbrush, rabbitbrush and Mormon tea to the split for Murphy Point (.45 miles : 6,185’).

The Murphy Trail veers S-SW and drops steadily before twisting through cairn-marked washes and slickrock to the edge of the mesa (1.0 miles : 6,085’).  Enjoy magnificent panoramas over Murphy Basin and the Green River from this high vantage.

Here the trail plunges 845’ in just .95 miles down a cliff face to the basin floor and beginning of the loop. Tread carefully across loose rock and exposed ledges on this rugged descent. Cross a short wood bridge with no rails at 1.4 miles (5,732’).

Conditions moderate near the base of the cliff to the beginning of the loop (1.95 miles : 5,240’). The following description travels clockwise (see Worth Noting below for travel tips):

The trail drops into a wash, quickly exits and drops back in. It continues in the wash, rising above it twice to circumvent dry falls (2.5 miles and 2.8 miles).

Sparse vegetation dots this long corridor of open desert. You’ll pass nondescript ranching remains at 2.85 miles, and keep a fairly quick pace down the expanding wash all the way to White Rim Road (4.6 miles : 4,825’).

Turn right on White Rim Road, which heads NW and rises sharply up Murphy Hogback, an (in)famous climb no matter your means of transport. This rapid elevation gain offers useful topographic perspective across the landscape.

The road-trail levels abruptly on a plateau along the White Rim, whose light rock contrasts with the surrounding crimson desert (5.8 miles : 5,265’). A few steps off trail lead to the rim’s edge and great views over the Green River. 

The road continues past Murphy Camp A – B to the Murphy Trail split, which branches NE into an expansive flat. Anticipate this turnoff from the road (6.05 miles: 5,260’).

The trail moves quickly through 2 miles of open brush flats with views of the White Rim, Green River and Murphy Basin.

Use established paths to reach overlooks, and avoid trampling sensitive vegetation and cryptobiotic soil crusts. Look for snakes, lizards and rabbits on this compelling stretch.

The trail gradually bends back east and heads straight for the sheer cliff that led you down to the basin. It reaches the base of the cliff (8.05 miles : 5,253’) and threads a field of large, colorful boulders that have chipped away and fallen to the desert floor.

Remain vigilant crossing small washes that lead to the completion of the loop (8.8 miles : 5,240’). It’s a strenuous .95 mile - 845’ climb back to the mesa rim, where travel levels back through the flats to Murphy Trailhead (10.75 miles : 6,235').

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N38 19.152 W109 53.648 — 0.0 miles : Murphy Trailhead
  • N38 21.080 W109 52.215 — .45 miles : Murphy Point Split
  • N38 20.655 W109 52.385 — 1.0 miles : Begin steep drops into basin
  • N38 20.599 W109 52.404 — 1.4 miles : Cross exposed wood bridge on side of cliff
  • N38 20.425 W109 52.537 — 1.95 miles : Trail splits, begin Loop
  • N38 20.136 W109 52.770 — 2.5 miles : Circumvent dry fall in wash
  • N38 19.950 W109 52.967 — 2.85 miles : Pass abandoned structure in wash
  • N38 19.667 W109 53.237 — 3.5 miles : Fast travel in wash
  • N38 19.428 W109 53.499 — 4.0 miles : Fast travel in wash
  • N38 19.152 W109 53.648 — 4.6 miles : White Rim Road, turn right (north)
  • N38 19.357 W109 53.961 — 5.2 miles : Very steep climb up Murphy Hogback
  • N38 19.396 W109 54.455 — 6.05 miles : Murphy Trail split from White Rim Road
  • N38 19.674 W109 54.162 — 6.5 miles : Level travel in brush flats over basin
  • N38 20.042 W109 54.087 — 7.5 miles : Fast travel over basin and Green River
  • N38 20.303 W109 53.184 — 8.0 miles : Wrap around base of cliff on edge of mesa
  • N38 20.425 W109 52.537 — 8.8 miles : Complete Loop, begin strenuous climb back
  • N38 21.297 W109 51.839 — 10.75 miles : Murphy Trailhead

Worth Noting

  • Consider counter-clockwise travel on the loop for optimal morning light across the White Rim, Soda Springs Basin and Green River. Shorten the trip and maximize photographic opportunities by traveling counter-clockwise to White Rim Road, and returning the way you came.Carry ample water.
  • Water is not available on this trail. Anticipate hot temperatures and a strenuous climb on the return hike. Plan travel time and resources accordingly. Sturdy shoes with good soles are highly recommended.
  • The Murphy Trail was originally built by the Murphy Brothers, who grazed cattle in this area in the early 1900s. Related remains can be found in the wash.

Camping and Backpacking Information

Permits are required for all overnight backpacking trips in Canyonlands National Park. Permits can be acquired at Visitor Centers the day of or day before your trip. Advance reservations can be made up to 4 months out and are recommended during peak season.

Call the Backcountry Reservation Office for more information: 435.259.4351

Click here to access the online reservation system.

  • There's a $30 fee per party to backcountry camp in Canyonlands National Park.
  • Hikers must camp in designated sites where explicitly stated. You may otherwise choose your own campsite in designated at-large zones.
  • At-large sites must be at least 1 mile away from any road and 300' from any archeological site, historical site or water source.
  • Mountain Bikers and 4WDs must stay on established roads and camp in designated sites at all times.
  • Fires are not permitted at backcountry campsites or within the backcountry in Canyonlands National Park.
  • Desert water sources are scarce and fragile. Do not bathe or wash dishes in creeks or pools. 

Rules and Regulations

  • There's a $25 fee per vehicle to enter Canyonlands National Park (defined as private passenger cars with 15 people or less). Passes are good for 7 consecutive days.
  • $15 per motorcycle.
  • $10 per person (walk or bike).
  • Dogs are not permitted on trails in Canyonlands National Park.

Directions to Trailhead

The Murphy Traihead is located 8.9 miles from the Island in the Sky Visitor Center on Grand View Point Road.

Contact Information

Canyonlands National Park

2282 SW Resource Blvd

Moab, UT 84532

Island in the Sky District: 435.259.4712

Backcountry Reservation Office: 435.259.4351

Park Administration: 435.719.2100

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"Nice long loop with lots of exposure - don't underestimate the heat! I was prepared with lots of water, light layers, etc and still felt the sun pretty hard. The 'hogback' is not so bad, especially compared to descents off the mesa top throughout the Island in the Sky. Consider going the opposite way here on the loop so you do down instead of up the hill."
Ross H  -  Salt Lake City  -  Date Posted: August 29, 2017


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