Syncline Loop Trail, Island in the Sky: Upheaval Dome Trailhead, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Syncline Loop Trail - 8.4 miles
Island in the Sky: Upheaval Dome Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||8.4 miles (distance may vary on routing through canyons)|
|Start-End Elevation:||5,675' (5,753' max elevation : 4,235' low elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||-1,440' net elevation loss (+2,060' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Syncline Loop Trail - 8.4 Miles Round-Trip
The Syncline Loop Trail follows a series of washes and canyons around the base of Upheaval Dome in Canyonlands National Park.
This strenuous trail is difficult to follow and requires athleticism to negotiate the route’s steep switchbacks, boulder fields and slickrock. Only experienced hikers should attempt the loop.
Anticipate longer travel times than the distance and net elevation change might suggest. Uneven terrain and frequent loss of clarity will compromise the pace. Carry extra water and take things slow so not to miss cairns that mark critical points.
Visitors will enjoy magnificent backcountry scenery, lush riparian corridors and diverse wildlife on the Syncline Loop. Trail extensions lead into the Upheaval Dome Crater and out to Green River via Upheaval Canyon. The following description travels clockwise:
After a brief climb the trail levels in a cluttered landscape framed by sandstone domes to the south. It moves quickly to a dramatic gap that peers down a deep canyon (.88 miles : 5,590’), where you’ll begin a challenging 1.1 mile, 1075’ descent to the canyon floor.
Tread carefully and remain navigationally vigilant on steep, twisting switchbacks that briefly moderate through 1.25 miles (5,284’). At 1.75 miles the trail crosses a slickrock wash to a pair of cairns that mark a second steep drop to the canyon floor.
Travel moderates considerably once in the wash (2.0 miles : 4,515’), highlighted by mature cottonwoods and leafy brush. The trail generally favors the right side of the wash crossing and entering it several times.
It briefly rises out to circumvent an impassable obstacle (2.5 miles : 4,373’), then drops back in. The canyon-wash narrows and becomes more convoluted through 3.0 miles (4,272’) but the way is intuitively followed. The canyon opens at the Upheaval Canyon Trail split (3.3 miles : 4,238’).
It’s important to remain on the designated trail past this point (vs the adjacent wash), as it suddenly breaks left up stone steps (3.5 miles : 4,265’) to a terrace in a wide berth at the convergence of Upheaval Canyon and Syncline Valley.
A few steps through brush flats lead to the Upheaval Dome access spur (3.6 miles : 4,325’). The trail veers left and levels by the designated campsite and seasonal creek of Syncline Valley.
Cottonwoods line the creek corridor, a nice place to break. Pools large enough for soaking sometimes form but it’s advisable to leave these precious water sources to local wildlife.
The trail rises sharply at 4.0 miles (4,335’) and begins a challenging course through boulders, brush and debris. Proceed with care and attention to cairns through the rock. The route is difficult to follow and exposed to steep drop offs.
It reaches stone steps notched into a ledge (4.4 miles : 4,690’), just past which it scales a near-vertical rock slab that requires 3-4 points of contact.
Conditions moderate in the upper canyon (4.7 miles : 4,780’), a lush riparian zone with large trees and grassy meadows. This is a great place to find wildlife. The trail weaves through tall grass and heavy brush past a seep located just off trail to the right (4.95 miles : 4,820’).
Anticipate a sudden right turn and loss of clarity at 5.75 miles (4,925’) where the trail heads up a tall, rugged slot in the upper canyon (see map, points 18 – 19). Follow cairns closely.
Once through the clutter it scales a steep slickrock slab with a great look down the slot you just navigated (6.0 miles : 5,060’).
The trail moves to the left side of the slickrock and resumes an undulating course through a diverse landscape (6.5 miles : 5,285’). Travel quickens in and across several wash segments (6.5 – 8.0 miles), but remain alert for vague entry - exit points.
Enjoy moderate intervals with variously rugged and ill-defined stretches on the final leg back to Upheaval Dome Trailhead (8.4 miles : 5,675’).
Interactive GPS Topo MapKey GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84
- N38 25.584 W109 55.572 — 0.0 miles : Upheaval Dome Trailhead
- N38 25.679 W109 56.371 — .88 miles : Begin 1st very steep drop
- N38 25.649 W109 56.520 — 1.2 miles : Brief reprieve between descents
- N38 25.874 W109 56.850 — 1.75 miles : Begin 2nd very steep descent
- N38 25.880 W109 56.955 — 2.0 miles : Travel moderates near canyon floor
- N38 26.070 W109 57.116 — 2.25 miles : Mild travel in wash on canyon floor
- N38 26.193 W109 57.282 — 2.5 miles : Brief rise up right side of wash
- N38 26.498 W109 57.330 — 3.0 miles : Wash is variously narrow an twisting
- N38 26.678 W109 57.394 — 3.3 miles : Upheaval Canyon Trail split
- N38 26.677 W109 57.246 — 3.45 miles : Hard break left up stone stairs
- N38 26.673 W109 57.173 — 3.55 miles : Upheaval Dome Spur Trail split
- N38 26.967 W109 56.957 — 4.05 miles : Mild travel up Syncline Valley
- N38 27.117 W109 56.723 — 4.3 miles : Begin steep travel into upper canyon
- N38 27.177 W109 56.702 — 4.45 miles : Cross notch steps over dropoff
- N38 27.192 W109 56.576 — 4.7 miles : Travel moderates in upper riparian area
- N38 27.255 W109 56.335 — 4.9 miles : Level travel in lush, spring / seep fed area
- N38 27.246 W109 55.943 — 5.4 miles : Lush, level area - look for wildlife
- N38 27.145 W109 55.722 — 5.7 miles : Hard right turn up tall, narrow gap
- N38 27.009 W109 55.712 — 6.0 miles : Steep travel up open slickrock face
- N38 26.871 W109 55.325 — 6.4 miles : Variously moderate and shifting course
- N38 26.642 W109 54.970 — 6.9 miles : Moderate travel in diverse landscape
- N38 26.281 W109 54.976 — 7.4 miles : Moderate travel in widening area
- N38 25.950 W109 55.177 — 7.9 miles : Moderate travel in open landscape
- N38 25.580 W109 55.570 — 8.4 miles : Upheaval Dome Trailhead
- This is a strenuous, primitive trail. Anticpate many steep and sparingly marked sections. Carry ample water, and expect longer travel times than the distance would suggest. Sturdy shoes with good soles are highly recommended. Only experienced and fit hikers should attempt travel on the Syncline Loop Trail.
- Water is ocassionally available in Syncline Valley, in either the creek or nearby springs. Shaded potholes may also hold accessible water. Natural water sources should not be relied upon.
- Most visitors choose to do the loop clockwise, perferable for having the sun at your back most of the day with an early start. Counter-clockwise travel tackles the boulder fields early on, which is arguably better than later when fatigue has set in.
- Despite proximity to Upheaval Dome, there are no views of it from the trail. A syncline is where rock layers have been bent so that they bow downwards or fold convex side down.
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 Upheaval Dome Trailhead is located 11.3 miles from the Island in the Sky Visitor Center on Upheaval Dome Road.
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