Hike to Upheaval Dome, Canyonlands National Park


Don’t jump to the conclusion that Upheaval Dome is just a boring geology lesson.  It’s a pretty cool hole in the ground, and it’s home to one of Canyonlands National Park’s nicest short hiking trails.  A 1.6 mile (round-trip) hike takes you to two viewpoints overlooking Upheaval Dome, but the real treat is the rest of the scenery that you’ll enjoy along the way.


Upheaval Dome is located in the Island In The Sky district of Canyonlands National Park.  From Moab, Utah, drive north on US 191, then turn on Utah 313.  When U-313 turns off towards Dead Horse Point, continue straight ahead into Canyonlands.  Just after Mesa Arch, you’ll turn right, passing the Green River Overlook, and continuing to the end of the road.

My Visit

You don’t need to invest much effort to see Upheaval Dome.  The first viewpoint overlooking this mysterious crater is located just 3/10 of a mile from the parking lot, and requires only a short uphill climb.

From that first viewpoint, you’ll get a fairly good look at the formation.

Upheaval Dome was most likely formed by a meteorite, although an alternate theory suggests a layer of salt was pushed up by the weight of other rocks, forming a dome.  The meteorite theory is favored, due to the presence of “shocked quartz”, which can only form by a meteor impact or nuclear explosion.

On my first visit to Canyonlands, more than a decade earlier, I hiked out to the first viewpoint, took a few pictures, and decided that was good enough.  On this day, however, I was in the mood to hike further, so I decided to continue on to the second viewpoint.  My expectations were pretty low — I figured I’d just see the same thing from a slightly different angle.  Thankfully, the trail exceeded my expectations.

The next half-mile is very beautiful.  You’ll gain and lose a little bit of elevation, but not enough to make the hike difficult.  At one point, the trail crosses over slickrock…

… and some steps are carved into the rock to help you get down.

Then, the trail heads towards this jumble of rocks at the edge of a cliff.

Here, you’ll find a sign, confirming that you’ve reached the second overlook and the end of the official trail.

Upheaval Dome: Second Viewpoint

As you can see, the view of Upheaval Dome is slightly different here, and I’d say it’s a little better.

From this viewpoint, you can see deeper into the eroded dome, and catch a glimpse at the swirl of colored rocks inside.

Take a few minutes to enjoy the view, then hike back the way you came.

For a much longer hiking option, you can hike around the entire rim of Upheaval Dome.  The Syncline Trail is 8.3 miles, and is rated as strenuous, with some big elevation changes along the way.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s a look at the drive into Canyonlands National Park:

The Bottom Line

The hike to the second viewpoint at Upheaval Dome might seem unnecessary, but it’s actually a very beautiful hike, far beyond the dome itself. The trail isn’t long or very challenging, and it it’s a great way to spend an extra hour in Canyonlands National Park.

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