Hiking Lathrop Canyon Trail

Lathrop Canyon Trail has sprawling views of Canyonlands National Park and provides a true desert hiking adventure. There are multiple activities along the trail including hiking, biking, and off-roading. As one of the best hikes in Moab, the long mileage and rocky terrain make Lathrop Canyon Trail a bucket list hike for any experienced hiker.

Where is Lathrop Canyon Trail?

Located in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park, Lathrop Canyon Trail is actually two separate trails. One is strictly for hiking. This trail makes its way from about 3 miles past the Island in the Sky Visitor Center all the way down to White Rim Road.

The second half of Lathrop Canyon Trail is a 4x4 Jeep road that’s also accessible by bike. The latter half of Lathrop is typically done as a side trip from the White Rim Road. Although you can walk the road, most people opt to bike and Jeep this part of the trail.

This guide primarily focuses on the Lathrop Canyon Trail hike. However, since there is a backcountry camp spot at the termination of the Lathrop Canyon road, we’ll touch on what to expect to spend the night in Lathrop Canyon.

Practical Information

Lathrop Canyon Trail brings desert hiking to it’s most extreme. The rough and rocky terrain isn’t always well marked, and the going is slow. Certainly, come prepared if you plan on embarking on the entire route.

If you aren’t up for an adventurous day scrambling a canyon, then you can opt to leave from the upper Trailhead along Grand View Point Road and walk almost 2 miles to the White Rim overlook. This portion of the hike isn’t too strenuous but offers some of the best views of Canyonlands.

Here’s what you need to know for your hike:

Round Trip Distance: 10.8 miles out-and-back to White Rim Road, an additional 8 miles out and back along the Lathrop Canyon Road to the backcountry campsite.
Elevation Gain: 2,585 feet of loss to White Rim Road
Difficulty: Difficult
Approximate Time: 6 hours to White Rim Road
Dog-Friendly? No

Pro Tip: Most of this hike has no shade. Lathrop Canyon Trail is best hiked in the winter, spring or fall to avoid heat exhaustion.

Hiking Lathrop Canyon Trail

Starting from the small dirt pullout, you’ll make your way around 2 miles over flat sandy desert terrain. There is no shade as you skirt across the sea of Juniper pines. But keep going. You’ll soon be rewarded with expansive views of Canyonlands National Park.

Continue onwards over rocky, broken switchbacks. You’ll need to use your hands and be well-versed in desert navigation, as the route isn’t always obvious.

After another 2 to 3 miles you’ll reach the White Rim Road, an obvious junction. Day hikers will want to turn around here. However, if you’re lucky enough to have a backcountry campsite, head south along the White Rim Road for 0.1 miles and then turn onto Lathrop Canyon Road and continue your winding all the way to the Colorado River.

Camping in Lathrop Canyon

Although you can camp throughout Moab, intrepid visitors might want to snag a permit for Lathrop Canyon. A far cry from the crowded trails in the Needles District, Lathrop Canyon Trail brings you stellar desert hiking and a gorgeous camp spot right on the edge of the Colorado River.

Reserve your permits online in advance (up to 4 months) in order to secure your spot. Since you’ll be camped near the river, you won’t need to worry about finding a water supply.

Overall, Lathrop Canyon Trail features gorgeous desert scenery with spanning vistas. However, this hike also has a challenging element of steep descents into the canyons below. Come prepared and ready to really earn your keep at Lathrop Canyon.