If you’re an avid hiker looking for a bit of an adventure, then you’ve got to check out the Syncline Loop Trail in Canyonlands National Park. This rugged, mostly unmaintained loop circumnavigates a rock formation called Upheaval Dome. Upheaval Dome is a unique landmark that is believed to be the site of an old impact crater from a meteorite! How cool is that?
The Syncline Loop is a strenuous trail that involves steep grades, primitive trails, and very little shade. It’s quite the undertaking and gives you a taste for some of the more intrepid backcountry adventures available in the nearby Maze District of Canyonlands National Park.
The easiest way to hike the Syncline Loop is clockwise. This lets you hike the most strenuous inclines on a downhill instead of doing punishing uphills. Since you’ll want an early start, the clockwise rotation also puts the sun at your back.
Pro tip: Start early to avoid the heat of the day. Although the trail isn’t too long, it’s strenuous and there’s no shade.
You’ll find the Syncline Loop Trail and the Upheaval Dome in the Island in the Sky district of the park. Head past the visitor’s Center and turn right onto Upheaval Dome Road. Take the road until it ends at the Syncline Loop Trailhead.
Once you’re at the trailhead, turn left at the three-way intersection to stay on the Syncline Loop Trail. The trail makes a sharp left and climbs a staircase of rock along a loose hillside. You’ll hit another signed junction with the Crater Spur Trail (this takes you into the Upheaval Dome) stay left to keep on the Syncline loop.
You’ll pass a backcountry campsite (permit required) and make your way through this unique landscape. You’ll eventually reach a challenging boulder field that requires cairns to navigate. Use the fixed metal cable (hot in the middle of the day, bring a glove), up the steep, sandstone slab.
Eventually, you’ll reach a hidden oasis high on the rock. Climb through a steep valley until the grade levels out a little bit. Next, you’ll work your way to the right and climb through a rugged gap in the canyon walls. Tip-toe through a ledge system marked by more cairns until you emerge into a sandy wash leading back to the trailhead.
Pro Tip: Bring a GPS with the route marked. More people get lost here than on any other trail in the district. Know how to navigate and keep in mind that GPS devices don’t work well in steep, narrow canyons.
Distance: 8.6 Miles
Elevation Gain: 1,630
Approximate Time: 5 to 6 hours including breaks
Upheaval Dome is often touted as the most unique formation in the Utah desert. How it was made is somewhat of a mystery. Some believe it’s made from a salt dome and others believe it’s a meteorite Impact. Either way, this circular crater with a dome in the middle is a sight to see.
If your legs allow for it, take a trip to the center of the crater on the Crater Spur Trail.
Avid hikers and those who enjoy scrambling will find the Syncline Loop and Upheaval Dome trail an excellent place to satisfy the need for a challenge. This hike commands endurance and feels much more like a cross-country desert adventure. Enjoy the views of the surrounding areas and contemplate the mystery of Upheaval Dome.