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Island in the Sky: Syncline Loop Trail

Friday & Saturday, December 6-7, 2019

After spending two weekends hiking at the Island in the Sky last month it was time to return again so I could continue working my way through the rest of the official trails there. I had originally planned on heading back for a day trip on Sunday this weekend, but the weather wasn’t looking good that day so I changed my plans on Thursday. I left right after work on Friday, spent the night outside of Canyonlands National Park and then got an early start hiking the Syncline Loop Trail on Saturday morning. I’ve wanted to hike this trail which circumnavigates Upheaval Dome for a long time and was really looking forward to this one!

If you are not familiar with the Upheaval Dome Crater, here’s an aerial view of it. The Syncline Loop Trail basically loops around the perimeter of the crater. I hiked the loop in a clockwise direction.

I woke up early on Saturday and hiked to an overlook of the crater for sunrise since you can’t see an overview of the crater from along the loop trail.

Upheaval Dome Crater

Full potholes from the overlook at dawn.

Morning Pothole View

Here’s one last look at the crater before I started hiking the loop. In a few short hours I would be down there in the middle of the crater looking back up here.

Crater Rim at Dawn

A warning along the loop trail to keep people who are only trying to go to the overlook from going the wrong way.


As the trail made a big descent down a bunch of switchbacks, there was a great view through Upheaval Canyon to Labyrinth Canyon. I liked how the small sliver of a bend of the Green River was catching a nice reflection from the cliffs.

Labyrinth Canyon View

Once I reached the bottom of Upheaval Canyon I followed the wash into the heart of the Upheaval Dome Crater.

Upheaval Dome Spur Trail Sign

This part of the trail was easy hiking in the wash.

Upheaval Wash

As soon as you enter the crater the wash splits into two and that’s where the trail officially ends. I hiked further up both forks of the wash before heading back out to the main trail again.

End of Trail

This was the view from up the left fork. I followed this wash until I came to a large rockfall that blocked the way.

Left Fork View

Mud & Stone

Mud & Stone

This pinnacle was visible as I hiked further up the right fork.

Crater Pinnacle

Leaving the crater through a short section of narrows.

Crater Narrows

After returning to the main loop I stopped at the nearby campsite for a snack and then started heading toward Syncline Valley.

Syncline Loop Trail

A hoodoo at the edge of Buck Mesa above.

Buck Mesa Hoodoo

Soon the trail started it’s steep climb up into Syncline Valley. This part of the trail has the most scrambling and boulder-hopping out of any official trails in the Island in the Sky that I have hiked so far. It was pretty fun with just enough exposure to keep you on your toes and there were a few places where it was difficult to follow the main route, so you really needed to pay attention.

Part of the route up into Syncline Valley used these stairs cut into the sandstone.

Sandstone Staircase

This was the trickiest move on the steep route, but there was a nice little ‘trail’ sign to let you know you were on the right track.

Trail Through Boulders

After the steep climb was over the trail through Syncline Valley was much easier.

Syncline Valley

The trail got steep again as it followed the incline out of this small canyon.

Incline Canyon

Once out of Syncline Valley it seemed like there were a lot more ups and downs along the trail than I was expecting at this point.

Syncline Trail View

Looking back over the terrain I had just hiked through as I neared the trailhead.

Nearing The End

Looking Back

After returning to my Jeep at the trailhead it was time to head home so I could attend Diane’s office Christmas Party in the evening. This was a great hike that I really enjoyed and am glad I was finally able to do! Now if the weather cooperates with me, I could possibly complete my goal of hiking all the official trails in the Island in the Sky next weekend, so wish me luck!

>> Syncline Loop Trail Photo Gallery


  1. Steph
    Steph December 11, 2019

    Thanks for sharing, Randy. It sounds like the hike is much more interesting than I’ve assumed it would be. As always, great photos.

  2. Charles
    Charles November 17, 2020

    So how much exposure is there on the way up the canyon? My gf and i were thinking of doing this in the next few days. We both have issues with exposure/heights. Ive done Longs Peak and Angel’s Landing but those were too much exposure for my gf. Our fitness isnt the issue, this hike doesnt seem like itll be hard but the exposure could be a no go.

    Thoughts? And thanks as usual!

    • Randy Langstraat
      Randy Langstraat November 18, 2020

      There was a little bit of exposure during the climb out. I think mainly the section where the stairs are cut into the rock, but I didn’t think it was too bad.

  3. Charles
    Charles November 18, 2020

    Great, thank you very much for the reply. I think well give it a go.

  4. Charles
    Charles November 23, 2020

    We hiked it and we felt like there was zero exposure or iffy/tricky spots. Fun hike!

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