Upheaval Dome Hike Canyonlands National Park Utah

Upheaval Dome in the most puzzling geological feature in Canyonlands National Park. A 1.7-mile hike visits two overlooks along the rim of this three-mile wide 1,000-foot deep crater. Geologists have two possible theories for what caused Upheaval Dome, which you can learn about along the trail.

From the trailhead, a wide track heads to the right before turning uphill toward the crater. Built-in stone steps aid with the ascent of 150 feet over 0.3 miles. When the trail comes to a junction, turn right and you will quickly reach the first overlook of Upheaval Dome.

Upheaval Dome Overlook
Upheavel Dome

Have a look into this wide rough crater, and see if you can you figure out how it was created. Geologists have two competing theories. Illustrated panels at the overlook describe both the newfangled meteorite theory and the more traditional salt dome theory.

The salt dome theory:
It all began 300 million years ago when an inland sea covered this entire area. Climate chance caused the water to evaporate, leaving a thick salt deposit behind. Over time, layers of sediment built up on top of the salt and hardened into sandstone. The heavy rock pushed down on the salt, creating uneven pressure that led to a budge in the salt layer. This caused a dome to appear on the surface, an upheaval dome. The crater seen today is simply the eroded remains of that dome.

The meteorite theory:
The other school of thought is that a meteor crash landed on this spot 60 million years ago. The crater left behind was unstable. Some areas collapsed while other spaces filled from below by rock and salt moving up into the sudden opening in the earth.

Was it a great upheaval or a coming down to earth that caused the crater? Scientists are now fairly certain Upheaval Dome was created by a meteor. If you need time to think things over, the trail continues for another 0.6 miles, descending around the jagged sandstone rim to a second overlook. On the return, you will have to hike back up 180 feet of elevation. This is worth keeping in mind because the views from the second overlook to no reveal much more than the first. If you decided to conserve your time and energy for another trail, you would be forgiven for not going the full way.

Upheaval Dome Overlook
The trail descends to the second overlook

The obvious gravel trail disappears along the way to the second overlook. Instead, follow the line of cairns and steps carved into the sandstone. The placement of the second overlook seems a bit arbitrary, as the views are not completely dissimilar to the upper overlook and other points along the way.

Upheaval Dome Overlook Canyonlands
The second overlook at Upheaval Dome

After enjoying the overlook, head back up the sandstone rim. This hike to both overlooks is a 1.7 miles round trip, but that can be cut down to 0.6 miles if you only visit the first overlook.

To get to the trailhead: From the Island in the Sky Visitor Center, drive south for 6.5 miles. After passing the Mesa Arch turnoff, turn right onto Upheaval Dome Road. Drive 5 miles to the end of the road. There is a picnic area and bathrooms at the trailhead.

Trailhead address: Upheaval Dome Road, Canyonlands National Park, Moab, UT84532
Trailhead coordinates: 38.4264, -109.926113 (38° 25′ 35.04″N 109° 55′ 34.00″W)

 

Elevation Profile
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Photos

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These photos were taken in June of 2010. Click to enlarge.
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whale rockWhale Rock
This one-mile hike ascends a whale-shaped sandstone formation near Upheaval Dome.
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This 0.7-mile loop visits a picturesque arch spanning across the mesa’s edge.
MmurphyMurphy Point
This 3.6-mile hike visits a west-facing point on the Island in the Sky overlooking canyons carved by the Green River.
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Tagged with · Craters · Island in the Sky
Distance: 1.7 miles · Elevation change: 200 feet

One Comment on Upheaval Dome in Canyonlands National Park

  1. mike s.says:

    Is metal detecting allowed?

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