Whale Rock Trail Canyonlands National Park Whale Rock Hike Island in the Sky Whale Rock

Surfacing above Upheaval Dome, Whale Rock is a unique natural feature on the western end of a magnificent mesa in Canyonlands National Park known as the Island in the Sky. Two popular theories explain how the bizarre dome/crater called Upheaval Dome came to be, but neither mentions how a whale of a rock ended up stretched across the mesa nearby. Whale Rock is long sandstone formation resembling a giant beached whale that came ashore on the Island in the Sky. A one-mile round trip hike ascends 250 feet to the top of Whale Rock for a fun view of Upheaval Dome and surrounding canyons.

Prickly Peak Cactus Canyonlands
Prickly Pear Cactus blooming along the trail

The sides of Whale Rock are too steep for hiking, so the gravel trail instead aims for the tail of the whale, which provides a more gradual approach. Turn left up the sandstone slickrock and follow the cairn-lined track up the back of Whale Rock. The cairns are actually cemented in place, making the course secure and easy to follow. Walk out atop the whale’s head and raise your periscope! You will be treated to a fine view of Upheaval Dome to the west and expansive canyons to the south.

Whale Rock Hike
A rock shaped like a face

When you are ready to return to port, follow the cairns back off the whale and down the trail to the parking lot. Canyonlands National Park has an entrance fee, but no permit is required to hike Whale Rock Trail, so get out and enjoy!

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 4 miles the trailhead parking area for Whale Rock on the right side of the road.

Trailhead address: Upheaval Dome Road, Canyonlands National Park, Moab, UT 84532
Trailhead coordinates: 38.42685, -109.91401 (38° 25′ 36.7″N 109° 54′ 50.4″W)

Trail Map
View Canyonlands National Park in a larger map
Elevation Profile
Click or hover over any spot on this elevation profile to see the distance from the start and elevation above sea level at that location, which will be highlighted on the map.

You may also view a regional map of surrounding Utah trails and campgrounds.


Whale Rock CanyonlandsWhale Rock CanyonlandsWhale Rock CanyonlandsWhale Rock CanyonlandsWhale Rock CanyonlandsWhale Rock CanyonlandsWhale Rock CanyonlandsWhale Rock CanyonlandsWhale Rock CanyonlandsWhale Rock Canyonlands

These photos were taken in June of 2010. Click to enlarge.
Nearby Trails
Canyonlands hike Upheaval Dome
This 1.7-mile hike visits two overlooks along the rim of a puzzling three-mile wide crater.
Canyonlands hike Aztec Butte
This is a 1.8 -mile hike ascends a dome-shaped butte that houses Puebloan granaries and offers nice views of Taylor Canyon.
Canyonlands hike Mesa Arch
This 0.7-mile loop visits a picturesque arch spanning across the mesa's edge.
Canyonlands hikes More trails in Utah
Explore other hikes in Canyonlands National Park and elsewhere.
OK! Add to trails I’ve hiked
OK! Add to trails I want to hike
Tagged with · Island in the Sky
Distance: 1 mile · Elevation change: 250 feet

Ask a question or share your experience

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Go the extra miles...
Submit a rating of this hike to go with your comment. Contribute to the average trail rating.

One Comment on Whale Rock in Canyonlands National Park

  1. […] Canyonlands felt the most remote of all the parks we went to, our favorite hike there were Whale Rock and Upheaval Dome […]