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