Round Trip Distance: 8.3 miles
Elevation: 4184 - 5763 feet
Cellphone: 0-2 bars
Usage: Hiking - No Dogs
Time: 6 hrs.
Facilities: Vault toilet
Trailhead: Upheaval Dome
Fee: $5 individual - $10 vehicle - $25 annual pass
Attractions: Scenic views, geology, wildflowers, backpacking
View Syncline Loop in a larger map
The Syncline Loop trail is located in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park west of Moab, Utah. Canyonlands National Park is about 120 miles from Grand Junction, Colorado and 32 miles from Moab, Utah. Syncline is a geological term for a rock formation that forms a trough or basin where the sides are folded upward and the middle of the fold is composed of the younger layers of rock. The Syncline Loop trail encircles Upheaval Dome which by most evidence appears to be a meteorite impact crater.
The Syncline Loop and Upheaval Dome trails share the same trailhead. The trails split after a hundred yards or so with the Upheaval Dome trail continuing straight ahead and the Syncline Loop trail going either to the left or right. This post describes following the loop trail to the left and hiking the loop in a clockwise direction.
There is a warning sign a short distance down the trail that serves 2 good purposes. First of all it lets hikers that were intending to hiking to Upheaval Dome that they aren't on the correct trail. And secondly the sign mentions that the Syncline Loop is both strenuous to hike and difficult to follow. The trail is indeed very strenuous due to it's overall length but mostly because of the change in elevation. The trail is fairly easy to follow as far as route finding goes but the level of hiking and climbing skill required make the trail very difficult in several places. The difficult spots require you to use both hands and feet to climb up steep sections of trail and over large boulders. The well conditioned and experienced hikers will find the challenges of these areas very enjoyable and of little consequence while the out of shape and novice hiker may find them overwhelming. Taking young children on a hike like this would be very inadvisable.
The first mile of the trail is easy hiking and suitable for most anyone. There are a few minor washes that but for the most part the trail is generally flat.
After hiking the first mile the big descent begins. Standing here at the edge of the Island in the Sky you can peer far down below where the trail will eventually take you. The trail drops down the slope continually for the next half mile while it gives up over 1000 feet of elevation. The trail isn't difficult to hike at this point it is just a lot of downhill.
The trail levels off at the intermediate bench and after a little bit of easy hiking it comes to the next big drop. This section is pretty steep and has a few scree areas that may challenge your footing. Mostly it is just a big drop over a short distance.
The trail ends up in the wash at the bottom of the canyon and follows it as it meanders its way downward at a much gentler rate.
The trail comes to a junction with the Upheaval Canyon trail at the 3 mile point. The sign shows that there is about 5 more miles to hike to complete the loop.
Just over a quarter mile from the last junction is another sign marking the Upheaval Crater Spur trail. This trail dead ends in the upper canyon so be sure to stay left on the Syncline Loop trail. The only designated camping spot on the Syncline Loop trail is in this area.
The trail leads into a canyon that also appears to be a dead end.
There are pools of water that have collected from various seeps and past rainfall. The impression is that you cannot count on these water sources to always be available.
The technical difficulties of the hike begin at the head of this canyon. For the most part the challenges the trail presents at this point have been overcome with a little creative rock carving and trail building. There are areas of slickrock to scramble over and places where the exposure is probably enough to make some hikers uncomfortable.
Near the very top of the canyon there are places where you have to lift yourself over and crawl around large boulders. All of these boulders seem to be in a solid position but each hiker will need to determine that for themselves.
Once you get up and out of the last canyon the difficulty of the hike is greatly reduced. The trail passes through another riparian environment with plenty of vegetation including a few cottonwood trees.
The trail enters into another canyon that is surrounded by high walls that seem to offer no easy escape. Eventually a large gap in the high sandstone cliffs appears that provides an easy exit from the canyon.
For the last 2.5 miles of the loop the trail climbs at a much gentler pace.
As the trail nears Whale Rock sound of traffic begin to be heard and there is only a half mile left to the hike.
With the temperature running around the mid 70's F I went through 160 ounces of water and Gatorade. The Syncline Loop trail is not a casual hike and a little more preparation would be advisable. Some people prefer to backpack in and split the effort of the hike over 2 days. Whatever you choose to do be sure to take plenty of water. My Verizon phone was able to send and receive text messages in a few places. I made several voice calls that all dropped off before we were through talking. I also carry a SPOT satellite device that allows me to send one-way text messages and to summon Search and Rescue if needed. It also allows others to track my progress on the internet. The SPOT is good to have along on any hike but especially one like the Syncline Loop trail. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.