Murphy Trail Loop

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 10.8 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 4811 - 6257 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 5 hrs. 45 mins.
Trailhead: Murphy Trail
Fee: $25/vehicle
Attractions: Scenic backcountry trail




The Murphy Trail Loop is located in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park near Moab, Utah. The trail begins on the high plateau of the Island in the Sky where it descends a talus filled chute that takes it off of the west side of the mesa to the desert below. At the base of the cliffs the trail splits with one fork leading through Murphy Wash and the other traveling across the Murphy Hogback with the goal of both being the White Rim Road. For this post we follow the route through the wash to the White Rim Road which we then hike to reach the hogback route to complete the loop. From there we climb back up the chute to get back to the trailhead.



To get to the trailhead from the Visitor Center follow the Grand View Point Road and watch for the Murphy trailhead 2-3 miles before reaching Grand View Point.


Follow the rutted trail from the parking area that heads southwest across the mesa. Just under the half mile point the trail splits with the Murphy Point trail breaking off on the right fork and the Murphy trail continuing along the left.


The trail continues across the mesa along a well cairned route to the point where it breaks over the rim of the cliff and begins its descent.


Once below the rim of the mesa the trail lands on a ledge that it follows around the top of the chute.


A multitude of well designed switchbacks form the route down the talus slope. The trail always seems to maintain a comfortable width as it works its way downward. The feeling of exposure is mild in comparison to that of the Gooseberry trail. Trekking poles usually come in handy for maintaining your balance on steep slopes although they are by no means a necessity.


Someone put in a huge amount of labor to create a number of stone staircases that make portions of the trail much easier than they otherwise would be. At present they are in need of a little trail maintenance to clear away some of the debri.


At the transition point between the sheer rock cliff of wingate sandstone and the underlying chinle (chin-lee) formation a gap in the trail is spanned by a short wooden bridge. The bridge is very solid and comfortably wide with a drop off of only 10-20 feet on the one side. It is doubtful that this is the original bridge that was made here for cattle to cross but it feels every bit as sturdy as that one must have been.


Once across the bridge the switchbacks continue but with much longer and gentler sweeps.


At the 2 mile point the trail reaches the beginning of the loop. The direction of travel is purely arbitrary but for this post we went in the clockwise direction and hiked down the wash. Going in the clockwise direction means that you will have to hike up a monstrously steep hill on the White Rim Road to get up to the level of the Murphy Hogback whereas if you go in the other direction the climb back up the wash is much more gradual.


The hike down the wash is very pleasant. Some minor scrambling is involved around several spillovers along the way. At one point the trail passes a small coral that was made by fencing off the wall of an ancient ruin. After meandering around for over two and a half miles the wash reaches the White Rim Road.


The White Rim Road climbs sharply out of Murphy Wash and after winding around a bit as it heads north it makes a very steep climb up the side of the hill to get up to the level of Murphy  Mesa and the hogback.


The route follows the White Rim Road for just under a mile and a half. After 1.2 miles of following the road there is a restroom that is located near 2 of the primitive backcountry campsites that are on either side of the road. If you are backpacking you will want to obtain a permit at the Visitor Center to ensure the availability of one of the sites.


Within a quarter mile of the restroom and campsites the turnoff for the hogback route comes up on the right.


There is very little elevation change in the 2.8 mile trek hiking across the hogback to where the loop comes to an end and the inevitable climb back up to the Island in the Sky begins. There are several places where a short stroll will lead to spectacular overlooks of the White Rim and glimpses of the Green River flowing toward its nearby confluence with the Colorado River. For us the climb back up the chute was much faster than the hike down it was and that was even after spending some time cleaning off steps.


Due to the extra level of exertion required with all of the elevation gain be sure to bring a little extra water. In fact, bring something besides just water like Powerade or Gatorade to replenish the sodium and potassium that is sweating out of your pores. We saw some bighorn sheep while hiking but even with our zoom lens they were too far away for an adequate picture. There were fresh tracks in the wash that had been made since the previous nights intense thunderstorms but we never did see the bighorn that made them. The Murphy Loop is an awesome hike for anyone that can meet its demands and wants to get the most out of their visit to the Island in the Sky. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.