Lathrop Trail

Round Trip Distance: 12.2 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 4408 - 6129 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 6 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Lathrop
Fee: $30/vehicle
Attractions: Scenic views and geology

The Lathrop Trail is located in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park near Moab, Utah. The trail begins on top of the mesa, crosses Gray's Pasture, descends several benches as it traverses the cliffs below the Lathrop overlook where it follows a seemingly endless number of switchbacks while working its way down the rock fall filled canyon to the desert floor. From there it continues for another 1.5 miles to the White Rim Road. At the White Rim Road, which is 6.1 miles from the trailhead on top of the mesa, there is an option to continue the hike another 4 miles down to a day use area on the Colorado River by following the Lathrop Canyon Road. The roundtrip distance to the White Rim Road and back is 12.2 miles while hiking to the Colorado River would increase it to about 21 miles. Permits are available at the Visitor Center for backpackers wanting to use one of the at-large campsites.

To get to the trailhead drive north from Moab on Highway 191 for about 10 miles and turn west onto Highway 313. Follow Highway 313 for almost 15 miles where it turns east toward Dead Horse Point. Rather than turning at Dead Horse Point continue straight ahead towards Canyonlands National Park. After about 4.5 miles you will cross the Canyonlands boundary and enter the park. The Lathrop trailhead will be on your left about 2 miles past the Visitor Center. You will need to bring all the water and trail snacks you might want with you and be sure you have enough fuel in your vehicle to make it back to town. There is nothing available in Canyonlands.

The first 1.5 miles of the hike across Gray's Pasture has a very gentle increase of elevation to it.

The next half mile crosses a few areas of slickrock and sandy washes until it comes to the cairn in this photo where the trail drops over the edge of the mesa.

The easy to follow trail is well marked with cairns from this point on.

As the trail continues it steps down from one bench to the next and turns back to the west where it traverses around the point below the Lathrop Overlook.

As the trail rounds the point a magnificent view of Airport Tower grabs your attention. Off in the distance toward Grand View Point the location where the Gooseberry Canyon Trail descends from the White Rim Overlook can be spied. The Gooseberry Canyon Trail, 5.4 miles round-trip, is another trail like Lathrop Canyon that begins on the mesa and descends to the White Rim Road. Looking over the distance between these two spots helps you to visualize just how big the Island in the Sky District is.

From that point the trail wraps back around the west side of the cliff toward the spot where it drops into the canyon.

For the big descent into the canyon the trail snakes down a seemingly endless number of switchbacks. There are a couple of spots where you can't see where the trail is going further ahead of you and it has the appearance that it is going to just drop off of the cliff. As you continue hiking you quickly discover that isn't the case and it was all an illusion.

Over the next mile the trail plunges more than 800 feet down to the canyon floor. To give you an idea of how many switchbacks there are, the same distance as the crow flies is only 4 tenths of a mile. There aren't really any places of exposure where if you fell you would go very far unless maybe if you are running where you have a lot of momentum.

At the 4 mile point of the hike the trail has dropped down below the shear wingate sandstone cliffs and is on a bench just below the chinle (chin-lee) formation. This is the formation that they mined for uranium and there are several old mines in the area. Those mines and their tailing piles should be avoided because you don't want to kick up the radioactive dust and get it into your lungs.

The next 2 miles of hiking to the White Rim Road are pretty easy. To continue for another 4 miles down to the Colorado River hike to the right a couple hundred yards to where the Lathrop Canyon Road departs from the White Rim Road. The road goes all the way to a day use area near the river.

Looking back at the Island in the Sky from the White Rim Road makes you wonder which views are the most awesome. Those from the top looking down or those from the bottom looking up. The cliffs tower above you like an unconquerable barrier. You know in your mind that there is a route that leads to the top but from here it looks so daunting you wonder if you can really do it.

Like climbing any mountain it is accomplished one step at a time. And speaking of steps there are actually hundreds of well placed stones that form staircases in a few key spots. It is still a mammoth climb but the steps make it a bit faster and a whole lot safer.

Looking back down at the White Rim Road you can see where we turned around and where the Lathrop Canyon Road drops below the rim. Beyond that you can see the Colorado River meandering around a horseshoe bend.

I normally never stop for rest breaks but my legs were cramping from the climb so I sat down on a rock and chewed on a couple of Rolaids. They can make cramps go away almost instantly but the effect doesn't last a long time so you have to either quit hiking or chew another one every 15 minutes or so. (Tums don't work because they lack the magnesium.) A raven landed on the rock next to me while I was there. I'm not sure if it was just being chummy or if it mistakenly thought I was going to give it something to eat.

The Lathrop Trail gets its name from a sheep herder named Howard Lathrop. Domestic sheep led to the almost complete loss of the herds of bighorn sheep in the area. The domestic sheep carried diseases that the bighorn had no natural immunities to. It appears that the American Indians weren't the only ones to suffer from foreign pestilences. The Park Service has done a good job maintaining the Lathrop Trail for anyone that is up for a strenuous hike. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.