Weary of Iconic Vistas at Canyonlands National Park? Hike to Upheaval Dome

Trek in. Walk out. Drive by. We found no shortage of opportunities to enjoy magnificent vistas at Canyonlands National Park. So, we mixed in a scramble to the park’s only meteor crater.

We had planned to begin our day enjoying sunrise at Mesa Arch in the Island in the Sky District. But we arose too late and had to settle for daybreak from the car on Highway 191, miles from the park’s iconic arch.

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The crowd at Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking
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Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking

Fortunately, the classic shot is less about sunrise and more about early morning light reflecting on the underbelly of the pothole arch as it frames the canyon below. The half mile loop trail to the arch is easy, but getting a good shot is difficult because of the crush of early risers.

The photo bombers were relentless, but The Geek got her shot. We left the crowd behind and headed up the road to the trail at Upheaval Dome at the eastern edge of Canyonlands for a different perspective on the terrain.

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Upheaval Dome, Canyonlands National Park. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking

Upheaval Dome is not a canyon. It’s an impact crater measuring three miles in diameter with a dome of shale covered by sandstone that rises 750 feet from the floor. Think of it as a bullseye in the desert. Scientists have debated its origin over the years, but the prevailing theory is that the crater was formed in an instant by a meteor strike.

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The trail above Upheaval Dome, Canyonlands National Park. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking

The hike to the first of two overlooks at Upheaval Dome isn’t particularly long or difficult. But don’t stop there. Go the extra mile across what becomes a bit of a scramble to the second overlook. The hike across rough rock surfaces – some with steps carved into the face – is part of the fun.

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Upheaval Dome, Canyonlands National Park. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking

You’ll know you’ve reached overlook No. 2 when you reach a platform with a safety fence for optimal but secure viewing. Rangers have marked the trail well with cairns.


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Rock formation near Aztec Butte, Canyonlands National Park. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking

We also hiked a portion of the 1.7 mile trail to Aztec Butte, known for ancestral Puebloan granaries tucked beneath stone ledges. When the going got steep we cut back across a spur to a smaller butte with a pair of granaries of its own.

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Shafer Canyon, Canyonlands National Park. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking
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Shafer Canyon Road, Canyonlands National Park. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking

Our last stop was at the Shafer Canyon overlook, where The Geek with camera in hand strode confidently to the edges of the overlook’s broad peninsula of rock, snapping pictures of the vista and notorious Shafer Canyon Road, which winds 18 miles to the bottom of the gorge. No safety fence here.

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Shafer Canyon Overlook, Canyonlands National Park. Dan Page/CoastsideSlacking

While The Geek reveled in the photo opportunity, MontaraManDan soberly watched a 4×4 slowly navigate the twists of Shafer Canyon Road. OMG.

This post is the fifth in a series about our adventures on a 6,000-mile road trip across the American West in Fall 2019.

Part 1: Getting our Kicks in Route 50 in Nevada – ‘The Loneliest Road in America”

Part 2: Strolling among Nevada’s Bristlecone Ancients at Great Basin National Park

Part 3: Finding Pando: Utah’s 80,000-year-old Aspen Grove Hides in Plain Site 

Part 4: That Time We Lost the Trail High on a Ledge at Capitol Reef National Park

Part 6: Scrambling Beyond the Bus Tours in the Devil’s Garden at Arches National Park

Part 7: Night Sky Brightens a Visit to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Part 8: ‘Ode to Autumn at Crested Butte’ – A Fall Hiking Adventure in Verse and Pictures

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