Lathrop Trail to White Rim Road

Lathrop Trail to White Rim Road

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 38.43388°N / 109.82668°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Apr 3, 2014
Activities Activities: Hiking
Seasons Season: Spring


Lathrop Trail was the last of the major established trails in the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park that I hiked. The trail starts on the east side of the Island in the Sky Mesa and goes down a gully among the eastern walls of the mesa 1600 vertical feet to end at White Rim Jeep Road. Along the way, the trail provides great views of walls, canyons of Colorado River and the La Sal Mountains.

Lathrop Trail MapMap

Getting There

Left our vacation rental home in Moab, Utah at 7:00 a.m. and drove 10 miles north on Route 191. Turned left on Route 313 and drove another 25 or so miles to the park entrance. Lathrop Trailhead was 2.2 miles after park entrance.

Hike Statistics

All distances are per my GPS. The sign at one end of the trail said 5 miles and at the other end said 6.9 miles.

Lathrop Trailhead
6000 ft
zero miles
High Point on the Plain
6120 ft
White Rim Jeep Road
4400 ft
5.90 miles
11.80 miles

The Hike

No one was at the trailhead. I did not see a single person on the trail either. It was 29 degrees F. The La Sal Mountains to the east were hidden in clouds but it was mostly clear where I was. Started my hike at 7:40 a.m.

I was on top of the Island in the Sky Mesa on a flat grassy plain at 6000 ft of elevation.

Grassy PlainGrassy Plain

Looking at the map, I knew that the trail went east on the plain for some time before the canyons would come into view. Only the southern-most peak of the La Sal Mountains, known as South Mountain, sometimes came out of the clouds to the east with the rays of sun behind it.

South MountainSouth Mountain

South MountainSouth Mountain

The trail slowly went up to around 6120 ft and then began to slowly descend. As I went east, some slick rock formations appeared.

Abajo Mountains and slickrocks

Slickrock area

I was waiting to see the “big drop off”. After 1.6 miles, the trail reached an edge but it only went down a little onto a lower plain among the slick rocks. This happened two more times.

Slickrock area

Slickrock area

Slickrock area

slickrock area

The 5812 ft formation known as Airport Tower had already come into view. At this point, I was higher than the top of it.

First view of Airport TowerAirport Tower on the left

After 2.3 miles and at an elevation of 5840 ft, I finally reached the edge of a wall where the White Rim Road and the end of the trail were visible 1400 vertical feet below. A couple of bends in Colorado River could also be seen at the bottom of the canyons further down.

Colorado River and White Rim CanyonsFrom "the edge"

Airport Tower was also in good view.

Airport Tower and Colorado RiverAirport Tower

The trail made a 180 degree turn and headed west traversing a slope between walls that rose 250 ft on the right to reach the plain I had been on top of, and dropped more than a 1000 ft on the left to the bottom of a canyon.

Trail traversing the slopeTrail traversing the slope

The trail will go into this canyonCanyon

Above the canyonCanyon

The trail took me into the shade so I left the picture taking for when I came back. I then reached the top of the gully among the walls where the trail made many twists and turns going down from 5700 to 4800 ft in only 0.6 miles.

Trail going down the canyon steeplyTop of the steep gully

Once I reached near the bottom of the canyon, the slope of the trail eased and it made another 180 degree turn heading back east again. I was now in the sun and went close to the base of Airport Tower. For some time the trail seemed to follow an abandoned Jeep Road and then went into the bottom of a dry wash going down slowly.

Airport TowerAirport Tower

At 10:20 a.m. and 5.9 miles, I reached the White Rim Jeep Road where the elevation was 4400 ft. I sat there to rest and enjoy the views. To the west, walls rose up 1600 vertical feet to reach the top of Island in the Sky Mesa where I had been.

Walls on Island in the Sky MesaWalls of Island in the Sky Mesa

Walls of Island in the Sky MesaWalls of Island in the Sky mesa

Walls of Island in the Sky MesaWalls of Island in the Sky Mesa

To the west a white rimmed canyon dropped further down. A Jeep Road could be seen going down into this canyon. This road apparently went another 4 miles to reach the Colorado River.

White Rim CanyonWhite Rim Canyon

White Rim CanyonWhite Rim Canyon

White Rim CanyonWhite Rim Canyon

At 11:00 a.m., I left and started to hike back up the dry wash. Airport Tower now appeared as a “needle”.

Airport Tower appearing as a  needle Airport Tower appearing as a needle

I could also see the red walls on top of which the trail traversed a slope. It was hard to believe that I would be hiking up to the top of those walls.

Hiking back up to the top of the wallTrail traverse the slope above the red walls and below the white walls

I was then out of the dry wash and was following the trail back near the bottom of the canyon to reach the steep gully.

Mushroom Rocks

Trail near the bottom of the canyon

The gully where the trail climbed soon came to view.

The gully the trail climbsTrail goes up this steep gully

I was still near the bottom of the canyon.

Looking back at the bottom of the canyon

I was then hiking up the trail in the gully.

Partly up the steep gullyPartly up the gully

Mostly up the steep gullyMostly up the gully

Near the top of the gully, where the trail traversed the slope above and below walls came to view.

The slope the trail traversesTrail traverses the slope above the big walls and below the small walls

I had more good views of Airport tower.

Airport Tower and the canyonAirport Tower

Once I reached the top of the gully, I followed the trail to where it traversed the slopes between two walls.

The slope the trail traversesTrail traversing the slope

I could now see the white rimmed canyons where I had been at the end of the trail.

Colorado River and White Rim CanyonsColorado River and White Rim Canyon

Now that the sun had risen and the clouds had lifted, La Sal Mountains appeared majestic.

La Sal MountainsLa Sal Mountains

La Sal MountainsLa Sal Mountains

On Lathrop Trail

Abajo Mountains could also be seen to the distant south.

Abajo Mountains, Colorado River & White Rim CanyonsThe distant Abajo Mountains

I was then back to the slick rock area.

Slickrock Area

La Sal MountainsLa Sal Mountains

Slickrock area

Zoomed view of the Colorado River.

Zoomed view of Colorado River

I was then on top of the plain and made it back to my car by 2:10 p.m. It was 44 degrees F.

La Sal MountainsLa Sal Mountains from the grassy plain


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