Syncline Loop Trail sits in the western parts of the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. The trail makes a loop around Upheaval Dome, a crater roughly one mile in diameter whose geologic origin has been the subject of much debate. From the trailhead a one mile long spur trail goes to a couple of viewpoints where you could see the crater and the green colored severely eroded hills that rise from the center of it.
Hiking the Syncline Loop Trail, however, will not provide you with any views of the crater. From the top of the Island in the Sky Mesa, the trail takes you 1450 vertical feet down to the junction of Upheaval Canyon Trail
at the bottom of Upheaval Canyon and then brings you back to the top of the mesa via a different route. The northern arm of the trail goes up a steep boulder field where you must pay close attention to cairns that identify the route. Some of the older texts talk about traversing a boulder with much exposure but it appears that the park service has now cut steps into the boulder eliminating the exposure.
I saw signs at the trailhead warning that the trail was strenuous. Apparently more hikers get lost on this trail than any other trail in the park. Although the trail was only 8.3 miles long, it took me longer to hike than some of the longer trails with more vertical.
From Island in the Sky Visitor Center, drive 6.5 miles south and turn on Upheaval Dome Road. Continue the road 5 miles to the end of it at the picnic area and trailhead.
|Junction of Upheaval Canyon via south arm of the loop
|Trailhead via the north arm of the loop
From trailhead, follow the trail a short distance until you reach a 3 way. Straight is the short spur trail to view points. You can go right or left to get on the north or south arm of the loop. This description turns left and takes you first on the south arm of the loop (to hike the loop in a clockwise manner).
The first mile of the trail goes over a slickrock/juniper covered area.
You will then suddenly reach the edge of a big drop-off into a canyon.
Henry Mountains may be visible in the far west/southwest.
Pay close attention to the cairns and follow the path down the many twists and turns to go from 5600 to 5200 ft in a very short distance. Looking back up the slope you descended.
Looking back up
The slope eases up for a short distance and then reaches the edge of a second steep drop-off that takes you from 4800-4500 ft.
Edge of second drop-off
Looking back up the second drop-off.
Looking back up the drop-off
The trail then goes to the bottom of a dry wash where you will find a number of trees.
Walls will be visible in all directions.
A canyon begins to form and you will follow the bottom of the canyon.
The first view of Point 5245 ft appears as an impressive horn.
Point 5245 ft
You will then reach the signed junction with Upheaval Canyon Trail.
Point 5245 ft
Left goes to Upheaval canyon. Turn right and follow the trail a short distance until the trail makes a sharp turn to the left and starts to go up a number of steps to reach the top of a hill. Make sure you do not miss this turn and steep uphill.
Steps going uphill
You will now have good views of Point 5649 ft.
Point 5649 ft
At a signed junction turn left and follow the trail up Syncline Canyon going right under Point 5245 ft (straight is a spur trail to the center of the crater)
Point 5245 ft
The trail follows the bottom of the valley toward its steep end.
You will then reach a steep boulder field. Look for cairns and follow the path up the steep field among the boulders.
I suspect these steps were created here to avoid the exposure on the boulder.
Looking back at the canyon from the boulder field.
Steep slickrock area above the boulder field.
Another look at Point 5245 ft.
Point 5245 ft
You will then reach a gently sloped valley with beautiful deciduous trees.
The trail then makes a turn to the right and goes up a branch of the valley steeply.
The last 1.5 mile or so follow a dry wash in a Juniper covered environment to reach the trailhead.