Upheaval Dome / Syncline Loop Trail
A big hike around a huge crater on steep trails, through boulder fields and narrow washes.
Upheaval Dome is an impact crater over 3 miles in diameter, in the center of which is a huge dome and the jury’s out on what formed it. Make a short stop first at the Upheaval Dome Overlook to get an overview of what you’ll be circling on that trail. This is 1/2mile from the parking area and it’ll be the only time you see the crater once you’re on the loop unless you do the optional trail into the crater. You’ll notice that the terrain is very rough so now’s the time to pull out if you don’t think you can handle it. Make no mistake, the trail is arduous though not technically difficult. The biggest problem is occasional routefinding so make sure you take a topo map with you and keep an eye out for the occasional cairns. The trail descends very steeply around 1200 feet at the start, follows a canyon bottom, and then climbs back out more gradually. The total distance is about 8.5 miles but it feels like 12.
The general trail directions here follow the recommended clockwise route. From the trailhead sign near the Overlook you’ll hike across the mesa for close to a mile before dropping steeply on switchbacks for a mile. It’s very rocky and you’ll occasionally need to use your hands to steady yourself. The views on the first 2 miles are stunning with a great panorama of the Green River meandering far below you About 10 minutes before you hit the wash at the bottom the trail appears to end at a vertical dryfall. Here you should find a cairn that directs you through an indentation in the rock to another steep switchback scramble through boulders to a wash at the bottom. This is Upheaval Canyon and you’ll be pleased the first tough part over.
For the next section you’re generally hiking in the wash as the canyon walls gradually constrict. There’s not too much vegetation here but the place has its own stark beauty – plus you’ll find some welcome shade by the canyon walls. At just over the 3 mile mark you’ll come to a trail junction with the Upheaval Canyon Trail. If you have the energy to do the 6 mile roundtrip to the river turn left on that trail (I’ve not hiked that part). Otherwise continue on the loop trail. Shortly you’ll come to another signed junction for the Upheaval Dome access trail. I’ve not hiked this section either but it’s a 3 mile roundtrip to get up close to the dome – you can go further, freestyle, but it would make for a very long hike. This is the point where you realise that this is a hike of two halves. Until now the landscape has been mostly rocky with very little vegetation, even beside the wash. Now, continuing along the loop trail, you’ll find plenty of desert scrub, cottonwoods, and even, perhaps, a few pools (even in summer). Until you reach the top of the mesa this is a much more intimate environment. At 4 miles it gets steep through boulders and brush but there are a few areas of respite. Pay particular attention to routefinding here as it’s difficult to see the trail way ahead of you, and there is exposure to dropoffs. Within this section there’s a tricky ledge to negotiate, though when I last hiked it a helpful chain was in place. Beyond that, in the upper canyon, the trail is gets marginally better. At around the 6.5 mile mark the rough stuff is all behind you as the trail undulates in washes ond on slickrock, but steadily ascending towards the top of the mesa. Strangely I found that the last 2 miles felt a lot further. Of course, much of this was down to tiredness but, unlike on some hikes where you can clearly see your trailhead destination, you really find the end difficult to gauge here.
Reward yourself with a large cold beer from the icebox as the ache in your legs gradually dissipates and you feel you’ve really hiked somewhere Big.