Wilhite Trail, Island in the Sky: Wilhite Trailhead, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Wilhite Trail - 11.7 miles
Island in the Sky: Wilhite Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||11.7 miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||5,845' - 4,268' (5,932' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||-1,577' net elevation loss (+2,145' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Wilhite Trail - 11.7 Miles Round-Trip
The Wilhite Trail stretches 5.85 miles from the Island Mesa top to White Rim Road in Canyonlands National Park. This moderately-strenuous trail runs a short time through brush flats and open slickrock before plunging 850’ in just .65 miles into Upper West Basin.
It continues around the base of vertical cliffs and down a colorful wash to White Rim Road, just over which are partially navigable slots that eventually spill into the Green River. The Wilhite Trail comes highly recommended for its diverse terrain, exceptional views and intriguing geologic features:
The Wilhite Trail begins on Upheaval Dome Road, 8.4 miles from the visitor center.
It moves quickly but with minimal clarity up a diversely vegetated flat to a crest on the mesa (.6 miles : 5,932’) with panoramas over Holeman Spring Basin, Upper West Basin and the Green River. Candlestick Tower (5,867’) stands prominently to the SW.
A well-established social trail (better defined than the main) branches north from this crest to an overlook, which can be misleading.
The Wilhite Trail continues west and down through rolling slickrock dotted with juniper and water-retaining potholes. Follow cairns and look for wildlife on this stretch.
Cairns lead to the mesa rim and a vertical chute carved between two sheer cliffs, where you'll begin a challenging descent through rugged talus (1.35 miles : 5,720’). Tread patiently on this difficult section.
Morning shade is a unique plus on this north-facing descent, though by afternoon much of it is fully lit.
The trail twists quickly and frequently through large boulders and loose rock before moderating at the foot of the debris field (2.0 miles : 4,870’).
It spills into a spacious terrace between the mesa top and basin floor and begins a long, deliberate hook around the base of the (south) cliff wall you just descended (see map, points 4 - 7).
It first passes through level brush flats (2.25 miles), then rugged undulations across a broad spectrum of exposed sandstone layers and mineral deposits that comprise the landscape. This latter segment is especially interesting and photogenic, albeit strenuous.
The trail completes the ‘hook’ (3.05 miles : 4,868’), and drops steeply once again into the crimson expanse of Upper West Basin (3.2 miles : 4,660’).
It levels a short distance before dropping into a wash (3.4 miles : 4,575’) that leads all the way to White Rim Road. This wash is arguably more interesting than most in the desolate backcountry, primarily for its colorful collection of rocks washed down from the mesa’s escarpment.
Travel quickens through the wash, with only a few marked forks that require attention, especially the wash exit on the return.
Wash walls recede into wide open desert on the final approach to White Rim Road (5.85 miles : 4,268’). Bear right at the fork just before the road.
The slot canyon is located just over the road, which runs a short distance before reaching an impassable dry fall. Technical gear and expertise are required for further travel.
The slot is quite easy to enter, but potentially difficult to exit. The rock is polished with minimal traction; pools frequently hold water that can slicken your shoes and rock on the way out. Numerous hikers have been rescued from these slots. Know your abilities before entering.
The return hike climbs 1664’ from White Rim Road back to the .6 mile crest. Anticipate challenging terrain and hot temperatures in open desert, and manage travel time and resources accordingly.
Interactive GPS Topo MapKey GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84
- N38 24.248 W109 53.893 — 0.0 miles : Wilhite Trailhead
- N38 24.092 W109 54.385 — .6 miles : Crest, begin drop over slickrock
- N38 24.103 W109 54.765 — 1.35 miles : Begin steep drop into basin
- N38 24.203 W109 54.846 — 1.6 miles : Steep, rugged descent
- N38 24.388 W109 54.891 — 2.0 miles : Brief travel in wash at base of descent
- N38 24.340 W109 55.207 — 2.6 miles : Mild travel curls around base of cliff
- N38 24.055 W109 55.106 — 3.05 miles : Begin second rugged drop to basin floor
- N38 24.013 W109 55.207 — 3.2 miles : Reach basin floor; anticipate drop into wash
- N38 24.043 W109 55.364 — 3.4 miles : Drop into wash
- N38 24.069 W109 56.041 — 4.1 miles : Fork in wash, bear right
- N38 24.000 W109 56.436 — 4.6 miles : Mild, quick travel in wash
- N38 23.825 W109 56.854 — 5.1 miles : Wash walls widen and recede
- N38 23.641 W109 57.273 — 5.6 miles : Wash spills into open desert
- N38 23.713 W109 57.549 — 5.85 miles : White Rim Road - Slot entrance
- Carry ample water. Water is not available on this trail. Anticipate a strenuous, fully exposed climb on the return. Sturdy footwear with good soles is highly recommended.
- The slots just over White Rim Road are fairly easy to drop into, but potentially difficult to climb out. Wet rock can make the exit extremely difficult. Travel in the slots becomes technical after a short distance, and requires ropes to scale a dry fall that leads deeper into the canyon. Only experienced hikers should attempt to enter the slots. Solo hikers should be especially cautious.
- The slot canyon continues into the Green River. The opposite bank is known as Valentine Bottom, a 19th century homestead and 13th century Ancestral Puebloan settlement.
Camping and Backpacking Information
Permits are required for all overnight backpacking trips in Canyonlands National Park. Permits can be acquired at Visitor Centers the day of or day before your trip. Advance reservations can be made up to 4 months out and are recommended during peak season.
Call the Backcountry Reservation Office for more information: 435.259.4351
Click here to access the online reservation system.
- There's a $30 fee per party to backcountry camp in Canyonlands National Park.
- Hikers must camp in designated sites where explicitly stated. You may otherwise choose your own campsite in designated at-large zones.
- At-large sites must be at least 1 mile away from any road and 300' from any archeological site, historical site or water source.
- Mountain Bikers and 4WDs must stay on established roads and camp in designated sites at all times.
- Fires are not permitted at backcountry campsites or within the backcountry in Canyonlands National Park.
- Desert water sources are scarce and fragile. Do not bathe or wash dishes in creeks or pools.
Rules and Regulations
- There's a $25 fee per vehicle to enter Canyonlands National Park (defined as private passenger cars with 15 people or less). Passes are good for 7 consecutive days.
- $15 per motorcycle.
- $10 per person (walk or bike).
- Dogs are not permitted on trails in Canyonlands National Park.
Directions to Trailhead
The Wilhite Trailhead is located on Upheaval Dome Road, 8.4 miles from the Island in the Sky Visitor Center. From the Visitor Center, drive 6.3 miles south to the Grand View Point - Upheaval Dome Road split. Turn right on Upheaval Dome Road and continue 2.1 miles to the trailhead on the left (west) side of the road.
Canyonlands National Park
2282 SW Resource Blvd
Moab, UT 84532
Island in the Sky District: 435.259.4712
Backcountry Reservation Office: 435.259.4351
Park Administration: 435.719.2100