Canyonlands Alcove Spring Hike

Overview: A long day hike or overnighter with spectacular scenery.

Start: Alcove Spring Trailhead

Distance: 11.2 miles; out and back

Difficulty: Difficult

Maps: USGS Upheaval Dome; Trails Illustrated Island in the Sky

Finding the trailhead: Drive 6.5 miles south of the Island in the Sky Visitor Center and turn right (west) onto Upheaval Dome Road. Go another 3.3 miles to the Alcove Spring Parking Area at the trailhead sign on the right (north) side of the road.

Trailhead GPS: 38.423120, -109.908766

The first mile of this trail down from Island in the Sky is a little rocky, but with lots of steps installed to make hiking down and climbing back up easier. The last 4 miles is easy “wash walking.”

The trail gradually switchbacks down with one long stretch along an absolutely massive cliff with an enormous, amphitheater-like alcove for which the trail is named. After about a mile the well-defined trail levels out, angling to the left before heading down into Trail Canyon. In another mile or so, the trail dips into the dry wash of Trail Canyon and stays there until you reach the end of Taylor Canyon Road. Trail Canyon is a big, broad valley with sensational cliffs on both sides.

During the last mile you get great views of Zeus and Moses and Aphrodite, awesome spires of rock on the north horizon—the darlings of rock climbers everywhere.

If you’re backpacking, you won’t have any trouble finding a good spot in Trail Canyon. You can also go up into Upper Taylor Canyon to camp.

Just as Trail Canyon merges with Taylor Canyon, the trail leaves the dry wash. This turn could be missed, so have your topo map out and watch for cairns at about two o’clock. From here it’s only about a quarter mile on a defined trail to the Moses Trailhead. If you miss this turn, you’ll come out at Taylor Camp, and you can walk back from there about a quarter mile to the trailhead. From here retrace your route back to the Alcove Spring Trailhead. On the way back the point where you leave the dry wash is well marked with cairns, so you shouldn’t miss it.