Canyonlands Murphy Loop Trail

Overview: A long, difficult day hike or overnighter from the Island in the Sky to the White Rim Road and back.

Start: Murphy Trailhead

Distance: 10.8 miles; lollipop loop

Difficulty: Difficult

Maps: USGS Monument Basin and Turks Head; Trails Illustrated Island in the Sky

Finding the trailhead: Drive 8.6 miles south from the Island in the Sky Visitor Center and park at the pullout at the Murphy Trailhead.

Trailhead GPS: 38.354998, -109.863819

Unlike most trails in the Island in the Sky District, the hike into the Murphy Basin is a nice lollipop loop instead of an out-and-back route. A pleasant mile-long walk on White Rim Road connects the Murphy Hogback Trail to the Murphy Wash Trail to complete the loop section of the route. It is best to do the route counterclockwise, which allows you to walk down instead of up a hill on White Rim Road.

From the trailhead follow a recently abandoned road for about a half mile to the former trailhead and parking area and junction with the Murphy Point Trail. Turn left (southwest) here. The trail stays on the flat mesa for less than a quarter mile before heading down a 1,000-foot descent into Murphy Basin. As with other such descents from Island in the Sky, the NPS has expertly routed and contoured the trail to make it safe and enjoyable walking. In one place a wooden bridge was installed to securely cross a short steep spot.

Right at the bottom of the mile-long descent the trail splits. Take your pick on which way you want to do the 7-mile loop section of this trail.

When you reach White Rim Road, go south. You’ll see Murphy Vehicle Campsite and a vault toilet. Watching carefully to avoid vehicles, continue down White Rim Road for 1.3 miles until you see the sign for the Murphy Wash Trail, which heads up the dry wash. The trail stays in the dry wash until just before the big climb back up to Island in the Sky and where the Hogback Trail joins from the left. The climb looks even more daunting from below than it did from above. The cliff looks like sheer rock with no possibility of a safe trail, but at the top you’ll probably say something to the effect that it wasn’t half as hard as it looked.