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Murphy Loop

A full-day trek from the Island in the Sky, down to the White Rim Road, and back up.

Hiking Difficult

16 km
488 m
488 m
3-4 hrs
Low Point
1.5 km
High Point
1.9 km
Murphy Loop Map

On this hike, you’ll descend steeply from the Island in the Sky, follow a panoramic ridgeline toward the heart of Canyonlands, then work your back through remote, rugged desert. It’s the perfect all-day adventure for lovers of wilderness and solitude. Water cannot be found reliably anywhere on this hike, and shade is scarce, so hikers must be prepared and self-sufficient.


The hike begins on the popular Murphy Point Trail but soon departs on a lesser-traveled trail to the canyon rim. There it plunges downward, using the debris of an ancient landslide for passage through otherwise vertical cliffs. Switchbacks, stairs, and ledge traverses are constructed among the rubble. They are well-built but still rather narrow and quite steep in places. The steepest parts are finished after crossing a short wooden bridge over a gap. After that, it’s more gradual downhill, but the broad plateau of rolling terrain is still far below.

Soon the trail meets a fork, which is the beginning of the loop. Either direction is suitable, but turning right and hiking the loop counter-clockwise is recommended. This makes for better views and for a more gradual ascent on the way out. In this direction, the next portion of the trail follows a broad bench beneath towering cliffs of red sandstone, and above the sloping plateau. This is the mid-layer of Canyonlands, where softer rock forms hills and valleys rather than vertical walls. The trail continues at roughly this elevation for some time, crossing onto a ridgeline called the Murphy Hogback. This finger-like ridge extends for miles, remaining higher than terrain on either side, and therefore granting sweeping views in all directions.

Eventually, the trail intersects the White Rim Road, where you may encounter Jeeps and mountain bikes. In this vicinity are a few campsites, used mostly by drivers and riders but open to backpackers as well (backcountry permit required). There is no water, however. To continue the loop, follow the road south and east for about one mile as it descends from the hogback. Look for the sign that marks Murphy Wash, and turn left onto this trail, leaving the road and wheeled traffic behind.

Murphy Wash may flow with water after rain or snow, but shouldn’t be counted on. It is dry for much of the year. The trail more or less follows the wash, sometimes in the streambed and sometimes cutting across the banks. Many tributaries intersect, while low cliffs and boulders present obstacles here and there. Pay attention to avoid losing the trail and following the wrong drainage by accident. For the most part, this portion is easy, but can feel long and arduous. When the wash suddenly steepens and the cliffs loom just overhead, it means you are near the familiar trail junction. You’ll then face the big climb on the same trail you came down.

Sources: https://www.nps.gov/cany/planyourvisit/hiking.htm https://www.gjhikes.com/2015/07/murphy-loop.html http://debravanwinegarden.blogspot.com/2015/11/murphy-hogback-trail-canyonlands.html



Hiking trails where obstacles such as rocks or roots are prevalent. Some obstacles can require care to step over or around. At times, the trail can be worn and eroded. The grade of the trail is generally quite steep, and can often lead to strenuous hiking.

High Exposure

3 out of 4

Some trail sections have exposed ledges or steep ascents/descents where falling could cause serious injury.


3 out of 4

Little chance of being seen or helped in case of an accident.

Best time to visit

between September and May


  • Historical
  • Picturesque
  • Wild flowers

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area