Lathrop Trail, Island in the Sky: Lathrop Trailhead, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Lathrop Trail - 12.2 miles

Island in the Sky: Lathrop Trailhead

View from the Lathrop Trail descent to White Rim Road

View from the Lathrop Trail descent to White Rim Road

Round-Trip Length: 12.2 miles (see distance note below)
Start-End Elevation: 5,998' - 4,420' (6,118' max elevation)
Elevation Change: -1,578' net elevation loss (+2,095' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Lathrop Trail - 12.2 Miles Round-Trip

The Lathrop Trail runs 6.1 miles from Grays Pasture to White Rim Road in Canyonlands National Park. This strenuous trail is part of the only marked route from the mesa top to Colorado River

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

While the descent off the mesa is similar to others in the district in terms of elevation loss (Wilhite, Murphy, Syncline), the Lathrop Trail arguably offers the most varied terrain and best views.  

After 1.35 miles in open grasslands, the trail follows wavy slickrock and contours of the canyon rim another 1.65 miles before diving down. These first three miles distinguish Lathrop from others, and are worthwhile even if not completing the hike.

Once in open desert travel moderates to White Rim Road, where you can pick up Lathrop Canyon Road (a designated bike path) and continue down to the Colorado River.

Distance Note: Park signs and various maps differ on distance, ranging from 10 – 13.8 miles roundtrip. These disparities can in part be attributed to GPS signal loss on the descent, which makes distances difficult to verify.

In all cases, plan for challenging conditions and anticipate a long, exposed climb back to the trailhead as temperatures rise and storms may be rolling in:

The Lathrop Trail heads southeast through Grays Pasture, a sprawling grassland that supports deer, badger and coyote. It rises nominally to a crest with a glimpse of the canyon (1.05 miles : 6,095’), and levels to the edge of open slickrock (1.37 miles : 6,077’).

Cairns lead past a group of Navajo Sandstone domes, a relative rarity in Island In The Sky.  It continues through intervals of slickrock and blackbrush flats with expanding views of the canyon.

This attractive section alone is worth the visit, but pay close attention - though well-marked and easy to follow, it moves in non-linear fashion across open rock and can be difficult to reclaim once off track.

The trail wraps to the canyon rim and along its outer contours with exceptional views at every turn (2.0 miles : 5,955’).  It winds just below the rim to 3.0 miles (5,775’), where it drops 880' in just .95 miles on very steep, rugged switchbacks.

The trail follows a smart, seemingly improbably route down vertical Wingate Sandstone walls typical of this district. Though physically demanding views are simply fantastic, and the path is fairly easy to read (compared to sections of Syncline and Wilhite).

Travel eases considerably past 3.95 miles (4,895’) at the base of the cliffs, where a packed dirt path begins a long ‘hook’ to reach the far side of the cul de sac you’ve dropped in to.

Look for an arch high up on the canyon walls, and avoid side trails that lead to archeological study areas. The trail wraps to the south side of the cul de sac and crosses a wash (4.55 miles : 4,652’), then straightens out on a fast, level track.

Travel moderates on the transition to open desert with views of archetypal walls, spires and towers that shape the Island Mesa (5.0 miles : 4,645’).

Anticipate some faint sections and sporadic cairns leading across (5.5 miles) and into a shallow wash (5.55 miles : 4,510’), which you’ll remain in to White Rim Road (6.1 miles : 4,420’).

From here you can turn south (right) on White Rim Road to pick up the Lathrop Canyon Bike Trail, which runs approximately 4 miles down to a popular day-use area on the Colorado River. The bike trail-road can be seen from the trail terminus on White Rim Road.


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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N38 26.021 W109 49.621 — 0.0 miles : Lathrop Trailhead
  • N38 25.644 W109 49.369 — .5 miles : Fast travel through Grays Pasture
  • N38 25.215 W109 49.163 — 1.05 miles : Crest with first view of canyons
  • N38 24.985 W109 49.029 — 1.37 miles : Transition to slickrock travel
  • N38 25.005 W109 48.890 — 1.5 miles : Open slickrock past sandstone domes
  • N38 24.754 W109 48.533 — 2.0 miles : Follow contours of upper canyon rim
  • N38 24.695 W109 48.448 — 2.5 miles : Winding course along contours of upper rim
  • N38 24.764 W109 48.682 — 3.0 miles : Begin steep descent
  • N38 24.758 W109 48.783 — 3.5 miles : Very steep, twisting and rugged switchbacks
  • N38 24.572 W109 48.742 — 3.95 miles : Trail straightens and levels on canyon floor
  • N38 24.479 W109 48.840 — 4.55 miles : Cross wash on far side of canyon
  • N38 24.266 W109 48.421 — 5.05 miles : Southeast heading into sparse open desert
  • N38 24.070 W109 48.230 — 5.5 miles : Cross wash
  • N38 24.063 W109 48.158 — 5.55 miles : Enter vaguely marked wash
  • N38 24.103 W109 47.641 — 6.1 miles : Trail ends on White Rim Road

Worth Noting

  • Be mindful of weather and plan travel to avoid afternoon thunderstorms, especially July-August. The trail is fully exposed and runs along high open spaces for several miles on the return. Sections of the trail - especially over slickrock and steep switchbacks - can be difficult (if not impassable) after heavy rain.
  • Keep a safe distance from cliff edges, and don't over-estimate traction. Loose rock can act like ball bearings under foot.
  • The Lathrop Trail is fully exposed. Carry ample water and sun protection. Manage water consumption, and ration enough for the strenuous climb back. Get an early start to avoid afternoon thunderstorms on the return.

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 Lathrop Trailhead is located 1.9 miles from the Island In The Sky Visitor Center on Gradn View Point Road. Parking is located on the south (left) side of the road.

Contact Information

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

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"After reading comments about the Syncline Trail I opted for Lathrop thinking it would be easier. I'm sure it's easier based on what I read, but for an older gentleman like me, this was plenty difficult. The descent is steep and rugged. I nearly lost my footing several times on loose dirt/rock and tumbled off the mesa wall. Once on the desert floor things got easier, but were a tad confusing across washes. As with all desert hiking, and especially in Canyonlands, you really need to pay attention and have a map. The climb back was very difficult, so I just took my time. Frankly, I prefer the uphill to that descent! "
Don Nader  -   -  Date Posted: April 17, 2017
"Backpacked this trail in August and continued down to the Colorado River on Lathrop Canyon Road, then returned the same way the next day (You will need a back country permit if you plan on camping). Take plenty of water if you plan to go during warmer months. The sites are amazing as you are hiking along the edge of cliffs for part of the hike. "
Bryce Perkins  -  Utah  -  Date Posted: August 17, 2015


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