Canyonlands National Park – Murphy Trail
Location: Canyonlands National Park, Moab, Utah
Distance & Gain: 13.3 miles, 2,000 feet
Difficulty: Strenuous, (with options for easier trips)
Type: Loop, with a short side-trip to an overlook
Date Hiked: December 10, 2018
Permits and Fees: $30 Park Entrance Fee
Description: A short and easy hike to a point overlooking the Green River, combined with a challenging 2,000 foot hike down into the Green River basin.
A couple weeks ago, I did the wonderful Murphy Trail in Canyonlands National Park. I did this hike in two parts, a short 2 mile hike out to the Murphy Overlook, and then a long loop through the Green River basin. The trip provided wonderful views over the east side of the park, including White Rim Canyon, the Maze and Candlestick Butte. The loop portion included a steep descent down the Wingate Cliffs, and a long climb back up at the end of the day. Despite the strenuous climb, however, the extended loop was very scenic, and provided great access to quieter parts of the Island in the Sky District.
The Murphy Overlook
I started out on a cool December morning, getting on the trail around 9:00 am. There was snow on the ground, but I had clear skies, and the place to myself. Bam! I love Canyonlands!
The hike out to the Murphy Overlook was flat and nice, taking a little less than an hour to hike to. The overlook sat on the high cliffs of Island in the Sky, with sweeping views over the park.
From the overlook, you can see the route of the Murphy Trail below, looping through the wash off to the left, before returning along a high bench to the right. To get there, however, the trail must descend the Wingate Cliffs, which means a steep climb down, and a long climb back up on the return trip.
The Murphy Trail
From the overlook, I had to backtrack a mile to the Murphy Trail turnoff. From there, the trail went out to a bowl, with a set of ledges descending 800 feet to the basin floor. This trail here was steep, but well laid out, with steps in some the steeper sections, and switchback through the pile of rubble at the bottom.
The trail splits at the bottom of the cliffs, with Murphy Wash going to the left, and the Hogsback going off to the right. I took the trail down to the wash, hiking a creek bed down to White Rim Road.
The trail eventually joins White Rim Road, an old 4×4 road that circles around Island in the Sky. From here, there is a short 400 foot climb up to the Hogsback.
The Hogsback is a long bench, a couple miles in length, that extends out over the Green River basin. I hiked to the western tip of the bench, where I ate my lunch and took many pictures. The view here was wonderful, with beautiful vantages on Grand View Point and Junction Butte. I also had great views of White Rim Canyon, the Green River, the Needles, the Maze, and more.
The Hogsback included a backcountry campground as well, providing a few simple amenities for bikers, backpackers, and 4x4s passing through this area. Permits are required for all overnight stays in the backcountry.
From the campground, I followed the last leg of trail back up the Hogsback. I had beautiful late day sun that afternoon, with wonderful light over Candlestick Butte and the White Rim Canyon.
As I made my way back, I had a pretty view of the Wingate Cliffs, the giant sandstone formation making up the base beneath Island in the Sky. I got my first sight of people that day as well, two tiny figures visiting the Murphy Overlook high above.
The Final Climb
The hike back to my van included the 800 foot climb back up the Wingate cliffs to Island in the Sky. I made this climb at sunset, with beautiful golden light coloring the surrounding cliffs.
I hiked my last 2 miles back to my van by headlight, a sliver of moon hanging low in the western sky, a pretty end to an otherwise beautiful day.
Overall, I enjoyed the Murphy Trail a lot. The overlook trail is a nice option for a shorter hike, with sweeping views over the Green River basin. Meanwhile, the extended loop into the Green River basin, is a wonderful option for people wanting a more challenging day hike. If you have done the Lathrop Trail, and are looking for similar hike through the Green River basin, the extended Murphy loop is a good option. All in all, the Murphy area very pretty, and worth a visit.
Mapping for the Murphy Trail can be found on the Park Service map for the Needles District:
Other Canyonlands Pages
Island in the Sky District
General information for Canyonlands National Park is available on the National Park Service website.