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

Alcove Spring Trail - 11.4 miles

Island in the Sky: Alcove Spring Trailhead

The Zeus and Moses spires near the Trail Canyon - Taylor Canyon intersection

The Zeus and Moses spires near the Trail Canyon - Taylor Canyon intersection

Round-Trip Length: 11.4 miles
Start-End Elevation: 5,675' - 4,198' (5,675' max elevation)
Elevation Change: -1,477' net elevation loss (+1,729' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Alcove Spring Trail - 11.4 Miles Round-Trip

The Alcove Spring Trail runs 5.7 miles through Trail Canyon to the Taylor Canyon intersection in Canyonlands National Park. Its namesake comes from a spring that originates under a large alcove .5 miles from the trailhead.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

The Alcove Spring Trail drops 800’ from the Island Mesa on a rugged path, then moderates on the canyon floor into a wash that leads all the way to Taylor Canyon.

The trail is highlighted by towering sandstone walls, two large alcoves and the Zeus and Moses spires.

Of trails leading off the mesa, Alcove Spring is arguably the most moderate (compared to Gooseberry, Lathrop, Wilhite, Murphy and Syncline):

The trail spends little time on the rim before negotiating steep sections of slickrock and loose rock to the base of Alcove Spring (.5 miles : 5,265’). Rough social trails explore this imposing overhang and heavily vegetated area, a worthy destination in itself.

It continues ruggedly down a winding path lined by Princes Plume, a feathery yellow-flowered stalk. Travel moderates considerably through .95 miles (4,890’) into a wide berth on the canyon floor. In wet years this terrace can be covered in wildflowers, notably the wiry purple heads of Scorpionweed. Primrose, lupine, mariposa lily, globe mallow and penstemon are also prevalent.

The trail curls north on a rolling, packed-dirt path deeper into the canyon, where another alcove is revealed around a large bend on the west wall (1.6 miles : 4,675’). This alcove is much further off trail, but offers a great look at the vegetated corridor running from its base to desert floor.

The trail undulates with a net descent across wash braids (2.15 miles) before dropping into the central wash (2.6 miles : 4,440’). Though well marked, anticipate this important entry-exit point on the return.

Travel eases in the wash on a straightforward route, hopping bends only a few times to avoid minor obstacles. The wash-trail is otherwise obstruction free and easy to navigate. Look for lizards along the way, and examine towering Wingate Sandstone walls that define the canyon.

The wash drops on a nominal grade with receding walls to your first look at the Zeus and Moses spires (5.25 miles : 4,245’). It continues to the sparingly-marked but obvious intersection with Taylor Canyon (5.7 miles : 4,198’), where you can pick up a short trail that circles the spires, or simply turn right up Taylor Canyon and improvise up to a great view.

Morning light is especially good on these wafer thin spires that are popular among climbers.

You may also turn left (west) down Taylor Canyon, which soon turns into a road that Ts up with White Rim Road at the Labyrinth campsite just off the Colorado River. The Alcove Spring Trail, Taylor Canyon Road, Upheaval Canyon and Syncline Loop Trail join to form an approximate 21 mile loop.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N38 25.384 W109 54.523 — 0.0 miles : Alcove Spring Trailhead
  • N38 25.682 W109 54.496 — .5 miles : Base of large alcove
  • N38 25.716 W109 54.312 — 1.0 miles : Travel levels on open terrace on canyon floor
  • N38 25.897 W109 53.951 — 1.5 miles : Level travel on west side of canyon floor
  • N38 26.202 W109 53.971 — 2.0 miles : Mild net descent toward central wash
  • N38 26.553 W109 53.971 — 2.6 miles : Enter central wash
  • N38 26.779 W109 54.015 — 2.95 miles : Re-enter wash after brief exit
  • N38 27.133 W109 54.299 — 3.55 miles : Fast, easy travel down wash
  • N38 27.250 W109 54.362 — 3.72 miles : Brief wash exit
  • N38 27.645 W109 54.708 — 4.55 miles : Fast travel down wash
  • N38 27.811 W109 55.035 — 5.0 miles : Canyon walls recede with views of Zeus
  • N38 28.211 W109 55.128 — 5.5 miles : Canyon mouth widens near intersection
  • N38 28.366 W109 55.143 — 5.7 miles : End of trail at Taylor Canyon intersection

Worth Noting

  • Be mindful of weather and plan travel to avoid afternoon thunderstorms, especially July-August. Sections of the trail - especially over slickrock, loose rock and steep switchbacks - can be difficult (if not impassable) after heavy rain.
  • The Alcove Spring Trail drops off the mesa into Trail Canyon, which turns N-NE once on the canyon floor. The canyon leg that branches right (SE) from the drop-in point is called Spring Canyon. Spring Canyon is a stronghold for bighorn sheep, which are known to exit the canyon and forage in the prairies along its rim near Aztec Butte.

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 Alcove Spring Trailhead is located 9.6 miles from the Island In The Sky Visitor Center on Upheaval Dome 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

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