This difficult primitive trail does not feature views of Upheaval Dome per se. Users should expect many steep climbs, tricky trail conditions and sparingly marked sections. Most hikers choose to do the loop clockwise so that views are ahead and the sun is at your back for most of the route with an early start.
From the 3-way intersection near the trailhead, follow the Syncline Loop Trail left, towards the west. Hike over relatively level, sandy gravel surface next to looming sandstone formations and desert scrub. Soon you reach a gap at the edge of a large drop off with views across the canyons. Pay close attention to the cairns as you descend steep switchbacks through a long jumbled gully. After a short mellow section, plunge down through another drop-off. Finally, reach a dry wash where the grade eases considerably. Marvel at the enormous sandstone walls towering above and around you. Soon, a narrow canyon takes shape and the trail threads along its bottom.
At the signed intersection with the Upheaval Canyon Trail
, turn right to stay on the Syncline Loop Trail as it continues north. Follow Syncline a short distance until it makes a sharp left and climbs a staircase of rock steps ascending a loose hillside. Take your time and do not miss this critical route finding challenge. At the signed junction with the Crater Spur Trail
, stay left on the Syncline Loop Trail heading northeast. What lies ahead is the beautiful Syncline Valley, arguably the most scenic part of the loop. There are sometimes pools of water near the mouth of the valley that should be filtered before drinking. A primitive backcountry campsite nearby requires permits for use.
Next, struggle carefully through the dreaded boulder field, being sure to spot the next cairn ahead before proceeding. Use an affixed metal cable and clamber over slabs of steep, exposed slickrock to reach a valley oasis with numerous trees. After climbing a steep valley, the grade eases to be a more pleasant ascent. Turn to the right and climb through a rugged gap in the canyon walls. Scale ledges marked by cairns and finally emerge onto a sandy dry wash that threads through juniper and pinion back to the trailhead.
Apparently more users get lost on this route than on any other trail in the park, so concentrate on finding cairns. If you lose your way, retrace your own footsteps back to the last place you saw a cairn and look for the next marker from there.
Deer, bighorn sheep, mountain lion, lizards, snakes. Cottonwoods, juniper, tamarisk.