Before Canyonlands was designated as a national park, Howard Lathrop blazed this trail into the canyons so he could get his and others’ supplies to and from the river and to their grazing sheep. Though sheep were eventually banned from the park, the route has since been kept alive as a hiking trail.
Traveling first across Gray’s Pasture–a flat, expansive plain stretching miles along the canyon rim--relics from the area’s early days still litter the trail. One mile in, look towards the La Sal mountains in the northeast, where you can spot an old shed in the distance. Lathrop and the other ranchers would use this cabin to store their supplies before descending into the depths.
Where Gray's Pasture melds into the slickrock, the horizon offers up a dramatic landscape of heavily eroded canyon walls and geological wonders surrounding the Colorado River two-thousand feet below. A more diverse canvas of vegetation thrives here, including blackbrush, juniper, pinon and sagebrush.
Many choose to turn back here, so continue on and you may have the trail to yourself. Straying east before wrapping back to the west, the route circles an outcrop of Navajo Sandstone, quickly losing elevation as it drops onto the first narrow bench below the canyon walls. Just below you, the sheer cliffs of red Wingate Sandstone make access points into or out of the canyon few and far between, but Lathrop Canyon makes use of an ancient landslide to find its entry.
Descending nearly fifteen-hundred feet along a series of tight boulder-strewn and cairn-marked switchbacks, the route meets up with the braided wash inside Lathrop Canyon, never losing its vantage of the Colorado River throughout these one and a half miles. And remember, what goes down, must come up.
Heading west, the trail finds a raised spine and a better viewpoint for a glimpse at the southern cluster of the La Sal Mountains and United Nations Tablet (A.K.A. Mitten Butte). Gradually losing ground again, the route soon meets with White Rim Road
. Combined with Lathrop Canyon Road
(a mountain biking trail), this route is one of only a few in the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands giving hiking entry to the riverside.
As a note, remember to bring plenty of water for the scorching desert heat of the summertime. 100+ degree weather is common from June through August.
Much like other viewpoints and trails in Canyonlands, Lathrop Canyon and Lathrop Canyon Road
offer an up close and personal look at the geologic history and formation of the park.
During the cooler hours of the day, Gray's Pasture brings deer and even bighorn out of hiding. Though the park has made strides in the preservation of local wildlife and wild lands, the increased human activity now threatens their newfound resurgence. Conservation efforts are key to survival, so play your part in protecting these celebrated places for future generations.
On the slickrock, the vegetation grows more varied with blackbrush, juniper, pinon and sagebrush.