Whale Rock isn’t a long hike. Whale Rock isn’t a hard hike. Whale Rock isn’t even difficult to drive to. So why I haven’t heard more about it from day-hikers is beyond me. The trail is fun (you get to climb up slickrock along a wire railing), the view is stunning (360 view of beautiful Canyonlands scenery), and it’s only 1 mile (1.6 km) RT. It’s also a great place to hang out if it’s windy – you’re above almost everything else in the area, so you really get blown around (so if that’s not your idea of fun, stay clear on a blustery day). We did it on a trip to the area in October, in the early morning. The light at that time makes the view even more stunning, though it would also be a great place to hike around sunset.
Key GPS Coordinates for Whale Rock:
Whale Rock Parking Area: 38.426871N / -109.913850W (38N 25’ 36.735” / -109W 54’ 49.8594”)
Where the trail begins to ascend the slickrock: 38.429766N / -109.915792W (38N 25’ 47.1576” / -109W 54’ 56.8506”)
Approximate end of the trail: 38.427452N / -109.918448W (38N 25’ 38.8272” / -109W 55’ 6.4122”)
Getting to Whale Rock
From the Island in the Sky Visitor Center, drive about 6 miles (9.6 km) south (continuing into the park) to the Upheaval Dome Road. Turn right; this road is very well-marked. This turn is about 6 miles (9.6 km) north of the Grand View Overlook, which is also the end of the main park road. Drive up the Upheaval Dome Road about 4 miles (6.4 km) to the Whale Rock parking area on your right; this is well-marked and is soon after the parking area for Mesa Arch (which is also a worthwhile, though well-known, stroll while you’re in the area). The parking area isn’t huge, so it may fill up quickly at popular times. If you hike it early in the morning, you shouldn’t have much trouble finding a parking space – I found that on an early morning in October we were the only car in the parking lot.
The trail begins on the left side of the parking area, and quickly begins to wind its way through the desert on a sandy trail. The beginning of the trail is quite flat and uninteresting. This approach will take you to the “tail” of the “whale” as the “whale’s” sides are too steep to climb easily, though numerous visitors appear to have tried to scale the sides anyhow. Soon you will reach the “tail” and the trail will turn up the slickrock.
Cairns now mark the path as you steadily ascend the slickrock. Occasionally, handrails have been installed – at times it doesn’t seem like there is a rhyme or reason for where the handrails have been installed; at other times the rails are quite helpful. Whatever the reason for the wire handrails, our children had a wonderful time “pulling” themselves upwards with the rails.
Some of the best views can be seen from the middle, rather than the end, of Whale Rock. However, it is worth going all the way to the end to make a 1 mile (1.6 km) out-and-back trek. From various parts of the rock, you can see views in all directions: Upheaval Dome, expansive canyons, and classic Canyonlands scenery (in other words, red rocks, spires, and canyons galore!).
Return by the way you came. This may be a short hike, but it’s well worth doing, whether with children or on your own! For an especially memorable hike, climb it for the sunrise/sunset, or climb to the top when the wind is whistling harder than normal – you may find you’re nearly blown over!
Round Trip Trail Length: 1 mile (1.6 km)
Fees: $10 per vehicle fee to enter Canyonlands National Park, good 7 days in all districts (in other words, if you buy it in the Island in the Sky District, the 7-day pass is good in the Needles District, etc., as well). America the Beautiful (Interagency), Senior (Golden Age), Access (Golden Access), Volunteer, Military, and Canyonlands Annual Passes also accepted
Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this?
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- 4:11 AM MST on November 17, 2017
- 9:00 PM MST on November 17, 2017
Fri Nov 17
Windy with increasing clouds. High 69F. Winds WSW at 25 to 35 mph. Winds could occasionally gust over 50 mph.
Sat Nov 18
A mainly sunny sky. High 49F. Winds light and variable.
Sun Nov 19
Sunshine and clouds mixed. High 52F. Winds light and variable.
Mon Nov 20
Intervals of clouds and sunshine. High 56F. Winds light and variable.
Tue Nov 21
Intervals of clouds and sunshine. High 61F. Winds light and variable.