There are a number of hikes in Canyonlands National Park that offer sweeping views over the White Rim. Grand View Point Trail and White Rim Overlook both fit into this category. However, if you want to journey below the level of the mesa and hike onto the White Rim, the Gooseberry Trail is a great hike to consider.
The Gooseberry Trail is famous for being the steepest in Canyonlands National Park. In less than one mile, the trail descends over 1,000 feet. And since what goes down must come back up, you’ll climb back up these crazy switchbacks at the end of the hike.
Worth it? We think so. While hiking down the first, steep section, you are treated to spectacular views across the White Rim. Plus, there is something very special about hiking below the level of the mesa and walking on the White Rim. Most visitors simply see the Canyonlands from overlooks along the mesa. This hike gives you the chance to leave some of the crowds behind and add a little more adventure to your visit to Canyonlands.
Gooseberry Trail Hiking Stats
Distance: 5.4 miles round trip
Elevation Change: 1,570 feet
Difficulty: Very strenuous
Length of Time: 2 to 5 hours
Please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trail, pack out what you bring to the hiking trail, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.
Hiking the Gooseberry Trail
Step-By-Step Trail Guide
Getting to the Trailhead
The Gooseberry Trail shares the same trailhead with White Rim Overlook.
As you travel south on Grand View Point Road, there will be a left turn for a picnic area. Turn here and then park at a picnic area or at one of the limited parking spaces near the trailhead. This turn off is located 11 miles south of the Visitor Center. It is located 0.9 miles north of the Grand View Point parking lot. GPS Coordinates: 38.322752, -109.849584.
In just a few hundred feet, the trail will split. Continue straight to hike the Gooseberry Trail and go right to hike to White Rim Overlook.
PRO TRAVEL TIP: White Rim Overlook was one of our favorite viewpoints in the park. Consider adding this on, either before or after you hike the Gooseberry Trail. This short hike is 1.8 miles round trip and takes about one hour.
Hiking Down the Gooseberry Trail
We did this hike at the very end of December. The day before our visit it snowed in Canyonlands National Park. The first part of the trail was completely snow covered and in some spots it was up to 6 inches deep. Tim and I questioned whether we should hike this trail in the snow, but the snow just added to the thrill. During the two hours it took us to hike this trail, we only saw two other people.
From the top of the trail, enjoy the view out over the White Rim. As you look down, you can see the trail as it cuts its way back and forth down the mesa wall. It looks impossibly steep from here. And these photos don’t portray it very well because of the snow and the shady conditions.
But trust me, it’s steep!
Looking down at the switchbacks on the trail (but it’s hard to see them because of the snow and just how steep it is).
For the first section, you hike down between these canyon walls. This is the view out to the White Rim.
For the first .75 miles of the hike, it is just a rapid descent. It is a little bit daunting to think that in a few hours you’ll have to hike back up this monster. But the views are amazing and for us, the snow made it even more fun.
Once you get past the first section of steep switchbacks, the trail still descends but the grade is gentler now. As you get lower, you lose the view of the White Rim.
The canyon in the distance is Gooseberry Canyon. This hike takes you to the tip of the canyon.
The trail eventually enters a wash, which is a dry riverbed. For the rest of the hike, you hike through this wash. It is an easy downhill walk and this is the fastest part of the hike. It’s easy to follow the wash but there are also cairns marking the trail.
Looking back up at the canyon walls.
The trail ends on the White Rim. Cross over White Rim Road and enjoy the view into Gooseberry Canyon.
Don’t miss our article Best Things to do in Canyonlands: Island in the Sky District for more great ideas of what to do while you are in the park.
The Return Hike
Retrace your steps back to the trailhead. As you hike back up the final switchbacks, enjoy the view as you catch your breath.
The trail marker near White Rim Road. Off in the distance are the mesa walls and the big climb back to the start of the hike.
It took us almost the same amount of time to hike back up the trail as it did to hike down it. On the hike down, we were being very careful on the snow-covered trail and we stopped frequently for photos. It took us about one hour to reach Gooseberry Canyon. Then it took us an hour and fifteen minutes to hike back to the trailhead. I have heard that people will do this even faster (2 hours or less), but the average amount of time is around 3 hours for this hike.
What to Bring on the Hike
Hiking shoes or boots
Water. Bring plenty of water, especially if you will be hiking during the summer months.
Sunscreen. There is no shade on the trail.
Hiking Poles. Hiking poles take about 30% of the weight off of your legs as you descend, easing knee pain and other symptoms. I use Black Diamond Distance Z poles and love them. They easily collapse down to fit in your luggage and hiking backpack, plus they are extremely lightweight. The poles come in several sizes, so make sure you pick the right length based on your height.
If you are new to hiking or are curious about what you should bring on a hike, check out our Hiking Gear Guide. Find out what we carry in our day packs and what we wear on the trails.
Hiking the Gooseberry Trail in Winter
We hiked the Gooseberry Trail on December 28. A recent snowfall covered the first mile of the trail which is the section with the very steep switchbacks. Hiking this trail in the snow can be dangerous, because the snow turns an already steep trail into something more treacherous. We considered skipping this hike once we saw the snow, but obviously, our sense of adventure prevailed. With our hiking experience we felt comfortable hiking under these conditions. We took our time on the snow-covered trails and had no issues.
However, I would not recommend doing this hike in the snow unless you are a very experienced hiker and have hiked on other snow-covered trails. Consider bringing hiking poles and microspikes if you plan to do this hike during the winter.
There is a good chance that this trail is snow covered throughout the winter season. The trail sits on the north face of the mesa, so without any sun to melt the snow, this trail could be snow covered all season.
Do you have plans to visit Canyonlands National Park and hike the Gooseberry Trail? Comment below if you would like to share your experience or ask any questions.
More Information about Utah
BEST OF CANYONLANDS: Top experiences in Canyonlands includes visiting the Island in the Sky district, driving the White Rim Road, hiking in the Needles district, and hiking the Syncline Loop. For the full list, check out our Canyonlands Travel Guide.
ONE DAY IN CANYONLANDS: If you have limited time in Canyonlands, learn how to spend one day in Island in the Sky.
SHAFER CANYON ROAD: Learn how to drive Shafer Canyon Road and Potash Road from Canyonlands to Moab.
ARCHES NATIONAL PARK: Take a look at our Arches National Park Travel Guide for important travel planning tips, sample itineraries, advice on when to go, where to stay, and more.
HIKES IN ZION: Observation Point, Angels Landing, Canyon Overlook, and the West Rim Trail are some of the top hiking trails in Zion. For the full list, read our Best Hikes in Zion guide.
MORE GREAT HIKES IN THE NATIONAL PARKS: From hikes to the tallest peaks to beautiful coast trails, read our Guide to the Best Day Hikes in the US National Parks. If you prefer to keep your hikes short and sweet, read our guide to the Best Short Hikes in the National Parks.
We have TONS more information about things to do and where to go in Utah in our Utah Travel Guide and the United States in our USA Travel Guide.
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Are poles needed in summer (Sept)?
Since i will be travelling light, i wanted to know if it is doable w/o poles
Yes, you can do this without poles in September. It’s steep, so poles help, but they are not absolutely necessary. Have a great hike! Cheers, Julie