Distance: 8.25 miles
Water: Yes (at Visitor Center)
The Dead Horse Point Loop Trail is a moderate 8.25 mile trail that links together the East Rim and West Rim Trails, as well as all the overlooks included. This route can be shortened by eliminating one or two of the overlooks, especially the Big Horn Overlook, which will cut out an extra 2.5 miles. Regardless, it’s a beautiful and rewarding way to experience much of what the park has to offer.
Dead Horse Point Loop Trail Description
While this trail was logged from Dead Horse Point, it could just as easily be begun from the trail junction at the Visitor Center, or even one of the campgrounds if you’re staying overnight. Regardless, this writeup begins at the point and heads clockwise.
From Dead Horse Point, head west to lead directly to the classic and iconic view of the Colorado River. If you’ve searched for the park, this is likely the view you’ve seen over and over again. Continuing down the trail, more opportunities present themselves via the slick rock that parallels the trail in its first 0.25 miles or so. Once past the parking area, the trail becomes a more traditional hiking trail.
North of the parking area, the trail snakes along dirt and slickrock that line the rim. For much of the way forward, you’ll be guided not only by cairns and small rock barriers along the trail, but also faint marking along the slickrock where the previous two aren’t as noticeable.
You’ll quickly reach The Neck after 0.6 miles of hiking which features great views of the Wingate Sandstone cliffs and the Colorado River below. After a few twists and turns, you’ll reach the Meander Overlook, which overlooks the classic large bend in the Colorado River. Just beyond that is the Shafer Canyon Overlook. This one produces some dizzying views above the namesake canyon with a nice glimpse of the river below.
Once back on the main trail, you’ll veer slightly away from the rim as you take a more subdued but peaceful and intimate meander through a juniper forest. It’s shortly after you’ll pass the fork for the Wingate Campground, followed by a noticeably large amount of gnarled dead trees.
New opportunities for vistas await as the trail begins to wind closer to the rim. The Rim Overlook is shortly beyond where you’ll find sweeping panoramic views of Shafer Canyon surrounding you. The main trail then veers back into the forest, but never stays too far from the rim. As you pass over slickrock you’ll also notice an increase in the cryptobiotic soil around the area. Please keep in mind this is a living soil and any kind of destruction will take it decades to grow back, at best. Stay on the trail.
The Big Horn Overlook comes up quickly to the left, where the spur trail initially descends quickly but briefly before levelling out. It becomes a more gradual descent through high desert forests as it wraps around the canyon rim. As you begin to wander over the sandstone, cairns will guide you safely out to the point, which is covered by dozens of waterpockets. Here you’ll find a dramatic view as you stare down into the depths of Shafer Canyon.
The main trail will guide you along the edges of the Kayenta Campground before crossing the main road and descending a small hill that brings you to the Visitor Center. Look for an easy-to-find sign that points you toward the East Rim Trail, found by veering to the right of the Nature Trail.
Below on your left you’re treated to sprawling views of the canyons and the evaporation ponds of the nearby potash mine with the La Sal Mountains capping the horizon. A small sandstone ridge will begin to parallel the trail as you continue southward. Soon you’ll climb up onto the rim via an easy ascent with ever-increasingly scenic views to the left.
The trail wraps around the rim and begins heading westward where you’ll find a short spur for the Basin Overlook, overlooking deep into the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. Once back on the main trail, you come upon The Neck, a prominent historical landmark of Dead Horse Point State Park. From here, the trail parallels the road before it climbs up onto sandstone rocks where a partially paved trail waits. You’ll pass through the picnic area next before making a small ascent up and over more rocks and down to Dead Horse Point to close out the loop.
From the Dead Horse Point State Park entrance station, follow the main road south to its terminus at the Dead Horse Point parking area 3.4 miles later.