The West Rim Trail in Dead Horse Point State Park is an easy 6.5 mile (one way) hike, which includes all the overlook spur trails. This includes the Big Horn Overlook, the Rim Overlook, the Shafer Canyon Overlook, and the Meander Overlook, all beginning from Dead Horse Point and ending at the Visitor Center. It could also just as easily be reversed. Also bear in mind that if you don’t shuttle a vehicle, you’ll either have to hike back along the road, or complete the loop by also hiking the East Rim Trail.
West Rim Trail Description
From Dead Horse Point itself, begin by heading west (toward the raised platform) where you’ll find an iconic and stunning view of the Colorado River and beyond. Along the first few steps of the trail here you’ll find plenty of other vantage points from along the slickrock paralleling the trail. As it leaves the main area and parking lot, the trail becomes a more traditional hiking trail where it begins to snake along the slickrock and dirt found along the rim high above the canyons below.
Faint markings on the slickrock will help point you in the right direction when cairns and rock boundaries aren’t there. Through the juniper forest, you soon reach The Neck of the park after about 0.6 miles of hiking from the point. You’ll find a fantastic view of the Wingate Sandstone cliffs and the Colorado River below.
Through more twists and turns, you quickly reach the Meander Overlook, displaying the prominent bend in the Colorado River below. Shortly after the Shafer Canyon Overlook follows yielding dizzying views above the namesake canyon with the river now only reduced to a brief glimpse.
Back on the main trail, you’ll veer slightly away from the West Rim itself and wander through the juniper forest just off of the rim. You’ll also notice plenty more diverse desert vegetation to keep you intrigued in the more intimate and peaceful part of the trail. Through here you’ll pass the fork for the Wingate Campground. If you’re staying at this campground, this can also make for a good starting and ending point for the loop, or sections of it.
Lots of gnarled dead trees dot the landscape as the West Rim Trail winds closer back to the rim for new opportunities. The Rim Overlook comes up quickly via a spur trail, which produces sweeping vertigo-inducing panoramic views of Shafer Canyon. It’s well worth going out of your way for.
Once on the main trail again, you’ll veer back into a juniper forest and over some slickrock. If you haven’t already noticed, you’ll soon notice more prominent examples of cryptobiotic soil. Please stay on the trail and do not disturb the soil at all. It is a living colony of different fungi, bacteria, and more, and can take decades, at best, to regrow. This is why you see so many signs in the region about staying on the trail.
The spur trail for the Big Horn Overlook comes up quickly after the previous and for many, will be its own hike. But for those wanting to include it in the full West Rim Trail, head left to add 2.5 miles round trip. The trail descends quickly and then levels out in a sandy area, filled with cryptobiotic soil. Stay on the trail as it meanders around the rim and over sandstone, soon reaching the overlook itself. Look for cairns to guide you safely to the end of the overlook where you’ll notice numerous waterpockets. In front of you opens up a sprawling view down Shafer Canyon toward the Colorado River, the walls of the Wingate Sandstone dropping steeply down to the lower depths below. Whether you made a single hike out of it or included it in the full trail, 2.5 miles is a small price to pay for the view in front of you.
The West Rim Trail from here wanders through the outskirts of the Kayenta Campground. It will then cross the road and head down a small hill toward the back of the Visitor Center. From here, you can either shuttle back to the point, hike back along the road, or continue on the East Rim Trail back to the point.
From the Dead Horse Point State Park entrance station, head south for 3.5 miles until the road dead-ends at a large parking area for the namesake of the park. Begin the trail where it wanders around the canopy just inside from the rim.
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