There are many points of interest to be found on top of the Canyonlands Island In The Sky Mesa. After passing through the entrance gate, one of the first scenic overlooks along Grand View Point Road is the Shafer Canyon Viewpoint. This scenic overlook offers majestic views of the terrain in the northeast sector of this big park and one of the most challenging Jeep trails in Canyonlands can be seen from this high perch. The views of the inhospitable red rock canyon landscape stretch out to the horizon and the distant mesas resemble islands in an invisible ocean. This is quite a surreal dreamscape to see in real life!
Upon arrival at Shafer Canyon, two hiking trailheads can be found by the roadside parking area. One goes downhill across the paved road to the Neck Spring Trail, which is a loop that is a little more than five miles long. Even on a cool day the arid high desert conditions can pose health risks, so it is best to pack plenty of water to prevent both dehydration and altitude sickness. The Island In The Sky is well over a mile high, so it does take time to adjust to the conditions. The Neck Spring Trail will certainly get the legs primed for the rest of the trails in this unique place.
The hiking trail to the Shafer Canyon Viewpoint is about a half mile round trip, so it is much less strenuous than the Neck Spring option. This trail overlooks a much different environment than what can be found on the Neck Spring Trail, even though these two destinations are on opposite sides of the road. This goes to show that this National Park is a land of extremes and there is a wide variety of unique terrains to explore. Explore is definitely the word, because there are still many sections of this vast wilderness area that few people have ever trod upon.
The short downhill hike on the dirt trail to the Shafer Viewpoint is fairly easy going and there are many great views to be found along the way to the end point, which is a flat barren high mesa perch that towers over the canyon floor way down below. The sheer vertical cliffs rise well over 400 feet straight up in Shafer Canyon and many interesting rock formations can be seen. Looking at the majestic landscape from this aerie is an intriguing experience and it is easy to view the the Shafer Canyon Jeep Trail that snakes is way down the cliffs into this canyon, which is quite a mind boggling sight to see!
The challenging Shafer Canyon 4x4 Road goes to several nearby destinations on the canyon floor, like the Gooseneck Overlook, Muscleman Arch and the famous Thelma & Louise Point. The Shafer Canyon 4x4 Trail also connects with the extremely lengthy White Rim trail, which goes completely around the base of the Island In The Sky. As can be imagined, touring in a 4x4 is definitely the best way to go in Canyonlands.
After spending time at the Shafer Viewpoint, the trek back uphill will leave some visitors out of breath, so once again it is best to take it slow when adjusting to the high elevation, so the visit remains a pleasant experience. This short hike is perfect for stretching the legs after the long drive to this National Park and there are dozens more trails that await a little further down the road. The Island In The Sky definitely is a destination of its own in this vast wilderness area that actually is bigger than some of the east coast states. For this reason, a visit to Canyonlands does require some time management when making plans, because the entirety of Canyonlands National Park simply cannot be experienced in one day, one week or even one month! It can literally take years to see everything that there is to see in Canyonlands and the Shafer Canyon Viewpoint is a good place to start the venture!
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