Canyonlands National Park: Alcove Spring Trail to Moses and Zeus

Date hiked: 07/22/16

Mileage: 12.9 miles; 4.5 hrs

Head Count (how many other hikers I saw): 0 groups.


From its trailhead at the top of Island Mesa, the Alcove Spring Trail almost immediately forfeits 800 feet of elevation on its way down to the Trail Canyon floor. This scramble is strenuous, following tight switchbacks of loose scree and exposed sandstone. Something I read beforehand got me nervous about getting myself cliffed-out, but it’s near impossible to find yourself in that situation. Still, keep a hawk’s eye on the surroundings for cairns, and try to keep to the main trail as the rock around here is highly fragile.

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A look at the terrain.

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A half mile in, the trail passes near its namesake feature – a giant alcove carved into the thick of the mesa wall. With a shortage of water on the mesa top, Alcove Spring would have played a vital role in survival for the Anasazis who lived here hundreds of years ago. But the present-day trail was most likely forged by cattlemen in the early half of the 20th century looking to get their livestock to water.3

Losing more ground, the trail curls north into the heart of Trail Canyon, then bottoms out at about the two mile mark as it meets up with the wash. Hopscotching the sandy terrain, the route finally slips into the central braid two and a half miles in, dwarfed by the towering Wingate Sandstone walls. From here, travel is easy going – though long.5.JPG678.JPG

Closing in on fifth and final mile of the hike, the trail rounds out a stubby finger of Horsethief Mesa to your first glimpse at Moses and Zeus.10


Moses, Aphrodite, and Zeus. I didn’t realize this until later, but there is a loop circling the group.


The motivation behind most monikers in Canyonland becomes clear at first sight. But, while these pillars do bare some resemblance to the prophet and the god, I couldn’t tell you the reason Moses and Zeus would have to be standing here together.


It looks like rain could be waiting back at the car. Sure enough, the thunder started within my last 10 minutes of hiking.

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Rain pouring down at the Green River Overlook. As the infamous 1975 photo of Michael and Sean McQuilken passed through my mind, I bailed when mine and others’ hair started sticking on end from the static.




(From Moab): From Center Street, drive North on U.S. 191 (Main Street) for 11 miles, then turn left onto Utah 313. After 14.6 miles, continue straight onto the Grand View Point/Island in the Sky Road. After 5.7 miles, pay at the fee station, then follow the road another 7.4 miles, where you’ll turn right onto Upheaval Dome Road. The parking area is 3.6 miles beyond the intersection.

42.3 miles; 56 min

Fees: $25/car to enter Canyonlands National Park

2 thoughts on “Canyonlands National Park: Alcove Spring Trail to Moses and Zeus

  1. Spectacular web page! You give hikers precisely the information they are looking for. Informative trail descriptions accompanied with awesome photos. And a trail map which every expert will want to see!
    Very good work! Thank you for sharing!


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