“A scenic loop featuring springs, sandstone alcoves, relics of historic ranches, and expansive canyon views.
— Amy White
Spring · Views · Wildflowers
PLEASE stay on the established trails to protect the Cryptobiotic Soil Crust. The crust is a living organism that takes a long time to recover from human disturbances, and is critical for soil and moisture retention. Footprints can last 100 years!
Need to Know
There's a steep climb around mile 3.3. It's completely doable, but kids under 8 and those with a fear of heights might have a hard time. In addition, there are some points along the mesa top where the trail veers a bit close to the edge, which might be problematic for those fearful of heights.
After the climb up to the mesa top, be sure to validate your path by checking for rock cairns. They mark the path of the trail, and they're invaluable when running along otherwise-unmarked sandstone.
To cross "The Neck," you run along the road's shoulder, which is reasonably wide. Near this point, the trail follows a slightly-tilted about 20 feet from a cliff edge.
The trail is best run in the spring or fall when it is cool or in the early morning or evening in summer. The first half of the trail is mostly shaded by the canyon walls if run shortly after sunrise.
Park at the Shafer Canyon Overlook and Neck Spring Trail parking lot on the left about 1/2 mile past the Island in the Sky Visitor Center. (This is not the same as the Shafer Canyon Road which you'll pass before the Visitor Center.) An entrance fee or National Park's pass is required for entry.
The trail begins at the southwest corner of the parking lot at the trail information sign. The description and elevation profile provided here assume the loop is taken in the counter clockwise direction, heading west (right) out of the parking lot.
The trail begins by crossing the road and quickly dropping onto a lower bench. For the next 3 miles, it weaves in and out of small drainages below large white and red sandstone alcoves. There are occasional views into a deep red-walled canyon below and continual views of sandstone spires and canyons in the distance. Watch for evidence of historic ranching along the way. The trail is mostly packed dirt, with some loose sand and rocks to navigate. While there is no significant elevation gain or loss, the trail continuously rolls up and down, in and out of the drainages. The trail is easy to follow and is marked by small rock cairns (piles of neatly stacked rocks).
At mile 3.3, the trail quickly climbs out of the canyon and onto the mesa top. This section requires working your way up a sandstone slope and it is not possible to take this portion quickly due to the pitch and loose sand and rocks. The climb is only about 0.1 miles long and is not exposed.
The remainder of the trail heads back the same direction you came, but at a higher elevation, allowing you to look down into the canyons that you initially traversed. This section of trail is relatively flat and alternates between large sandstone slabs and loose sand. At mile 5.3, the trail comes to a fenced overlook with spectacular views down into expansive canyons with the La Sal Mountains in the distance. Be sure to watch for jeeps or mountain bikes making their way down the steep switchbacks of the Shafer Canyon Road below.
At this point, work your way along the road, careful to watch for traffic, until you cross the "neck" - a 40 foot wide isthmus that connects the Island in the Sky Mesa to the northern mesa - and then find the trail again on the right hand side. Red cliff walls drop down almost vertically on both sides of the neck providing spectacular views. Follow the trail back to the parking lot where you began.