Canyonlands National Park via the Gooseberry Trail

Per usual, all photos by my incredibly handsome fiance, Will Rochfort.

From the second we began planning a trip for the long Memorial Day Weekend, I was pushing for Canyonlands. I’ve heard that it’s a beautiful park and while it’s relatively close to Denver {6 hours}, I had yet to visit. I am also done with snow for the season, so I was beyond psyched when Will agreed to my backpacking decision. After rounding up a crew of 10 awesome friends, we were headed to Canyonlands! After spending the night in a Motel 6 in Green River, we ambled our way to the trailhead in the portion of the park known as Island in the Sky. Canyonlands is split into three sections—Island in the Sky, The Maze, and The Needles—and Island is definitely the least populated. In fact, both The Needles and The Maze were sold out of backcountry permits when we looked, so we really had no other options.

20140524Gooseberry6 20140524Gooseberry27 We easily found our trailhead, loaded up our packs, and began the precarious downward trek to the White Rim 4WD road. You see, our initial day of backpacking was split into two sections. First, we had a 1400 foot descent from the top of the Island down to the White Rim road. I knew this portion was a marked trail so I hadn’t been expecting much, but I was a bit surprised by how steep it was. We plummeted the 1400 feet over 1.4 miles, so the quads were feeling the burn. Occasional rock steps were built into the side of the canyon, but the exposure was very real and the views were absolutely outstanding! 20140524Gooseberry121


Heidi, taking in the view!

Upon reaching the 4WD road, we crossed the worn path and headed south-southeast along the flat rim of Gooseberry Canyon. This is where the second part of the day came in, and the route finding got tricky! The descent into Gooseberry wasn’t a marked trail and as we found out, there are merely a handful of cairns scattered throughout the canyon to help guide backpackers. Will and I were solely relying on the topo map to find the small break in the canyon rim where we knew we could descend. It took us quite awhile to locate this section of the rim, and I’ll own it: there was a hot second where I was semi-stressed because I knew eight other people were depending on us to find a way into the canyon. What if we couldn’t find this small section of the canyon rim?! 20140524Gooseberry213 20140524Gooseberry265 Fortunately, we finally found a way into Gooseberry but that didn’t mean the rest of the hike was easy! As I already mentioned, there was absolutely no route and traversing the side of the steep canyon was sporting at best. In the end, I seemed to have the eye for route finding, so Peter and I went first to mark out a semblance of a route with cairns. From there, we could shout up to the gang with minimal instructions so that everyone could safely reach the first Gooseberry plateau. 20140524Gooseberry276


Caryn was pretty psyched 🙂

After safely navigating the first portion of the canyon, we decided to call it quits for the day and found the ultimate campsite. We perched our tents on the ledge of the canyon, affording us the best views in the world….seriously! 20140525Gooseberry439 The following morning dawned dreary and rainy but the clouds eventually passed and the rain lifted long enough to allow us a four mile hike through Gooseberry. We had originally hoped to day hike down to the Colorado River, but alas, we still couldn’t find the route to descend to the base of the canyon! Regardless, we enjoyed traipsing around the rocks and taking in the scenery. The rain continued to hold off, so we all decided to hike back up to the top of Gooseberry and spend our final night on the White Rim. This would eliminate the need to climb out of two canyons the following day, and I think everyone appreciated splitting the canyons up. 20140525Gooseberry483 20140525Gooseberry514 20140525Gooseberry517 Naturally, the weather gods couldn’t be too kind to us! We all hiked up at our own paces, and Will and I were last to arrive, barely reaching the White Rim before a monumental thunderstorm rolled in. We had seen the lightning behind us during our hike, and we knew that it would be cutting it close. We set up our tent in record time, threw our gear inside, and zipped up the doors just as the rain came pouring from the sky! 20140525Gooseberry593 It only lasted for 20-or-so minutes, but this was one angry storm! Wind blew the rain everywhere, including under our vestibule and into the tent. We watched through our tent windows as rivulets of water poured down the canals in the rocks surrounding our happy home. With such a violent storm, I knew that it wouldn’t last and sure enough, the moisture abated after a half hour. Once the gusts subsided, Angel and Will and I realized that we heard rushing water. Where in the world was that coming from?! We ran out of the tent in a semi-panic, worried that the flash flood had caused a river that could possibly take out our tent and knock us into the canyon. Fortunately, no such river existed, but we did find the source of the noise: the rain had formed a stream that was gushing off the side of the canyon, making a beautiful waterfall! 20140525Gooseberry611 I yelled like a lunatic, alerting everyone else of the waterfall. After all, how cool is that?! Our last day began pre-dawn when Will, the eager photographer, woke before sunrise in order to snap some photos. I originally planned to sleep in and ignore the dawning of the new day, but then I realized I was being an idiot. I was already awake, so why not roll out of the tent with the fiance and take in the views? 20140526Gooseberry649 Kinda glad I did. 20140526Gooseberry665 We eventually gathered our belongings before beginning our ascent back up to the top of the Island. After feeling the burn in our quads on the descent, I knew a 1400 foot/1.4 mile climb out would feel extra special! Fortunately, it wasn’t as bad as I imagined and per usual, the views were awesome. But you know what made it the best way to spend the holiday weekend?


Will and me


Me, Angel and Cindy, laughing like usual!

The company!


Have you ever been to Canyonlands?

How do you feel about backpacking in general? Love it, hate it, or never tried it?



  • Reply Lindsay @ The Lean Green Bean at

    such great pics! looks amazing.

  • Reply Katie @k8tlevy at

    Dang, the pictures are amazing! This sounds like quite an exciting trip, especially the waterfall part. I’d definitely have panicked! Great trip report, thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Reply misszippy at

    How spectacular are your pictures here?! Wow–so gorgeous. What a trip that must have been. I definitely need to add this to my bucket list of parks to see before I die!

    • Reply heather at

      Do! It was so pretty and like I said, Island in the Sky was such a pleasant surprise!

  • Reply Beth at

    Once I get back to the great SW want to plan a trip to the Maze? I hear that jeeping + backpacking out that way can be AMAZING.

    • Reply heather at

      Hey! I’m actually trying to convince Will to do a Maze trip with me next winter! Since water is such a concern in the summer, we though we’d do it in the winter when there are pools spread throughout. It’ll be a bit chilly but can you imagine how stunning it would be if snow fell while in The Maze?! The contrast of white and red would be amazing!! I will keep you posted!

  • Reply Kate at

    Holy moly! What a gorgeous spot – storms an all! Thanks for this recap. We’re picking up with backpacking again after quite a few years off. In fact, we’re headed to the Rich Creek Trail next weekend and while I was googling for info, I randomly came across your posts about your trip there last year – so helpful!

    I have a question about your sleeping pad which I think is sticking out of your pack. We have thermarests from maybe 8-10 years ago and are debating switching to foam pads for backpacking. Is that what you have had success with? Thanks! 🙂

    • Reply heather at

      Hi Kate! Oh, you’ll have fun at Rich Creek–it is such a deserted/little known area but so pretty!! As for the sleeping pad– the one sticking out of the pack is actually just the one that Will and I bring to sit on when we’re eating and whatnot. It is a foam pad so we also bring it winter camping in case we have sleeping pad malfunctions (Ha, because those have been common this year!)It is very reliable but it isn’t my preference just because it is less comfy. I have a Thermarest NeoAir sleeping pad that is a great, light option for summer backpacking. It packs down super small too, which is helpful because it crams inside a pack. Will actually covers sleeping bags/pads for Backpacker, so if you have any specific questions, please feel free to email me. He can tell you ANYTHING about sleeping pads from the past 5-6 years 🙂

  • Reply Erin (Running Tall) at


  • Reply Kate at

    Thanks so much for the info! I guess I’ll see how I fare with my old Thermarest (it was one of their nicer ones at that time, but man, outdoor gear has changed/improved a lot since then!) on the first few trips of the summer before I decide if I need something better. And if I do, I’ll be sure to bug you 🙂

    Good tip about bringing a foam pad to sit on. Hadn’t even thought of that!

  • Reply Alyssa at

    Those pictures are amaaaazing! Especially the one of the storm clouds rolling in. That looks like a bit of a terrifying activity though! I’ve shared my idea of an ideal weekend – a book and the couch, so while I enjoy reading about backpacking, that’s about it for me!

    • Reply heather at

      Sometimes those are the best weekends! We slept in until 9 this morning and it was AMAZING!

  • Reply Kayla at

    Of course, beautiful pictures. I didn’t even notice Heidi in the one towards the top until I read the caption! Sounds like a fun little trip.

    I’d love to visit the Canyonlands one day when we have time.

    • Reply heather at

      The scale in that place in insane! Heidi looks so small in that photo because the cliffs are so ridiculous HUGE!

  • Reply Lora at

    This trip as well as the pictures look amazing! I hope to backpack Gooseberry Canyon during my trip to Moab next week!

  • Reply 2014: My Favorite Adventures - Just a Colorado GalJust a Colorado Gal at

    […] calls for a microadventure of sorts, and Will was happy to acquiesce when I suggested we explore Canyonlands in Utah. We rounded up some friends–eight to be precise!–and headed into the Island in […]

  • Reply Rachel at

    Hey! I found your posting via googling gooseberry trail just wondering how long the hike was round trip? The sites in looking at say different things!!

  • Reply Rachel at

    Just wondering how long the hike was round trip?!! Looking to do this!

    • Reply heather at

      Hey Rachel! The mileage is tricky because once you hit the Jeep road, it was kind of off trail, meaning the mileage would vary depending on how you travel. If you want to shoot me an email, we can chat about it more!

  • Reply Land Conservation: Who Is It For? - Just a Colorado GalJust a Colorado Gal at

    […] In fact, I remember Will and I explaining cryptobiotic soil to friends during last year’s Canyonlands adventure. Our friends are avid outdoorsmen but since they hadn’t spent a ton of time in the […]

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