Whale Rock | Canyonlands National Park

Whale Rock in Canyonlands is a short hike to the top of a massive smooth rock shaped like a whale. This hike is especially fun for kids because of the open nature of the hike and the chance to scramble and play on the slickrock. Though there is significant climbing, the ascent is fun and leads to an amazing overlook. This hike is in the Island in the Sky area of Canyonlands National Park.

See how the rock goes on forever like the body of a whale?

The Whale Rock Trail has its own parking area along Upheaval Dome Road. You can see the whale from the road, but it is fun to climb to the top and look out. Unfortunately, the trail is not easy to follow. You can tell people have had trouble because there are ghost trails all over that make things confusing. Park Rangers have tried to help mark the trail by building small cairns (piles of rock). Some of which are cemented together so they can’t be knocked over. Still, they can be hard to find if you are not looking carefully.

The trail leaves the parking area toward Whale Rock, but stay to the right.
Watch carefully for these cairns.

Our best advice is to look at the whale, and walk to the tail (or back of the rock). Follow the cairns. Then walk directly up the spine to the head. This means staying to the right as you hike to Whale Rock in Canyonlands. The whale head is on the left, so you will be circling around to the right end of the massive rock for your ascent. This is the correct trail because we saw cairns along the way. Before we realized that was the direction, we got “lost” twice, though the car was always in sight.

The trail is rocky.
Soon you’ll come around to the back of the rock.
Then you’ll head up the slick rock to the top.

It isn’t so steep up the whale tail as it is to climb the sides, so it is much safer to hike this way. Once you get to the top, the whale back is very wide and flat. As long as you are close to small children, there is little danger. You can walk all over Whale Rock and explore. Our boys thought this was so much fun and they ran and climbed all over. The views from the top of the rock are amazing, too.

We enjoyed the view.
Our boys ran all over. I couldn’t really get any pictures of them.
More views of Canyonlands from Whale Rock.
Whale Rock was super fun to explore.

The total distance to the top of Whale Rock and back is under a mile at just 0.8 mile, making this trail a perfect hike for kids. We get more comments that this is the favorite kid hike in Canyonlands National Park than any other hike. For other hike ideas, use our Canyonlands Kid Hikes post.

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