Gooseberry Trail

excerpted from our book

Canyonlands National Park Favorite Jeep Roads & Hiking Trails
pages 56-57

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Gooseberry Trail, Canyonlands National Park    The Gooseberry Trail is the shortest of six established trails in Canyonlands that descend from the Island in the Sky Mesa to the White Rim Road. It is also probably the newest of the six. The Gooseberry Trail was built just before World War II by WPA workers to access a spring below the rim and also to give the local ranchers better access to the pastures on the White Rim Plateau. It is doubtful in my mind, however, that the trail was ever used by livestock. It is extremely steep in places, and I can’t imagine driving sheep or cattle down the trail. Most old timers know this trail as the Government      Trail;  it was renamed Gooseberry Trail by the Park Service in the 1960s.
      From the parking area the trail proceeds for only two hundred yards along the top of the mesa before turning north to begin its descent down the cliffs beneath the White Rim Overlook Point. After the first hundred yards you will see a sign marking the junction where the Gooseberry Trail departs from the White Rim Overlook Trail. Turn left here, following the cairns across the slickrock, and soon you will come to the point where the route begins its descent. First the path descends through the Navajo Sandstone to a steep bench on the Kayenta Formation. It then levels out briefly before tackling the Wingate cliffs below.
      As you go down you will probably wonder how the trail will ever get past the sheer vertical walls of sandstone that lie beneath the bench, but after a brief distance you will come to a break in the Wingate where a descent becomes feasible. The Wingate Formation is generally characterized by steer vertical walls, but for some reason in this area it has eroded into a much more reasonable slope. The Gooseberry Trail's route is certainly steep, but it is not unmanageable.
      Back and forth, the narrow, rocky trail zigzags down a long series of short switch­backs until it finally reaches the bottom of the 400-foot cliffs. It then proceeds down across the slopes of sand, shale, and broken rock at the bottom of the Wingate for another 0.5 mile before finally dropping into a sandy arroyo on the White Rim Plateau which it follows the rest of the way to the White Rim Road. This final segment of the Gooseberry Trail is the longest and hottest part, with somewhat less interesting scenery to catch your attention. But at least the terrain is reasonably level. You should arrive at the White Rim Road about 45 minutes after reaching the top of the plateau.

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