Classic Campsites: Murphy Hogback Campground, Canyonlands National Park

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One of the finest reasons to secure your permit for a stay at Murphy Hogback campground is the world class 360-degree view. Three lonesome and seculded campsites are tucked into protective nooks of pinyon and boulders while a short stroll through the desert will bring you to this view point. Catch the sunset here.

The best places to roll out the sleeping bag, cook a meal, cuddle with your sweetie and gaze at the stars are rarely easy to get to. Rightly so. I'm a believer in the yin and the yang, that there must be a price to be paid when you want the ultimate campsite. One of these high ranking sites, in my book, is the oddly named Murphy Hogback camp found nearly dead center in the backcountry of southern Utah's Canyonlands National Park.

It doesn't have much. Just three lonesome sites that share a pit toilet and no running water. Sounds like fun, doesn't it? Like most recommendations you'll ever get from me, the appeal here isn't in things like whether or not the parking is any good, or if a site comes with a table. Murphy Hogback instead resides on a hilltop overlooking the vast and incomprehensible Martian red maze of sandstone canyons and spires that so name the park. Only accessed by a hiking trail (almost 11 miles round-trip) or by driving 43 miles of a long dirt road called the White Rim Trail.

We drove the road, and it's a classic. in the 1950s the Atomic Energy Commission carved the remote 100-mile road into the hard white sandstone along the canyon rim to search for uranium. They never found it, and the road sat until years later when cyclists descending on Moab discovered that the White Rim Trail makes one heck of an adventure ride. It's 100 miles of mostly flat and hardened ground, few obstacles, and a backcountry experience you can't get anywhere else. The hardest part depends on the direction you take the U-shaped trek. There's a set of lengthy, steep switchbacks at both ends. On the west end it's Mineral Bottom road; on the east it's the Shafer switchbacks.

You don't have to ride the road, you can drive it in a 4WD. Canyonlands National Park limits traffic to just a few fortunate adventurers every day, and allows camping only in the 20 spartan campsites sprinkled along the 100-mile road. Competition for permit reservations is fierce, so if you want to do this during the best time of the year, spring or fall, you'll need to secure yours about a year in advance. No joke.

My family and I arrived in Canyonlands on a 102-degree June morning with the hopes we could score a slot from a cancellation. Turns out, thanks to the heat, summertime is much easier to get on the White Rim Trail without making a reservation. Primetime fall and spring would be harder. Nevertheless the ranger at the backcountry office helped me out and told me I didn't want to miss camping at Murphy Hogback. We got the permits, spent the night in Moab, and bright and early the next morning we started our way down the Shafer switchbacks to the White Rim Trail. We arrived at Murphy Hogback two nights later, just as the sun lit up the western sky with a golden sunset. The ranger was right. Scroll through the photos above to get the rest of the story.

When To Go

  • Summer day temps rise above 100. With a gentle breeze, night is pefect. If you can handle it, go for it.
  • Fall, it should go without saying, gets much nicer with night temperatures dropping to chilly.
  • In winter it can snow.
  • Spring becomes the ideal time to be on the White Rim Trail and also the most difficult to get permits.

How to Get There

Canyonlands has three districts, all approached from different places. White Rim Trail and Murphy Hogback are in the Islands in the Sky District. From Moab, Utah take Highway 191 north 14 miles to Highway 313. Follow signs to Canyonlands National Park. Approximately a 30 minute drive from Moab.

More Information

NPS website for White Rim Trail >>>
Get your Backcountry Permits >>>
Interactive map of the park >>>

This is part of an opinion series called "The Best Campgrounds in North America" compiled among a network of outdoor family blogs. Here are the other entries:


Tyra Robertson
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# Tyra Robertson 2013-10-02 03:03
Traveling is an amazing experience. If I travel , I always grab the opportunity to capture beautiful of places and people I meet along the way.

Your post reminded me so much of my trip to Canyonlands. Thank you so much for sharing your photos! I would like to share to you my own gallery

of Canyonlands Photography right at this site: You

will absolutely find my photos interesting. Thanks!
Here are a couple of my fine art photos from Canyonlands!
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Michael Lafleur
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# Michael Lafleur 2015-05-31 23:49
Enjoyed your post about the campsite along the White Rim trail. My wife and I just completed a three night stay in May 2015 and stayed in three different campsites (Potato Bottom, Murphy and Airport). We had very different weather, with highs and lows about 10 degrees below average (60-65 in the day, 45-50 at night). We also had scattered rain and a little thunder, which meant some mud along the way. Resevations have changed and you can only make a back country camp reservation four months in advance and only on line. My wife and I took our two high clearance jeeps and we had no problems on the trail. We were celerbrating our 34th anniversary, are both retired and both over 60.
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