Biking Moab's White Rim
Discovering Utah's Breathtaking White Rim Trail
Once in a while I need to step off the treadmill of life to catch my breath. I disappear for a few days and then return ready for new challenges. One of my favorite get-a-ways is right in our backyard. Forget 5 star hotels, valet parking, executive chefs, manicured golf greens and lounging by the pool, I’m talking about a complete escape from civilization—no cell phones, no television, and no fast food.
The White Rim Trail in Canyonlands Park, just outside of Moab, can only be described as breathtaking! It is a 90 mile loop through the most scenic desert country of Central Utah. Even if you have visited Moab, the White Rim is special and unique. But be forewarned, one is never the same after visiting this area. Somehow the rugged, remote beauty is indelibly etched into your very soul. I always enjoy taking people into the area for the first time because their reaction is always the same. It can’t be adequately described. It has to be experienced.
So if you are up for a new adventure find a group of 6 to 14 friends to go with. Call ahead for a camping permit. Spring and fall are the most popular times to visit and are booked up to a year in advance. The White Rim can only be explored on bicycle or by 4WD. My favorite way to experience the trail is a three day/two night camping trip. We ride mountain bikes followed by a support truck carrying food, water and all our gear.
After the initial white-knuckle descent down Schaeffer Trail, most of the trail is fairly easy to ride. Murphy’s Hogback and Hardscrabble Hill are the only difficult climbs along the way. My twelve year old daughter accompanied me on our last trip in early March and rode nearly all the way. On a three day trip we average 30 miles a day. This makes for an easy pace, plenty of time to stop for pictures and to enjoy the company. Cyclists from beginners to advanced will enjoy the ride. Areas that are difficult or tiring for new riders can be ridden in the support vehicle.
Along the trail, the scenery unfolds in all directions around and above and below you. Tall rock buttes tower above the desert floor which is carved by canyons and crevices hundreds of feet deep. Don’t miss Muscleman Arch, the slot canyon at Candlestick, or the river house remains left by the Freemont Indians. One of the most popular campsites is at Whitecrack. The top of this plateau provides unparalleled views of the basins formed by the Colorado and the Green rivers and the Needles district. After the sun sets in the West, the desert sky fills with a billion stars unspoiled by manmade light. You literally can see the Milky Way.
Food always tastes better in the outdoors and especially after a full day of biking and hiking. With a little pre-trip prep, meals are quick and delicious. For us, dinner the first night is always spaghetti and garlic bread. We precook the spaghetti and store it in Ziploc bags in the cooler. At camp all we have to do is bring the sauce to a boil and then serve it over the pasta. Pancakes and eggs start the day out with plenty of carbs. Hoagies and fresh fruit make a quick and easy tailgate lunch along the trail. Grilled steaks and dutch oven potatoes finish the end of the second day. Be advised that no open fires are permitted and that all camp sites have a strict leave no-trace policy. You pack out all you bring in.
If you don’t want to plan the trip or don’t have any friends to go with, call one of the excellent outfitters in Moab who regularly take groups over the White Rim. This costs a little more, but is often worth it. Either way don’t miss what will likely be one of the most memorable experiences of your life.
Cory Jensen and daughter Jenny take a photo-op along the White Rim Trail. Cory is an avid outdoorsman, but particularly loves biking. Drop him a line at email@example.com
White Rim Trail General description
This is popular as a 4X4 route and also as a mountain bike trail. On a bike, it is possible to do it as a long day ride, but more commonly it is done as a 2-3 day trip with a support vehicle. A Canyonlands camping permit is required for overnight stays.
- One hundred miles of spectacular southern Utah scenery. Wind your way down precipitous switchbacks, camp in remote desert locations, pass countless red rock formations - good luck keeping your eyes on the road.
- Time: One to two days (preferably two)
- Total distance: 100 miles
- Vehicle requirements: Four-wheel drive is a must, but suitable for most SUVs
- Loop trip: Yes
- General location: Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky District
- USGS maps: La Sal, Hanksville, San Rafael Desert, Moab (1:100,000)
- Special attractions: Arches, Indian ruins, towers, buttes, views of the Colorado and Green rivers
- Best time of year: Spring through fall
- Usage: Moderate
- Current road information: Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky Ranger District, (435) 259-4712
- Guidebooks: Moab, UT Backroads & 4-Wheel Drive Trails, by Charles A. Wells, Fun Treks, Inc.; 4WD Adventures: Utah, by Peter Massey and Jeanne Wilson, Swagman Publishing.
For more information about the White-Rim Trail, go to Utah.com