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Trail Happenings September 2010

The White Rim Trail – Canyonlands National Park
by Kirstin Peterson  -   photos courtesy of Rim Tours

White RimSince my first visit to Moab in 1989 the White Rim Trail has held mythical status for me. I originally heard of this remote place, perfect for a multi-day bike ride, from friends who knew the area better than I. We’d try to spot the actual rim of white sandstone from high points near Moab to pinpoint where exactly this magical area was, lost in the vastness of the red rock wilderness south of town. 21 years later I’ve ridden the familiar terrain many times and the allure remains.

Located in the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park, the White Rim Trail is not your everyday bike ride. It is best enjoyed for a minimum of 3 days with 4 days making a pretty perfect tour with time to bike the trail and time to soak in the scenery or hike some of the many side canyons. Of course this means some advance planning for a support vehicle to haul food, water and gear, but this is all part of the adventure. A permit must be obtained from the park service for a designated camp site prior to your trip. Reserve well in advance for this popular trail.

The White Rim Trail follows a 4 wheel drive road that begins or ends on the Shafer Trail or Mineral Bottom roads that each drop steeply off the island plateau before leveling off to the White Rim bench layer of sandstone aptly named “White Rim” for this very locale. Along the route are campsites with pit toilets and nothing else except spectacular views in every direction and endless exploring to do by foot.

White Rim bike tripAs you ride the trail from campsite to campsite, traveling on your bike is the key to leaving the world behind and baring your soul to the elements to feel, smell, taste and hear the silence that will surround you much of your time here. A lot of the terrain is moderate and rolling, though challenges await in the form of steep rocky climbs and descents to test the mettle of the most experienced mountain biker. All of these tough spots are easily walked through and some may linger in your mind as goals for your return trip. “Next time I’ll ride the entire Murphy’s Hogback climb without stopping” is a phrase I’ve heard before both from my own lips and from others as we gasp for breath on this bear of a hill climb.

The trail is fun traveling in either direction and each way offers a big climb at the very end to ascend out of the canyons back up to the plateau. Highlights along the way include a hike from the White Crack campsite at the southern most end of the White Rim. Look for shrimp life in the potholes if it has rained recently! Find the “Black Crack” which offers great views of Turk’s Head Butte across the Green River. This joint crack in the White Rim is fascinating. For the adventurous, a short hike into Holeman Slot Canyon across from the Wilhite Trail is a must do. Be prepared for potholes and mud if it has rained and make sure you know your way out before dropping too far in. (There is a fairly easy scramble out up a crack near the end of the hike). Take the time to walk out on the rim, lay yourself down near the edge and simply look into the canyons below. And always remember to keep your bike on the roadway and don’t ride over the slickrock sections unless you are on the trail. We want to preserve the area for future travelers and not put down tracks off the road for others to follow.

You may elect to arrange your own trip, but many folks choose to take a fully guided & catered tour of the White Rim Trail where all the planning is taken care of by the experts and you basically just need to show up with some personal gear. There are 5 tour companies permitted to provide this service. Some hard core bikers ride the trail in 1 day and though you miss a lot when your focus is on speed rather than scenery, you are still immersed in this landscape for 8-12 hours on your saddle which is nothing to scoff at. Any way you approach the White Rim, the experience is worth it. You’ll encounter an adventure in a beautiful, remote place, perfect for rejuvenating your spirit and appreciation of the opportunity to ride and explore our natural world.

For further information and permits contact Click on Plan Your Visit / Things to Do / Places to Go / Island in the Sky and White Rim Trail. For visitor information call 435-719-2313. The campsite reservations office is 435-259-4351.
Author Kirstin Peterson, is an active member of the Grand County Trail Mix Non-Motorized Committee acting as the group’s skiing representative and bike trail advocate.

Trail Mix is an advisory committee to Grand County in the development and maintenance of non motorized trails. The committee represents non motorized users including bikers, hikers, equestrians, and skiers. Many government agencies and private citizens make up the “mix” that makes this group work so well. Come join us on the 2nd Tuesday of each month from 12-2 at the Grand Center (500W. 182 N.). Everyone is welcome. Contact Sandy Freethey 259-0253 or find us online at You may also reach us at

White Rim Canyonlands National Park map

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