Moab Biking Roundup

The White Rim

To find the real heart of Canyon Country, ride the scenic and wild White Rim Trail. This 100-mile loop in Canyonlands National Park's Island in the Sky district is a true backcountry adventure, requiring several days and nights on the trail with a four-wheel-drive support vehicle to haul your water and supplies over rough and remote double-tracks in the wilderness. On the White Rim Trail you'll skirt dark, forbidding canyons, admire towering redrock mesas and buttes, pedal beside lazy desert rivers, and roll out your sleeping bag under an awesome canopy of stars.

The trail is named for the rock layer on which it travels for many miles. The hard White Rim sandstone remained long after the softer rock above eroded away, forming a shelf 1000 feet above the Colorado and Green rivers and 1000 feet below the highlands of the Island in the Sky above. Island in the Sky is a 6,000-foot mesa squeezed between the canyons of the Green and Colorado rivers, with the confluence of the streams at its southern end. Sheer rock walls tower above the White Rim to the Island and plunge dramatically to the rivers below, with buttes, convoluted side canyons, and bizarre hoodoo towers scattered all over the landscape. Though this beautiful trail has some long climbs, there are few technical sections; as long as you use a four-wheel-drive support vehicle, this is a great ride for cyclists of all skill levels.

Pedaling the White Rim Trail counterclockwise puts its more challenging sections in the early part of your ride, letting you get the toughest part out of the way first. This harder stretch along the Green River has more campsites, too, letting you choose shorter daily mileages when the riding is tougher. One of the best sites is Hardscrabble on the Green River, where your day ends with a cooling Green River dip. Murphy Hogback, located high on the nose of a ridge with views of the Maze and the Land of Standing Rocks, is another spectacular site. The best camp on the White Rim—and the hardest one to reserve—is White Crack. Located on a promontory rising above the surrounding landscape like a ship's prow, it has a panoramic 270-degree view of the mysterious and beautiful Maze and Needles districts of Canyonlands National Park.

Scenery and attractions never stop on this stunning ride. At Fort Bottom, hike to a Native American watchtower overlooking a three-mile horseshoe bend in the Green River. Admire the majestic La Sal Mountains towering over a deep gorge at the Colorado River Overlook. Walk into thin air on Musselman Arch, and chuckle in admiration at the redrock lady in Washerwoman Arch. End your trip with the elation of conquering the steep and beautiful Schafer Trail, which rewards riders with the most awe-inspiring view in Utah.

Though some hard-core cyclists pedal the White Rim Trail in one day, you should take four or five days to enjoy this desert adventure. That leaves time to hike the slots, swim the rivers, take pictures, and laze in your peaceful campsites. Permits and campsite reservations are required for overnight trips on the White Rim. For permit and trip information, check the Canyonlands National Park website (, or call (435) 259-4351. Call early—reservations open in July for the following year and fill quickly, especially for fall and spring trips.

To get there: Drive 13 miles north of Moab on U.S. 191 to UT 313, then 21 miles west on UT 313 to Island in the Sky Visitors Center.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 8 Nov 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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