Mountain Biking Utah's White Rim Trail

Cradled between the Colorado and Green Rivers and surrounded by sheer, white-capped sandstone cliffs, Utah's famed Canyonlands National Park has what many describe as the granddaddy of all mountain biking trails. The White Rim Road Trail, a sublime 110-mile loop, delivers the supreme slickrock for which the state is justly famous, but without the crowds that choke up Moab and other high-profile mountain biking meccas.
The trail derives its name from the sandstone cliffs of the same color. Over the centuries, Mother Nature has carved her way through miles of red stone, leaving deposits of frothy sandstone that are more resistant to water erosion than the surrounding rocks. Pedal along spectacular buttes and weave around 800-foot, milky-white sandstone columns as the trail cuts through seven distinct geological layers. Take spur roads off the trail to breathe in the Canyonlands' spectacular features, including Musselman Arch (recently made famous by Nike advertisements), Monument Basin, White Crack, Fort Bottom, and Upheaval Dome, where a meteorite is believed to have struck thousands of years ago.
While the road is accessible only by 1,400-foot switchbacks, the trail itself is fairly level save two grueling uphill stretches at Hardscrabble Bottom and Murphy Hogback. It follows slickrock and jeep roads throughout (so stay alert for 4x4 enthusiasts), punctuated with sandy stretches, loose rock, and bedrock exposures. The length of time you spend on White Rim Road will depend on how vigorously you attack the trail—some have completed the entire loop in a single day, but a moderate to difficult push tops out at around four days. A support vehicle, commonly provided with most outfitted trips, is a good idea, especially for groups—it will lighten the load and provide relief in case of emergency. Camping is allowed along the trail, but backcountry permits are required. Contact the National Park Service (Tel: 435/259-4351) for information. The trail gets crowded, especially during the spring peak season, so make all arrangements well in advance.

Published: 11 Jul 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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