Bicycling Magazine Canyonlands National Park, UT: White Rim Trail 

A multi-day bike-packing adventure, this epic Canyonlands ride is an endurance-testing 80 miles of rugged doubletrack with jaw-dropping canyon views around every bend.

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Author: Bicycling Magazine
Date: 9 Apr 2009 7:38:46 PM
Activity: Mountain Biking
State: Utah (UT)
Distance: 80.39 mi  (Change units)
Survey Elevation: Total Gain: 11170 ft
Total Loss: 10146 ft
Net Change: 1024 ft
Difficulty: 9 / 10
Tags: Canyonlands National Park, Moab, Monticello, Utah
Rating: Unrated   Rate it

The White Rim Trail is a classic ride (or 4-wheel drive) below Canyonlands National Park’s Island in the Sky Mesa. This route follows 80 miles of the 100-mile loop starting just north of the park at Horsethief Springs and heading counter clockwise. After the initial descent to the Green River, the doubletrack ride is long but mellow, with only a couple of notable climbs. What is notable, is the scenery. Miles of towering sandstone pillars, spectacular canyon overlooks and sheer cliff faces are a spectacular backdrop for this 2, 3, or 4-day adventure. Making the trip of a lifetime? Stay for the extra day if you can and take a break from your saddle to explore side trails by foot.

This popular destination does require planning.  Required backcountry permits are in high demand (especially during spring and fall) and it may be necessary to make reservations up to 1 year in advance to secure campsites. Check with Canyonlands National Park for reservation processes. Also, with no potable water on the trail, you’ll need a high-clearance support vehicle of some kind to transport necessary supplies.

-Mapped by Gene Poncelet

TO TRAILHEAD: From Moab drive 11 miles north on US-191, turn left onto UT-313. In 12.3 miles turn right onto Mineral Canyon Road. Bear right in 1.6 miles and follow Canyon Lands National Park Rd. 11.5 miles to the Horsethief Trailhead. The road may be impassable when wet and high clearance vehicles are a must.

Position Format: Datum:

White Rim Trail

Distance: 80.39 mi Points: 3419
Total Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi
Active Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi

Points of Interest


Location: 38.508818, -109.996147
This ride starts at the Horsethief Trail. Though most people start riding from the visitors center, being open to alternative start points like this one might help make your backcountry reservation process go more smoothly.


Location: 38.517381, -110.004816
Stay to the left at this Y-junction and continue on the doubletrack as it rounds the base of Horsethief Point.


Location: 38.475262, -109.999967
At mile 8, stay to the right to bypass the dirt road heading up Taylor Canyon. The Labyrinth campground just before the canyon road has two campsites.


Location: 38.468475, -109.998851
The hiking trail that crosses the road near mile 9 turns into Upheaval Canyon toward Upheaval Dome, more than 4 miles away. If you're dying for a hike but worried about your stamina, wait for the short out-and-back at the top of the hill up ahead.


Location: 38.452950, -110.007906
The two campsites at Hardscrabble Bottom are down this side road to your right. Bear left to climb 400 feet (about half way) up the Bighorn Mesa to the south.


Location: 38.444111, -110.017819
The Fort Bottom Trail leads about 1.5 miles to a tower-like structure that was built above the river bottom by the Anasazi Indians some 750 years ago. After a long day of riding it's an ambitious trip, but it's between the Hardscrabble and Potato bottom campgrounds and might make a good side-trip for your support vehicle driver.


Location: 38.431505, -110.010309
You'll pass the first of three Potato Bottom campsites near mile 13.5. The next several miles of scenic doubletrack head gently uphill.


Location: 38.394684, -109.958897
Below Steer Mesa on the left, the trail winds around the top of Holeman Spring Canyon. Stop to talk to hikers heading to the rim from the trailhead nearby, or stop for a look yourself if you've got time.


Location: 38.373895, -109.965248
Candlestick campground (near mile 25 on this route) only offers one site, but headed counterclockwise, it's a good place to rest before tackling the tough (but short) 400-foot climb ahead.


Location: 38.323612, -109.908772
There aren't many notable climbs on this long rim-top trail, but this notable 800-footer near mile 35 lands on the Murphy Hogback ridge where there are three backcountry campsites.


Location: 38.274727, -109.863142
The doubletrack dips below Junction Butte near its southernmost section. Bypass the White Crack Trail which leads to an old mining camp near the edge of the rim, and stay left to head north.


Location: 38.330874, -109.827318
There are two sites at the Gooseberry Campground near mile 51, but the hiking loop headed east is popular with backpackers, too.


Location: 38.387015, -109.826374
As the road crosses Buck Canyon, look ahead for the Airport Tower, and look behind you to catch a glimpse of Washer Woman Arch.


Location: 38.392935, -109.795647
The Airport Campground is the largest on the road with 4 sites. Near mile 60 on this mapped route and 19 miles from the visitor center, it's a great distance for an overnight in either riding direction.


Location: 38.401478, -109.794188
You might encounter day-hikers at this roadside stretch of the Lathrop Canyon hiking trail. Though some hikers continue downhill toward the river, many will use the roadside overlook as a turnaround point and will be back to their cars in a few hours.


Location: 38.437254, -109.770241
Near mile 70, take this 300-yard detour to Musselman Arch on the south edge of the rim. If the crosswinds aren't a concern, consider the thrilling ride over the 120-foot sandstone span. Up ahead is another short side-trip to an overlook above the river.


Location: 38.459302, -109.794660
Stay straight on the White Rim Road, bypassing the access to Shafer Canyon. There is one campsite in the canyon about a mile northeast of this junction. It's just 6 miles from this point to the visitors center, but there's nearly 1,500 feet of elevation gain en route to the top of the mesa.


Location: 38.471466, -109.811783
This mapped route ends at the main park road. The visitor center is about 1 mile south of here. Stop by to check it out before piling into your support vehicle and heading home.

Standing Rock

Location: 38.407868, -109.769726
Dwarfing human-scale features, this rock towers 1,300 feet above the trail. It's just one of hundreds. © Gene Poncelet

Horsethief Switchbacks

Location: 38.507609, -109.994259
Snaking switchbacks heading into the canyon near the Horsethief Trailhead where this route begins. © Gene Poncelet


Location: 38.475296, -110.001297
The entire ride is a doubletrack jeep road. © Gene Poncelet


Location: 38.438397, -110.014257
Overlooking Potato campground, one of 11 campsites scattered along the road. © Gene Poncelet

Potato Camp

Location: 38.431539, -110.010996
Bighorn Mesa looms over the first campsites at Potato Bottom. © Gene Poncelet


Location: 38.386073, -110.014687
Buttes of The Cross visible to the southwest from the White Rim Trail near mile 18. © Gene Poncelet

Vast Landscape

Location: 38.372347, -109.964819
This vast landscape dwarfs everything in its midst, including the rider at the center of this shot. © Gene Poncelet

Turks Head

Location: 38.358282, -109.946365
The large rock butte on the river's south side is archaeologically significant: Anasazi people used chert in the area to make tools and weapons. © Gene Poncelet

Crack Formation

Location: 38.357340, -109.937611
It's not just buttes and cliff faces, the hard, white rock that gives this trail its name has other impressive features: like this deep crack. © Gene Poncelet

Candlestick Tower

Location: 38.364003, -109.917183
Looking north toward Candelstick Tower and the Island in the Sky Mesa from the trail near Soda Springs Basin. © Gene Poncelet

The Support Truck

Location: 38.323747, -109.909287
There isn't any potable water on the long dirt road, so a high-clearance support vehicle is necessary for almost everyone who hits the trail. © Gene Poncelet

Mesa Top View

Location: 38.311424, -109.894781
The trail is chock-a-block with spectacular views. © Gene Poncelet

Monument Basin

Location: 38.314993, -109.830408
Looking south from the trail into Monument Basin. © Gene Poncelet

Red Rock

Location: 38.398451, -109.784832
Leaving the Airport campground, with the red rocks of the Island in the Sky Mesa in the background. © Gene Poncelet

Musselman Arch

Location: 38.436312, -109.769812
This 120-foot ride is the thrill of a lifetime, but a bit too exciting for many who pass up the opportunity. © Gene Poncelet

Schafer Switchbacks

Location: 38.451875, -109.817362
Starting up the last climb. The goal is the horizon. © Gene Poncelet


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