White Rim Trail – May 2014

May 2-3, 2014

To watch the scenic video in HD, click on the Vimeo link in the lower right corner of the video.

I have wanted to ride the White Rim trail in Canyonlands for many years. To ride any trails in Canyonlands, you need to have a street legal vehicle. To ride the White Rim trail, you need to have over 100 miles of range on your gas tank. Now that I have plated bikes with oversized gas tanks, the trip became a possibility.

At first I considered taking two days to ride the trail, thinking it would be nice to camp at one of the campsites along the route. But the park regulations only allow 3 motorcycles per campsite, which makes it difficult to plan a trip with enough people to be safe. Furthermore, it is very difficult to obtain a reservation for a campsite since they are so popular.

We therefore decided to ride the entire trail in one day – a ride of 120 miles in about 10 hours. Many people ride the trail in 8 hours, but we took our time and enjoyed the scenery and explored some of the spur trails. The scenery was absolutely spectacular, so it was well worth taking our time and enjoying the moment.

We drove down Thursday afternoon in order to find a camping location near the park so we could get an early start. We were late leaving Salt Lake because we had to stop at a tire shop to remove a screw from one of the front tires. Luckily, the screw did not penetrate the tread, so the mechanic was able to quickly get us back on the road.

We were lucky to snag the last two campsites at Horsethief campground, about ¾ of a mile from the turnoff to Mineral Basin. They weren’t the best campsites. We had cars coming in all night long, seeing the “campground full” sign, and turning around to leave. As they turned, their headlights would swing past our tents. So we didn’t get a lot of sleep – but at least we had a place stay.

Scott B. cooking dinner at Horsethief campground

We had six join our adventure. Jamie and I rode down with Scott Barton to grab the campsites, followed a few hours later by Ross Vellinga, Scott Connors, and Danny Lunt. We had two KTM 350s, two Suzuki DR-Z400s, and two Kawasaki KLR650s. We even took the opportunity to trade bikes so we could see how they all handled.

Danny, Ross, Scott C., Scott B., Jamie, Dee


May 2: The White Rim Trail

We left camp at about 8:45 AM. It was a little chilly riding the pavement to the park entrance, but we were shedding our jackets before too long. We rode the loop clockwise, as shown by the blue track in the following GPS map.

Our GPS track

Our GPS track

The first major point of interest is the Shafer switchbacks. I had previously driven down these switchbacks in a car, taking the long dirt road to Moab, but this was my first time riding it on a motorcycle. The road is in very good condition, but there are some extreme points of exposure along the cliff edge. These switchbacks quickly drop you down to the layer of white rock that gives the trail its name. From here, the bulk of the trail is fairly flat and not very technical. There are, however, a few steep climbs later in the ride.

Looking down on the Shafer switchbacks

One of our first stops was at the Colorado River Overlook. The first half of the trail basically follows the Colorado River to the confluence with the Green River, but this overlook is the only place that gives you a good look at the river. Not far from the overlook is the only place you can see the river from the road, and if you aren’t paying attention, you will easily miss it.

The Colorado River

We then stopped to see Musselman Arch. The top of the arch is at the same level as the trail, so it is easy to walk out onto the arch. But if you are afraid of heights, it may not be a pleasant experience.

Jamie and Dee on Musselman Arch

Since we were not rushed for time, we opted to ride the 4 mile spur trail down Lathrop Canyon and enjoy a snack on the banks of the Colorado River. This trail is a little more technical than the main White Rim loop with some stretches of deep, soft sand. It wasn’t too bad, although the larger bikes struggled somewhat in the sand.

Jamie and Danny starting down Lathrop Canyon

Lathrop Canyon picnic near the river


We also took the 2 mile spur out to White Crack where we enjoyed a very scenic lunch break.

Lunch with a view at White Crack

From here the road turns north as we parallel the Green River. Unlike the Colorado River, there are many places along the trail with great views of the Green. The trail consists of a mixture of dirt, sandstone, and sand. Most of the trail is very easy and you can relax while you cruise through the desert. But other sections of the trail are very close to cliff edges, so you need to focus on what you are doing. A mishap could be fatal. The main challenge is trying to take in the scenery while staying safe on the trail.

Typical section of the trail

The next major point of interest is Murphy’s Hogback. This is the first steep and somewhat rocky climb. It amazes me that some people can ride up this hill on their mountain bikes. I would have a hard time walking my bike up!

Jamie climbing Murphy’s Hogback

There are some really nice campsites along Potato Bottom, which is immediately followed by another very steep climb called Hardscrabble. Hardscrabble is a long climb with very loose dirt. It was not overly difficult on a motorcycle, but I imagine it is a killer climb on a mountain bike. The descent down the back side is also precarious.

Potato Bottom as seen from the top of Hardscrabble

After Hardscrabble lie the longest stretches of deep sand along the entire route. The sand was not too bad, so we made good time getting through it.

Sand along the river

We then exited the Park boundary and entered the Mineral Bottom area. We took a quick trip over to see the boat ramp before climbing the switchbacks and cruising back to camp.

We arrived back at camp with just enough daylight to enjoy Ross’ BBQ dinner and Dutch oven desert. We were all tired, but thoroughly enjoyed the day’s ride.

May 3: Island In The Sky

On Saturday morning, Ross, Scott C., and Danny headed over to explore the Wedge Overlook area in the San Rafael Swell while Jamie, Scott B., and I stayed and explored Island In the Sky.

Jamie and I wanted an easy ride for our second day, and since we had already paid our entrance fee to the park, we figured we might as well see the ‘normal’ tourist attractions available from the paved roads.

We quickly found that riding long straight stretches of pavement on a dirt bike is not very fun, but when we got to the tight twisting sections of road we had a good time. We did a few short hikes, including Whale Rock, Upheaval Dome Overlook, and Mesa Arch. We also took photos at the various overlooks, including the view from above the Shafer trail.

The view from Whale Rock


Jamie at Mesa Arch, with the White Rim trail in the background

The wind really picked up in the afternoon, so our ride back to the car was less pleasant, but we made it safely, packed up, and headed for home.


About gardinerfamilyadventures

A really great family!
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4 Responses to White Rim Trail – May 2014

  1. Pingback: Getting My KTM 350 Ready For An Adventure Ride – May 2014 | Gardiner Family Adventures

  2. Wow, what a great video! Especially because it has my Honey in it. Wish I could have been riding with you guys!

    Warmly, Michelle

  3. Pingback: Adventure Bike Luggage for Small Bikes – Sept 2014 | Gardiner Family Adventures

  4. Marcus says:

    That looks like a great ride. Was right by there two years ago and didn’t go in the park because there was so much to see outside the park. Next time I go this will be on the list of things to do

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