18 May 2018
Jamie and I rode the White Rim Trail back in 2014. Last time we rode in a clockwise direction and it took us 10 hours to complete the loop. This included two of the three side spurs; Lathrop Canyon and the White Crack.
This year we rode the third side spur – Taylor Canyon. We also rode out to White Crack but decided to skip Lathrop canyon. We rode counter-clockwise this year and made better time – completing the loop in 7.5 hours.
We made better time for two reasons; we had a smaller group, and we had helmet radios so we only stopped when someone wanted to. We never had to stop and wait just to regroup. We had six people in 2014, but this year it was just three; me, Jamie, and Jason.
Most of the White Rim trail resides within Canyonlands National Park. They now require you to obtain a day use permit for each vehicle. You can obtain a permit on-line up to 24 hours in advance. We had no idea how difficult it would be to obtain a permit, so we each got one shortly after midnight. You can also pay your park entry fee on-line so you don’t have to go to the fee station prior to starting the ride.
Our goal was to start our ride at about 8:00 AM so we could be finished by 6:00 PM. We decided to go out for a nice cooked breakfast since we had a long day ahead of us, so we didn’t get started until about 9:45 AM. Since we made such good time, we finish by about 5:30 PM.
The road out to the Mineral Bottom switchbacks was in good repair, so we were able to cruise at about 45-50 mph. You can’t help but wonder how and why someone would build a road down the cliff as you descend the switchbacks. You also get a nice view of the Green River, so be sure to keep your eyes on the road.
The road then turns south and parallels the Green River for several miles. In some places you can’t see the river due to the tamarisk trees, but in other places if you go off the road you will go right into the river.
We took the six-mile side spur up Taylor Canyon to see the Moses and Zeus rock formations. I feared this might be a rough and rocky road, but it was really a very pleasant ride.
Next, we came to the Hardscrabble section. This is probably the hardest part of the trail. It is a steep climb going either direction and some sections are loose and rocky. Once you get up on the terrace, you have some great views of the Green River – so once again, pay attention to the road.
After a short break on top, we descended the steep road on the southern side, then rode through Potato Bottom and continued on the loop. Some sections along here were really fun, but a lot of it is just straight open desert riding. You do ride around a lot of small canyons, but from the trail they are difficult to see. Because most of the trail is along the ‘whitish’ terrace (where the trail earned its name), you often can’t fully appreciate the scenery from the trail.
There are a few climbs and descents to make, but none of them are particularly difficult on a small dirt bike. Less experienced riders on larger motorcycles could be challenged, however.
The second most difficult section is Murphy’s Hogback. We stopped for our first lunch break once we got to the top.
After descending Murphy’s Hogback, which is also fairly steep, we continued on around the loop. As before, the trail is a mixture of dirt, a little sand, and some sandstone. We continued on, only stopping for periodic breaks, or to enjoy some great vistas. By mid-afternoon, we were getting pretty tired of the sandstone sections – many of them are really bumpy.
I think I prefer the ride in the counter-clockwise direction. This way you get the soft sand along the Green River and the steep climbs at Hardscrabble out of the way before you get too tired. But you do end up with lots of bumpy sandstone later on. So, in general, the western portion along the Green River is the most technical, and the eastern section is easy, but rough.
It is also worth noting that there is only one short section of the trail where you can actually see the Colorado River from the trail. You can get a great view of the river from an overlook side spur. Whereas the western section has frequent views of the Green River.
We stopped to talk with a ranger that was raking out tire tracks near one of the campsites. It always amazes me how many people just can’t seem to understand ‘stay on the trail’. The ranger was very pleasant. He asked if we had our permits but didn’t make us pull them out. He asked about our opinions of the trail and which direction is our favorite.
We didn’t ride down Lathrop Canyon to the picnic area near the Colorado River, but decided to have our second lunch at a nice scenic view that kind of reminded me of the Maze District of Canyonlands. We also skipped Musselman Arch.
Later we stopped briefly at the Colorado River Overlook, then pressed on to climb the Shafer switchbacks.
This is another very impressive road. The road is much wider and in better condition than the first time I drove it back in the 1970s. With good weather, you could probably drive this in almost any vehicle, although I would recommend having an SUV to give you some ground clearance and 4WD to get through patches of sand.
We made it back to the car ahead of schedule, so we had to time for a soak in the motel hot tub before heading out to dinner.
The White Rim Trail is not one of my favorite rides, but it is worth doing if you get the chance. It isn’t overly difficult, but it is very long. Be prepared for a long day out on the trail. With the two side spurs, we put about 120 miles on our bikes. Make sure you have enough to fuel to go that far and carry tools for trailside repairs – it would be long walk out.