Canyonlands National Park
Amazing canyon and desert vistas
111 Miles with all side roads
$25 Park Entrance, $30 campsite and permit
Pack your own
You will be in direct sun the vast majority of the time
High clearance 4x4 road
At each campsite
Island in the Sky Visitor Center
You will need to be self sufficient since this is a very remote area and towing fees would be very expensive. Bring all tools sufficient to fix auto issues. Full socket set, Tire kit, Full size spare, Air pump, Saw or Grinder for exhaust cutting, High Lift Jack, and Extra fuel, Extra lubricants, Spare parts. Most of this road can be done by a high clearance vehicle in 2 wheel drive but there are a few areas where 4x4 is a necessity. This is especially true when there has been recent rain as there was when I visited.
Shafer Trail:38.47179N, 109.81105W
Exit on HWY 131:38.58329N, 109.80132W
The White Rim Road is an amazing off road trail in Canyonlands National Park. It is probably the premier off road experience in any national park. There are so many elements that combine to make this one of my five favorite places I have ever been. You get amazing vistas, camping, hiking, off roading, and remoteness. Ever since I first visited as young kid with my Dad I have loved this place. This road can also be done on mountain bikes with a supply truck. But I prefer to sit in the car and take my time and soak it all in. This trail circles around the entire base of the Island in the Sky district in Canyonlands. This road is fairly easy for anyone with any experience. I was able to easily complete it in a stock half ton truck. This does not mean it should be taken lightly. If anything goes wrong it is VERY expensive to have help come to rescue you. It is much better to prepare to be self sufficient in case of break downs or getting stuck. I didn’t personally getstuck but I had to pull others out. When we visited they had a lot of rain and that turned the exit along the river into a muddy mess. When prepared I can’t imagine myself putting this place above any other on my list of favorites. There are only a handful of places I would rate a ten and 3 of them are in Canyonlands. This trek is meant to be a guide to give you options that you can try and to see some of the camps you can reserve. To visit White Rim you have to have a permit for day or overnight use. These are usually booked a few months in advance especially for overnight trips. I got mine 2 months ahead and the pickings were slim as far as campsites go. You can reserve your spot on the Canyonlands website. All of the camps are nice but if I had to pick any to stay at it would be White Crack, Murphy, and Potato Bottom. We did this in two days and one night but I would recommend three days and two nights to really relax and take it all in. You can do the road in any direction but I think that clockwise is the way to go. We started at the Shafer trail which is right by the Visitor Center. Make sure you pay the park fee because the rangers do check. You can also take the Potash road from Moab if weather shuts down the Shafer Trail. Immediately after entering the trail the scenery gets fantastic. We started early and I was able to snap this shot at the Visitor Center of the sunrise.
There are signs marking the beginning of the Shafer Trail.
You quickly come very close to the edge of very deep canyons. It blows my mind some of the places this road goes and the work it must have been to make it. This area is definitely not for the faint of heart because in some areas you are only feet away from a huge drop. You can see the road through Shafer Canyon far below you.
You will quickly be to the Shafer Trail switchbacks. Many people see this area from above since it a popular overlook in the paved section of the park. It is a really crazy road that I think is fun. My wife however, was terrified. The base of the switchbacks is where the Potash road meets White Rim.
The views from the bottom of Shafer Canyon are beautiful. This entire trip is filled with so many of these its hard to decide what the best is.
You will soon see a small sign and turn out marking the Gooseneck Trail. This is a very short 0.3 mile trail that everyone should do. It takes you to a viewpoint of a large turn in the Colorado River. This is a very famous area since hundred look down on it every day from Dead Horse Point. The gooseneck is so large my 24MM lens couldn’t fit the entire thing so I had to switch to a 12MM.
After the Gooseneck you will next come to the Colorado Overlook. There is a short spur road leading to this one. Its not as good of a view but doesn’t require a short hike.
Just after the Colorado Overlook you will come to Musselman Arch. This is one of the coolest features of the whole trip. The arch is overly huge but you can climb on it and take great pictures of the canon and vistas around it. Please respect others while visiting the arch and keep a close eye on children with many large drops.
The next several miles after the arch are fairly uneventful but still have some awesome views.
You will soon get your first view of the Airport Tower which is a famous formation on the left.
Just below the tower is the Lathrop Canyon Road. This side road takes you 4 miles to the banks of the Colorado where there is a great picnic spot. I found this to be the most challenging area of the whole trip. There were many washouts and several spots with deep sand. If you don’t have very much experience I would skip this spot but if you make it there is a great spot for lunch.
Climbing back out of Lathrop canyon you can see the white vein of rock for which the road is named. In this area it is crumbling into the canyon.
After leaving Lathrop Canyon you will come to the airport campsites. If you stay at these some sort of EZ up would be great for shade. It is very useful at most of the sites in Canyonlands.
After passing Airport Tower you will soon see one of the coolest features called Monster Tower. This one is also photographed as much as anything in Canyonlands since it is in the frame of Mesa Arch where many people visit every day. If you look up to the top of the mesa you can see the arch.
There is a trail down buck canyon to the Colorado but I haven’t tried it yet. But Buck Canyon is very pretty with the La Sal Mountains as a backdrop.
After buck canyon there are some places where the road gets very close to the cliff ledges. And you don’t know it at the time but the entire white rim is undercut meaning you are driving on a huge overhang.
You will soon see the Gooseberry Campsites. These are nice but not as good as others. Just after Gooseberry is one of the prettiest areas on the road. It is called Monument Basin. Again this one is often photographed from above since Grandview Point dominated the landscape above this area.
After the basin there is a spur road leading to the White Crack Camp. This is the most remote of the camps and is really nice. After white crack you will head towards Murphy Hogback. This is one area where 4×4 and even low range are very useful. The tricky parts aren’t long but you will be glad you have it. The road climbs quickly and steeply until you reach the Murphy camp on top of the plateau. This is where we camped and it was very nice. Remember there are no fires allowed in the back country.
It rained all night while we were sleeping so we woke up to some really pretty and unique views.
Going past the camps you will quickly descend the other side of Murphy Hogback. This area was very tricky with all the mud so be very careful. It is a beautiful area.
Once at the base you will start to see the VERY deep canyons leading down to the Green River. The White Rim is probably 20 feet thick in this area. Be sure to hike to the edge of some of these canyons. I thought it was a lot of fun crawling to the edge and looking straight down in some cases more than 300 feet.
Along this area you will see a formation called the Turks Head. You can’t see the river from the road but if you hike to the canyons edge you will see a huge 180 degree turn of the river. Again I needed the wider lens to capture the whole thing.
I kept finding myself parking and walking to the edge and kept finding even deeper canyons. The deepest is right next to the Candlestick Camp. The Candlestick Tower is pictured in my main image for this trek and first comes into view from the Murphy Camp.
Several miles later is the Potato Bottom Camp. These sites have trees and are right on the river bank and very pleasant. Make sure you have bug spray if you stay here.
From here on out the road was a mucky mess when we visited and I had to keep the truck in 4×4 the remainder of the road. The road quickly gains elevation here and is very scenic. You will see a sign marking the Fort Bottom Trail. This is a fairly strenuous but really cool hike that takes you to a hundred year old cabin and an Anasazi ruin. We did not have time to hike it this time which is where the third day would be nice. From the sign you can see the Hardscrabble camps on the river bank far below. These are very similar to Potato Bottom.
After the trail head you will continue the climb up what is known as Hardscrabble Hill. If you stop about halfway across this section you can get binoculars and look back towards Fort Bottom. With a good eye you can see the cabin and indian ruin. Sorry for the horrible zoomed in pictures but you get the idea.
The views from the top of the hill are gorgeous.
After dropping off Hardscrabble Hill you will be at the Hardscrabble camps which are a great place for a picnic.
The road will follow the Green River closely most of the rest of the way. You will pass Taylor Canyon which is a side road with the Taylor Camp at the top as well as a hiking trail that takes you to Upheaval Dome. Keep your eyes peeled as I saw several pretty birds in this area including this Great Blue Heron.
The views of the Green are beautiful but it was bittersweet for me because it marks the beginning of the end of this amazing adventure.
You will soon take another set of huge switchbacks not unlike the Shafer Trail. Once at the top you will take the BLM road back to Highway 131 near the park entrance.
This is such an amazing experience that it should be on every persons bucket list. It provides with scenery that is available almost no where else on earth and gives you a great sense of peace and solitude. This is one I plan on doing many times throughout my life.
For other off road adventures check out these other Canyonlands Districts: