Always check the Island in the Sky Visitor Center
for current conditions before heading out.
The route is mostly dirt and sand, with a few small rocky stretches scattered throughout. Notable obstacles include a steep and rocky climb at Murphy Hogback at Waypoint 33, the Hardscrabble switchbacks at Waypoint 49, and the water crossing of Upheaval Bottom at Waypoint 55. You will also come across several blind turns and ascents, as well as plenty of cliffside driving. Expect many climbs and descents, as White Rim’s elevation ranges from 3,941 feet to 5,278 feet, with an overall ascent of 3,036 feet and descent of 3,645 feet. This is a straight-through trail, and the only points of entry are Shafer Trail
, Potash Road
, and Mineral Bottom Road
. For all reasons mentioned, White Rim should only be attempted by SUVs with high clearance, aggressive tires, low range, and either extended range fuel tanks or jerry cans. Locking differentials would also be highly recommended, but not required. Additional recovery gear should also be considered mandatory on this trail. Be sure to check in with the Ranger Station, as a permit is required both for day trips and overnight camping trips. For this reason, it is recommended that you enter via Shafer Trail after stopping by the Ranger Station.
White Rim is not an overly technical trail, but what it lacks in challenging obstacles it makes up for in long, strenuous driving. You will likely want to be in 4 wheel drive the whole time, and you will use low range several times throughout your trip. Bring plenty of fuel as even the shortest route, entering on Shafer Trail
and exiting through Mineral Bottom Road
, is over 90 miles of off-road driving, and you still need to make it to Moab for fuel. Completing the trail in one very long day is possible, but two days is much safer.
Flash floods may occur under certain weather conditions, and snow may close the route during the winter months. The water crossing at Upheaval Bottom fluctuates throughout the year. It may be too deep to cross at certain times. Even if it looks shallow enough, be sure to check the river bottom, as it is mostly sediment and clay, and can have poor traction. Recoveries on the White Rim Trail START at $1000, and can quickly get much higher in cost. A radio or satellite communicator would be a great item to bring, or better yet, go in a group. Proper recovery gear, including traction aids, shovels, and tow ropes or winches, should also be brought along.
Despite being in a National Park, do not forget that you are in the desert, and you may not see other travelers along the trail. Summer temperatures can easily reach 100°F during the day and fall to 50°F at night, and winter temperatures can be at freezing temperatures throughout the entire day and night. Bring enough food and water to make it through your trip; the park recommends drinking one gallon of water each day you are on the trail. During winter, all vehicles should carry chains. The White Rim has an abundance of wildlife, some of which can be dangerous to you and members of your group. Maintain a proper distance to keep yourself and the wildlife safe.
Last, remember that White Rim is a part of the Canyonlands National Park. Be respectful of the environment and stay on the designated route. Leaving the trail in your vehicle or on foot can damage the ecosystem, and ruin the scenery for others. Do not remove anything from the park, including rocks, bones, and plant life. White Rim is a fantastic trail, and it is in a national park. But do not take this trail lightly. Have a great time, but be prepared for the worst-case scenario.