Check out White Rim Road for the ultimate driving (or biking) adventure in Canyonlands National Park. As a moderately-difficult off-road trail, it winds its way up and below the stunning Island in the Sky district.
However, despite the challenge, it provides plenty of unique natural beauty and lets you get up close and personal with the views you can admire from the top of Island in the Sky. Here’s your guide to tackling it both by vehicle and by bike.
White Rim Road is a famous 4-wheel-drive road located in the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park. You can start in a variety of locations, including outside of the park, but most people start their journey along the Shafer Trail drive, right before the Island in the Sky Visitor Center.
You’ll wind your way to the canyon bottom and continue down the dirt and slick-rock path. Be aware that a lot of the driving happens right along the cliff edge, so pay attention and navigate carefully.
You’ll circle the lower canyon system, eventually meeting up with the Green River. You can crawl back out of the canyon system at Mineral Canyon Road, which is technically outside of Canyonlands National Park. This road ties into SR-313 just north of Dead Horse Point State Park to complete the loop.
People drive the road in both directions, it really depends on what you’d like to see and do.
White Rim Road is accessible year-round, but the weather plays an important role in when you can access the full loop.
White Rim Road is best attempted when the Green River is low (summer, fall, and possibly winter) in order to complete the full loop. During spring some of the road is closed due to the swelling of the Green River.
You’ll want a dry and clear forecast for any trip along the White Rim Road. Sand can quickly bury your vehicle when wet and the road will close during inclement weather. Slickrock often becomes too wet to safely pass and the area is prone to flash floods.
Since this is a true backcountry adventure, you’ll want to do your homework and plan accordingly.
All trips to White Rim Road, even day trips, require an advanced permit. Spots fill up quickly on this iconic off-road trail, so be sure to reserve your permit well in advance, especially during spring and fall.
If you’re planning to stay overnight and need an overnight permit there are several options for camping including a few permits available down spur trails that offer an excellent overland adventure. When you submit your permit application you’ll want to note your specific backcountry site.
Pro Tip: The earliest you can reserve a permit is up to four months in advance. Keep in mind that permits do fill up quickly, so the sooner the better.
Although there isn’t too much technical driving required to drive White Rim Road, you’ll still want to be prepared. This is a true desert backcountry adventure. You won’t find water or many amenities along the way. Most camping areas do offer vault toilets, but otherwise you won't find any other toilets. As a result, you’re expected to pack all trash, human waste (if you’re not using a toilet), and water in and out of the area.
As such, this is an adventure worth preparing for. Bikers should note that they will need to prepare properly when planning their route. Both bikers and vehicles need to drive slow to avoid oncoming traffic.
Distance: 98.8 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 8,251 feet
Estimated Time: 2 to 3 days by 4WD
High Clearance, Low Gear, 4 WD? Required
ATVs/Dirt Bikes? No
Dogs Allowed? No
It’s rare that you’ll find bike-friendly trails in national parks, but White Rim Road is one of the best out there. Doable as a multi-day bike-packing adventure, White Rim Road offers some beautiful scenery to uncover. With a few challenging obstacles and an intense amount of elevation gain, the White Rim Road is a tremendous undertaking.
The most common way to experience White Rim Road is by 4WD vehicle. The entire trip takes around 2 to 3 days and is suitable for beginner drivers as long as you move slow. There are plenty of opportunities to get out of the car and admire the landscape around you.
Check out a few nearby pit stops:
Since this is an intrepid adventure, you’ll want to prepare a gear list before you head out. Don’t forget to pack:
Get ready for the adventure of a lifetime along White Rim Road. Experience the backcountry of Canyonlands National Park like never before.