Biking the White Rim Trail – Moab, Utah

This post has been in the queue for quite some time and now that I’ve found a few hours on a Sunday, I’m finally going to write about it.

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Moab, Utah. What a wild and desolate place.  The emptiness and remoteness is inviting yet terrifying all at once. In March of 2016 I found myself next to 11 other crazies (Chance, Matt, Paul, Keith, Steven, Eric, Omar, Boden, Brandon, Greg, and Olga) setting out on a 4 day ride through the Moab desert on the White Rim Trail.

About the Trail

The White Rim Trail is a 100 mile jeep trail that winds around the Island in the Sky mesa near the rim of the Colorado and Green River just south of Moab, Utah. With a total elevation gain/loss of almost 6,000 ft., the ride isn’t just a stroll in the park.  We rode the trail clockwise starting at the park entrance and descending down the Shafer road switchbacks, but the trail can be traveled in either direction.  There are campsites along the way that require camping permits and should be secured months ahead of time.  The trail is a dirt jeep trail with rocky and sandy sections that should be traveled with care.  An injury out here could become serious quickly.

Below is a map of the trail and campsites as well as some other landmarks

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For more information on what to pack see the Know Before You Go section at the bottom of this post.


Day 1 – Entry Station to Gooseberry (30 miles)

With tires filled with air, bike tuned, food and water packed, surplus of booze, sunglasses, bike shorts, sleeping bag, helmet, and anything else one might need to survive, it’s time to ride!

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Crazy *ssholes – Photo Credit: Olga Shmaidenko

We started day 1 with a 30 mile ride which began with a 1,200 ft. decent off of Island in the Sky mesa and into Canyon Lands National Park.  I had heard a few days prior to our arrival there had been some nasty weather with high winds that had collapsed tents and sent people into their support vehicles for cover.  We lucked out and had 4 amazing days of perfect weather. Love it when a plan comes together!  The riding for the first 30 miles is super easy and flat minus the decent to the rim of the Colorado River which is a fun, fast, brake-burning decent.

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After about 4 hours of riding split up by a  couple side adventures (Gooseneck Overlook and the Musselman Arch) and lunch, we arrived at our first camp spot of the trip, Gooseberry.  First things first. Where’s the whiskey?

Once everyone got settled in to camp we started on dinner.  Ribs, brats, and beans was on the menu for night 1.  Needless to say, we ate like kings the ENTIRE trip. No joke.  The food was amazing thanks to a couple of top-notch cooks.

Day 2 – Gooseberry to Murphy’s Hogback (15 miles)

Day 2 riding starts with a section of mellow but sandy riding which can quickly throw you off balance if you’re not expecting it.  The trail wraps around the south end of Island in the Sky as you pass Monument Basin and Junction Butte.  There are a few side adventures you can get into on day 2.  We trekked out to White Crack, which is about a 20 minute ride off the main jeep trail to an overlook, and ate lunch.

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lunch at White Crack

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Murphy’s Hogback was the next stop and was only 15 miles from our first camp site.  Day 2 was a quick ride but ended with a steep climb up to the campsite.  Murphy’s Hogback was my favorite site out of the 4 we stayed at.  It sits on top of a mesa overlooking Canyonlands to the south.  Since the ride was so short that day we had all afternoon to put in some serious work on keg #1 of Durango’s finest.

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One down – one more to go

Not only was Murphy Hogback my favorite site, but it was probably the best night of the trip.  We had cream of chanterelle mushroom soup with pork chops all cooked in a dutch oven and topped off with a lame sunset.  I think I may have experienced a little slice of heaven that night.

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not a bad place to spend the night

Day 3 – Murphy’s Hogback to Hardscrabble (25 miles)

More of the same on day 3.  The ride starts with a fun downhill section that winds through Soda Springs Basin.  This area, in my opinion, had some of the best views of the trip.  The trail winds it’s way down to the Green River which if you hit it at the right time of the year would make a good spot to jump in and cool down.  Riding in April made for a cold dip, so we all decided to pass on hypothermia for now.

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About halfway into the ride on day 3 is an opportunity to hike a slot canyon, the Holeman slot, which is a fun side adventure.  Be careful not to get too far down into the canyon and into a spot where you are unable to climb back out.  That would be no bueno.

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chance making his way into the depths of the Holeman

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Onwards and upwards, 25 miles to the next site – Hardscrabble.  There is another long, steep climb right before you get to the campsite that will test any riders stamina.  At the top of the climb is a trail that leads to Fort Bottom Ruin, a 750 year old ruin built by the Anasazis.  It’s a little bit of a trek out to the ruin, but worth the detour to see.

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After the climb and detour to Fort Bottom it’s all downhill to the site from there.  Dinner time. Our last night on the White Rim we had chicken curry.  I swear I ate better on this trip than I had all year.

What an incredible spring ride through the Utah desert and to top it all off the clouds decided to put on quite a show.  Nights in the desert are cold and clear and might just be what you’ve been needing.

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The solitude the desert has to offer is magnetic.  I never really fully understood the power and true beauty of the desert until this trip.  It’s truly an incredible place that deserves to be protected.

Day 4 – Hardscrabble to Mineral Road (3o Miles)

The final day came too quickly, but lucky for us we still had a 30 mile ride out of the park.  The remaining trail winds along the Green River with plenty of pull-offs to take a dip in the river. The final 2 miles up and out of the canyon is a grueling 2,000′ climb.  I’d recommend shuttling a car to the trailhead at the rim of the canyon.  We failed to do so, which left us with an extra ~6 miles to ride back out to road U-313.

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The aftermath – Photo Credit: Brandon Lundquist

In case you were wondering about keg #2, well that cashed out about halfway through our last night.  Pretty good planning, eh?  One thing you have to remember is ice probably won’t make it till your 4th day, so plan on all your booze being warm.  Warm beer is better than no beer though, so plan accordingly.


Know Before You Go

  • Day use permits are required for all trips on the white rim
  • Camping permits are required for overnight trips.  These can be tough to get so plan ahead. Visit the National Park Service for more information
  • Bring plenty of water.  Plan for at least a gallon a day per person.  You’ll want water for washing dishes and daily hygiene (if you’re into that)
  • High clearance 4wd vehicle.  If you plan to have a support vehicle(s) make sure it has decent clearance with 4wd and a full tank of gas.  The jeep road is pretty manageable but can get a little hairy in places
  • Warm clothes for trips in the spring or fall. Even though you are in the desert it can and does get cold at night.  Pack for temps to drop into the 40s or 50s at night
  • Spare tubes/tires/chains, bike pump, oil and anything else you may need to repair/maintenance your bike out on the trail
  • Food.  You’ll be burning calories so bring plenty of it
  • You’ll need a way to cook your food, so pack a camp stove.  We had a of couple 2 burner Coleman stoves and a dutch oven that worked out great
  • Party favors (fill in the blank)
  • A tent or some other type of shelter.  We lucked out and all 3 nights were clear so we all cowboy camped and didn’t ever have to use our tents.  But, you may not be as lucky
  • Padded bike shorts are a necessity. Trust me
  • Camp chairs came through in the clutch, so throw one of those in too

Check out this post about backpacking necessities for more ideas on what to bring.


4 thoughts on “Biking the White Rim Trail – Moab, Utah

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