The White Rim Trail is one of America’s most interesting jeep trails. It is navigable by most high clearance vehicles for most of its length. It traverses the edge of the White Rim of Canyonlands National Park in the Island in the Sky district.
For our trip, we hired Navtec Expeditions to drive us out there. I would not hesitate to do it if I had my own appropriate vehicle, but since I didn’t, we had a nice trip being driven in their 4WD.
The route we took left from Moab, going north and then turned left on Potash Road (hwy 279). We stopped and took a look at the petroglyphs on the bluffs along the Colorado River and also took a look at Jug Handle Arch. We didn’t stop at Corona Arch on this trip, but went to it on another day. The hike there and back takes an hour or more.
Potash Road was paved up until it reaches the potash plant, where it became a dirt road that is in pretty good shape. The potash mine no longer sends men underground, but instead pumps the mines full of water and then places the water in large, shallow lakes where the water evaporates to leave the potash behind. These lakes were a rich blue that reminded me of clear, Caribbean waters.
The road meandered across rough terrain, climbing up to give nice views of the Colorado River at places along the trail. As we went, high bluffs rose on our right – this is where Dead Horse Point State Park is, although it can’t be reached from here without driving all the way around either through the 4WD trail through Long Canyon or back to Hwy 191 and around to hwy 313.
As we continued, we approached the Island in the Sky mesa directly in front of us and along our right. Potash Road intersected with Shafer Trail, where a park ranger met us to make sure we had the correct pass and to answer any questions we had. To the right, the road climbed up the steep, switchback trail to Hwy 313 that leads into Canyonlands National Park. We’ll go up that way on our way back, but for now, we turned to the left and continued along the White Rim Trail.
Soon, we arrived at a nice overlook of the Colorado called Gooseneck Overlook – so named since the river takes a hard turn here leaving a gooseneck of rock similar to what is seen in Goosenecks State Park 125 miles to the south. After a brief stop for pictures, we continued on, driving past Musselman Arch which we would stop for on the way back.
With the Island in the Sky mesa to our right, we meandered along the trail past eroded canyons and long vistas. Son, we turned down Lathrop Canyon. The road grew rougher here – I wouldn’t recommend this without a proper 4WD and good clearance. The road bumped along down to the canyon floor, where it smoothed out and followed the water course, often going through soft sand and gravel. We stopped here for a picnic lunch.
I would have preferred to continue along the road to the Colorado River, but our driver turned back and we retraced our path back up to the White Rim trail. We turned left and followed it until we reached a point where we could see the Washer Woman and the cliff edge where Mesa Arch sits. The arch was not visible from this distance, but it was neat to see Washer Woman from this side (she is visible through Mesa Arch). There was a much needed waterless toilet at this point.
We turned back and retraced our route. We stopped at Musselman Arch this time. The arch was an easy 300 foot hike from the parking area. After giving it a look, we got back in our ride and went up the Shafer Trail Road.
What a road this is! The dirt road does a number of sharp cutbacks as it works its way up the steep bluff to the mesa above. Precarious drop-offs made the trail very memorable but might not be for those who are afraid of heights. It reminded me of the Moki Dugway about 100 miles to the south.
Shafer Trail comes out at the entrance station for Islands in the Sky and Canyonlands National Park. There is plenty to see by going left, but we have already seen this and headed back toward Moab.
Hiring a driver and car made our visit pretty expensive, but I have wanted to see it for years. I would not hesitate to take a high clearance vehicle along his route, and a regular car might do ok for the route along Potash Road and up Shafer Trail – check conditions before trying this. Lathrop Canyon requires a proper 4WD for sure.
We only saw about one third of the White Rim Trail and I hope to get back to it in the future when I have my own 4WD vehicle and the time to make the entire route.
To see a gallery of hi-resolution pictures from our trip, go here.
Canyonlands National Park has a lot to see. Read about it here.
Utah is a great state for adventure! Read about more places to see and things to do here.