Bikepacking The White Rim

  • Distance

    97 Mi.

    (156 KM)
  • Days

    3

  • % Unpaved

    90%

  • % Singletrack

    0%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    5

  • % Rideable (time)

    100%

  • Total Ascent

    5,459'

    (1,664 M)
  • High Point

    6,170'

    (1,881 M)
A classic desert dirt road bikepacking route within the spectacular Canyonlands National Park. While popular amongst supported cycle tour groups, jeeps, and motos, this beautiful loop is not to be missed.
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Beginning on Shafer Canyon Road, the White Rim Trail descends onto the aptly named white rim and follows breathtaking plateaus along the Colorado and Green rivers via slickrock, graded gravel, dirt roads, semi-technical rocky doubletrack, and thick sandy bottoms. Although the route can be ridden either way, most prefer to tackle the 100 mile loop in a clockwise direction starting with a spiraling descent on Shafer Road. The easiest place to begin is at the Island in The Sky Visitors Center to obtain a backcountry permit and then leave a vehicle at the Shafer Canyon lookout parking area (details in the Need To Know section below). Other options include parking at the end of Mineral Bottom Road at Hwy 313, or above the switchbacks 10 miles from the pavement.

There are both reservable campsites and the opportunity to zone camp in the backcountry (details below). We chose the latter option and the freedom to explore remote vistas along the amazing terrain that Canyonlands has to offer. Although this route is not to be taken lightly (for the lack of water resupply), it may be a good route for intermediate riders due to moderate terrain and general popularity.

  • Highlights

    camera

  • Must Know

    alert

  • Camping

    home

  • Food/H2O

    drop

  • The geologic wonderland and unbelievable scenery that is Canyonlands National Park.
  • Fairly easy riding along the White Rim allows for unbelievable sightseeing.
  • Camping on the rim under an incredible starry sky.
  • Peering into the abyss of the canyons.
  • Spotting big-horned sheep and other wildlife.
  • The unmatched views in the Needles area.
  • It is required to obtain and carry a backcountry permit reservable online here or available for purchase at the Island in The Sky Visitors Center.
  • Spring and fall are the best times to ride the White Rim (April/May or September/October are ideal).
  • The highest point on the route is over 6,000 feet so nighttime temps can dip well below freezing anytime of year; bring proper clothing. Also, be prepared for snow.
  • The sand can be fairly thick near the river bottom areas and sometimes challenging for even a fatbike; large tires are recommended, although not necessary for 95% of the route.
  • The ideal bike for the route is a ‘Plus Bike‘, because of a few stretches of sandy terrain. However, a lot of folks ride on a standard mountain bike with 2.1 or larger tires.
  • Designated campsites must be reserved well in advance and some are booked over a year in advance; group camping permits are $30 per night; more info here.
  • There is a map in the visitor center that provides ‘zone’ boundaries for backcountry camping; the rules are a little tricky for cyclists who are prohibited from designated hiking trails and off the roads, so it’s necessary to stash your bike along the road, or carry it, in order to hike to the permitted zone. Abide by common sense, ‘leave no trace’, practices when hiking and camping (try and stay on bedrock, etc.)
  • This is a destination route, and as such, it experiences a lot of tours and visitors. If you choose to do this route, please leave no trace, or better yet, pick up a piece of trash or make it better. Doing so will help preserve this area for future use.
  • Sometimes the best backcountry camping options are in washes, but check the weather in advance; flooding may occur in spring or fall.
  • There are pit toilets along the route (near designated campsites) that are available for use; most are stocked with toilet paper.
  • The only water source available on the route (waypoint on GPS map above) is the Green River which is very silty and needs filtering.
  • During wetter times, there may be water available in puddles on the rock mesas.
  • If intending to stay more than one night, caching water is recommended. We cached on the Gooseberry Trail which was about 30 miles from the start; this required a significant hike the day before (about 5 miles round trip with a climb of 1,400 feet), but the water (and beer) was well worth the effort.
  • The National Park Service recommends 1 gallon of water per day.
  • During the high season, there may be options to beg water from tour guides and jeeps along the way, but don’t depend on it.

Terms of Use: As with each bikepacking route guide published on BIKEPACKING.com, should you choose to cycle this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While riding, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. BIKEPACKING.com LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individual riders cycling or following this route.

  • David B

    Amazing scenery and great info. As usual, thanks for sharing.

  • Thanks David! It’s well worth a spot on the bucketlist!

  • Michael Brown

    Can you provide any suggestions on caching water? How/where? This looks incredible but the lack of water seems challenging. Thanks!

  • There is an icon placed where we cached water (around mile 27.5)… this is off the Gooseberry trail, an out and back that’s 1,200 feet down, and then 1,200 feet back up. We hiked down the day prior and left water and beers under a rock :)

  • Michael Brown

    Thanks, that’s helpful. How long is this Gooseberry Trail hike? Did accessing it or any of your other travels to White Rim Trail require 4WD? I greatly appreciate your helpful information. This is an incredible blog and great photos! BTW, I don’t see Maah Dah Hey Trail on the site. I might be able to provide some content if that is needed.

  • Michael Brown

    One more question for you – is a tent really necessary on White Rim or would a bivy sack suffice?

  • Thanks!! A bivy would be fine… or you could just sleep under the stars. No 4wd required. I think Gooseberry was around 3 miles… took us about an hour and a half. Nice hike. Shoot me an email about Maah Dah Hey pedalingnowhere at gmail …

  • James Kelly

    Hey, thanks for the info! I was hoping to do the same (backcountry permits with bike). I’m curious if the camp sites you noted on the map are “backcountry” or vehicle sites? Thanks!

  • Those are the roadside sites. Zone backcountry camping requires bike portage. Kinda tricky…

  • James Kelly

    How far from the road did you have to schlep your bike?

  • I can’t remember the distance rule; I will add it when I find out.

  • Seth

    Just finished White Rim at the end of March (thanks for all the great information on this sight btw), and I was also planning on doing the zone camping. However, the rangers said they were no longer issuing zone camping permits for anyone who looks like they are going to be moving by way of White Rim since they want camping to stay in designated sites / not portage. Not sure if this is a new or temporary change, but something to be aware of. I lucked out and got a spot at Murphy A making an overnight possible. For what it is worth, Canyonlands monitors water quality (https://goo.gl/xKAMF2) and there were also some concerns expressed in the Green River at the time so I hiked down Murphy Trail the day before (~10 miles, 800 ft round trip) to cache.

  • Jaakko Lipsanen

    Hey!

    Do you think that rigid cyclocrosser with 700x40c tires with pretty minimalistic setup (tent/sleeping bag/jacket/food/water) would be okay on this road? I’m getting near Canyonlands soon and would love to bike this road, but I’m worried about how sandy it is..

  • You’d be fine on a lot of is; but there are quite a few sandy stretches as well, so I’d just be prepared to walk a few times. It really depends on how comfortable you feel riding rubbly terrain on it…

  • Jaakko Lipsanen

    Good to hear! I’ve been riding on a lot of forest roads and a few Jeep trails (by accident :P), so I’m pretty comfortable except if it gets very sandy or muddy. Yay, pretty excited now :) !

  • K7

    “Sometimes the best backcountry camping options are in washes” -> how do you select a campground for this option? Or is there a backcountry option w/o designating a particular campground? Thanks man!

  • The rules are a little fuzzy, but check out the second bullet point under CAMPING above… it’s basically ‘zone’ camping.

  • Jake Keyser

    My brother -in-law and I just rode this route in a day. It was a fun ride and a beautiful day. We cached 3 liters of water at the hardscrabble campsite the day before by driving to the mineral bottom drop in and riding the 10 miles into the campsite and back. It was the perfect spot for a drop and may be useful on a bikepacking trip if you want to travel lighter and don’t want to filter water out of the silty green river.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8c7609733e9ae22c22d9debf1a9b341b9acb1772a18519bbdb226d729469dc2a.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/48fac5577b6eba6ec24611f502a3ed098924b186089807dc6d1b6f96d7344d38.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c9f61e178c5bf084bb7d1706a59ad7ba036c197c75758eb7ce6194f45d65362c.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/694d02ffa061e7afe4d256c040521d30a9a6f6a71e78f09861f5af6743171b89.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/7080ef9b2e46f697184012587f55897928417f1529700f17f1e0955150c53936.jpg

  • Canyonlands National Park Back

    Please Note: Possession of a bicycle off of a designated road is prohibited in Canyonlands National Park. Camping with a bicycle is considered vehicle camping, which is only legal in 20 designated vehicle campsites, in 10 locations along the road. It is about ten miles distance between most campsite locations. At-large zone permits are intended for backpackers only. They are not meant to be a way to travel the White Rim when vehicle sites are full. Also, day-use permits are also required now for each vehicle and bicycle traveling the route in one day with no camping. Visit NPS.GOV/CANY for more info and maps. Thanks, Canyonlands National Park Backcountry Office

  • Mary Taylor

    Is this doable in two days/one night? How much does the sand slow you down, especially on a non-fat bike mountain bike? Thanks, Logan!!

  • Steve Graepel

    It’s been done in a day (on traditional mtn bikes) … go light and got lungs … sure.

  • Chris Wilson

    I did this as my third bike packing trip in two days one night. (Solo)
    Bike: Salsa Fargo with 2.2 Racer King
    – I didn’t notice the sand slowing me down.
    Water: I carried around 8 liters.
    Camping: I camped at Murphy Campground
    Time of Year: I went in November
    Sleep set up: I used an Outdoor Research Bivy, Neo Air Xtherm, and a Western Mountaineering 5 Degree bag which I was happy to have.

    Hope this helps.

  • 2 days and one night is doable depending on time of year – their is no water so you would need to cache a up to a gallon and bring a gallon – or bring 2 gallons if the temps are above 75-80 degree’s IMHO. Also you need a camping permit from the NPS, which I have heard is hard to get. Or you can pay one of the outfitters in Moab – they always get permits. I rode this in a day, and the sand and wind can be a problem – One hike a bike across a large wash, and several sections of slow uphills in moderate sand. I used a cross country bike with 2.2 tires and it was fine, but every season and month can be different. I heard going clockwise is easier since the sandy sections are more downhill – I rode counter-clockwise…

  • Becky Vordermann

    We just completed this trip with our 13 month old in tow, in a burley trailer. Both my husband and I rode our Salsa Mukluks! We made it a 3 day, 2 night trip. We cached water at Gooseberry and the bottom of Mineral Bottom. The trip was spectacular and we are looking forward to doing the route in the opposite direction next Thanksgiving!

  • Adem Rudin

    Brief ride report:

    Three of us did this in two days over the weekend after Thanksgiving 2017. The weather was perfect (although we were told it was unseasonably warm) – mid-60s during the day, just above freezing overnight. We also didn’t encounter any wind to speak of, which seemed unusual. We did it clockwise – start at Island in the Sky visitor center, descend Shafer, and climb Mineral Bottom at the end. Overnight camp was at Murphy-Hogback.

    We were met at camp by two other friends hiking in from the nearest road access – about 12 miles of hiking for them, round-trip. They brought some overnight supplies (campstove, spare tent) and extra water.

    My two cyclist companions were on pretty standard full-squish XC mountain bikes, with 2.2″-2.4″ tires. Both of them had roughly 4L of water each; about half strapped to the bikes and half in their backpacks – they were reliant on our hiking friends for their second day’s water. One bike had a medium sized seatback and the other had a handlebar roll, but all other gear was in the backpacks as well. Both were commenting on shoulder/back pain from the backpacks by the end of the ride.

    I was riding a fully-rigid mutt of a bike – formerly a 26″ wheeled hardtail, with a short rigid fork to drop the front end and convert it into a low-ish trail geo rig that favors a front load. I had ~6.75L of water and all of my gear strapped to the front fork, another 1.5L in a camelback, food in a small half framebag, and light/bulky stuff in a stuffsack on the rear rack. 2.3″ Maxxis Minion SS tires. The bike handled great, even with the full +8.25L of water starting out, although my ass was pretty sore from the rigid rear end by the end of the ride. I ended the ride with about 400mL remaining.

    The first day was pretty easy; 45 miles overall. We started around 0900, and made it to Murphy-Hogback by around 1530 without pushing too hard. The terrain was generally pretty easy; I think the final push up to the campsite (Hogback is on top of a mesa, HIGHLY recommended campsite) was the only hike-a-bike slope on the first day. Not too much sand on that first half of the loop, either.

    The 2nd day was a 55-mile day with several sand pits, and at least three hike-a-bike climbs. We started around 0900, and didn’t get back to the visitor center until 1730 (after dark). Mineral Bottom is a looooong slog out. Fortunately, we’d brought headlights…

    I would not recommend doing this ride with a cyclocross/monstercross/”Allroad enduro” bicycle with 45mm tires or narrower, unless you really know what you’re doing. I spend a lot of time monstercrossing on california forest service roads with WTB Nano 40c tires, and White Rim has a lot of places that are rockier than I’d be comfortable with on tires like that. A 2.3″ MTB tire works just fine – some of the sand pits aren’t rideable, but they’re short enough that hiking through them isn’t a huge issue.

  • Thanks for the feedback!