by Julie Trevelyan
Red dirt spins away beneath your wheels as you roll over the trail. Legs pumping and lungs letting you know they work, you climb steep ascents, bank around turns, and zip down hills behind your guide on one of southern Utah’s most popular mountain bike trails: The White Rim Trail through Canyonlands National Park.
White Rim Trail trips are so popular because the trail is a classic example of Utah mountain biking. Cruising along a sandstone bench through the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands, the trail takes you past natural arches, rock formations with cool names like Turks Head and Candlestick Tower, and the White Crack, which gives you a bird’s eye view 1,000 feet above the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers right by the heart of Canyonlands. If you never have before nor ever will again do another mountain bike trip, the White Rim Trail is the one you should put on your bucket list and highlight as a must-do.
The White Rim Trail is a technical challenge requiring fitness, agility, and experience with off-road biking. The trail itself is an undeveloped dirt road filled with the usual southern Utah loose sand, sharp downhill sections, ruts leftover from vehicular travel during or just after rains and snow, and plenty of rocks scattered across to create a fun obstacle course for you and your bike. If you’re not in condition, this is not the trip for you. But if you prepare yourself beforehand by riding your bike often and becoming comfortable with off-road biking, the White Rim Trail is the one that will leave you with the best memories of spectacular scenery and the satisfaction of knowing you rode one of the coolest mountain bike trails in the world.
The White Rim Trail came into being primarily in the 1950s when it was hewn out of the land in order to provide access to the rich uranium deposits deemed so necessary during Cold War times. An impressive feat in itself, building the road involved backhoes, shovels, and pickaxes, and probably a whole lot of blood, sweat, and tears on the part of the workers. Canyonlands became a national park in 1964. The trail gained popularity for both mountain biking and Jeeping not long after, resulting in it today being a favorite destination for adventurers of all stripes.
Anyone with a keen sense of adventure, fitness level that is ready for demanding days and some impressive uphill climbs a few times, and a desire to turn those handlebars toward the wild beauty of Utah and see some of the most amazing sights you can imagine. Families can enjoy this trip if the kids are older and well-accustomed to mountain biking. This is also a great experience for those who want to ride the White Rim but prefer to leave the logistics and excellent cooking to someone else: the savvy Holiday guides!
1. The Shafer Switchbacks at the start of the trip are an old cattle trail.
2. The Shafer Trail descends 1,200 feet.
3. The entire White Rim Trail is 103 miles in length.
4. The area the trail passes through is also called “The Land of Standing Rock.”
5. Washer Woman Arch, seen along the trail, is so called because of the rock’s resemblance to a woman reaching her arms into a bucket.
Written by Julie Trevelyan.
Julie is a freelance writer and wilderness guide in southern Utah. She especially enjoys books, coffee, yoga, wild country, horses, and dark chocolate.
See more of her work at www.wildgirlwriting.com