Riding the White Rim Trail, Canyonlands

There can’t be many century rides that pack in even half the amount of jaw-dropping views counting down every mile of the White Rim Trail.

Set in the heart of Utah’s Canyonlands National Park – a giant, 3D jigsaw of redrock canyons, mesas and buttes, eroded into shape by the mighty Colorado and Green Rivers – this 105 mile loop is, quite simply, a succession of one superlative panorama after another. Blend in endless ribbons of dirt road, crisp & clear pin sharp light, sublime camping potential, utter desert silence under star-crammed skies, and the White Rim Trail has all the ingredients of one of the best weekend-sized adventures around.

This is my second visit to Moab on this journey ‘south’, and as much as I love the riding here, it’s perhaps the desert solitude that really calls me back. There’s a complete sense of calm, comfort and inner peace that permeates me in Utah: when my legs are tired, dinner is in my stomach, and my sleeping mat is unfurled under the night sky.

Here’s a few pictures of the ride… It was great to share such a memorable trail with two newfound friends from Flagstaff: Megan, who works at BikeShopHub, and James, currently planning his own two wheeled, Latin American adventure next year. Thanks guys!

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The White Rim Trail begins at over 7000ft, high up on the Colorado Plateau.

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We rode the loop clockwise. Within the first few miles, a barrage of dramatic views had already soundly convinced us that this was sure to be an incredible ride. At times, the trail seemed to teeter on the very edge of the plateau.

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Then it unravelled downwards...

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.. wending its way towards the canyon floor at a lowly 4500ft...

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... along a track etched into the mountain side, dwarfed by towering buttes and mesas around it.

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It wasn't long before we were down low and kickin' up some desert dust...

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The La Sal mountains, our companion for much of the ride. Mount Tukuhnikivatz has a particularly poetic translation: the place where the sun sets last.

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James' touring rig - a Surly Long Haul Trucker, into which he squeezed the largest knobbly tyres it would take, running the traditional 4 pannier setup.

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Megan's Kona Blast, fitted with an Old Man Mountain rack and bottle cages on the suspension fork for extra water carrying capacity.

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And my Thorn Sterling, with a Porcelain Rocket custom framepack and an Extrawheel trailer, for stashing a weekends worth of food and water.

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Luckily we had no major mechanicals, bar Megan taking a handlebar-bending spill on day 1, and the odd puncture. Running sealant in your inner tubes is probably a good idea.

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Much of the time, the riding surface was mellow. Plenty of people complete this loop in a single (herculean) day. We didn't feel the need to hurry - there were way too many viewpoints to check out.

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Like this one, the vertigo-inducing Musselman Arch.

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Or this one, our reward for the toils of a long climb.

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Perhaps inspired by such a sight, Megan, a Bikram afficionado, took the opportunity to pull out a few yoga moves...

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Or even this little number... The list goes on and on...

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Predominantly jeep track, the loop was almost completely rideable. Only a few climbs had us off our saddles...

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Answered with fast and furious descents.

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Navigation on the White Rim Trail is very straightforward too, with regular campsites marked on the map.

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Down in the canyon, terrain varied from tyre-sucking sand...

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To boxy, stone slab alleyways...

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Rose-tinted bedrock...

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Ribbons of hardpack...

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And islands of slickrock...

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At this time of the year, all of them shared one thing. Emptiness...

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But for me, camping out in the desert is just as important a part of this ride as the biking itself. We split the loop into a very mellow three days, pitching our tents or rolling out our mats before darkness had spilled across the land.

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We were blessed with the most beautiful, otherwordly colours, reflecting off the red rock and transforming our surroundings into a palette of hushed pinks, purples and blues.

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A silhouetted skyline of tabletops and buttes. Stars crammed the sky for space.

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Here we are at first light. Complete silence...

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By the last day, the track had descended as much as it could and skirted round the Green River - unfortunately drinking here isn't recommended, due to pollution from nearby uranium mines.

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Fall colours...

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Unexpected life...

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Rains over the summer had thrown down one last challenge, as sections of the zigzag climb back up to the Colorado Plateau were completely washed out.

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Cue hike and bike...

James, under the vast, open skies of the plateau, with just a handful of miles to go.

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A special thanks to Josh for providing an assortment of different kit for us to try...

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... and Nancy P for her delicous peanut butter ball recipe - our Salty Balls, as we called them.

And our (imported) Jelly Babies that reminded me so much of home... Mmm...

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Lastly... The Last Light Dash. A part of every great tour is finding that perfect place to end each day...

31 thoughts on “Riding the White Rim Trail, Canyonlands

  1. Brett

    Killer story and ride. Thanks again and again for sharing. I’ve been following your stories since you were headed south through Montana. Can’t wait to hear about your next adventure.

    Reply
  2. Col

    Cass – lovely pictures and stories. I’m in no way jealous!!

    Glad to see some Cadbury produce making it into the blog, though our new owners will soon be launching Milka flavoured Philadelphia – I jest not.

    Take care of yourself and have fun!
    Col

    Reply
  3. cara

    wowzers, that looks fantastic. Those reddy colours are superb – from the rocks to the dust to the sunsets. Enjoy your next adventure on a ‘red’ island :)

    Reply
  4. joecruz

    Lovely photos, as always Cass. Thanks. The White Rim was my first proper bikepacking trip, and on at least a dozen circuits since then — in-a-day, multi-day supported, multi-day unsupported — it has never failed to evoke the wondrous still and solitude you indicate.

    Reply
  5. Andrew Clark

    It’s no good Cass, I’m now wondering if I can sort myself out with a trip over there next year! 4 weeks is about the most time I can take at once, so a circular ride from Las Vegas could be on the cards :-)

    Reply
  6. Steve

    Good stuff! I have a Sterling too ( with no where near the mileage yet!) Looks like yours has served you well. Just wondering if you have any long term test comments on this bike? ride quality, comfort etc. or technical ability as an MTB. Anything you’d change in it’s design? Are you running V brakes or disc? Looks like V’s in the pic. but can’t quite make it out.What tires are you running?

    All the best and happy travels!
    Steve J.

    Reply
  7. Box

    Good to have a read at long last. All very inspiring. Be good to get your ass back to Bristol town one day, Its getting boring annoying Mikey on my own. Lovely pictures Cass ! take care

    Reply
  8. Tammy

    You’re still going Cass, good for you, glad to see you are doing something you love!! I look to see where you’re at every once and a while…my travelling days stopped a while back with a little one on the scene but its great to see your photos.
    Tammy from Byron Bay!

    Reply
  9. Pia and Kech Sanchez

    We were blown away by your pics! Further inspiration for our daughter who’s just started a 2000km ride from KwaZulu-Natal to Cape Town!

    Reply
  10. Unipower

    no mair calorsão ta ficando dificil de aguentar vou ter que sair e beber uma agua té mais …. ( que sede gasp ) !!!!!

    Reply
  11. Chris Sorlie

    Beautiful Pictures! I’ve always wanted to try touring on a bike. My wife isn’t in to it at all. When you camp is there a tent under that fly for insect protection?

    Reply
    1. While Out Riding Post author

      Hm, I think he managed to squeeze in some 2in knobbly tyres in there, just. Not sure about the rims though. Certainly, clearances were a bit tight, but the weather was good so mud to deal with.

      Reply
  12. Jenn

    Hi!
    My husband and I have enjoyed your blog and amazing pictures for awhile now. We love anything that involves bikes, nature and camping. We’ve been looking into a short off road cycle tour in Utah and we were happy to find that one of our favourite bloggers had done the White Rim a couple of years ago-now we are convinced we must go!
    A couple of questions: do you think it is rideable in mid February?
    Did you wild camp or stay in the campgrounds?
    If you weren’t able to drink the water from the river where did you find water (we plan to bring a filter).
    Thanks again-and beautiful pictures of the ride!

    Reply
    1. While Out Riding Post author

      Thanks!

      White Rim is such a great ride! If you have more time, there’s some other cool rides in the area, like Lockhart Basin Road.

      http://whileoutriding.com/2009/11/21/lockhart-basin-road/

      We wild camped, but that was because we arrived very late at night, and had done woefully little research. We just set off in the morning, having not spoken to anyone. I believe you’re supposed to book in advance – for sure, you supposed to stay in the designated spots. (that’s not the case for Lockhart Basin Road though).

      I’m afraid I’m not too sure about the weather in Feb. I expect it would be pretty darn chilly though… I’d give Poison Spider a ring (http://www.poisonspiderbicycles.com/). I think they’re open all year. Talk to Cullen if you can!

      We carried all the water we needed, maybe 10 litres each as we were riding at a sedate pace (I always make sure I’m really hydrated when I leave too). We were late in the season, and the road was cut off to vehicles due to a landslide, so we weren’t expecting to see anyone else. There is water from the Green River, but we were told there were all kinds of nasty toxins in it from nearby mining.

      Hope this helps!

      Reply
  13. Christine J

    Very much looking forward to doing this ride in May with my siblings. Thanks for the beautiful pictures. I can’t wait!!! Been wanting to do this for a few years now.

    Reply

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