Bikepacking The White Rim
97 Mi.(156 KM)
% Rideable (time)
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.
- 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.
- Backcountry camping is possible, but very tricky. There is a map in the visitor center that provides ‘zone’ boundaries for backcountry camping; however, the rules for cyclists prohibit bicycles from designated hiking trails and anywhere off the White Rim Road. So if you wish to camp in the backcountry, it’s necessary to stash your bike along the road in order to hike to the permitted zone. According to the park office in a comment on this page: 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. 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.
- 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.