Trips & Trails: White Rim Road

No shade, no water, and limited overhead clearance — despite these harrowing warnings, the White Rim Road in Canyonlands National Park in Utah is an outstanding overlanding trip for folks getting their start.

The White Rim Road is a 100-mile loop inside Utah’s majestic Canyonlands National Park. A full run of the road will take a driver (of a 4×4 or adventure moto) about two to three days. Unlike some of the other starter trips we have highlighted for Trips & Trails, the White Rim Road truly requires high-clearance vehicles.

Make sure your vehicle has ample ground clearance and is in tip-top working condition — towing bills out of park can exceed $1,000.

The best time of year to attempt the White Rim Road is between summer and fall. Temperatures can reach over 100 degrees even during fall months, however. And there is limited shade along the road. So plan your clothing options accordingly.

You can attempt the road during winter months. Snow and ice accumulation can make it impassable. However, weather doesn’t impede travel just during winter months — if the Green River swells, it can make the road untraversable, too.

No matter the time of year, permits are required to enter the White Rim Road — for day or overnight use. Overnight permits can be applied for here. With your permit, you are assigned predetermined camping sites; there is no dispersed camping along the road.

Photo credit:    Christoph von Gellhorn@cvgellhorn    | Upsplash

Photo credit: Christoph von Gellhorn@cvgellhorn | Upsplash

The entire length of the White Rim Road is breathtaking. Luckily, the best images can be snapped from the road, so don’t leave the defined path. There will be plenty of mountain bikers along the road, too, so be courteous to our pedal-powered friends.

If you are looking to tackle the road on your adventure moto, know that Canyonlands does limit the number of vehicles per party — a maximum of three vehicles. This is in order to keep noise pollution to a minimum in this serene swath of land.

Adventure Motos are not the only ones limited in on the White Rim Road. So, too, are tall 4x4s. There is a section of the road, upstream of Labyrinth Camp, with overhanging ledges. Tall vans, trucks outfitted with campers, and some lifted SUVs running rooftop tents might encounter clearance issues. So, be cautious in those spots.

There is no fuel inside the park or on the road. So, motos should bring extra fuel along — unless they are able to eke more 100 miles from a tank. Absolutely no potable water is available on the road either. Plan to bring more than you anticipate needing. The National Park Service recommends one gallon per person per day — more if you plan to hike or be active during the trip.

Fires, hammocks, and pets are not permitted on the White Rim Road (even if Fido is relegated to your vehicle). So, plan to leave your pooch at home, bring your propane stove for cooking, and sleep in your tent or on the ground. Granted, it will be a bummer to leave your fury companion at home, but this rule was made to preserve the delicate ecosystem of the park. Other than wishing your dog were riding shotgun, overlanders should have no problem adhering to these limitations.

White Rim Road is a great way to practice social media subtlety. Canyonlands suggests you not geotag your social media photos. That way, other people can discover the spots for themselves. This is a well regarded practice in the overlanding community. So, you might as well get in the habit while on White Rim Road.

What to know:

Time: 2 to 3 days

Distance: 100 miles

Fuel: Fill up at the gas station in Moab on Highway 191 near the intersection of Hwy 313.

Water: There is no potable water available along the road, so bring more than you anticipate needing.

Permits: An overnight backcountry permit is required for overnight trips along the White Rim Road.

Other considerations: Fires are not permitted whatsoever. Pets are also not allowed, even if they remain in vehicles. Make sure your vehicle is in tip-top shape before attempting this trip, towing fees out of the White Rim Road can exceed $1,000.

Header photo credit: Dustin Ortegon @american.outback.overland

Photo by Brett Willhelm


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