Mountain Biking the White Rim in Canyonlands National Park

Authored by 2021/2022 Kaden Ambassador Sarah Gross 

The White Rim Road is a 100-mile, 4x4 road that drops down into the canyon and circumvents the Island in the Sky mesa of Canyonlands National Park in Utah. It’s a backcountry, remote, dirt road that you can drive or bike, with multiple campsites along the way. An overnight or day permit is required to drive or bike it, depending on your trip plans.

Last month, twelve of my friends and I biked the White Rim for four days and three nights with the help of two support vehicles. In this blog, I will walk you through how we planned and prepped for the trip, tell you which campsites are the best, and give you tips so that your MTB trip on the White Rim is a success.

Mountain biking the White Rim in Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Kaden Apparel Ambassador Sarah Gross

Mountain biking the White Rim in Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Kaden Apparel Ambassador Sarah Gross

Mountain biking the White Rim in Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Kaden Apparel Ambassador Sarah Gross

1. Getting Permits: Because Utah is so hot in the summer, the best times to do the White Rim are in the spring and fall. If you already have dates in mind, it’s best to reserve your permits ahead of time. My friend booked our permit in May for a trip in September.

Four days was the perfect amount of time for the trip – roughly 25 miles a day of biking. Though the biking on the White Rim isn’t too technical, I was still sore every day from the long, consistent days in the saddle. People that are in much better shape than me can do it in two days, or even one, so keep in mind your endurance level and the level of your group when booking.

When booking your permits, you will have to choose campsites and your direction of travel. We rode the loop clockwise and camped at Airport, Murphy Hogback, and Potato Bottom. The Airport campsites are directly under Airport Tower, a 700-foot sandstone rock tower that makes for a beautiful backdrop. Murphy Hogback sits atop a mesa with 360-degree views, and Potato Bottom has river access, but can be extremely muddy from heavy rains. I would recommend these campsites, specifically Airport C, Murphy Hogback A, and Potato Bottom A, in addition to the White Crack and Hardscrabble Campsites. Each camping area has one or more pit toilets, so even if you gotta go while riding, you will pass a campsite with a toilet.

Mountain biking the White Rim in Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Kaden Apparel Ambassador Sarah Gross

2. Planning and Carrying Water and Food: There is no water access along the road until you reach the Potato Bottom campsites, 66 miles into the trip, or until day three of our itinerary. Several puddles formed in the sandstone at White Crack because of recent rains that you could filter water from, but those sources may not exist year-round. That meant we had to bring enough water for thirteen people in the support vehicles.

We brought a total of 100 gallons and finished 80 by the time the trip concluded. We likely would have drunk more had it been hotter while we pedaled, but it rained two out of the four days of our excursion, causing the temperatures to drop significantly.

For food, we planned all veggie meals because our organizer/permit holder is a vegetarian, however, I would suggest doing that to not worry about raw meat spoiling along your trip. We planned and prepped our breakfasts and dinners ahead of time, and brought peanut butter and jelly makings for lunches. Everyone was responsible for their snacks, electrolytes, and any other food they wanted outside of the pre-planned meals. We brought several coolers full of ice thinking that we could use the ice to cool down our hydration packs throughout the day. However, we ended up bringing more coolers than necessary and could have cut a few to save more room. This idea might have been useful had it been hotter, but we just drank cold beers from the cooler when we wanted a cold beverage.

Mountain biking the White Rim in Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Kaden Apparel Ambassador Sarah Gross

Mountain biking the White Rim in Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Kaden Apparel Ambassador Sarah Gross

3. Packing List: The first step in prepping for the trip (besides making sure everyone had a mountain bike) was to decide which cars we would bring as support vehicles. We decided on two crew-cab, six-foot-bed trucks and both were filled to the brim with gear. There were a few gnarly spots on the road where both vehicles scraped their running boards and scratched their differentials.

The road was in particularly bad shape this year according to the park ranger that briefed us before our trip, so we were aware of the risk. I would recommend bringing a car that someone in the group is comfortable driving in rough terrain with high exposure. Something with a shorter wheelbase, higher clearance, and skid plates will have an easier time than our vehicles did. However, we persisted, and we made it.

We were well-prepared for the trip thanks to a Google Sheet that helped organize our gear for thirteen people. The road is moderately trafficked, especially on the weekends, and we had several emergency GPS devices on us, so we felt comfortable that we were not completely stranded should things go south.

Mountain biking the White Rim in Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Kaden Apparel Ambassador Sarah Gross

Mountain biking the White Rim in Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Kaden Apparel Ambassador Sarah Gross

Group Gear:

  • Truck 1
  • Truck 2
  • Campstove 1 (XL) 20-lb propane tank for stove
  • Campstove 2 (Jet Boil)
  • Cooking supplies
    • 2 pots, 2 pans, 2 spoons, 2 spatulas, 2 cutting boards, 3 knives
  • 2 French presses for coffee
  • Dishwashing setup / 3 bins for washing
  • Biodegradable soap and sponges for dishwashing
  • Water Jugs (100 gallons)
  • 10 coolers
  • 4 folding tables
  • 2 first aid kits
  • Bike pump
  • Hand washing system* (2 buckets and faucet with foot pump)
  • Water filter
  • 2 canopy tents
  • Yard games*
  • 2 tarps
  • 2 lanterns (no fires allowed)
  • 4 SOS GPS devices

Individual Gear:

  • Bike / bike gear / bike repair supplies
  • Camp chair
  • Plate, cup, spoon fork
  • Sleeping bag, pad, pillow, etc.
  • Clothes
  • Sunscreen
  • Costumes*
  • Snacks
  • Wag bags
  • Solar charger and battery packs
  • Speaker*
  • Headlamp

*Gear that wasn’t necessary but made the trip a lot more enjoyable.

Mountain biking the White Rim in Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Kaden Apparel Ambassador Sarah Gross

Mountain biking the White Rim in Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Kaden Apparel Ambassador Sarah Gross

Things we didn’t bring that we later wished we had:

  • Walkie-talkies – Because we had such a large group, the pack inevitably spread out while riding. Some people would take bathroom and snack breaks while others would stop for photos and to switch drivers of the cars. Halfway into it, we realized that having walkie-talkies would have made it easier to check in with the rest of the group when people were separated and out of sight. It would have also made it easier to communicate with the cars when coming up and going down one-lane, impassible, gnarly portions of the road. Luckily, we never came across another vehicle on these less-than-ideal passing spots.
  • Extra gas – We meant to bring this and due to a miscommunication, it didn’t happen. We, fortunately, did not need any during the trip, however, one of the trucks burned through a lot of gas moving slowly in four-wheel drive. It made it back to the gas station with half a gallon left in the tank.
  • Engine oil – This would have been useful if we had split an oil pan on one of the cars. If the car you are bringing does not have a skid plate, bring engine oil just in case.

Mountain biking the White Rim in Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Kaden Apparel Ambassador Sarah Gross

In the end, this trip was one of the top ten things I have ever done in my life. The views were incredible, the stoke was high, and the memories will last forever. If you don’t have the White Rim on your mountain bike bucket list yet, be sure to add it ASAP.

Mountain biking the White Rim in Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Kaden Apparel Ambassador Sarah Gross

Mountain biking the White Rim in Canyonlands National Park, Utah - Kaden Apparel Ambassador Sarah Gross

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