Utah by Dirt: Mountain Biking the White Rim Trail

For Utah by Dirt, four friends find as much Utah adventure as possible accessed by dirt roads. Follow their story on The Adventurists blog.

The beautiful inner workings of the desert began to reveal themselves to us the more we kept on pedaling. As we grew tired in the heat, under the brutal mid-day sun, we began to slow down. With our slowed pace and burning legs, we began to take in our surroundings more and more. Coming back to do this ride for a third time, my appreciation for this incredible area only grew. The pastel colors, the hidden yet abundant life, and the vast and mind-boggling geologic mazes that make up Moab’s hundred-mile White Rim Trail are second to none. While it’s possible to drive the entire distance, we elected to ride our bikes instead, with our support vehicle manned by Kalen Thorien following along. Our trip would take the entirety of two days. The first day we would cover a mellow 30 miles and camp with a beautiful overlook of the Green River. The second day would be a haul as we would push on the remaining 70 miles.

Riding the White Rim Trail, Utah; Photograph by Max Lowe
Riding the White Rim Trail, Utah; Photograph by Max Lowe

The ride kicks off with 20 miles of unassuming dirt road before dropping down the classic Mineral Bottom switch backs to the verdant banks of the Green River. Switchback after switchback, we made our way down, putting a solid gap between us and the vehicle following us. The sun had yet to strike over the canyon rim above, and we made good time. The trail is mainly double track, and what it lacks in technical difficulty, it more than makes up for it with the incredible surroundings. We rode side by side, chatting, and soaking it all in.

We rolled into camp around noon, and had the rest of the day to poke around and explore a bit. A swim down the river was a much-needed cool down to a morning of riding. The fresh snowmelt is a stark contrast to the baking heat of the desert. After lunch we sat around in the shade down by the river and shared various stories of past adventures and experiences.

Joey Schusler takes a dip in the Green River; Photograph by Max Lowe
Joey Schusler takes a dip in the Green River; Photograph by Max Lowe

As night fell the nearly full moon rose and created a wild array of moon shadows, creeping across the serene landscape. A large plate of fajitas, a couple cold beers, and good night’s rest was key for the 70-mile day that lay ahead of us.

Our ride started with full energy as we practiced wheelies for the first few miles, but slowly turned into a more sustainable pace for the remainder of the day. We would take turns hanging out in the support vehicle and following along. Except Carston. Carston was riding strong all day and actually completely left the support vehicle in the dust.

We stopped for lunch in a pretty incredible place. We were on the actual White Rim formation, on the edge of 500-foot walls above the canyon floor below. We laid flat on our stomachs, peaking over into the abyss. Hidden arches, towers, and other wild geologic features were seen in every direction.

Riding the White Rim Ridge; Photograph by Max Lowe
Riding the White Rim formation on the edge of 500-foot walls above the canyon floor below; Photograph by Max Lowe

As early afternoon came along, so did the afternoon storms. What was some much-appreciated shade at first, quickly turned into a full on desert squall. We took shelter in the 4Runner, while Carston who was up ahead, got soaked to the bone. It rained harder than I had ever seen, and I now understand why flash floods can escalate so quickly in these environments. As abruptly as the storm started, it ended, revealing several rainbows and countless chocolate brown waterfalls cascading down hundreds of feet off of the White Rim. After a photo session at one of these waterfalls, we got back to it, as we still had a solid 30 miles to go and it was getting late into the afternoon.

The big kicker on this trip comes at mile 95. Just as you are running low on water and your legs say “please stop.” You are deep in a state of desert delirium. Then you come around a bend, and look up to see a massive 1,500-foot climb back up to the main road where the ride finishes. As we pushed to the end, once well-lubed chains became squeaky and caked in a thick red dust. A tell tale sign of an epic desert ride.

Setting up camp along the White Rim Trail, Utah; Photograph by Max Lowe
Setting up camp along the White Rim Trail, Utah; Photograph by Max Lowe

You don’t need to be a pro to ride this trail, you just need to have a solid crew, a decent bike, and a smart plan.

Tips and Beta

– It is possible to ride the entire White Rim in a day, however it typically takes nearly ten hours for strong riders. A permit is not needed for day trips.
– If you are planning on doing a vehicle-supported mission, it is important to reserve camping spots well in advance.
– Spring and fall are the best times for riding the White Rim. Summer heat is blazing and can make the ride a lot more challenging and even dangerous.
– There is no water refuels along the way. Prepare accordingly.
– Your support vehicle should be a fairly well equipped 4×4 with decent clearance. We drove a 2016 Toyota 4Runner, and it was the perfect vehicle for the mission.
– If you don’t feel comfortable supporting the trip yourself, there are tours that will support you around the entire loop. You don’t have to do it in two days either. Often groups will take 3-5 days.

Gear we used:
– Yeti Cycles SB5c
– Thule T2 tray bike rack
– Smith Optics Forefront helmet & glasses
– Camelbak 24L Fourteener packs
– Big Agnes tents, bags, and pads

Up Next: Rafting the Green River

Previous: Mountain Biking Desert Steeps

The Adventurists blog series “Utah by Dirt” is sponsored by Toyota 4Runner, which provided vehicle for this adventure.

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