Ready for adventure? Drive the epic White Rim Road in Canyonlands National Park. This renowned route encircles the Island in the Sky mesa, passing canyons, buttes and rivers. It typically takes two to three days, camping overnight, to drive the whole route. If you’d like to do it in one day, it’s possible, but a huge undertaking. Here, we’ll give you tips for driving the White Rim Road and tell you what you’ll see when you complete this rugged, mini road trip.
Can I Drive the White Rim Road in One Day?
If you’re short on time, yes, you can drive the White Rim Road in one day. You have a couple of options.
-Option 1: Drive just a portion of the White Rim Road. Start at Shafer Canyon Road or Mineral Bottom Road. From here, you’ll be able to drive the first section of the road, stopping as you wish at various viewpoints. Turn around and head back to the starting point, or you can return to Moab via Potash Road.
-Option 2: Drive the entire 100-mile loop road in one day – a hardy undertaking.
What Do I Need to Drive the White Rim Road?
In order to drive the Canyonlands National Park White Rim Road, you’ll need:
-A 4WD, high-clearance vehicle. (Not AWD.) You’ll need this type of car in order to drive over the road’s rough sections, large rocks and boulders and rutted areas. Motorbikes, ATVs, UTVs and OHVs are not permitted on the road.
-A permit. If you’re driving the road in one day, get a day-use permit (50 are given out each day, 25 of which are available online up to 24 hours before you plan to start your drive). If you’re planning to take a couple days, obtain an overnight permit. Keep in mind that each vehicle needs a separate permit, even if you’re traveling in a group. When obtaining a permit for overnight trips, you can reserve your campsites at the same time.
-Paid entrance fee to Canyonlands National Park
What Is the White Rim Road Like?
Many drivers choose to take the Shafer Canyon Trail to the White Rim Road, following the Colorado River on the east side of the loop. You have the opportunity to drive the challenging (and fun!) Shafer Canyon switchbacks and you’ll get fantastic views of Dead Horse Point State Park. Even though this is the more popular section of the White Rim Road, with the limited number of vehicles per day, you won’t really run into any congested areas.
One option is 100 miles from the top of Shafer Canyon Road to Moab via Potash Road. This drive can be broken into sections and highlights as follows:
Shafer Canyon Road: Start here, 1 mile north of the Canyonlands Visitor Center on Island in the sky Road. Drive from the Island in the Sky mesa to the White Rim, part of which will take you down the thrilling Shafer Canyon switchbacks. At 5 miles, continue straight on the White Rim Road.
Gooseneck Overlook: At 6.2 miles, you’ll come to the Gooseneck Overlook. Pull over and walk 0.3 mile to the overlook, where you can see one of the horseshoe bends in the Colorado River.
Musselman Arch: Take a quick stop at mile 8.3 and the short walk to this cool arch. A bit farther on, at mile 9.4, stop for a great photo op – Musselman Canyon with the Island Sky mesa in the background.
Lathrop Canyon Road Junction: For a fun detour, take this 4-mile one-way drive through Lathrop Canyon, ending at the Colorado River. As you come out of Lathrop Canyon, turn left to continue south on the White Rim Road.
Monster Tower Viewpoint: Stop at mile 28.6 and look back to the see the Monster Tower. From here to the Monument Basin viewpoints, you’ll see the South Fork of Buck Canyon and Gooseberry Canyon.
Monument Basin Overlook: Stop for one of the best viewpoints on the entire White Rim Road. You can see Monument Basin Canyon from here, as well as the Island in the Sky mesa and Grand View Point.
Potash Road Junction: At this point, you can drive up the Shafer Canyon switchbacks to get back to Island in the Sky, or you can take the Potash Road back to Moab.
Potash Road to Moab: This 33-mile stretch is along rough gravel road, down through a canyon and along the Colorado River. Pass below Dead Horse Point and also past the famous Thelma and Louise point, the final scene where they drive off the cliff! Continue past the Potash evaporation ponds until you hit the paved UT-279.
This is just one of the options for completing the White Rim Road. Another option is Mineral Bottom Road to the White Rim Road, which takes you on the western section of the loop and is more technical.
Tips for Driving the White Rim Road in One Day
Do not underestimate the challenge it will be to drive the White Rim Road in one day. You are undertaking 100 miles on rocky roads, navigating deep sand and boulders. You will be driving very slowly, for the most part. You’ll need some experience driving on gravel roads. Expect and prepare for the worst, including a flat tire and no cellular service.
If you choose to drive the road in one day, do it when the days are long – mid-April through mid-August. It will take roughly 12 to 14 hours to complete, skipping some detours (like Lathrop Canyon and White Crack) and some overlooks.
Most people driving the loop in one day will go in the clockwise direction, starting at the Shafer Canyon switchbacks. Start at sunrise. If you reach 2 PM and you’re not half-way, it’s advised that you turn around and do not attempt a one-day loop.
When Should I Drive the White Rim Road?
For maximum daylight – whether you are doing one days or two – the best season to drive the White Rim Road is spring and fall. You’ll have milder temperatures as opposed to extreme heat. Floods can occur in early May through late June, making the roads impassable.