Canyonlands National Park is a wilderness of countless canyons and fantastically formed buttes carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries. Rivers divide the park into four districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and the rivers themselves. The park preserves the natural beauty and human history throughout its four districts. While they share a primitive desert atmosphere, each offers different opportunities for wildness and solitude. Though they appear close on a map, there are no roads that directly link the districts. Traveling between them requires two to eight hours by car as there are no locations in the park to cross the river without a boat.
The rugged backcountry four-wheel drive roads of the park offer a unique opportunity to experience the park by four-wheel drive vehicle, motorcycle, and mountain bike. These roads embody the wild character of the park’s backcountry. A high-clearance, low-range four-wheel drive vehicle is required along with experience driving rough roads, and proper planning. Due to the remoteness, towing costs will exceed $1,000.
Island in the Sky: White Rim Road
The 100-mile four-wheel drive White Rim Road loops around and below the Island in the Sky mesa top and provides expansive views of the surrounding area. The steep, exposed sections of the Shafer Trail, Lathrop Canyon Road, Murphy Hogback, Hardscrabble Hill, and the Mineral Bottom switchbacks make the White Rim loop a challenging adventure for both vehicles and mountain bikes. Extreme caution is advised during periods of inclement weather. During high water conditions on the Green River (May-June), sections of road on the west side can flood, making a complete loop impossible.
Day trips along the full loop can take over 12 hours whether driving or riding, whereas an out and back trip can be of any length. Mountain biking the full loop in one day is only recommended for the very well prepared and fit.
The Needles offers around 50 miles of challenging backcountry roads. All of these roads require experienced four-wheel driving skills. Inexperienced drivers or motorcyclists should not attempt these roads. There is a high risk of vehicle damage.
White Rim Road can become impassable between Labyrinth and Hardscrabble campsites above 14,000 CFS. Other low areas on the west side can be impacted as the river level rises. Increased flooding is expected around May 4th based on forecasted flow rates. You can monitor conditions for the Green River at forecasted flows and current CFS levels. Be sure to check those sites before proceeding with your trip. If the road is flooded and you cannot pass, you must turn around. Camping off permit, regardless of whether your trip has been impacted by the flooding or not, is not allowed. Plan accordingly to bring extra fuel for out-and-back trips.
During spring months, day use vehicle and mountain bike permits for White Rim Road are in high demand. All advance reservations (open the day before at 8 am MST) can fill up quickly. Walk up permits are available, first come first served, from either Island in the Sky Visitor Center (8 am to 5 pm) or the Backcountry Permit Office in Moab (weekdays only). Plan accordingly to obtain a permit from either location if you are unable to reserve one in advance.
White Rim Road can become impassable between Labyrinth and Hardscrabble campsites above 14,000 CFS. Other low areas on the west side can be impacted as the river level rises. You can monitor conditions for the Green River at forecasted flows and current CFS levels. Be sure to check those sites before proceeding with your trip. If the road is flooded and you cannot pass, you must turn around. Camping off permit, regardless of whether your trip has been impacted by the flooding or not, is not allowed. Plan accordingly to bring extra fuel for out-and-back trips.
A day use permit is required for each vehicle/motorcycle/bicycle on the following four-wheel drive on the following roads.
Permits are available online 8:00AM MT one day in advance up to 9:00AM MT the day of the trip. Please check road conditions prior to purchasing a reservation.
Any permits not reserved online and one half of permits for the White Rim Road (25) for each day will be available in person at the park’s visitor center and park headquarters backcountry permit office on a first-come, first-served basis during normal business hours and seasons of operation. There is no fee for permits issued in person.
NOTE: A day use permit is not required if only travelling up or down the Shafer Trail and along the road to Potash. A permit is required beyond the restroom at the bottom of the Shafer Trail on the White Rim Road including out to Mussleman Arch.
This permit is not for overnight camping.
Each vehicle/motorcylce/bicycle MUST have a permit. A permit MUST be in your possession during the trip (printed or available on a mobile device). A permit allows for one four-wheel-drive vehicle (including motorcycle) or mountain bike to travel on the date and road listed. Overnight travel or camping is not allowed.
You are responsible for knowing and abiding by all park rules and regulations.
Watch the required video to help plan your trip. Know you and your groups skill and fitness level(s), as well as the mechanical condition and capabilities of your vehicle(s) or bike(s). Make a realistic plan and stick to it. Make sure you have experience travelling on remote, technical four-wheel-drive roads. For trip planning information visit the Backcountry Trip Planning page and/or contact the Backcountry Permit Office, firstname.lastname@example.org, (435)- 259-4351.
A high-clearance, low-range 4WD vehicle is required for all backcountry roads. All-Wheel Drive (AWD) vehicles do not meet this definition. ATVs, UTVs, and OHVs (even street legal and registered) are not permitted. Motorcycles must be equipped and licensed for interstate travel.
Completing the White Rim Road loop in a day requires up to 12 hours of tedious and demanding travel.
Needles roads require technical 4WD skills. Roads may be impassable due to flooding and quicksand, you must check the road conditions prior to your trip. Plan to travel in groups of 2-3 self-rescue capable vehicles. Towing recovery costs can exceed $1000.
Groups may not travel with more than 3 vehicles or motorcycles. If you have more than 3 vehicles, plan to separate by 30 minutes or more. This helps reduce congestion and impacts from larger groups.
Salt Creek/Horse Canyon and Lavender Canyon require a gate lock combo obtained from the Visitor Center.
Pets are not allowed on backcountry roads, even in a vehicle.
The speed limit on all backcountry roads is 15 MPH.
The White Rim Road is very exposed with little shade and no water. Do not rely on other visitors for assistance. If travelling with a support vehicle(s), a separate vehicle day use permit is required. Vehicles travel much slower than bikes.
Groups may not travel with more than 15 bikes on the White Rim Road and 12 bikes on the Elephant Hill Road.
Needles roads are dominated by deep sand that makes riding difficult.
All bikes must stay on designated roads, even if they are broken down and carried.
Toilets are available at campsites and trailheads along backcountry roads except for Salt Creek/Horse Canyon and Lavender Canyon. Plan to use these facilities or carry a washable/reusable toilet system.
Food and trash must be stored securely to prevent animals from gaining access to it or spreading by wind (no plastic trash bags outside of a vehicle). All garbage must be removed from the backcountry.
Pets are not allowed in the backcountry, even inside of vehicles.
Reservation Fee: There is a non-refundable $6.00 reservation fee.
Once a reservation is completed, it is non-refundable.
No permit changes are allowed once the reservation is completed.
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