San Juan County, Utah
Canyonlands National Park
Island in the Sky District
View this on the Utah Trailheads Map
Trail Type: Straight Through
Nearby Towns: Moab
Nearby Trails: Gemini Bridges, Lathrop Canyon, Taylor Canyon, Mineral Bottom, Shafer Trail, Long Canyon, Horsethief Point
Season: Year Round
Trail Length: 80.7 miles
Elevation: 3,919 to 5,827 feet
Named Obstacles: Murphy Hogback, Hardscrabble Hill
Note that the hiking trail tracks provided in the GPS Exchange file are approximate and provided for reference only.
White Rim is a long and well-maintained trail in Canyonlands National Park. There are a few hiking trails that connect White Rim with the Island in the Sky district, including Upheaval Dome. Though it is possible to drive this trail in one long day, we recommend splitting the trail into two or three days by taking advantage of the many campsites. Campsites must be reserved in advance, and all feature open spaces and pit toilets.
This trail description is broken up into trail sections between campgrounds. If you begin the trail at the eastern end near the Visitor Center you will pass by each of the eight campsites in the following order:
- White Crack
- Murphy Hogback
- Potato Bottom
- Hardscrabble Bottom
Trailhead to Airport: 17.5 Miles
The beginning of the trail is possibly the most rewarding as it is packed with things to see and do. You aren't far into the trail when you descend the Shafer Switchbacks, a steep and twisting descent from the top of Island in the Sky down to the rim. Watch for oncoming traffic as best as you can as there are many spots with no room to pass. This section of the trail should not be attempted when wet -- contact the Visitor Center ahead of time for information about trail closures. If the switchbacks are closed you can always come in via the Shafer Trail.
Once you are at the bottom of the switchbacks you stay at this elevation until the Murphy Hogback many miles into the trail. There is a pit toilet at the intersection with the end of the Shafer Trail. Follow signs to stay on White Rim.
The first stop is at a sign for the Gooseneck Overlook at a small parking area. Take an easy walk of 0.3 miles to get to the rim's edge where you can see the Goose Neck portion of the Colorado River below. It is very scenic and should not be missed.
Continue along the trail and drive the short spur labeled with a sign for the Colorado River Overlook. Take care, as you can drive right up to the rim's edge. You can line up many vehicles here, and a different rock outcropping provides some great shots of vehicles on the edge. There are also some amazing views from here.
A short distance later along the trail is the parking lot for Musselman Arch, a short walk from the parking area. It is a natural bridge that you can walk across, with some fantastic views.
If you do the Shafer Trail or if you are simply exploring the area, you can turn around here and head back to the Visitor Center for a quick and beautiful trip along White Rim. If you are doing the entire trail, continue on as the trail curves alongside the mesa's edges. After a bend in the road, you come to the trailhead for Lathrop Canyon, a fun and very scenic 4x4 trail that takes you down to the river. We recommend seeing this trail if you are in the area. There are picnic tables and a pit toilet at the water's edge. The trailhead for the Lathrop Canyon hiking trail is on the other side of the White Rim trail, a 5.3-mile hiking trail that takes you up ot Island in the Sky.
The Airport Campground is just around the corner, with sites A and B set apart from sites C and D. Both sections have pit toilets, and both are set under Airport Tower, a huge monolith that you can see for many miles after passing this area. If you are splitting the White Rim trail into thirds, the Airport Campground is a good choice for the first night.
Airport to Gooseberry: 10.7 Miles
This section of trail offers gorgeous views, especially when the trail comes close to the canyons' edges. Just before you come to the Gooseberry Campground you'll see the Gooseberry Hiking Trail, another foot trail that leads up to Island in the Sky only 2.1 miles from the White Rim trail. The campground is a bit desolate but it has a pit toilet.
Gooseberry to White Crack: 9.4 Miles
There is big scenery in this section, especially as you get to Monument Basin. There are many spires and rock formations to see and photograph, and there is a fun hill climb about midway through. You come to an intersection at 8.0 miles from Gooseberry. Turn left to head 1.4 miles to the White Crack Campground and a pit toilet. The views are spectacular from this point, the most southern point along the trail. You can consider this the midway point along White Rim as you go around the southern tip of Junction Butte, and if you are doing the trail in only one day you may want to skip this spur. If you are doing the trail in two days, this is a great campground to choose.
White Crack to Murphy Hogback: 9.3 Miles
If you skipped the spur to the White Crack Campground, subtract 1.4 miles from this section's distance. This section is where the fun begins with a challenging climb up the Murphy Hogback. Before the climb, you'll see the Murphy Wash hiking trail at a sign, a 2.6-mile foot trail that connects with the Murphy Hogback hiking trail before climbing up the canyon wall. The two trails are often combined to make a big loop from the tope of Island in the Sky at Grand View Point to the White Rim trail and back. Hikers will share the 4x4 trail briefly, so be sure to watch for people in this area.
The climb up the hogback is steep and loose, and there is no room for passing. If you are in a group, send one vehicle up alone first so they can stop any oncoming traffic while the rest of your group makes the ascent. There is a lot of room at the top, and the views are spectacular.
There are two pit toilets at the top of the Hogback next to the campsites, and the Murphy Hogback hiking trail leaves from the top in between them. We recommend stopping here to enjoy the scenery, and you may even find some shade next to a big rock at the top that has an overhang.
Murphy Hogback to Candlestick: 10.1 Miles
This section starts with a fun descent down the other side of the Hogback. Be sure to watch for oncoming traffic, sending a scout ahead as necessary. Uphill traffic should have the right of way. The trail then twists and turns around the rim of Soda Springs Basin. Be sure to note Turk's Head, a large rock outcropping in the canyon below that sits by itself. The Green River cuts around it, with the Millard Canyon Benches on the other side. There is big scenery here.
When you get to the Candlestick Campground, note The Sphinx hanging over the river. You can also see Candlestick Tower, a large spire on the edge of the Island in the Sky. There is a pit toilet at this campground along with lots of scenery.
Candlestick to Potato Bottom: 11.0 Miles
The White Rim trail is once again near the water, and it continues to be near water for the rest of the trail. The trail goes around a small canyon at Holeman Spring Basin where you find the Wilhite Trail, a popular 5.4-mile foot trail to the top of the Island in the Sky. The scenery here is fantastic as you can see many layers and interesting rock formations.
The trail descends and you are at water level, though there is usually a lot of brush between the trail and the Green River. The Potato Bottom campground is close to the water, and it is one of the few that will have shade from big cottonwood trees. Note that there will also be bugs here that aren't present at other campsites because of the water's close proximity. There is a pit toilet and lots of soft sand here for great camping spots. If you are doing the White Rim trail in three days, this is a good camping choice.
Potato Bottom to Hardscrabble: 3.9 Miles
Though there is only a short distance between these two campsites, there is a lot to see and do between them. The trail must climb up and over the edge of Bighorn Mesa, known as Hardscrabble Hill. Though it is rarely as steep as the Murphy Hogback, it is much longer. There is some room for passing in spots.
At the top of Hardscrabble Hill is a parking area marking the hike to the Fort Bottom Ruin. It is 1.8 miles to the Outlaw Cabin near the edge of the water, and there is an old ruin to be seen along the way. If you have the time, this is a great side hike. Note that it can be challenging.
At the bottom of Hardscrabble Hill is the Hardscrabble Campground. It is at the end of a short spur, and there isn't much to see though it is near the water. There is good, shaded camping here along with a pit toilet.
Hardscrabble to Labyrinth: 2.6 Miles
This short section features the trailhead for the Upheaval Canyon hiking trail. It is 3.6 miles and it follows a narrow canyon. At the pack trail's end is the Syncline Valley trail, a large, circular foot trail that goes around Upheaval Dome. It also connects to the Island in the Sky, making this a popular trail.
Just before the Labyrinth Campground is the trailhead for Taylor Canyon. This trail goes through a wide and scenic canyon, and if you have the time you should visit it. If you have to choose only one of the two side trails -- Lathrop Canyon and Taylor Canyon -- we recommend choosing Lathrop Canyon. The Labyrinth Campground is one of the most scenic campgrounds in the area, perched over the river high enough to be away from bugs. There is a pit toilet here.
Labyrinth to End: 6.3 Miles
The trail continues to follow the Green River as you head north, and it even leaves Canyonlands National Park near the end. The rest of the trail is easy and scenic as you pass from San Juan County into Grand County at the park's boundary. The trail ends at an intersection with the Mineral Bottom trail. Turn left to head to the water and the end of Mineral Bottom, or turn right to head up the switchbacks to the Mineral Bottom trailhead and Moab.
Information last updated on September 23rd, 2013.
From Highway 191, turn west on Highway 313. The trailhead is on the left just before you reach the Canyonlands National Park Visitor Center for Island in the Sky.
Meet at the Shell Gas Station at the Archview Resort north of Moab near the intersection of Highway 191 and Highway 313.