Pedal a large loop below the Island in the Sky Mesa for spectacular scenery, amazing light, mindboggling geology and backcountry camping.
Dropping off Island in the Sky down the Shaffer Trail is an exhilarating start to a 100-mile mountain bike ride through Canyonlands National Park. Named for a light colored shelf of sandstone, the trail winds past red-rock formations, climbs over 1,000-foot hills, skirts water eroded canyons and swoops along nicely graded double track, the White Rim Trail is the ultimate supported, multi-day biking/camping/dirt bike/jeep trip. Arrange a tour with a company in Moab or DIY.
With a permit secured well in advance, you and your 14 best buddies can boldly go where few have been; into the harsh interior of Utah's largest national park. With a sag support vehicle or two, packed with plenty of water, food, costumes, first aid, repair kit, clothes and camping gear, your foray into the wilderness is tamed with creature comforts galore. Leave Fido and firewood at home but bring cameras, camp chairs, comestibles and some cold ones.
Though not a technical trail, there are four significant climbs/descents on the trail. Clockwise riders will descend Shaffer and climb Mineral Bottom, counterclockwise the opposite. Hardscrabble and Murphy’s Hogback, are the other two features to contend with, both challenging, lung exploding climbs. Sand, the bane of the biker, makes a few washes impossible to pedal. The rest of the trail is rideable by most all with a modicum of biking skills. Breaking the trip into four days with three nights camping allows for 25ish miles a day riding, time for side canyon exploration, leisurely mornings, well-spaced snack and lunch stops and plenty of time for chillin' in camp.
Be prepared for any weather, expect wind and hope for wildlife. Desert Bighorn Sheep call this country home, and the rare sighting is rewarding. Stay on the trail to stay out of trouble with the rangers who patrol the park, replacing TP in the SST’s (sweet smelling toilets), answering questions, and handing out tickets to those who perpetrate infractions. That said, don’t attempt to ride across Mussleman Arch, a five to six foot wide arch 300 feet off the ground, or you may receive a citation.
Island In the Sky Visitor Center is 32 miles from Moab, 4 1/2-hour drive from Salt Lake City.
Photos by Kirk Marshall