When you think of national park roads, iconic routes like the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Montana’s Glacier National Park and Crater Lake Rim Drive in Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park likely come to mind. They’re paved, accessible to anyone with a car, and can be completed in as little as two hours.
And while these factors are shared by many national park thoroughfares, the White Rim Road in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park couldn’t be more different. For starters, the road is unpaved, narrow, and primitive — and only accessible to drivers with high clearance, 4-wheel-drive vehicles, or travelers on bicycles and motorbikes.
Thanks to its notoriously rough roads, the 100-mile White Rim Road takes multiple days to complete — even if you drive. The route typically takes 4-wheel-drive vehicles between two to three days and mountain bikers three to four days.
The road through southeastern Utah is steep, rocky, and exposed — but the views are probably unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. The White Rim Road loops around the Island in the Sky, an iconic Canyonlands mesa that’s supported by sheer sandstone cliffs, like a natural desert rollercoaster. The views of the red rock desert and the towering Island in the Sky mesa, which sits over 1,000 feet above the surrounding terrain, are constant.
To avoid extreme desert heat, the White Rim Road is best visited in the spring and fall when the weather is warm, but not too hot. That said, the spring season comes with its own set of challenges. During years of heavy snowfall (like winter 2022-2023) the water level of the Green River, which crosses the road, can make completing the full-rim road difficult, if not impossible. (See current road conditions at nps.gov.) For this reason, some travelers choose only to do a section of the White Rim Road.
The multiday car or bike trip is supported by 20 campsites in 10 camping areas that are outfitted with toilets, but travelers have to bring their own food and water and pack out their trash. The Canyonlands National Park website recommends that mountain bikers have a 4-wheel-drive support vehicle that can carry multiple days worth of water, food, and equipment for them.
In addition to the physical and natural challenges of the White Rim Road, all vehicles, motorbikes, and bicyclists must apply for either a day-use permit (for single-day trips) or an overnight permit. No dogs or campfires are allowed on White Rim Road.