White Rim Road vehicle/difficulty questions


Mar 1, 2015
I am planning on mountain biking the white rim road over 3 days in mid-October. We already have the permits, and will bring a support vehicle. My main concern is with the driving, not the biking. Nobody in my group has ever driven on a jeep road before or anything requiring 4WD, so I have the following questions:
  1. Is this a beginner-friendly road (assuming the weather has been good, we rent a suitable vehicle, and we take it nice and slow in the hard parts)? I’ve read wildly varying reports on the difficulty level and beginner-appropriateness---some people say it’s extremely easy, while others say it’s extremely difficult. One nice thing is that since we will have several people on bikes, the bikes can go on ahead of the vehicle during the narrow sketchy parts, to make sure we don’t run into anyone else coming the opposite direction.
  2. Does this truck look like it will be suitable? http://cliffhangerjeeprental.com/tacoma-pickup/ It looks cheaper than renting a jeep, and will fit our 4-5 people plus gear comfortably. Any recommendations on what features to look for in a vehicle, what emergency equipment to bring along, or where to rent a vehicle?
  3. My understanding is that the driving difficulty depends mostly on recent weather. We will only do this trip if the weather has been good and the road is in good shape. Is it likely that the road will be in bad shape in mid-October? I know that’s impossible to predict, but if there’s a 50/50 chance of us having to cancel at the last minute, I’ll just cancel right now to avoid buying the plane tickets.
Thanks in advance for any info! Also, if anyone has any recommendations for must-see side trips or any other tips to enjoy the WRR, please let me know. We will be doing this in 3 days, clockwise, with 30-35 miles each day.
There should be a LOT of info and Trip Reports here. Perhaps you could do some review and ask some more pointed questions?

Just a quick say..

1) not really a beginner drive AND you can't count on going with no chance of weather or obstacles. Probably a 2+ on the 4WD scale. It completely depends on your experience, risk taking limit and - the weather.
2) the truck could make it but there is a good chance it will get some beating up by bike racks and gear. I have never been around the loop (~6-8 times) without having some vehicle issue. You sure your rental contract and insurance would allow it?
3) hard to say, on the weather, because it is the weather. 50/50 is a good way to put it. I would highly encourage contingency plans. Even the locals have them and even the locals have to use them.
4) there are a ton of things to see and do. Research here and elsewhere and ask some more pointed questions. We have published it all for you before.. :)
I've done it several times both on bike and in truck and it's generally slow but fairly easy (mudholes, shelfrock, sand), except for a few spots like Hardscrabble Hill (not bad generally, but killer when wet) and Murphy Hogback (need some 4x4 experience, IMO, steep and blind at the top, though going the other direction wouldn't be bad). Odds are good you could find someone along the trail to help drive it through the bad spots, but I wouldn't count on it. There are tons of videos and such out there, and like Art says, some good TRs here. That Tacoma won't have any trouble, but be sure they know where you're taking it. And if you don't have any 4X4 experience (even though you will when you're done), don't go up Shaefer Hill, but instead go out by the Potash Plant. It's generally a blast and will be worth the $2k +/- tow out by Nelson's (depending on where you get it stuck or broken down) - j/k, you probably won't need a tow, and if you do, it's worth it for the story.

I was there early one April when the trail was shut down because of snow. We had to sit it out in camp, and I watched a truck almost slide off Hardscrabble (we were in Potato Bottom). Even after all that, we didn't have much trouble getting out, though it was wet, cold, and miserable. The park service is great and patrols it a lot.
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Thanks for the feedback.

And if you don't have any 4X4 experience (even though you will when you're done), don't go up Shaefer Hill, but instead go out by the Potash Plant.

Rockskipper---I'm not very familiar with the WRR yet (I've never been); was this a serious comment or a joke? Just looking at the map, I thought the CW route would involve descending the Shafer road/hill. Am I supposed to avoid that?

Also, you said that going "the other direction" wouldn't be bad for Murphy Hogback... which direction are you referring to? We would be going clockwise (based on our camping permits), which I was hoping would be the easier direction (driver's side towards the cliffs anyway).
Oh, sorry for the muddle. If you're going clockwise, you will go down Shaeffer Trail and up Horsethief (which isn't bad at all, just a little heady). But Shaeffer is a bit gnarly if you've never 4X4'd, so you could start by the Potash Plant and avoid Shaeffer, though it might make an extra trip to the headquarters on the Island to get your permit. If you take the Potash Road just out of Moab, this will take you to the base of Shaffer to start the Rim. I think the direction you're going will make Murphy's easier, as you'll basically be going down the steeper part. But a lot of people think nothing of Shaeffer.

Just one tip - gear down to go slow so you don't need your brakes much. Go and enjoy, it won't be bad - it's actually a lot of fun and a great way to start four-wheeling. There will be others out there you can watch to see how they do things as you go along if need be.
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But Shaeffer is a bit gnarly if you've never 4X4'd, so you could start by the Potash Plant and avoid Shaeffer, though it might make an extra trip to the headquarters on the Island to get your permit.

I disagree with this. The Shafer Trail is a well-maintained county road compared to the rest of the White Rim Road. It's probably the easiest part of the loop aside from the Mineral Bottom switchbacks.
It's been a few years since I drove it, and it had been a summer with a lot of flashflooding, so probably wasn't a representative year. Glad to hear it's in better shape. That's the problem with giving advice about backcountry conditions, things can change so rapidly.
If it's any use, here's an uncut video of my drive over Hardscrabble Hill in a lightly modified 1994 Subaru Legacy.

There are a lot of videos on how to drive a 4x4 off road. You should definitely watch them. Not only wil you get great tips and tricks, but you'll learn a little about what a 4x4 can easily clear. It is really amazing what a stock 4x4 can drive over.
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