“A huge, gorgeous desert expedition that is a good warm up for White-Rim-In-A-Day.”
— F. Felix
Shafer Trail can get thoroughly wrecked by thunderstorms. Check with Canyonlands National Park for current road conditions. This is not a good hill to climb when it's soggy.
This is a big, old-school ride that includes a great downhill.
There are plenty of places in the world to go ride nice trails, but Jug Handle Loop demonstrates the sense of epic awe that draws riders to Moab: huge scale, a monster climb, a long downhill and heart-breakingly beautiful scenery.
This expansive ride will help you to outdo your expectations of yourself!
Need to Know
Part of this ride lies within Canyonlands National Park, so these stricter use regulations apply.
Drive out the Potash Road along the Colorado River until you reach Long Canyon / Jug Handle Arch. Park here and begin riding.
Follow the Potash road along the river, past the pavement end, past the Potash plant and past the Cataract Canyon boat launch. The road then begins to climb away from the river on the bulging Canyonlands anticline. You'll pass beside the Potash evaporation ponds as you head toward Shafer Canyon. There are many private roads in the area for the mining operation's heavy equipment traffic. Avoid these and stay on the public Shafer Canyon road.
The road approaches the rim above the river and you pass Thelma and Louise Point, an abrupt drop to the river over which film makers like to chuck things. Check out the great views of the Gooseneck in this road segment. How many photos of this river bend have you seen in your life?
Continue on the gradually rising road until you reach the junction with the White Rim Trail
. There is a pit toilet here. You can turn left and ride out and back to Musselman Arch on the White Rim Trail
if you'd like to extend your day. But you still have a lot of miles left, so don't go overboard.
If you choose to skip the out and back extension, go straight/right and continue to follow the road as it begins to claw its way up the Shafer Trail: a series of steep switchbacks that climb up the face of the Wingate sandstone to reach the mesa top.
100 years later, you'll reach the Islands In The Sky. Join the paved highway. You can divert left to visit the I-Sky visitor's center if you like. If not, then continue right on the highway back toward town. It's hard to believe how inconspicuous the massive surrounding canyons are from up here.
You now pass through the Canyonlands National Park exit gate and may be required to show or purchase a park pass. So, bring your Golden Eagle pass, just in case.
Turn right toward Dead Horse Point after about 6-miles on the highway. The paved road soon bends right to enter the state park, but you won't (unless you want to add some Intrepid
Trails singletrack to your day). Continue straight on a dirt road that is as un-curving as a bow string. When you approach the edge of the world, the road will finally begin to bend around left to find its way down into Long Canyon.
Yeehaw! Downhill 5-miles, all the way back to the car on a road that can be very rough, or surprisingly smooth depending on the recent rains and county grading schedule. There's a cool spot where the road goes under a humongous, scary boulder leaning against the cliff wall.
If you still have energy to spare, have your buddy drive the car and you can ride the Potash road back to town.
History & Background
Scenes from "Thelma and Louise", "City Slickers II", "Mission Impossible II", movies you haven't heard of, and too many car commercials to count were filmed on the road between Potash and Shafer.