|| Chisholm Trail
The Chisholm Trail is found off Highway 313 (the route to Dead
Horse Point) around 10 miles from US 191. It was completed in 2016. The trail is 7.2 miles long,
with two trailheads near its south (uphill) end. The top elevation on the trail is around 5950 feet.
Compared to most Moab trails, Chisholm is not very strenuous. Although
I rate the trail as intermediate, experienced beginners can do this trail.
But they'll need to dismount occasionally where the dips or rock-squeezes
View north as the trail follows a rock ledge. First
trail review by Bruce
on October 28, 2015, with update for the newer Horsethief to Big Lonely
section and loop information September 26, 2016.
|The Chisholm Trail connects the western side of Big
Lonely on the Navajo Rocks Loop to the
Mustang Loop of the Horsethief
Area trails. On the way, it passes near the Horsethief Campground
and connects to the Rowdy and Wrangler
Chisholm is a good out-and-back ride, which is how most riders do it.
There are some excellent loop rides using Chisholm, within the capability of conditioned intermediate
riders, starting at 16 miles and extending all the way to 30-plus. More on
The trailhead on Highway 313. We're at
the north end of the
parking area looking east. There's room for about 10 cars here, but as of
2016 it's usually empty.
The Chisholm trailhead can be used to descend the last 1/2 mile of
Chisholm to the
Mustang Loop and its attached trail system.
This is just a tiny bit of Chisholm. But if you do the loop I describe
below, you'll catch this piece at the end of your ride.
Looking east as the trail approaches
the Mustang Loop (the little white spot is the trail sign in the trees).
Chisholm can also be used as an access to the Horsethief Campground
trails (Rowdy and Wrangler) for beginning riders. The trail has a barely perceptible
downslope as it winds away from the highway. The track will alternate between dirt and
slickrock. In slickrock areas, the trail is marked with pale green
stripes on the rock.
On slickrock areas, the 2015 trail is
marked with pale green stripes. Here we're heading north toward the
Horsethief Campground. In September 2016 the segment between Horsethief
and Big Lonely has no markings, but is still easy to follow.
As an out-and-back...
From either the Highway 313 or Horsethief Campground road trailheads, Chisholm can be done northbound as an
out-and-back. The distance simply depends on how far you want to go. If
you start at 313 and turn around when you hit Big
Lonely, your ride will be 13.6 miles.
Some riders park on the dirt road just north of where Big Lonely
crosses Highway 313. After riding west on the dirt road 0.3 miles to intersect Chisholm, they go
south for the out-and-back. This makes their return trip slightly downhill.
Just south of the Horsethief
Campground is slickrock with a little bit of pitch, but still quite easy
riding. We're heading southwest (back toward Highway 313).
Let's start our ride from the Highway 313 parking,
northbound. Cross the road to the continuing singletrack. The riding surface is easy here, and can be done by
beginners and experienced kids. There's one mound of slickrock where you
might need to shift a gear or stand on the pedals. The trail will get a
bit harder once you're past Horsethief Campground.
Looking east, with the bike pointing
west. The trail goes through a mixed forest of juniper and pinion.
As the trail nears the Horsethief Campground 0.8 miles
from the highway,
keep to the right as you pass the connector to the campground and the
Rowdy Trail. After 0.1 miles, pass the small trailhead parking area at the gravel road to the campground. Cross the road.
Note that the Horsethief Campground itself can be used as the
starting spot for your ride, but only if you're camping there. (The little
trailhead OUTSIDE the campground is available for non-campers.)
Here's the trail fork for the spur that goes to Rowdy
(Horsethief Campground), looking north. If you're looking to ride Rowdy
and Wrangler before continuing, you might not notice the fork if you're
looking toward the upcoming trail sign.
|The trail will veer west. One-half mile after you passed the
little trailhead on the campground road, you'll reach a fork. The trail on
the left is a 100-foot spur
to the campground entrance.
Keep straight and right to continue toward Big Lonely.
There aren't a lot of great views here, but it's pretty. Occasionally you'll
see long vistas to the north. The best sandstone gawking will occur after
you leave Chisholm on one of the longer loop options.
The trail twists through juniper forest on a base of
slickrock and dirt.
||The trail winds around with a gazillion twisty turns.
Although the terrain drops 300 vertical feet between the campground and
Big Lonely, you can rarely coast for more than a few feet at a time. So if you're looking for a downhill
flying cruise, you're on the wrong trail.
Chisholm is great fun. There are a lot of trail miles stuffed into this
area between Mustang and Navajo Rocks. The
constant turns slow the hammerheads down, so it's easier to keep a
mixed-ability group together. Good steering practice for intermediates.
One of the longest straight sections, as we follow a
break on the mesa edge.
|There are frequent dips and rim-arounds as the trail flirts
with the edge of the mesa. In fact, my GPS logged 200 feet of climbing
during the six miles downhill from Horsethief to Big Lonely. So expect 500 vertical feet
of overall climbing if you're riding the trail north to south, for example on the
return trip from an out-and-back. But still, that's less than 100 feet per
The trail dips and winds through a ravine.
||The trail intersects three jeep roads. I've marked them with
a little "notch" on my GPS track in case you want to use one as
a bailout. The northernmost (found in a grassy flat area just north of a
fence-line crossing, 0.6 miles before you'll reach Big Lonely) has a small parking spot
where it meets Highway 313, and is used as a starting spot by some
On the edge of the rock, we're looking a long way
|At its north end, the trail veers east to meet Big Lonely
near Highway 313. To make a highway return, turn right and go 400 feet to
the road, then right on the pavement. It's 3.1 miles by road back to
the Horsethief Area (Chisholm) trailhead.
The Big Lonely trail fork is where you commit to a loop or lariat ride.
The shortest loop is to fork to the right and take Big Lonely then Coney
Island to Seven Up.
Heading back toward the highway and the junction with
Big Lonely. The La Sals are peeking over the mesa edge to the east.
Ride option, the Chisholm - Big Lonely - Coney Island -
Seven Up - Whirlwind loop
||This loop is 15.8 miles, with 1400 vertical feet of
climbing. Intermediates should allow at least 4 hours for the ride.
After doing Chisholm northbound from the Horsethief Area
trailhead on Highway 313, fork right on Big
Lonely. Cross the road and
continue to Coney Island. It will be 0.7 miles from Chisholm to the spot
where Coney Island starts as an old jeep road.
On Big Lonely going southwest, about 1/3 mile from
the spot where it becomes Coney Island. Chances are, you'll meet many more
riders once you join the Navajo Rocks loop.
|Coney Island starts as a doubletrack, but it gets better.
Much better. Swoop and whoop downhill, then break off the mesa and twist
among domes of sandstone. And over top of domes of sandstone.
After 2.8 miles, you'll pass the fork to Middle Earth (keep right) as
Coney Island makes its last 0.3-mile drop toward Rocky Tops on the Navajo
Coney Island drops along the cliff edge, with Big
Mesa, Monitor and Merrimac buttes ahead of us to the northeast. Nice
||As you reach a flat spot, you'll note that the paint stripes
are changing from yellow to turquoise. This is Rocky Tops, and you don't want
to go there. Hit the brakes and turn 90 degrees right downhill on
You'll spend the next 0.9 miles working south on the white dot
doubletrack. (You won't see the dots until you're almost to Seven Up.) The DT will drop off the hill, then run across a grassy
valley before climbing up to join Seven Up. Keep right and begin climbing
on Seven Up, marked by blue paint spots.
The White Dot doubletrack leaves the flat valley to
begin climbing toward Seven Up.
|Seven Up is occasionally mean and ledgy as it works south
uphill. In all, you'll do just over 900 vertical feet of climbing from the
meadow on the white dot trail to the top of Chisholm. The loop is a "reverse
profile" ride that puts the climbing on the second half of your ride,
if that makes a difference to you. (If you want to front-load the
climbing, consider starting at the Big Mesa
Navajo Rocks trailhead. See
After 1.6 miles, follow the singletrack Seven Up as it veers to the
right off the doubletrack. Around 0.2 miles later, the Whirlwind connector
forks to the right uphill.
Seven Up has blue marks on the rock, working uphill
as it heads south. Most of the few riders you'll encounter here will be
doing this route downhill.
||Just 0.2 miles further uphill, Whirlwind splits. My route
takes the right fork. Pedal a mile uphill. As the Whirlwind loop joins the
bottom of the Mustang Loop, fork to the right uphill to enter the north
side of the Mustang Loop.
We're heading west on Whirlwind, as my faithful Rocky
Mountain takes a break at a pinion tree.
|Mustang will take you 0.8 miles uphill. On slickrock, the
trail is marked by yellow paint stripes. The trail fork at
the top of the Mustang Loop is the eastern end of Chisholm. Once again,
fork to the right uphill.
Almost to the top, going south counterclockwise on
the north side of the Mustang Loop.
||Now you're back on Chisholm.
The trail climbs around 100 vertical feet over the 1/2 mile between Mustang
and the Highway 313 trailhead. This eastern side of Chisholm has the
steepest sustained climbing of the entire Chisholm trail, but it's still
(This would be your downhill route if you started at the Horsethief Area
Chisholm trailhead on 313 and descended to Mustang. Or if you decided to
ride the loop counter-clockwise.)
Looking west uphill at the sketchiest
spot on the Chisholm Trail.
||Navajo Rocks Big Mesa trailhead
If you're looking to get the climbing done early in the
loop, start at the Navajo Rocks Big Mesa trailhead. Cross the road
to Middle Earth. Go 1/2 mile to Coney Island and turn left onto the loop
described above. This will add one mile and about 100 vertical feet of
View south on Middle Earth.
Extended north-end of loop with Big Mesa
very nice option is to fork left when Chisholm hits Big
on as the trail becomes Big Mesa. Drop down to the Big Mesa trailhead and cross the road to
Middle Earth. Fork to the left on Coney Island and enter the loop ride
You'll spend 6.5 miles on this "detour." Substituting
this route for Coney Island adds 3 miles to the loop distance and around
400 vertical feet of climbing.
Looking east on Big
After Big Mesa, Add Ramblin and Rocky Tops
doing Big Lonely and Big Mesa as above, continue to Ramblin rather than
dropping to the Big Mesa trailhead. Take Rocky Tops back. When you hit the
doubletrack marking the start of Coney Island, turn south (left) on the White Dot
doubletrack to resume the main loop.
This makes your loop 10.2 miles
longer and adds over 1000 vertical. That makes your ride 26 miles with
2400 feet of climbing. Need still more? Extend the south end of the loop (see below).
toward Big Mesa from Ramblin.
Extended south end of loop
reach the fork from Seven Up to Whirlwind on the loop above, there are
five possible routes back uphill: Whirlwind's right fork (the loop
described) versus Whirlwind's left fork, Seven Up to Hildalgo
or Wildcat or to Getaway.
All these routes will eventually funnel into the Mustang
longest path is continuing Seven Up south to Getaway, then heading uphill to
the Mustang Loop's south side. This option is 2.8 miles longer and adds a hundred-plus feet of extra climbing. A loop extended both north AND
south (substituting Big Mesa and
Middle Earth for Coney Island, and taking Seven Up to Getaway) would be
21.8 miles. And if you did the Ramblin-Rocky Tops thing, you're around 30 miles.
Seven Up near the Whirlwind fork.
|Loop ride from Horsethief Highway 313
0.0 Left from parking, cross road
N38 34.859 W109 47.868
0.3 Cross dirt road
0.8 Keep straight (L = to Rowdy)
N38 35.045 W109 48.436
0.9 Trailhead, straight across road
N38 35.127 W109 48.437
1.5 Keep R (L = to campground entry)
N38 35.089 W109 48.859
6.1 Cross dirt road N38 37.019 W109 49.222
6.8 R on Big Lonely
N38 37.257 W109 48.795
7.5 Straight on Coney Island
N38 36.931 W109 48.370
|10.3 R (L = Middle Earth)
N38 37.831 W109 47.006
10.6 R on DT (straight = Rocky Tops)
N38 37.803 W109 46.832
11.4 R on Seven Up
N38 37.197 W109 47.046
13.2 R on Whirlwind
N38 36.020 W109 47.229
13.4 R on North Whirlwind
N38 35.916 W109 47.307
14.5 R on Mustang
N38 35.501 W109 47.388
15.3 R on Chisholm
N38 35.088 W109 47.595
15.8 Back at trailhead
From I-70 and Crescent Junction, drive south on US-191 for 20 miles (about
9 miles north of the Colorado River if you're driving out from Moab) to
Highway 313. Drive uphill.
Highway 313 Horsethief Area (Chisholm) Trailhead: At mile 12.5, spot the
trailhead kiosk on the left side of the road. About 150 feet uphill, turn
left into the parking area. Eastbound (away from the road) takes you to
the Horsethief trail system. West across the road takes you toward the
Horsethief Campground trails and on toward Navajo Rocks.
Horsethief Campground Road: Turn left toward Horsethief
Campground at mile 11.8 from 191. After 0.1 mile on the gravel road
(before reaching the campground), turn left into the fenced parking area.
Horsethief Campground: Use this trailhead only if you're
camping! On your left at mile 11.8 from Highway
191. Go 0.3 miles and turn left into the campground. After claiming your camp spot, pedal around either
campground loop. If you take the Rowdy trail entry at the far end of the
eastern camping loop it will you to a connector to the main Chisholm
trail. You can also get on Chisholm by pedaling out the campground entry,
across the road, and taking singletrack 100 feet to join Chisholm.
Big Mesa Trailhead: On Highway 313 at mile 6.4 after leaving
Highway 191, just as you reach the top of a hill, look for a gravel turn
on your right immediately after you pass through the cut in the hill. The
Middle Earth trail starts across the road from parking.
Gemini Bridges Road (Getaway) Trailhead: At mile 12.9, turn left at the Gemini Bridges sign. About
200 feet from the pavement, spot a small parking area on your left with
the Getaway trail just east of parking. A short distance down Getaway, you
can take the Mustang Loop clockwise to reach the east end of Chisholm.