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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.

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.

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 threaten.

Bruce rolls along the slickrock on the edge of the mesa.

Chisholm connects the trails of the Horsethief system (such as Mustang and Rodeo) to the Navajo Rocks loop. It also offers access to these trails directly from the Horsethief campground by bike. Got your attention yet?

The trail offers varied colors and surfaces.

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 that later.

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 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 with three connecting spurs to the camping area. The southernmost of these spurs connects to the Rodeo and the Rowdy and Wrangler trails south of the campground.

Here's the West Horsethief trailhead on the Horsethief Campground road. I'm heading south toward the Rodeo trail fork.

 From Horsethief to the Navajo Rocks Loop on Chisholm!!!

 If the above video does not appear on your browser/device, you can watch it on YouTube by clicking here.

Chisholm to the Mustang Loop...

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 to Rodeo...

From the 313 trailhead, go across the road and ride northwest for 1/2 mile. Just after the trail rolls over a large pipeline, fork left to do a clockwise ride around the Rodeo loop. To do Rodeo counterclockwise, continue another 0.3 miles then fork left toward the campground. At the 4-way 1/10th mile later, turn hard left and you're on Rodeo.

Chisholm to Rowdy...

Chisholm is also your access to the beginner Horsethief Campground trails (Rowdy and Wrangler) if you're not actually camped there. From the trailhead on the campground road, go south 1/10th mile, fork hard right onto the alternate to the campground, then keep straight at the 4-way trail fork. 

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). 

The Trail...

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.

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.

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. (The left fork passes Rodeo and Rowdy then enters the campground.) 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 mile.

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 out-and-back riders.

On the edge of the rock, we're looking a long way north.

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 Rocks loop.

Coney Island drops along the cliff edge, with Big Mesa, Monitor and Merrimac buttes ahead of us to the northeast. Nice views.

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 doubletrack.

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 below.)

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 pretty easy.

(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.

Other options!
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 climbing.

View south on Middle Earth.

Extended north-end of loop with Big Mesa

A very nice option is to fork left when Chisholm hits Big Lonely. Continue 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 above.

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 Mesa.

After Big Mesa, Add Ramblin and Rocky Tops

After 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).

View toward Big Mesa from Ramblin.

Extended south end of loop

When you 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 Loop.

The 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 (Chisholm) TH:
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
Getting there: 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. The southbound trail is at the corner of the parking lot, while the northbound main trail is across the road from the western entrance.
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.

Riding resources:
Printable one-page ride guide
GPS track files (right-click and select "Save Target as..."):
      Chisholm trail only
      Note loop rides below pass through campground
      Chisholm Loop (Coney Island, Whirlwind) 15.8 mi
      Chisholm Loop Longer (Getaway) 18.2 mi
      Bigger Loop (Big Mesa, Getaway)  21.8 mi
      GPX multi-track, area trails
High-res map for printing:  View Chisholm Area Trails aerial map 
      View Horsethief/Chisholm topo map
Lodging, camping, shops:     Link to Moab area resources

Bathrooms:  Horsethief Campground
Water:   Horsethief Campground
Camping:   Developed campground, nightly fee