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Moab Rim Trail

The Moab Rim Trail is one of the old classic "Must-Do" trails of the Moab area. But frankly, it isn't one of our favorites. It starts with a climb that's as brutal as anything you've ever done. If it's a weekend, you'll play "dodge-em" with a gazillion jeeps. This is a trail you ride mostly for chest-thumping purposes. But the views aren't bad.

Looking down the Moab Rim's initial climb as high winds usher in a storm. The band at the bottom is the Potash road, with the Colorado just out of sight. Photos April 9, 2011 by Bruce unless otherwise specified.

This trail is definitely advanced technical and strenuous aerobic. It's 10 miles as an out-and-back, and you'll climb around 1800 feet total.

The trailhead is on the Kane Creek road along the Colorado, about two miles from the middle of town. Starting altitude is 4100, and the high point is 5300 at the viewpoint over the valley.

From the parking area, the trail crawls around the big rocks then climbs the bare patches left to right.

From the trailhead, the route climbs almost 900 vertical feet in less than a mile. Near the top, the slope is an unrelenting 20% grade, pocked with fissures, ledges, and wheel-traps. You can usually find a side route around the big drops, but it's brutal. Most riders will spend considerable time walking.

This is the first, and worst of two big climbs. (The second comes right at the end on the last 0.8 miles to the viewpoint. This is 450 vertical for a 12% slope, but it feels steeper because loose moto-churn rock chunks scattered over the slickrock messes up the traction.)

Chad Hunter grinds up from the Colorado River with UtahMountainBiking office boss Mike Engberson in pursuit. The rock is so rough and steep that bikers outride the jeeps, both uphill and downhill. April 16, 2000.

The grunt climb up the Rim is on uptilted ledges of Kayenta Sandstone. The Kayenta is a hard layer with lots of silt in the sandstone matrix -- a sandy mud-plain deposit where dinosaur tracks are common. The Kayenta protects the underlying Wingate Sandstone from breakdown, allowing the Wingate to form cliffs up to 400 feet in height.

Looking down at the Colorado River, about 1/3 up. The cliffs at right are Navajo sandstone, with bands of Kayenta appearing underneath at the far right.

At the top, the familiar mounds of Navajo Sandstone sit on top of the Kayenta layer. On this western side of Moab, the Navajo lies hundreds of feet higher than to the east. See our Geology of Moab page.

Approaching the first viewpoint. Almost there!

Mike Engberson takes a break after the hard climb up from the Colorado. The La Sal mountains are in the background. April 16, 2000.

At this first viewpoint, you're at 4900 feet with views of the Moab Valley both north and south. The volcanic La Sal Mountains rise to the east.

Looking to the southwest as storm clouds build over the La Sal Mountains.

As you leave the first summit, the trail rolls up and down some brutal rock outcroppings. There are short pits of life-sucking sand between bits of rough rock. Occasionally there's smooth Navajo to ride on, but mostly it's rough, ridged Kayenta. The terrain is very pretty, and the views are good.

After leaving the viewpoint, the doubletrack trail rocks up and down, with varying degrees of tech.

The trail goes up and down, never particularly technical or brutal. There is one steep pitch up a Navajo sandstone dome, but nothing sustained and tough like the initial climb.

Looking over the Navajo slickrock. If we do the full loop down Hidden Valley, we'll go through that first little notch at the left.

The first significant trail fork is at mile 1.9. Keep right. (Left takes you down into a sand-infested canyon where you'll have to hike your bike up the other side.) The trail is well-marked with carsonite posts.

Gary Argyle crests a Navajo sandstone dome on the Moab Rim on April 16, 2000.

At mile 3.7, the Moab Rim trail forks hard left, drops through a little wash, then begins the steep climb to the viewpoint. This is a grunt granny-gear climb. I found the trail surface littered with small angular chunks of sandstone torn up by motoheads. It was easy to loose traction. Just before the viewpoint, you'll fork right (east).

Climbing to the viewpoint, we hit more rough Kayenta stone.

The Moab Valley is a sunken area where fault lines disturbed an underlying dome of salt. (This salt was deposited by periodic flooding, then evaporation, of ocean water into a deep inland depression called the Paradox Basin during the Pennsylvanian Era, about 300 million years ago. It's over 1000 feet thick and is mined for salt and potash west of Moab.) As the salt was dissolved by seeping water, the valley floor subsided. 

View north.

The fault line also changed the height of the rocks on either side of Moab. To the west, younger rocks are exposed, with cliffs of Wingate Sandstone and Navajo Sandstone as a cap rock. To the east, Navajo Sandstone is nearer the valley floor, with Entrada Sandstone at the top. The displacement along the fault occurred before the present-day Colorado River began cutting into the rock, then the falling of the valley floor occurred later, resulting in the unusual topography where the valley lies at right angles to the river gorge.

Chad contemplates the meaning of life on a precariously perched slab of sandstone overlooking Moab. April 16, 2000.

Back at the trail fork, you have two options: Head back the way you came, or fork left and uphill for the Hidden Valley Trail. The Hidden Valley Trail forms a classic loop ride. It's very nice until you hit a 1/3 mile section of boulder-strewn steep portage. Then you'll be wishing you'd done the out-and-back. But if you absolutely MUST do a loop ride, there you are.

View southwest.

My recommendation is that you do the loop ride clockwise: CLIMB the ugly portage up Hidden Valley, then descend Moab Rim. You can close the loop by road, or you can ride the new Pipe Dream singletrack. See the map and track files.

Heading back down from the viewpoint. Then on to Hidden Valley for the loop.

Riding notes, to viewpoint from Moab Rim TH:
0.0   Start grinding up the Rim
0.9   At the top, veer R on DT
1.1   Fork R (L = viewpoint)
1.8   Fork R
2.0   Climb slickrock

3.5   DT joins on L, keep straight
3.7   Fork L for Rim (R = Hidden Valley)
4.5   Petroglyphs
        R fork to Rim
5.0   Viewpoint at Rim

Getting there: Head south on Moab's Main Street. When you reach the McDonald's on your right, turn right onto Kane Creek Blvd. After 1.5 miles, go straight at the "Yield" sign where the road seems to turn right. Go past the Moab Rim chairlift to 3.5 miles from McDonalds at GPS N 38 33.541' W 109 34.979'. The trailhead is on your left.

Bathroom:  Moab Rim trailhead
Camping: Many, along the Colorado and at Kane Creek
Water: Moab
Bike services: see links page below.

Riding resources:
Single-page, printable riding guide
GPS track file (right-click and select "Save Target as..."):
      Moab rim only    Loop w street return    Loop with Pipe Dream
      GPX area trails
Topo maps for printing: 
      Moab Rim only    w Hidden Valley-Pipe Dream
Lodging, camping, shops:  Links to Moab area resources

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Updated 2011