Explore the Legendary Shafer Trail Road in Utah's Canyonlands National Park
Shafer Trail Road-Potash Road is the name of an iconic drive located on the east central edge of Utah, in the western United States. It requires extreme caution at the best of times for vehicles and mountain bikes, but especially so in inclement weather and at night. It’s at times so narrow that only one car can pass at a time.
How long is the Shafer Trail?
Located on the border between Grand and San Juan counties on the southeastern portion of Utah, the road is mostly unpaved. It’s 31.06km (19.3 miles) long, running from Island in the Sky Road to UT-279. This drive can be done in either direction. The trail was originally built by uranium miners to transport ore extracted from the Triassic Chinle Formation during the middle part of the twentieth century. The mining road followed the path of a large natural rockfall that buried part of the typically cliffforming Wingate Sandstone. In parts, the road is blasted out of the famous Navajo Sandstone of southern Utah.
How hard is Shafer Trail?
The road is pretty challenging and a high-clearance 4WD vehicle is required to complete the trip. The road is very steep, hitting a 16% of maximum gradient through some of the ramps. Watch for low overhanging rocks. This is a great trail for someone who is looking for an off road experience, but doesn’t have access a highly modified rock crawler. Virtually any four-wheel drive vehicle will succeed in navigating this well maintained road. Although the road has been greatly improved by the National Park Service, the Shafer Trail is still extremely steep and it travels along the tops of sheer cliffs. It is very important to drive slowly and pay attention to the road and other drivers while traveling along this trail. It’s at times so narrow that only one car can pass at a time. Large, sharp rocks require tight maneuvering, increasing the likelihood of tire damage. Carry extra fuel and be prepared to self-rescue. The drive features U curves that drop off a thousand feet. Watch out for cars coming in the opposite direction to make sure you get to a safe area to pass.
Is Shafer Trail in UT open?
The Shafer Trail is slippery and often impassible when wet or icy. Don’t try this road in the rain or towing a trailer. The trail is often closed due to bad weather, especially in the winter. It requires extreme caution at the best of times for vehicles and mountain bikes, but especially so in inclement weather and at night. During winter, all vehicles are advised to carry chains.
Is Shafer Trail worth it?
Tucked away in the Canyonlands National Park, this legendary road is a truly unique experience. Highlights of this trip include well marked Indian petroglyphs and amazing natural stone arches. The trail provides access to the White Rim Trail as well as other areas in the park and is perhaps one of the most challenging journeys through the park. You’ll also have an opportunity to tackle the Schafer Switchbacks, a breathtaking climb with expansive views of the surrounding canyon-lands. A very famous point of the trail is the Thelma and Louise Point, where they filmed the famous scene in "Thelma & Louise" when they jumped their car off the edge and into the canyon. The final scene is not the Grand Canyon. The view is one of the most photographed scenic vistas in the world. Towering 2,000 feet above the Colorado River, the overlook provides a breathtaking panorama of Canyonlands' sculpted pinnacles and buttes. Numerous commercials, and more recently music videos, have been filmed here.
Road suggested by: Mark Fishler
Pic: Ron Nguyen