Explore the Legendary Shafer Trail Road in Utah's Canyonlands National Park

Shafer Trail Road, also known as Potash Road, is an iconic drive located on the east-central edge of Utah in the western United States. Extreme caution is required, especially in inclement weather and at night, for both vehicles and mountain bikes. At times, the road is so narrow that only one car can pass.

Shafer Trail Road-Potash Road

How long is the Shafer Trail?

Situated on the boundary between Grand and San Juan counties, in the southeastern portion of Utah, the road is mostly unpaved. It spans 31.06 km (19.3 miles), running from Island in the Sky Road to UT-279. This drive can be done in either direction.

When was the Shafer Trail built?

The trail was originally constructed 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 cliff-forming Wingate Sandstone. In parts, the road is blasted out of the famous Navajo Sandstone of southern Utah.

How challenging is the Shafer Trail?

The road is quite challenging, requiring a high-clearance 4WD vehicle to complete the trip. It features very steep sections, with a maximum gradient of 16% through some ramps. Watch out for low overhanging rocks. Although the road has been significantly improved by the National Park Service, it remains extremely steep and travels along the tops of sheer cliffs. Driving slowly and paying attention to the road and other drivers is crucial. Large, sharp rocks require tight maneuvering, increasing the likelihood of tire damage. Carry extra fuel and be prepared for self-rescue. The drive includes U curves that drop off a thousand feet. Watch for oncoming traffic to ensure safe passing areas.

Is Shafer Trail in UT open?

The Shafer Trail is slippery and often impassable when wet or icy. It is not advisable to attempt this road in the rain or while towing a trailer. The trail is frequently closed due to adverse weather conditions, especially in winter. Extreme caution is necessary, particularly in inclement weather and at night. During winter, all vehicles are advised to carry chains.

Is Shafer Trail worth it?

Nestled in Canyonlands National Park, this legendary road offers a truly unique experience. Highlights of the trip include well-marked Indian petroglyphs and amazing natural stone arches. The trail provides access to the White Rim Trail and other areas in the park, making it one of the most challenging journeys through the park. You'll also have the opportunity to tackle the Schafer Switchbacks, a breathtaking climb with expansive views of the surrounding canyons.

Where was Thelma & Louise filmed?

Numerous commercials and, more recently, music videos have been filmed here. A particularly famous point on the trail is Thelma and Louise Point, where the iconic scene from "Thelma & Louise" was filmed, depicting their car jumping off the edge 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, providing a breathtaking panorama of Canyonlands' sculpted pinnacles and buttes.
Road suggested by: Mark Fishler
Pic: Ron Nguyen