Off Roading in Moab Utah

Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park

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This portion of our Colorado/Utah/Arizona trip is day 3 through 6 in Moab, UT. We picked Moab primarily because it allowed us to be able to visit Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse State Park and to endulge in an epic off-road adventure with a Jeep we rented. And I should also mention that secondarily it was because Moab is the largest city in that area of Utah. There are other smaller towns on U.S. 191, but none have the scope of services that Moab offers.

Off-road exploration in Canyonlands National Park unveils a different side of this breathtaking landscape. While the paved roads offer scenic overlooks, venturing onto the dirt paths grants access to hidden gems and a more intimate experience with the park's rugged beauty.

However, tackling Canyonlands backcountry requires a well-equipped 4WD vehicle and a good understanding of off-roading principles. The trails can be challenging, with steep inclines, loose gravel, and narrow switchbacks.

Canyonlands was established in 1964 and it is the largest national park in Utah, covering 527.5 square miles. The park is divided by the Colorado and Green Rivers into three distinct districts; the Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the Maze. Horseshoe Canyon is also part of Canyonlands National Park but is geographically separate.

Please note that this page covers all aspects of our stay in Moab, UT as it pertains to the list of places below. Arches National Park is covered on a separate page, however, we were still in Moab when we visited that park.

This page covers the following destinations we explored while in Moab (please use the intra-page menu as well), which includes; Dead Horse State Park, Gemini Bridges, driving the Shafer Trail and some information about Moab Utah as well. We also traversed Potash Road past the Potash Ponds area, after we had descended the Shafer Trail.

Youtube Video LinkDiscover Utah Off Roading Adventures in Moab, Utah, explore these easy Jeep trails in the heart of Canyonlands National Park—one of Utah's Big 5 National Parks. This one-day loop adventure takes you through iconic sites like Gemini Bridges and a glimpse of Canyonlands' Island in the Sky district. Descend the legendary Shafer Trail and return via Potash Rd, all while soaking in the mesmerizing landscapes. Ideal for first-timers with guts that won't get nervous with the steep drop offs on the side of the Shafer Trail road. This video provides instructions on doing the entire loop. My heart was racing but luckily Terry had the trail under control!

Interesting Canyonlands National Park Facts
  • When was Canyonlands National Park established? On September 12, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Public Law 88-590 establishing 257,640 acres as Canyonlands National Park.
  • How large is Canyonlands National Park? Canyonlands National Park covers an area of about 337,598 acres (136,621 hectares).
  • What is the annual visitation to Canyonlands National Park? 911,594 in 2021.
  • Canyonlands National Park consists of two portions: the main portion, which comprises the bulk of the park’s area, and the detached and considerably smaller Horseshoe Canyon unit. The park is also divided into four districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and the rivers themselves (the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers).
  • Almost 50 species of mammal are known to live in Canyonlands including black bears, coyotes, skunks, bats, elk, foxes, bobcats, badgers, two species of ring-tailed cats, pronghorns, and cougars.
  • Canyonlands National Park is the largest National Park in Utah, and the 23rd largest in North America.
  • Effective June 1, 2018, Arches & Canyonlands National Park entrance fee will be $30 per vehicle or $25 per motorcycle. Fees and/or passes can be obtained online at the National Parks Service website. The lifetime pass is still one of the best bargains available.
  • What are Canyonlands National Park Operating Hours & Seasons?: The park is open 24 hours a day, year-round, but some facilities may close during the winter season. Please refer to the National Park Service Website for current information.
  • What Goods & Services are available in Canyonlands National Park?: There are none, it's best to bring what you'll need for your visit. Please bring food & water and remain hydrated - and remove your trash when you depart. Please refer to the National Park Service Website for current information.
Travel Tile
Where is Canyonlands Located?
Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park

Since our "home base" was at the Moab Hampton Inn, you can see how convenient a Moab location is for Canyonlands as well as Arches National Parks. We could be off-roading way out at Gemini Bridges, yet we could be back at our hotel within an hour.

 Camera Image Icon for Fieldset 

The above map image is the property of the National Park Service via their website. All other images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC.

Dead Horse State Park   Map

Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park

Where is Dead Horse State Park?

This park is located northeast of Canyonlands National Park. As this is a Utah State Park and not a National Park you should be aware that your America the Beautiful pass does not work there and so won't cover the Dead Horse State Park entrance fee.

At the Dead Horse Point overlook, you will be 2,000 feet above the Colorado River and Horseshoe Bend, the highway ends here so it is impossible to miss!

Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park
Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park
Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park

On our drive to the visitor's center & overlook, we stopped at the first pull-out overlook because we could see the canyon below. You can walk right up to the edge of the cliff, so your views of the canyon are unobstructed. By the way, to read how this area got such an unusual name, click the Wikipedia link below.

Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park
Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park
Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park

We then drove on to the Visitor's Center and the covered overlook, and the view from that area was fantastic. We did not realize until we looked at a map, that the Shafer Trail that we had driven on the day before, was now "below us" in the canyon. Being above that trail was a unique perspective.

In images 1 & 2 you can see the Colorado River, but in image # 3 that is the Potash Pond complex, those lakes play a key role in the mining of potassium chloride deposits from underground.

More Info for Dead Horse State Park 

Gemini Bridges   Map

Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park

Where are Gemini Bridges?

Located north of Moab, in Grand County, in southern Utah, USA, Gemini Bridges Trail is the name of a very scenic journey. You should not attempt this without a serious vehicle that can handle off-roading. If you are looking for the real Moab experience, this is it.

In this image, the parking lot is in the upper left corner of the picture and the walk down to the bridges is perhaps 125 yards or so. Beyond the bridges is a canyon, perhaps 150 feet below where we were standing.

Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park

How to Drive to Gemini Bridges from Moab

There is a sign on route 191 indicating where you must turn left to enter Gemini Bridges Road, it is approximately 9 miles north of Moab. The road ascends as it parallels route 191 and then turns southwest into the desert area, where you are going to find sandy washes and large rocks. Be careful, as this is also a mountain biking area !

Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park
Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park
Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park

To reach this off-road trail, you drive north on route 191 from Moab and exit west (left) onto Gemini Bridges Road (118). This dirt road trail will ascend to Court Point (5,699 feet) where the trail will swing southwest. It is not a difficult trail, but it is a continously rough road. You will see very few signs, but watch for the turnout to Gemini Bridges.

Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park
Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park
Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park
Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park
Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park
Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park

Once you reach the Gemini Bridges area parking lot, park your vehicle and walk down (following the blue trail markers) to the natural arches. Unlike most arch viewpoints, this trail leads to the top of the bridges where you can walk across them and see down into Bull Canyon below. These two bridges are named after the Gemini twins of Roman mythology, Castor and Pollux.

More Info for Gemini Bridges 

Shafer Trail   Map

Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park

Where is the Shafer Trail?

On Utah route 313 that leads to the Island in the Sky Visitor Center, you will see a sign for Shafer Trail on your left (Shafer Canyon Road). This part of the trail almost immediately turns into a descent and the switchbacks begin. It is important to remain cautious on the switchbacks, as there are no guard rails and the pullouts are generally only on each switchback corner. Vehicles ascending the trail have the right of way, so you will have to be diligent about being aware of oncoming vehicles and to allow them full access to the trail.

Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park
Image is the property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC
Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park
Image is the property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC
Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park
Image is the property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC
Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park
Image is the property of Dsdugan via Wikimedia Commons using the CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED license
Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park
Image is the property of Kognos via Wikimedia Commons using the CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED license
Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park
Image is the property of Dsdugan via Wikimedia Commons using the CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED license
 

The switchback section of the Shafer Trail is essentially a one lane trail, however, you will find sufficient room for vehicles climbing the trail to pass as you descend to the canyon below - and you should be aware that vehicles going uphill have the right of way over vehicles descending. The trail winds it's way 1,500 feet (457 meters) down colorful sandstone cliff walls.

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 to a highly modified rock crawler. Virtually any four-wheel drive vehicle will succeed in navigating this well maintained road.

Rain or snow can turn Shafer Trail treacherous. Loose gravel and slippery conditions significantly increase the risk of losing control. You should always check the weather forecast before venturing out on this trail and avoid driving if rain or snow are predicted.

Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park
Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park
Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park

Once you reach the canyon below, you can either take the route back to route 313, or you can turn left onto Potash Road. This will take you past the Potash Ponds and eventually to route 191 where you can return to Moab. The road becomes "Shafer Basin" (route 142) and you will want to stay observant such that you will turn northeast onto "Potash Road" which will bring you to the evaporation ponds. All of this section of the trail is near the Colorado River and you will pass "Thelma & Louise Point" just before you turn northeast onto Potash Road.

More Info for the Shafer Trail   Map

Moab Utah Places to Eat 

Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park

Moab Restaurants

We wound up eating out only one night while we were there, at the Moab Diner. I had one of the best liver & onions meals I have had in a long time ! An incredibly good meal, the service was prompt, efficient and friendly. Just for the record, we didn't eat dinner out on the other nights there because we had some nice charcuterie fixins from the Moab City Market (and a good bottle of red!).

The Moab Brewery was on our list to visit from our research, but we could not work in a visit that fit into our schedule. We found numerous people who said that it is a good pub. The Trip Advisor reviews vary all over the place, perhaps your experience will be better?

 

Places to stay in Moab, Utah 

Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park

We stayed at the Moab Hampton Inn, because it was close to the center of town and near various restaurants. There are quite a few other accommodations, click our "hotel list link" below for a complete list.

IMAGE CREDIT: Image is the property of Hilton, Inc. from their Moab Hampton Inn Website.

Hilton Logo

oogle Search Results for accommodations in Moab

Where to rent off-road Vehicles in Moab, Utah 

Gemini Bridges, Shafer Trail and Potash Road Loop - Adventure Through Canyonlands National Park

We rented a Jeep from Canyonlands Jeep Adventures and they were very polite and helpful. The vehicle we rented was new and had low mileage and they gave us a cooler with ice & water bottles already loaded. The Jeep had larger off-road tires, which gave it higher ground clearance. This was very useful as the trails we drove on had frequent sandy washes and multiple rocks - so the higher ground clearance was good to have.

They have a large parking lot there and you can leave your vehicle parked there, or you could take it back to where you are staying. We decided to leave our rental car there, as their parking lot is well lit at night.

There are a number of off-road vehicle rental facilities in Moab for you to select from (see our Google Search Results list link below). NOTE: Much of the public land surrounding Canyonlands and Arches National Parks is open to ATV and UTV travel on designated routes. However, it's important to note that riding these vehicles is not allowed within either Arches or Canyonlands National Parks. Jeeps are allowed, ATV & UTV type vehicles are not. In Moab, if the ATV or UTV is registered as "street legal", then you can operate those vehicles on the city streets. for more information, go to the National Park Service page about park regulations.

I used the phrase "public land" to distinguish it from the two big National Parks. So for example, you could drive your off-road vehicle from Moab on Utah Route 279 to the Potash Ponds and then continue west on Utah Route 142 until that road ends at the Shafer Trail road. At that point, there is a sign that warns you that you are about to enter Canyonlands National Park and that off-road vehicles are not allowed.


oogle Search Results for off-road vehicle rental companies in Moab

 

Information Notice

Although no single website can provide you with all there is to know about Moab, Utah or the nearby parks, we have attempted to provide you with a lot of information on this page - most of which we utilized to build our trip planning document. This area is packed with interesting things to see and do, and these things are spread out across a very large amount of geography. Pack sturdy shoes, sun protection, and reusable water bottles. Download park maps and consider booking lodging in advance, especially during peak season. Moab awaits - plan your escape today!

  • Just Traveling Thru Travel Planning Tips
  • Bryce Canyon Website
  • Canyonlands National Park Service page.
  • Canyonlands National Park on the "Wikipedia" site "
  • Google Search Results list for "restaurants in the Moab area"
  • Google Search Results list for "accommodations in the Moab area"
  • Google Search Results list for "off-road trails near moab utah"
  • Amazon Search Results for "Canyonlands National Park"
  • Youtube Search Results for "Canyonlands National Park"
  • Full Day 4X4 Tour of Canyonlands National Park from the "Get Your Guide" site
  • Visit our Youtube Channel
  • Canyonlands National Park Hiking on the "National Park Service" site
  • Google Search Results list for "where to rent off-road vehicles in Moab"
  • Our Image Gallery for Canyonlands National Park
  • Wikipedia Article for Canyonlands National Park
  • Google Image Gallery for Canyonlands National Park
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Trip Itinerary
Section Banner ImageClick above map to view a larger Google Map

As you can see by the this map, our trip covered 3 different states, approximately 1,600 road miles and allowed us to see some spectacular geography. You might think that a trip of this distance would be something that would result in a "tired of driving" mood - but our stops were so diverse with such incredible geography and fun things to do, that we found that we looked forward to each morning to where we could continue our adventures!

Click any link below to go directly to that page;

  1. Denver International Airport
  2. Glenwood Springs, CO
  3. Colorado National Monument, CO
  4. Arches National Park, UT
  5. Canyonlands National Park, UT
  6. Little Wild Horse Canyon, UT
  7. Capitol Reef National Park, UT
  1. Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
  2. Zion National Park, UT
  3. Lake Powell, AZ
  4. Mesa Verde National Park, CO
  5. Telluride, CO
  6. Royal Gorge, CO
 
 

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Note: All images on this page are the property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC unless otherwise noted.

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