white rim biking with kids

Biking The White Rim With Kids: 100 Miles in Canyonlands National Park

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100 Miles of dirt trail winds through the wilderness of Canyonlands National Park along the majestic White Rim Trail.  It’s one of the best multiday mountain bike rides in the United States…and we just did a trip there with 9 kids in tow.

While the White Rim Trail may be considered an extreme experience for many, we’re here to show that it absolutely CAN be done with kids and help you see exactly what you’ll need to make it possible for bikers of any age to ride the White Rim Trail. 

white rim biking with kids

Note: This article has a large amount of photos to accurately convey what the trip is like

About Our White Rim Family Riding Group

We did the trail with our family of 7 and my brother-in-laws family of 6.  We had 9 kids ages 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 9, 8, 6, and 5.  All of our kids have a good amount of riding experience, with the oldest 4 competing on their school mountain bike teams.  While we do have a good amount of backcountry experience, this was our first extended length biking trip with kids, so it was a bit of new territory.  We found that our experience on rough 4×4 roads as well as extensive backcountry desert experience helped us to navigate the rough roads and to manage the heat and intense sun throughout the day.

kids biking white rim trail canyonlands bike trail

It’s also important to know that we knew that not all of the kids would be able to ride the whole trail, and with the younger ones, we encouraged them to take lots of car breaks (both to give them time to rest and so we could go faster without them).  In the end, only the three oldest teens rode the whole trail, and we were thrilled with that.  Our goal was to bike as much of the trail as possible, explore the desert backcountry, and come home with lots of incredible memories.

Table Of Contents

White Rim Support Vehicles

We traveled with 2 support vehicles carrying all of our camping gear, food, and lots of extra water.  While we could have logistically smashed all the gear in 1 car, we also needed room for extra passengers and bikes since we knew the younger kids would not be able to bike the whole trail.  This meant that we had 2 adults on the trail all the time, and any kids that wanted to ride. For safety, we also thought that 2 support vehicles was the best option.

support vehicle for white rim bike trip canyonlands

We traveled with 1 truck as well as a Ford Expedition.  Each truck had a Velocirax bike rack on the back, which was supported with additional straps to prevent bike sway.  The Velocirax is an incredible rack and likely the best we could ever ask for on this road, but we noticed that as the road got rougher, the bikes bounced around more.  To prevent the bouncing, and to allow us to travel at faster speeds without damaging the bikes, we attached a few straps to offer additional support, and we had no problems after that. Truthfully, there were many times that the White Rim road was significantly harder (and mroe nerve wracking) to drive than it was to bike.

driving the white rim 4x4 trail with bikes
driving the white rim 4x4 trail with bikes

Our Bikes For The White Rim

On our trip, we saw a huge variety of bikes doing the White Rim.  Everything from rigid bikes with skinnier tires, hybrid bikes, fat bikes, and plenty of mountain bikes.  Our group had mostly mountain bikes with one lightweight kids bike. Every bike we took got a solid tune up and good cleaning and lube to hopefully avoid as many mechanical issues as possible.  The desert sand and dust can be really hard on bikes, so we knew that we needed everything working as good as possible before we hit the trail.  

best bikes for white rim canyonlands

Here are the bikes we took on the White Rim Trail

Adult Sized Bikes For White Rim Biking

2 Specialized Full Suspension Bikes 29”
Pivot 429 Full Suspension 29”
Liv Hardtail 27.5”
GT Full Suspension 29”
2 GT Hardtail 29”
1 Trek Hardtail 26”

white rim biking canyonlands with kids

Kids Bikes For White Rim Biking

Marin Hardtail 26”
GT Hardtail 24”
Scott Scale Hardtail 24”
GT Hardtail 6 speed bike 20”
Guardian Airos Small Rigid Single Speed 20”

The 5 and 6 year olds both rode 20” bikes and I’m grateful that we didn’t have anyone on a smaller bike.  While many parts of the trail are manageable with a smaller bike, they do go significantly slower, and we’ve found that kids have an easier time going long distances if they can ride a bike with bigger tires.

white rim biking canyonlands with kids

Other Biking Gear For A White Rim Trip

In addition to the obvious gear of bikes and helmets, there are a few pieces of gear that were life savers when riding the White Rim with kids.

Hydration Packs

Each person riding had a hydration pack that held between 1-3 liters of water (depending on their age and size of their pack).  It’s significantly easier to drink from a hydration pack than a water bottle, so this was the best way that we found to keep everyone hydrated on this desert bike ride.

hydration pack for white rim biking canyonlands with kids

Bike Gloves

While we didn’t find that we needed bike gloves for protection, we did need them for comfort.  We were often on our bikes for 6+ hours a day and wearing bike gloves made our hands much less sore.  While traditionally, mountain bike gloves are full fingered, several members in our group opted for half finger gloves because of the heat.

Bike Tow Straps For Kids

We used two different tow straps to help the younger kids up the hills and they were invaluable.  We had both the Kids Rids Shotgun Tow Strap and a Tow Whee.  We highly recommend both for kids who don’t have really strong legs or who are younger.  They clip on to the front of the kids bike and easily loop over an adult bike seat to give kids a boost up the hills. 

tow whee bike tow strap for biking canyonlands with kids

Chain Lube

Carrying along some chain lube designed for desert conditions and cleaner sure made our bikes a lot happier.  We cleaned the chains and lubed them at night and they were always running much smoother by morning.  

Walkie Talkies

With a group as big as ours, it was logistically impossible to keep everyone together the whole time, so walkie talkies came in really handy.  We gave one to each car, another to both the fastest rider (the teens) and the slowest rider (an adult riding last), and then a couple to kids riding in the middle.  Not only did the walkie talkies help us communicate where everyone was, but they were a great way to cheer everyone on.  There were several times that we hear the kids cheering each other on through the radios and it was just the boost they needed to make it through some hard sections.

Padded Bike Shorts

These were a life (butt) saver on this trip.  We got even the youngest kid some padded bike shorts to help make their extended time in the saddle more comfortable.  While it’s hard to find bike shorts for little kids, it was worth searching, since having good shorts allowed them to ride significantly longer.

padded bike shorts for little kids
even the littlest had padded bike shorts

Chamois Butter

All of the girls on the trip had some serious chafing after the first day, so we busted out the chamois butter.  It lubes things up nicely and makes those sensitive lady areas much easier to ride on all day long.  If you’ve never used if before (like the teen girls in our group), it can feel weird at first, but trust me that you’ll want a tube of this on your trip (make sure to get the female version for ladies).

Extra Bike Repair Supplies

In addition to our bike repair toolkit, we carried lots of extra bike repair supplies, since any maintenance issues would need to be taken care of on the trail and on our own.  Here is what we took:

2 extra bike tubes per person
Several extra chains + chain breakers and master links
Extra brake pads
Tube Repair Kits
Shock Pump
Floor pump and hand pumps

Each adult or teen also carried a hand pump, spare tube, tire levers, and a bike tool set at all times.  

If you’re spening more time in the area, check out our complete Southern Utah packing list that’s full of great packing suggestions for all seasons of desert adventures.

What To Eat While Riding The White Rim

Hydration and fueling are no joke on a bike ride like the White Rim.  Sadly, if you’re not on top of this, you probably won’t know you’re having a problem until it’s too late.  We rode the White Rim Trail as a family in late May with temps in the 90’s.  Not only did we have to stay on top of our hydration and electrolyte loss, but also fueling so that no one BONKED.  

snack time while biking with kids
Snack Time with a VIEW!!

Meal Plan and Food for White Rim Trail

For our White Rim family bike ride, we were pretty careful about what we ate and drank.  Here was our White Rim meal plan:

Day 1:
Breakfast: Yogurt and Granola + Bananas
Lunch: Oranges, PB&J, string cheese, cut up veggies (cucumbers, peas, carrots)
Dinner: Taco Salad
Dessert: protein balls

Day 2:

Breakfast: Bagels and cream cheese, fruit cups, juice
Lunch: Deli meat sandwiches, bananas, apples, pretzels, cut up veggies
Dinner: Spaghetti and meat sauce, salad, watermelon
Dessert: Protein balls

Day 3:
Breakfast: Oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts mixed in, bananas
Lunch: Tuna wraps, watermelon, string cheese, pretzels
Dinner: Eat out – burgers and milkshakes

Snacks for Biking White Rim

We had a massive amount of snacks on our trip, because we knew that although meals were important, kids can literally snack ALL DAY LONG, so we needed their snacks to be full of fuel.  Our goal was to have a high amount of carbs in their snacks for energy, some protein mixed in throughout the day, and a small amount of sugar to give them an occasional energy boost.  

Most importantly, we talked to the kids about what we were giving them and why we had these snacks for them.  They knew that the hard candies were for a quick energy boost, and that other things like fruit leather were a good idea if they were starting to get tired.  Most of all, we kept reminding them to eat throughout the ride so that they never let their energy and blood sugar get too low.  

passing out snacks on the white rim canyonalnds bike trail

Here are the snacks we had on the White Rim Trail with kids:

Fruit Leather
Cliff Bars and cliff kids bars
Dried apples 
Dried apricots
Protein bars
Hard candy (Wherthers, Jolly Ranchers)
Fruit Snacks
String Cheese
Meat Sticks
Apples
Oranges
Grapes
Carrots
Cucumbers
Green Peppers

Perhaps most importantly, we had a bag of gummy bears in each car, and every kid would get one whenever we stopped or a car passed them.  They likely only had 5-10 per day, but it was one of their daily highlights!  We would stop about every 45 minutes for a snack break and to give the kids a chance to play.  This also gave the slower kids a chance to catch up so we could ride closer together.

Hydration and Electrolyte Mix

We had a few different types of hydration and electrolyte mix on this trip.  We were riding late in May and temperatures were in the 90’s.  That meant we were sweating a lot and losing a lot of salt and water.  Each kid had a water bottle on their bike, and we kept that full of a carb/electrolyte mix to not only replace their electrolytes, but to also give them a boost of energy.  The kids all drank powdered Gatorade, while we kept our favorite energy drink mix just for the adults.  We would fill these several times throughout the day so they could stay hydrated and healthy.

hydration for kids while biking

At camp each night, we had the kids hydrate like crazy, and made sure that their water bottles always had one of these electrolyte replacements mixed in.  These mixes are super affordable, but don’t have any calories, so they didn’t fill the kids up so they still had a good appetite for meal time.  

Otter Pops

Yes, Otter Pops were an essential piece of biking gear.  We kept them at the bottom of the cooler and would hand them out mid afternoon to the tired kids.  We couldn’t have ridden without them!

How To Prepare For Biking The White Rim

We did a lot of spring biking to get the kids ready to bike the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands.  The older kids did some longer 20 mile rides on mountain bike trails to prep for riding the White Rim.  Our goal with them was to build up their endurance and leg strength so they could go as long as possible.

guardian bikes airos 20 small review
White Rim Prep

With the younger kids, we mostly did shorter trail rides and lots of biking around town (up to about 15 miles a day).  One of our main concerns with them was getting them used to being on a bike seat for extended periods of time (we got everyone bike shorts to help with this), and to get them used to prolonged pedaling, even if we weren’t training them on difficult terrain.  

White Rim With Kids Trip Report

White Rim Day 1

Shafer trail bike road overlook
Shafer Trail in the background

We rode the White Rim Trail in a counterclockwise direction, starting at the Shafer Trail.  Since Shafer Trail is quite steep and has some areas with cliff exposure, we had the younger kids ride in the cars while the moms and older kids rode down the road.  By the time we got to the bottom, everyone’s adrenaline with PUMPING and the younger kids promptly got on their bikes and started to ride.  Within the first mile, we settled into a rhythm of who was the faster group, the middle, and who was the slower.  Not surprisingly, most of this was according to age.  For about 4 miles, we had all of the kids riding, until the youngest had the first crash of the day when he wiped out on gravel, and got a skinned knee. He hopped back in the car while everyone else kept riding. 

biking shafer trail white rim with kids

By lunch time, the temperatures were scorching, so we put our cars back to pack and attached a shade tarp between our two racks.  This was a perfect way to get out of the heat, and we quickly learned that lunchtime shade was essential (and almost nowhere to be found along the trail).  We luckily got our first, and only flat, of the ride here at lunch, so the shade made a good place to change the tire.  

biking kids in the desert

The afternoon wasn’t particularly difficult, though we could see that the kids were starting to get tired with all the mileage and the heat.  When we were about 3 miles from camp, a few of the kids hit a wall, and almost couldn’t keep going.  We gave them a break in the shade, some extra food, and within about 20 minutes, they were ready to ride again.  This was a reminder that we needed to actually stop and make sure that the kids are refueling throughout the day, since these kids were not doing as much as they needed to. 

exploring gooseberry mesa b white rim trail exploring with kids

We got to our first camp, Gooseberry B around 4pm, and the kids were instantly infused with mountains of energy.  To help make our departure the next morning easier, everyone packed their hydration packs the night before with water and snacks, and did a quick bike check of air, brakes, and chains.  We also filled all the water bottles and attached them to bikes so we were ready to ride after breakfast.  They were running around and biking until we made them go to bed at sunset, around 9:30.  Everyone was beyond thrilled.

camping under the stars white rim trail family bike ride canyonlands

White Rim Day 2

This day would be our hardest of the trip.  We had a 6:30am wakeup after a beautiful sunrise that just the adults enjoyed, knowing that our goal was to break camp and be back on the trail by 7:30. We had 38 miles to cover and it was also supposed to be our hottest day of the trip.  

kids ride shotgun desert ride

The kids started out great, riding a gentle 4 miles before the younger kids needed a car break.  The morning’s ride was a series of gradual hills, so the tow straps were critical to getting the little ones up the hill with their energy still intact.  We used them quite a bit around mile 8.  

canyonlands white rim views on bike

Our goal was to make it to the top of Murphy’s hogsback by lunch.  

The trail today was much rougher than on day 1 with a few super rocky sections, sections too steep to bike, and some deep sand.  The kids were doing fantastic until we saw Murphy’s hogsback.  The cars had taken a detour to go out to White Crack, so they were several miles behind us most of the trip.  Luckily, they caught up to us at the bottom of Murphy’s Hogsback.  The kids had started to push their bikes up the hill, but it was honestly too steep for the younger ones to even walk their bikes.  As a few of them started to cry at the struggle, the cars came into view.

white crack road white rim trail

The road up Murphy’s Hogsback is incredibly steep and very exposed, so I was more than happy to walk/bike up it with the teens rather than ride up it in a car (roads like that terrify me).  At the top, we squirted everyone off with water, and took a good break in the shade.  The campground at the top of the Hogsback had some large rocks that provided some cool shade, and we were grateful to have a pit toilet to use.  

pushing bikes up the white rim trail

After lunch, we loaded most of the younger kids into the car (except our 8-year-old), knowing that what goes up, must come down.  The backside of Murphy’s Hogsback wasn’t as steep, but it was a very long sustained downhill section.  The heat was well into the 90’s, but our teens were determined to ride the whole thing.  We took lots of water breaks, sprayed kids down with water to keep them cool, and had several Otter Pop stops.

Top of murphys hogsback white rim

Truthfully, there were a few times that I was scared that the kids were pushing it too hard, so I started making them check in with me every 5 minutes.  They had to report any headaches, dizziness, extreme fatigue, nausea, and rate how they were feeling on a scale of 1-10.  We were at one of our most remote sections and the risks of heat exhaustion were very high, so we monitored everyone very closely and stayed together as a group.  

hiking slot canyons in canyonlands on canyonland bike ride with kids

We took a short break to hike in a slot canyon and it was just what everyone needed to get reenergized.  The shade and cooler temps, as well as a break from the bike, gave us just the boost we needed to make it to camp.  From there, most of the kids biked the rest of the day. 

Potato Bottom A camspite

When we got to our camp, Potato Bottom A, we were hoping to take a dip in the Green River, but the tamarisk trees were so thick that we couldn’t get past them an into the river.  That was a major disappointment, since our campground was only about 100 feet from the river, and we all really needed a rinse.  

Potato Bottom A camspite canyonlands backcountry camping

We were grateful for the shade of the cottonwood trees, though, the entire campground was filled with super fine dust, so we had to set up the tents just to get out of the dust for the night, instead of sleeping under the stars, like we would have preferred.  

That night, the kids were all exhausted and many of them were in bed before 8am.  

White Rim Day 3

Potato Bottom A camspite canyonlands backcountry camping

The next morning, we had another difficult hill, Hardscrabble, as soon as we started.  While Hardscrabble isn’t as steep as Murphys Hogsback, the sustained climb was significantly longer.  Even with that, the teens all beat the cars up the road since there were some rough sections, and in several areas, the road was one lane, and there were a few cars coming the other direction.  Until this morning, we had only seen 5 other cars on the trail.  

hard trails desert biking with kids canyonlands
This is why we prioritize lightweight bikes for kids. The ride is hard enough without a heavy bike!

At the top of Hardscrabble, all of the kids got out to ride, and rode most of the way to Mineral bottom.  The biggest challenge of the morning was the deep sand, that was over 12 inches deep in places.  Most of the time, bikes had to be walked, just to get through the sand, since it was so deep!

canyonlands biking in sand

The road after the Hardscrabble campground had less sand, so it started to get easier.  Soon we were out of the National Park and started to see more car traffic.  At the junction to Mineral road and mineral bottom, we opted to take the 1 mile detour to go to the mineral bottom boat ramp, knowing that the kids would all be absolutely thrilled by the chance to get in the water for a quick swim.  

biking next to the green river canyonlands national park

Lucky for them, we found not only a place to swim, lots of shade AND a giant mud pit.  The younger kids quickly stripped down to their undies and made a glorious mess.  Everyone went for a swim, but after three days of biking through the desert, even a dip in the river couldn’t wash away all our dirt.  

playing in the river at mineral botton canyonlands with kids

From Mineral Bottom, we had the last major climb, up Mineral Road.  While only 2 miles long, it was the ultimate test of our strength after so many miles on the road.  The little kids rode in the car, while olders rode out.  We had stopped to help a few people with car trouble around mineral bottom, putting us climbing out of the canyon around 2:30 pm, in full sun.  

Cheers erupted from everyone when we got to the top of the hill knowing the hard parts were over.  

Once we finished our ride, somehow the kids had lots of energy left, and convinced us to take them on another mountain bike ride and a hike that afternoon!

How Long Does It Take To Ride The White Rim? 

family bike ride canyonlands white rim trail

We took 3 days and 2 nights to bike the White Rim Trail.  Mostly, this was because that was what we could get for campgrounds.  Ideally, we would take 1 additional day next time and do it in 4 days and 3 nights so that we would have more time to relax and explore some side canyons.  

The biggest limiting factor for a White Rim trip is getting a permit, which can be very difficult to come by.  These are very competitive. 

Here is when you can get permits according to the NPS website.  

All backcountry overnight campsites and areas become available on a seasonal basis, four months before the start of the season.

  • Spring permits (March 10 – June 9) open November 10.
  • Summer permits (June 10 – September 9) open February 10.
  • Fall permits (September 10 – December 9) open May 10.
  • Winter permits (December 10 – March 9) open August 10.

How Much Water Do I Need For The White Rim?

Since there is no place to get water, carry more than you think you’ll need.  We planned on 3 gallons per person per day, and ended up using more than that.  Our family of 7 (including little kids who drink less), brought in 25 gallons of water, and used 23 gallons over the course of 3 days.

What Are The Dangers On The White Rim?

canyonlands biking with kids dangers
Dry air can be brutal for nosebleeds

The biggest dangers along the White Rim are weather related. During rainstorms, sections of the trail can be impassable, and flash flood danger is incredibly high in other areas.  Always check the weather often when traveling in Canyonlands.

The other major danger is mechanical.  If you have vehicle or bike problems, you’re mostly on your own to resolve them.  This is another reason that we traveled with 2 cars.  We knew that if we had a problem with a vehicle or any of the kids, we wanted to always have a backup in place.

When is the best time to ride the White Rim?

The best time to ride the White Rim biking trail is in the spring or fall.  That is when temperatures are cooler, but not too cold at night yet. To avoid the heat, start riding early in the day.

family bike ride canyonlands white rim trail

What Age Can Ride The White Rim?

We rode with our youngest son on this trip, who had just turned 5 years old.  He only rode about 15-20 miles (which was amazing).  Our teens rode the whole trail.  Our 8 year-old may have been one of the biggest surprises, riding just under 70 miles.  

8 year old biking canyonlands white rim trail

How Hard Is Biking The White Rim?

This trail would be considered a moderate to difficult trail, especially when you factor in the length and difficult sections.  That being said, there are many places where you can walk your bike to avoid hard sections, but long endurance is essential (or planning to ride in a support vehicle like our younger kids did).   The longer you take to ride the White Rim on a bike, the easier it is. Some people even ride the entire trail in one day.

difficulty biking white rim trail

What Is The Best Bike For Riding The White Rim Trail?

While we did see a wide variety of bikes in Canyonlands White Rim, the best bikes are mountain bikes. If you can ride a full suspension mountain bike with a locking rear shock, that would be the best bike for the White Rim Trail.  Overall, it’s also helpful to ride a lightweight bike for biking in Canyonlands.