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Best Moab Jeep Trails

Posted in Features on July 9, 2016 Comment (0)
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Photographers: Four Wheeler Staff

Every year we head to Moab to attend the annual Easter Jeep Safari. While it’s not the only time of the year we go to Moab to get in some wheeling, the Easter Jeep Safari is the one off-road event that brings the entire Four Wheeler Network staff, including all our contributors, together from around the country. We all talk on the phone and email each other back and forth on nearly a daily basis, but the annual Moab gathering is when we can sit down, share an adult beverage and a meal, show off all the cool things we done to our rigs, and go Jeeping together with a few thousand of our closest friends. One of the most often asked questions we get is, “What’s your favorite trail?” We hit up the entire staff and here’s what we came up with. Some were chosen for scenery, some were picked for challenging four-wheeling, and others were selected for having both of these top trail virtues.

Seven Mile Rim Trail: Mild To Wild
There are harder trails in Moab than Seven Mile Rim, but few will give you the sketchy feeling of side-hilling a rock-solid sand dune and knowing that a roll won’t be on the soft stuff. Yet, the Seven Mile Rim trail (which is actually 14 miles long) isn’t too difficult on the Red Rock 4-Wheelers rating scale—it is only rated a 4 out of 10 and can be done without lockers and with stock tires. However, there are plenty of ledges and rocks to entice you, which do require taller tires and better traction aids. It’s all about whether or not you want to play on them. There are plenty of steep drops and break-overs that can scrape your underside clean and cracks that can make your suspension scream in pain.

We scouted the trail mid-week during Easter Jeep Safari and found only a few other groups trying the route. Any other time of year the trail should be all yours to enjoy with the incredible scenery of sandstone spires and deep gorges. In fact the monolithic formations of Entrada sandstone in the center of the trail are named the Monitor and Merrimac, after their supposed resemblance to the Civil War ironclad battleships. It’s a great location for lunch and photos, but pressing on gets you to the Rainbow, the sketchy off-camber part that makes regular Jeepers pucker their bottom-side.

Regardless of your experience, the trail takes you through much of the typical Moab landscape and is the perfect intro trail before attempting senselessly crazy obstacles that are sure to break or bend your rig.

Moab Rim Trail: Pucker Factor 11
When choosing which trails to run during the Moab Easter Jeep Safari, most look for a trail with a rating number that offers their vehicle and themselves a challenging, yet not overwhelmingly destructive, driving experience and an abundance of the dramatic red rock scenery that the Moab area is famous for. The Moab Rim Trail has all that and is one of our favorites.

Rated a 7, the Moab Rim Trail is, in our opinion more like a 4 or 5, except for the first mile of the trail, which has a pucker factor of 11. The beginning of the trail follows an off-camber shelf with a succession of curves and steps that quickly rises thousands of feet above the Colorado River. When we say off-camber, what we mean is that it slopes downward toward a drop-off to the river below. There is one particular section within the first few hundred yards of the trail that contains an obstacle known as “Devil’s Crack.”

We call it the “crack of doom.” It’s an off-camber turn onto a 3-foot shelf with a 1-foot wide crack in the rock shelf on the driver side of the sharp turn. If you go too far left, your front tire drops into the crack; too far right and there are boulders in the way. And as you’re making the hard right turn onto the 3-foot step, the edge of the shelf is just 6 feet behind you. This is not a trail for large vehicles or for the faint of heart.

However, the Moab Rim Trail rewards the brave and smart driver with one of the most spectacular views of the Colorado river, an overlook farther up the trail that allows you to look down on the town of Moab thousands of feet below and the stunning scenery.

Steel Bender: Iron Forming Trail
Steel Bender is one of those trails that always pops up on our Easter Jeep Safari radar, and for good reason. It’s close to town and offers a darn good time. Steel Bender is rated 6 on a 10 scale, and getting to the trailhead is pretty easy. The trail is just south of town near the golf course and starts shortly after dropping down into one of Moab’s beautiful creek areas.

Tall cottonwoods and sagebrush line the trails as you cross Mill Creek a few times. Then the trail wonders into an area that alternates between slick rock (with fun obstacles) and sandy rolling trails. The trail itself is about 15 miles long and has plenty of places to play and at least one decent drop-off that will get your dander up. Known as “The Fall,” you’d better be ready for this one. Make sure your brakes are in good order and be ready to have your nerves tested. Dropping off this ledge would seem easy on flat ground, but it’s off camber and right next to a rather steep drop-off. Despite the uncomfortable feeling you’ll get from “The Fall,” the Steel Bender trail is a ton of fun.

Poison Spider: Fullsize Choice
There are more than just Wranglers, CJs, and flatties coming to Moab to wheel the slick rock and enjoy the views. A lot of fullsize Jeeps show up, and they can be less than desirable on some of the tighter trails. We took some FSJs on the awesome Poison Spider Trail during Easter Jeep Safari.

Poison Spider is a 6 on the Red Rock 4-Wheelers’ 1-to-10 trail rating scale, and with clear weather gracing the day, we knew the trail would be awesome. After climbing the switchbacks, we made our way through the first sand-bottomed canyon before taking on the first ledges. After wheeling a few more slots and the “V-Notch,” we kept going through the rocks, sand, and slickrock before we ended up a the area known as “Little Arch” where we ate a quick lunch and enjoyed the picturesque view. A couple of quick trail repairs were taken care of before we started to make our way back. The rigs were put to the test as we took the obstacles the other direction, which made for a challenging and fun afternoon.

Top Of The World: Top Photo Op
There are plenty of places to wheel in and around Moab, but few will offer as big of a reward at the end as the Top of the World trail. Located about 30 miles out of town, just before the site of the Dewey Bridge, this trail is rated a 5 and offers spectacular vistas of Fisher Valley and Onion Creek, as well as the usually snow-capped La Sal mountains. On a clear day, the beautiful Canyonlands and Arches National Parks stand out in the distance like a painting.

Top of the World is an approximately 25-mile loop once you leave the pavement. The trail starts out as an easy dirt road but quickly degrades into rocky climbs interspersed with increasingly regular rock ledges. During the climb, the moderately difficult trail will challenge drivers with technical obstacles that demand good lines. Drivers with a heavy throttle foot could potentially break an axle if not careful. The key here is finesse and quality shocks to dampen the sometimes-punishing (in a stock rig) terrain. Taking the eastern side of the loop is the more difficult approach, so those in stock vehicles should take the western route at the fork in the road. The way down can be just as challenging, so take your time and enjoy the trail and surrounding scenery.

We had a great time and got a kick out of placing our rig on the Top of the World overlook for a photo op. The overlook offers plenty of parking and is a great place to have lunch. Expect to spend approximately four to five hours to do the whole trail if you are starting in Moab. Be aware that weather at the 7,000-foot elevation can change rapidly with strong winds or snow in the late and early parts of the year, as it did during our trip. We recommend wearing clothes in layers. Be prepared for the worst with extra food and water, as the trail is in a fairly remote area.

Pritchett Canyon: Hard Choice
Rated 9 on the Red Rock 4-Wheelers’ 1-to10 scale, Pritchett Canyon is home to driveshaft-snapping, axle-breaking, and rollover-inducing obstacles. You will also encounter off-camber climbs, ledges, and all sorts of other super fun stuff. It’s one of our favorite trails to run, but be prepared to be there just about all day. As the name implies, it’s a canyon, so there’s only one way in and one way out.

Breakage, rollovers, and other issues can put a hurt on the flow of traffic through the canyon, and it’s not uncommon to sit in line at some obstacles for up to or more than an hour. All that taken into consideration, it’s always worth the trip. Check out the photos to see why we say this is one of the hardest trails in Moab.

Behind The Rocks: White Knuckle Option
Behind The Rocks Trail is a 7-rated trail, but almost any Jeep can make this run with careful foot control. The land “behind the rocks” is an elevated region south of town that contains huge red rock (Navajo Sandstone) domes, high plains dotted with juniper, and trails that are a mixture of sand and rocks. Behind The Rocks Trail took us on a sandy dirt road interspersed with rock outcroppings. These occasional rocky areas were either presented as shelves or a series of stairs to climb, and they can be challenging. All of the very difficult sections had go-arounds for inexperienced drivers. However, to an experienced driver, they are not a big deal and offer a chance to test driving skills.

The highlights of this trail were many and included a small (but steep-sided) dome of sandstone to crawl up and over and a lunch stop at the bottom of another much larger red rock formation with an arch in it. Our favorite part of the trail is a Mason-Dixon Line of sorts. The obstacle called “White Knuckle” has no go-around and cleaved the group into two parts: those who were willing to attempt the 8-foot tall rock drop-off and those who were not. Those who “white knuckled” the vertical drop-off went on to a loop in the trail that eventually connected the main trail leading to the highway. Those who did not do White Knuckle stood as an audience on both sides of the sheer drop-off to cheer on and congratulate those who did, then turned their 4x4s around and did the trail backwards out to the highway.

Whether you “white knuckle” it or not, the Behind The Rocks Trail is one we would do again anytime. However, without that major obstacle, we would give this trail a 3 rating. The four-wheeling was adventurous, challenging, and scenic—all the things we look for at the Moab Easter Jeep Safari.

Strike Ravine: Friendly Fun
Just south of Moab the trail known as Strike Ravine starts to the left just before the big uphill grade out of town. The trail is rated a 6 but isn’t terribly technical for most modified Jeeps and offers a beautiful trip through the cedars and hills of the region with amazing geology and spectacular vistas of the La Sals, while having more than a few obstacles to keep most drivers on their toes without risking too much body damage or vehicular carnage. The trail is fairly well marked with small SR signage, but there are several other trails that cross it, so go with a guide or bring a good guidebook.

The trail is a good friends-and-family run but does have a few good hillclimbs, a few spots where tire placement is important, and a few difficult lines (with easier go-arounds). The trail also ends right in the thick of Area BFE, a 320-acre off-road recreation park that has more than enough trails and obstacles to challenge any rig. The park is free but welcomes any and all donations to help maintain and protect the park for all to use, an important aspect of off-roading in modern times.

Monitor And Merrimac: Safe And Sane
Lots of people assume you have to have a crazy-built 4x4 to come to Moab and have fun. Maybe that’s partially our fault for focusing mostly on hardcore 4x4s and more challenging trail systems during the Easter Jeep Safari week. But truth be told, you can enjoy epic scenery and have a ton of fun behind the wheel in even a stock Jeep. As long as you have 4x4 and a decent amount of ground clearance, jaw-dropping views can be yours.

To prove a point, we slid our little ’89 YJ in behind trail leader Kevin Hawkins as he took a group of stock Jeeps through the Monitor And Merrimac Trail just northwest of downtown Moab. Take a look at the photos, enjoy some of the scenery of this 12-mile loop, and start planning your next Moab adventure.

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