Top 10 Off Road Jeep Obstacles in Moab
These are our favorite, can’t-miss 4x4 obstacles in Moab, Utah.
Normally we'd be loading up the 4x4 and heading to Moab, Utah, for the annual Easter Jeep Safari. But thanks to the responsible social distancing necessitated all across the world, instead of trekking off to our favorite off-road event we're living a paraphrase of John Candy's immortal line in the movie Vacation: "Sorry folks, Moab's closed, the moose out front shoulda told ya." Stupid moose. So even though we can't fuel up the 4x4 and actually hit some of our favorite obstacles, we can fire up the computer hard drive to grab some great obstacles you'll find if you attend the Moab Easter Jeep Safari next year, or any time you head to Moab.
The Entire Upper Helldorado Trail
It's sort of a moot point since at the moment Area BFE, the private off-road park on which the Upper Helldorado trail is located, has closed to public traffic. But that said, we've enjoyed the Upper Helldorado trail for many of the past 20 years since the trail was officially opened. Rather than any one obstacle, the Upper Helldorado trail is itself basically one long obstacle, beginning with the entrance, then past several squeezes and large boulder obstacles culminating at the waterfall climb at the end. Although we've seen a few buggies drive the waterfall unassisted by a winch line (and have heard anecdotal tales of Jeeps doing the same), we don't really think any vast majority of vehicles are capable of driving that near-vertical waterfall. The entrance to Upper Helldorado, however, is deceptively tough, and we'd wager that more than one who have ventured past the gatekeeper have quickly turned around and headed up a less daunting trail. Still, whether the gatekeeper entrance, the waterfall finale, or any of the spots in between, Upper Helldorado is one of the trails in Moab we always find ourselves pining to drive.
Potato Salad Hill
Located just outside of town on the landfill turnoff from Sand Flats Road lies Potato Salad Hill. Legend has it the spot got its name from a Jeep that lost its cooler out the back after unsuccessfully attempting the obstacle, spilling potato salad all over the ground. Because the spot is easily accessible via the dirt road in any motorized vehicle, it has become a bit of a tourist party spot. During Easter Jeep Safari, throngs of college-age kids, local townsfolk, and even visitors from as far away as Salt Lake City and points elsewhere flock to Moab just to watch the Potato Salad Hill carnage. While the hill isn't exceptionally high, the rock ledges (especially on the left-hand side) are staggered to create a perfect double-whammy for longer-wheelbase vehicles. Both front and rear tires hit the ledge at the same time, necessitating a lot of throttle to try to make it. For the short-wheelbase rigs, if they try the right side of the face, there's a spot near the top that pivots them over on their side. In either case, the end result is often broken parts or a nasty tumble to the bottom. We've been witness to more rollovers at Potato Salad Hill than probably all the other obstacles in Moab combined, so it's not an obstacle for the uninitiated. And please keep in mind, if you're a pedestrian, stay up on top of the surrounding hills and resist the urge to watch from the sides of the hill climb. When rollovers happen the vehicle will almost always barrel roll all the way to the bottom of the hill, often toward the left-hand side right where spectators tend to congregate.
Although the Pritchett Canyon Trail in Moab has many obstacles that are technically more difficult, for some reason Rocker Knocker is the one that hangs up many who attempt it. The obstacle is a long double-whammy ledge climb almost like the side of a layer cake that's deceptively tough if you try to tackle it head on. Some vehicles have that special formula of the suspension, tires, and driver skill to make a successful head-on attempt at Rocker Knocker, but for the vast majority of vehicles the easier line often involves beginning on the right side. You put your front tires up on the ledge and get your rears started, at which point in time you're double-whammied. Your 4x4 most likely won't complete the climb, but if you keep your front tires turned to the driver side, you'll crab-walk all the way across the obstacle to the far left-hand side where you'll eventually be able to turn into the obstacle and pop up on top. It's a really fun, cool way to make it up and always leaves people's mouths open who have been trying to climb it unsuccessfully the wrong way for 30 minutes or more.
Heading north from Moab on Highway 191 there'll be a left-hand turn off onto a dirt road that will eventually take you to the Mashed Potato trail. Mashed Potato isn't a particularly hard trail, and there are bypasses past all the harder obstacles. But one optional play area that we usually enjoy, especially in a short-wheelbase vehicle, is called Gravy Bowl. And like a dainty little gravy bowl your grannie put out on the table on Thanksgiving, the Gravy Bowl obstacle isn't super large, but it's usually filled with brown, mucky liquid that can make things a bit slippery. Longer-wheelbase vehicles can usually just climb in and out with no drama, but shorter-wheelbase rigs can put on quite a show. The Gravy Bowl is a bit deeper than it looks, easily capable of swallowing up a flatfender or early CJ Jeep from nose to tail. Therefore, the tricky part is if your wheels-up climb is unsuccessful you're taking a return trip to the bottom. Brake too hard heading back into the bowl backwards, and you'll roll onto your roof. Brake too softly, and the rear of your vehicle will crash into the rock ledge opposite the obstacle's exit.
Located roughly halfway through the Hell's Revenge Trail in Moab is Hell's Gate. Hell's Gate is an in-and-out horseshoe-shaped optional offshoot that takes you down a super-steep, craggy slickrock descent to the bottom. Once you drop in, there is no bypass or easier way back up. You're committed. The ascent up Hell's Gate can be deceptively dangerous as you near the top. Hit it too far to the side, and you can lift a tire and pirouette, cascading back to the bottom in a shower of crunched sheetmetal and anything not tied down inside your vehicle. In reality it's not a very tough obstacle, and we've done it in a bone-stock, open-diff Jeep. Just resist the urge to stay to the extreme sides of the obstacle and keep your wits, and you shouldn't have a problem. Or, just do an internet search for "Hell's Gate rollover" to see what happens when you don't heed our advice.
Another optional offshoot from the famous Hell's Revenge Trail is the Escalator obstacle. Right toward the end of the trail you'll see a turnoff to the right and a bunch of tire tracks heading up a natural sluice cut into the slickrock. Escalator isn't super hard as long as you know your vehicle. Comprised of several stair-stepped climbs with nearly undercut faces, the goal on Escalator is to use your wheelbase and sidewalls to straddle the first hole without letting your rear passenger-side rear tire fall in, which can send you flopping on your side. But wait, there's more. That's only on the first hole. After getting successfully through that one, you've got pretty much the same thing to deal with on the driver side. It's the second one that gets you because the first is so stressful that after you're up and past it, most people just turn off their brain, thinking it's a smooth ride to the top. In reality, we've seen a couple Jeeps go on their roof right at the bottom attempting to climb the wrong line into the first hole, but more often than not the major problem most people have is either a passenger-side flop or severely crunched right rear quarter sheetmetal. But then again, we've also seen a couple college kids in a $300 open-diff XJ whang their way to the top using only brute strength and ignorance. Anything is possible, kids. Stay in school and tip your waiter.
Tip Over Challenge
Unless you count some of the drops on the shelf road exit off Hell's Revenge Trail, Tip Over Challenge is the last official obstacle you'll encounter on Moab's most famous and highly traveled trail. Tip Over Challenge is so named because not only are you attempting to climb a slightly double-whammy ledge that's both off camber, split, and trying to pitch you into a right-hand tumble onto your roof, but unless you're hitting the obstacle before about 11am you'll be doing it with the sun directly in your eyes. That's right, squint up, point the vehicle due west, and do your best to keep your nose pointed toward the cliff face until your front tires are clear of the split crack in the rock face. Then you can start a gentle turn to the passenger side to follow the trail. This obstacle sees a high percentage of inexperienced drivers roll, so if you're not confident in your abilities it's a safe bet to take the bypass to the right before you get to the obstacle.
Smack dead center on the Golden Spike trail lies one of our favorite spots in all of Moab, the Golden Crack obstacle. It's not so much that the Golden Crack obstacle is super hard. Or honestly even that fun. It's that the particular spot is probably the most scenic place we've ever visited. The snow-capped LaSalle Mountains are off to the east, the Colorado River meandering through slickrock to the south, and arches off to the southwest. It's absolutely jaw dropping.
We've used the term "double whammy" repeatedly in this story, but it all stems from this obstacle on one of the original Moab trails. Just before you get to the Golden Crack obstacle on the Golden Spike Trail you'll see an optional offshoot to your left with this unsuspecting little ledge climb. Well, it's usually not as little looking if a full-length pickup on 49s and Rockwells isn't posing on it. This is the original Double Whammy obstacle, which has sent more Jeeps and 4x4s onto their roofs than we can count. Equally problematic for long- and short-wheelbases rigs alike, it's mostly the Jeep CJ/Wrangler-sized vehicle that have the hardest time. The steps that the tires need to climb are perfectly spaced and sloped so that it's nearly impossible to get a good angle on this sucker to get up on top of it. We've come pretty close in a flatfender, but at the last minute we always wind up sliding back down. But if all you do is slide back down consider yourself lucky, especially if you're trying the "looks easier than it is" left side of the obstacle. Fail there, and you're almost certain to spin off your bumper and onto your roof.
Hot Tubs on Hell's Revenge
Just a bit more than three-quarters of the way through the Hell's Revenge trail, before you come down the Dragon's Tail, you'll pass a number of different hot tubs. There are several on the trail, but the three most famous that you can drive through are (in terms of difficulty) Carwash, Mickey's Hot Tub, and Devil's Hot Tub. Carwash has relatively gentle ramps and almost always has water in it except for the hottest summer months, hence the name. Just roll through and give your tires and wheels a gentle wash. Mickey's Hot Tub has an easy entrance but a fairly complex exit, requiring you to unnaturally hug one of the walls to keep from flopping, but honestly, most people flop here. Just embrace it. Devil's Hot Tub is the widest, deepest, and steepest of the drivable hot tubs and usually has a gaggle of vulture-like spectators waiting for somebody dumb er, brave enough to try it. Devil's Hot Tub is almost always full of water, gear oil, grease, and other nastiness that makes the nearly vertical climb out even more difficult. Most people greatly underestimate this obstacle at their own peril. The trick is to stay hard right and keep deep into the throttle to maintain your wheelspeed. If you start to drift to the left, your vehicle will pirouette and you'll wind up on your lid at the bottom. We've seen it more times than we can count. If you don't have a lot of horsepower, traction, and nerve, maybe start your hot tub time machine journey at one of the other of Hell's Revenge's tubs.