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Western Rim Trail
Loop via Westwater Mesa

 The Western Rim Trail is a scenic and fun ride. This 24 mile loop skirts the edge of cliffs for 7 miles on Westwater Mesa Rim, drops down across a valley, then hugs another 5 miles of cliff edge on the Great Western Rim above the Colorado River before looping back via the Kokopelli Trail. This ride is awesome. It requires good conditioning and upper-intermediate tech skills. Total climbing will be about 1500 vertical feet.

View northeast early in the ride, as the harder sandstone layer of the mesa breaks away in the multi-colored bands of the Morrison Formation. Photos and description from a ride November 4, 2010 by Bruce.

I've also put together a lariat version that's shorter and has substantially less climbing. At 13.5 miles, it's suitable for intermediate riders. Climbing is about 400 vertical. This version hits only the Western Rim itself -- you'll miss out on 7 miles of awesome cliff-edge singletrack on Westwater Mesa. The short-version ride is described below the main ride.
These two versions DO NOT share the same trailhead, so you need to decide which one you're doing. I recommend the Big Loop. The 24 miles goes by pretty quickly. And if you're going to drive almost to Colorado, you'd better get your gas-money's worth. (The eastern end of the loop barely misses Colorado by about a mile -- the entire trail is in Utah.) This ride is worth the trip.

Western Rim: The Big Loop, 24 miles, 1500 vertical.

The loop ride starts just off the Westwater exit of I-70 about 60 miles from Green River, at an altitude of 4800 feet. After climbing gently a mile to the edge of the escarpment, the trail hugs the cliff edge as it heads south along the edge of Westwater Mesa. The riding gradually gets more technical, with sandstone slabs alternating with dirt. Because this route is shared with motos, there's a lot of whoop-de-doo up-and-down riding.

Typical trail view along the escarpment.

A couple of times, you'll glimpse the doubletrack Kokopelli trail on your right through the trees. There are a couple of cheater routes heading right. In general, stay close to the cliffs when there's any question about where to go.

On your left, a broad valley slowly descends toward the Colorado River many miles away. Slopes are striped with the brilliant hues of the Morrison Formation from the late Jurassic period. The views are impressive.

Looking southwest over the cliff edge. Note the Morrison Formation below us. We'll be dropping down to the valley in front of the mesa in upper right.

The trail reaches a top altitude of 5100 within a couple of miles as it skirts the cliff edges. Remember this handy navigation aid:  Keep to the left and close to the abyss. That will come in handy later. As the trail begins to descend, it becomes more technical. The trail turns west away from the edge of Westwater Mesa.

About 5.5 miles into the ride, the trail drops off a break in the rock ledge to a lower level. Head south across a broad ridge, pedaling through pinions and juniper.

We're turning away from the cliff to begin descending toward the next level.

At about 8 miles, you'll come to a critical fork. As you're heading southbound on a broad ridge, there's an unmarked intersection. A wide trail crosses the singletrack. Straight ahead, you'll note dark-gray singletrack heading sharply up the next hill. DO NOT CLIMB. Also do not go to the right around the hill. Turn 90 degrees left and drop steeply off the mountain. You'll dump about 300 vertical in 1/2 mile as the trail twists around the mountainside.

Pay attention: I went on three (3) count them, three, wrong trails at this spot. There's another trail fork just 100 yards away. Just remember: keep to the left.

In the bottom of the valley (4400 feet elevation), keep left on the ST that forks off DT.  At mile 10.2 of the ride, the ST crosses a dirt road. This road is the Bitter Creek road. (It's the access for the shorter lariat-type ride.)

At mile 11.2, you'll hit the edge of the cliff line above the Colorado. The trail now turns northeast toward the Entrada cliffs.

We've reached the last cliff line above the Colorado River.

You're now on the Western Rim. The singletrack meanders along the edge of the cliffs, often just a few feet from the drop-off. You're riding on top of Entrada sandstone, occasionally meandering up into the red dirt of the Curtis Formation. 

View across a side-canyon. In a few minutes, we'll be riding on the tiny band that says "Trail" in the photo.

The trail tracks the edge of the canyons for 4 miles before turning north. When the ST trail joins the doubletrack Kokopelli Trail at mile 16.1, turn left. The Kokopelli takes you downhill and west, then north across the broad valley. Compared to what you've been doing, these miles go by quickly.

The final grunt is the Kokopelli's stiff climb at mile 22, up to the top of Westwater Mesa. You'll gain about 500 vertical in a mile. Then you head back to the car.

Looking back toward the Colorado as we skirt a side canyon. These photos don't do justice to the awesomeness of this ride.

The Lariat Loop: 13.5 miles, 400 vertical.

The lariat loop from the Colorado River is much easier, both aerobically, technically, and endurance-wise. It's a pretty quick ride. If you climb to the top, then do the Western Rim singletrack downhill, the ride will fly by.

The trail is hugging the last bit of Entrada sandstone. Fifteen feet to the right, vertical cliffs. To the left, a steep red dirt slope riding to a small cliff line.

You reach the trailhead by heading west on the Coal Draw road from the I-70 exit. The road turns south and descends toward the Colorado. When the road goes under the railroad tracks, it will turn east. Go as far as the pavement allows, then get across the tracks and find the dirt Bitter Creek road heading northeast along the edge of the mountain.

Looking back to the west. The outcrop just above the river (middle of photo) is where we first joined the Colorado.

It's just over 2.5 butt-ugly dirt-desert miles to the loop. (Maybe it's prettier in the springtime.) You'll gain only a tiny bit of elevation on this segment. You'll know you're there when a singletrack crosses the doubletrack you're riding. That's the return route for a clockwise ride. Or it's the singletrack you're looking for if you're going counterclockwise.

Clockwise: continue another mile up the doubletrack. You'll now be joined on the left by the Kokopelli. Keep heading east. 

Occasionally the singletrack gives way to slickrock.

Two miles after joining the Kokopelli (mile 4.8 from the where the Bitter Creek road forked off the dirt road along the railroad track), veer right as the doubletrack forks. A route from Rabbit Valley in Colorado will join you on the left. Just keep right, and you'll find yourself on a broad singletrack southbound. (If you see a sign that says "Trail 2", you're about to go the wrong way. Turn 90 degrees right -- south -- to find the correct trail.)

Looking back to the west as we finish another side canyon. A few minutes ago, we were on the slickrock shelf above the cliff. 

About 0.4 miles after starting the singletrack, keep right and uphill as a trail on your left descends sharply toward the valley. A bit later, you're out on the rim in all its glory. It will now be 5 downhill singletrack miles. When the singletrack hits the Bitter Creek road, turn left and pedal back to your car.

P.S. Sorry I don't have any photos of the Bitter Creek road. I explored it so I could be sure it offered an alternative trailhead (ending with 33 miles for the day). But after witnessing the glories of the Rim, the lower two miles of Bitter Creek seemed so ugly, I just couldn't make myself stop and take out the camera.

Looking east at the top of the Kokopelli, finishing the big loop.

Riding notes, big loop from Westover exit 227:
0.0    From parking area, east uphill on DT
         N39 10.272 W109 07.684
0.5    Keep R N39 10.105 W109 07.242
0.8    Keep R N39 09.873 W109 07.075
1.0    Straight (L) onto Kokopelli
         N39 09.667 W109 06.976
1.3    Straight (as Kokopelli turns L downhill)
         N39 09.615 W109 06.725
2.5    Alongside Kokopelli, stay on ST along cliffs
         N39 09.435 W109 07.146
3.8    Keep L as cheater routes fork R
         N39 08.624 W109 06.954
5.4    Trail turns west (R) at cliff-line
5.7    Fork L downhill (R heads back)
         N39 07.675 W109 06.465
8.0    CRITICAL FORK. Turn L and descend
         N39 06.932 W109 07.163
8.6    Fork L on ST N39 07.010 W109 06.659
10.3  Cross DT (Bitter Creek Rd)
         N39 07.359 W109 05.696
15.7  Keep L and uphill
         N39 07.946 W109 03.395
16.1  L on DT
         N39 08.227 W109 03.531
         to join Kokopelli westbound at
         N39 08.258 W109 03.609
18.2  Stay L on Kokopelli
         N39 07.848 W109 04.933
21.9  L at 4-way, staying on Kokopelli
         N39 09.907 W109 06.339
22.7  Top of cliffs, hard R on original trail
24.0  Back at car
Riding notes, Bitter Creek from dirt fork by RR track:
0.0    Head northeast on DT along side of mountain
         N39 05.421 W109 06.255
0.4    Stay L along mountain
         N39 05.745 W109 06.097
1.8    Straight (R) on main road
         N39 06.807 W109 06.158
2.8    ST crosses (R=return path)
         N39 07.359 W109 05.696
3.7    Kokopelli joins, keep straight (east)
         N39 07.848 W109 04.933
4.8    Keep R and find southbound ST
         N39 08.227 W109 03.531
5.2    Keep R and uphill
         N39 07.946 W109 03.395
10.7  L downhill on DT
13.5  Back at fork.
Getting there, the Big Loop (recommended route):  On I-70 eastbound from Green River, go 63 miles to the Westwater exit #227. (It's 43.5 miles east of the Crescent Junction -- Moab -- exit, or 21 miles from the U-128 exit/on-ramp.) As you exit, turn R. The road immediately turns back 180 degrees southwest. Turn left on the dirt road and park in the broad open area. The trail is the doubletrack heading east uphill.
Getting there, the short Lariat Loop:  From the same I-70 Westwater exit, stay on the road heading southwest. It will turn south. After the paved road goes under the railroad track, it will turn east. (You can park above the tracks and ride east on the dirt road north of the railroad track as shown on the map. I did, but why?) Drive east 1.2 miles after the turn under the tracks. The road nears the river. Find a parking spot. Get across the tracks. Zero the bike's odometer. Find the small dirt Bitter Creek road along the mountain. The spot you're aiming for is N39 05.745 W109 06.097 where two dirt roads join.

Bathrooms: No
Camping: No
Water: Are you kidding?
Nearest bike services: Fruita, Colorado

Riding resources:
One-page printable riding guide
GPS track file (right-click and select "Save Target as..."):
     All area trails (ZC, Tr2):     MPS     GPX  
     Loop ride only:     MPS     GPX  
     Short loop from Bitter Creek only:     MPS     GPX  
Topo map for printing:    View map
Lodging, camping, shops:
      Links to Moab area resources

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