The Rimrocker Trail is an off-road and OHV route from Montrose, Colorado to Moab, Utah. The trail traverses terrain from pine and aspen forests to rolling hills of sage and cactus. The road condition varies from regularly graded gravel to rutted dirt roads and one seasonal high water crossing. The trail winds through federal and private land, flirts with cliff sides and rolling prairie. And while some stretches may get you down, the highs are consistently breathtaking.
Given the length and notably different terrain we traveled through, we split our analysis of the trail into three sections. For a little ATV this trail could be a relatively quickly covered. But, with a long bed truck and hard-sided slide-in camper, we took the trail at a leisurely pace, completing it in 48 hours.
Before You Start
Much of the trail winds through regions without cell service. Don't count on road signs, Google maps, or other general purpose driving software to clarify your route. Make sure all of your directions are downloaded or printed out.
The Rimrocker trail has extensive and detailed maps and written descriptions with critical information for anyone that wants to attempt this trail. Be sure to stop by the visitors center in Montrose or Moab before departure to pick up or print out the packet of detailed directions and map (Colorado Map | Utah Map) produced by the Rimrocker Trail team. There are no mile markers along the trail, so be cognizant of when the directions tell you to reset your trip meter so that you can maintain a sense of what part of the trail you are on and anticipate major turns.
Consider this writeup as a review. I'm here to wet your appetite and point out the highlights. (Yes, I think some of it is skippable). The Rimrocker detailed directions will tell you how to get there safely.
The Rimrocker constantly skirts cliffs sides for amazing and terrifying views.
Crossing over into Utah's wide open prairies.
Montrose to Nucla
When we start, the trail from Montrose to Nucla is fairly tame with graded gravel roads.
Logging trucks tear through, throwing up dust clouds. We share the Iron Spring Campground with a class A camper. I am at a loss to conceive of a vehicle that could not easily handle this stretch of road and really would recommend it to anyone who wanted to get off the beaten path, some brilliant vistas, and a taste of dirt roads without the anxiety of complicated switchbacks or aggressive elevation changes. The route traverses pine and aspen forests as well as grass and scrub land with views of snow capped mountains in the far distance.
Nucla is a very small town and a natural point for day trippers or drivers with low clearance vehicles or towing trailers to access the scenic & historic Highway 141. Regardless of your route, take a quick detour for a burger and shake at Blondies in Naturita, Colorado.
Fantastic wildflower views just outside of Montrose, Colorado
Camped in Iron Spring Campground
We start to get a sense of the dramatic vistas that will typify the Rimrocker Trail: it's all wildflowers and distant mountains.
Frankly, we were a little disappointed by this stretch. Yes, the views are amazing. But, by the time we reached Nucla, we were resigned. Accepting that the Rimrocker was the Disneyland equivalent of offroading trials: very pretty but lacking any challenge. We were about to find out how wrong we were.
Nucla to Utah
Once west of Nucla the road quickly dissolved into two ruts with the local grass growing in between. Large rocks, washed out rivulets, and narrow, cliff flanked switchbacks become the new norm. But this is the stretch where is all comes together.
While Scenic & Historic Highway 141 wanders along the canyon floor, Rimrocker Trail skirts cliff sides for breathtaking views from the Spring Creek Mesa, Atkinson Mesa, and Carpenter Flats. The views are worth the challenge, at least along most of the route.
The Ballpark Detour
A series of creek crossings and relatively unimpressive trail along U19 is a skippable affair. This section of the Rimrocker Trail roughly parallels Highway 141, the non-completionist can divert to the highway—just before the high water crossing—by following V19 to 141. Enjoy the pavement for 1.9-miles and jump ahead to the more scenic (though still technically challenging) stretch of Rimrocker by turning right onto Spring Creek Truck Trail and reconnecting at U17.
For those uncomfortable with creek crossings, it is possible to skip them all by continuing on 141 to S17 Rd to meet up with the trail at T16 Rd. But I wouldn’t recommend it. You’d miss out on amazing bluff views such as the the third picture below.
The Ballpark Detour Map
For those that do want the whole experience, the trails are narrow, rough, and steep. At one creek crossing, we had to shift large rocks to act as ramps while descending the cutaway bank. All of this is just build up to the vistas following this section.
Hanging out by a reclaimed drive-through sign in Nucla, Colorado.
Scenic views west of Nucla on the Rimrocker Trail
Dramatic vistas with a glimpse of the Rimrocker trail in the upper right hand corner.
Midway between Nucla and the state line, the trail joins with Highway 141 for a brief distance before continuing west. The descent to this crossing and ascent from it are both, arguably, the most harrowing portions on this strech. Descending from the eastern bluffs requires a series of particularly tight switch backs. Best of all, at least while we were there, a boulder in the middle of a rare straight portion required us to drive with one tire on the cliffside to get around.
The ascent from Highway 141 headed to Moab may have fewer switchbacks, but it is incredibly steep and constant. After a day of rocking along rugged roads, we anxiously monitored the constant tug of the camper against the tie-downs, keeping the slide in camper from sliding out. Everything held up well, aside from my nerves.
There are a few creak crossings along the trail. While the water is never that deep, the entries always have me concerned that we will bottom out and damage the rear end of the camper.
Yes, the trail got steep at points!
Several portions of the trail lead me to seriously questions whether we missed a turn. The roughness of this portion of trail was the first, but certainly not the last.
The vistas may be mind blowing but the descents are harrowing.
The series of turns and relatively flat dirt route following the ascent form Highway 141 lulls us into a false sense of security as evening approaches. We are just a few miles outside of Manti-La Sal National Forest and public land when we encounter the heart stopping crawl along a narrow ledge at the top of a sheer cliff over Paradox Valley. The road at this point is so narrow that I jump out of the truck to guide Chris. We wearily eye the tree-line in the distance, monitoring for oncoming traffic—too concerned for life and limb to properly appreciate the panoramic valley views spread out directly below us.
It’s times like this that I fervently wish we had a narrower wheel base. There was no way in hell that another vehicle, even an ATV, could drive around us on this stretch and even lower odds of us backing up. Fortunately, the conclusion of this cliff clinging crawl is National Forest. We quickly settled into the first viable campsite we encounter and prepare for dinner and a well deserved rest.
Sunset view of Paradox Valley from our campsite.
Cooking up a well deserved dinner of lamb and potatoes over the campfire.
Utah to Moab
The Rimrocker Trail from the Utah state line to Moab skirts around Mount Peele, with a shifting environment from lush green grazing prairie to arid brush land and red stone desert. The snow capped mountain remains a near constant feature in the background.
Buckeye Reservoir is the last notable landmark before crossing into Utah on the Rimrocker trail. The transition into the Beehive State is marked with a cattle guard, fence, and a small sign announcing the border. As soon as you cross the cattle guard, you are no longer in Manti–La Sal National Forest, you are traveling through private grazing land. The road is, for the most part, well maintained. (We even cross paths with a small compact car throwing up gravel on its way to the forest.) Pine trees quickly give way to wide open prairie land, speckled with grazing cows.
This stretch of Geyser Creek Road and Two Mile Road boasts some of the most accessible vistas along the Rimrocker Trail. And when the trail turns off onto the incredibly narrow and rocky La Sal Pass Road and the even smaller and rockier 128, I am quite sure that I must be making a mistake.
Pausing by the mountains for a family portrait.
The Colorado switchbacks and cliff-sides may be harrowing, but it is the Utah section, from La Sal Pass Road to Black Ridge Road—with its overgrown sage, oak, and juniper trees—that is the most troublesome. Frankly, leads me to discourage future truck campers from taking this trail. Brush crowds the trail, scraping the sides and roof of our rig. Whatever trail maintenance has been done here has been done with much smaller rigs in mind. This stretch of trail is for ATVs, Jeeps, and small trucks. We did it. And have the dents to prove it.
La Sal Detour
The section between Two Mile Road and Black Ridge Road, while scenic, doesn’t really justify the agonizing craw over boulder strewn dirt paths. To us, this stretch is a time sink. The views were pleasant, but not worth the hours of constant jittering over piles or rocks, pulling back tree limbs, and a few Arizona pinstripes left by thicker branches that we tried and failed to avoid.
Fortunately, this section is easy to skip. Rather than turning off onto La Sal Pass Rd, stay on Two Mile Rd until it ends on Highway 46. Take 46 west for 7.3-miles to turn off on Black Ridge Road (BLM 174) road and reconnect with the Rimrocker trail for a whole new and beautiful terrain.
La Sal Detour Map
Black Ridge Road is a refreshing break with wide, graded, dirt roads and mountain vistas. The terrain shifts from grasslands to open rocky expanses with the first hints of the red rock formations that have put Moab on this map. To us, this is the last great hurrah of the Rimrocker Trail.
Descending into Pole Canyon.
Winding around the red dirt roads outside of Moab
Yellow Circle Detour
At the point where the Rimrocker turns off Pole Canyon Road to Yellow Circle, you can just as easily turn onto the 191 and wiz into Moab.
Yellow Circle Detour Map
What remains of the Rimrocker after Pole Canyon road mainly for completionists who want to say that they did the whole trail or ATVs which aren’t permitted to drive the 191. Or, hey, if you like technical driving just for the sport of it, you can enjoy some here, with the deep washes and steep hillsides. Even so, most of what remains at this point is a drive along surface streets into Moab, paralleling highway 191. For us, we are just ready to get into town, have some dinner, and find a place to camp for the night.
Can I convince anyone that we drove up this trail?
Looking Back At Rimrocker
It's hard to compare Rimrocker to other trails we have completed. This is by far the longest and the first multiday route we have traveled. The amazing view are undeniable. When Rimrocker is great, it is truly great. But it certainly also comes with its problems.
Camping on the Rimrocker
My greatest frustration on the Rimrocker Trail, is the limited camping. Long stretches of the Rimrocker are through private land. While the we have a right of way to drive through on the trail, you cannot legally camp along these stretches. This is par for the course while traveling through many federal lands dotted with public land. But the limited public land sections puts extra focus on planning ahead for when and where you can camp for the night.
Navigating the Rimrocker
This certainly is subject to change, but at the time that we drove the Rimrocker, certain sections seem to only be included to connect two more notable trails. Some of these stretches are poorly marked. Other forks in the road are not noted on the map. So, without GPS, it can take a bit of gut instinct and educated guessing to know which fork to follow and which to ignore. The busiest road is not necessarily the right one. For someone planning a trip on this route, I would definitely advise hunting down some supplementary trail maps that you can cross reference against the Rimrocker map.
Driving the Rimrocker
Finally, this trail really isn’t meant for us. The tight switchbacks may be a little extra nerve-wracking in our long bed truck, but what really gets to me is the brush. Despite slowly driving through and carefully pulling back branches, the dense brush sections leave noticeable dents in the side of the camper. As it is, this is a trail for jeeps and small trucks.
Even if you follow our advice and skip certain stretches of the Rimrocker, you will still encounter rough road, steep inclines, and tight switch backs. The difference is, it will all be worth it. So long as you have high clearance, four-wheel drive, and a rig that is our size or smaller, the stretches I do recommend, I recommend whole heartedly. I don’t know if we will ever tackle the Rimrocker in its entirety again. But there certainly are stretches that I look forward to tracing in the future.