Travel

The Scariest Drive in Utah: Shafer Trail Road via Potash

Canyonlands National Park is one of the most beautiful places you’ll ever see. Neal and I fell hard for the park from the second we stepped tire in it.

Canyonlands National Park

We’ve written about all we saw in Southern Utah on this trip, including nearby Arches National Park, but Canyonlands was our favorite.

After we spent a wonderful day exploring the park, we made a quick stop at Island in the Sky visitor center. We bought a mug and a t-shirt and thought to head to Moab for dinner. When we exited the visitors center, we noticed a sign that said “WARNING STEEP, NARROW, ROUGH ROAD AHEAD 4-WHEEL DRIVER HIGH CLEARANCE VEHICLE RECOMMENDED.” Naturally, we thought hell yeah! We didn’t pay to rent a GMC Acadia for nothing! So we set out on the scariest road we’ve ever driven on…

Shafer Trail Road via Potash

Coming from the Island in the Sky visitor center, the first part of the “road” is this windy, steep, narrow, rough road, just as the sign warned us, to the valley below. We took it VERY slow.

On our way down, people in a car that was clearly not 4-wheel drive with a driver that looked terrified turned around to come back up because they couldn’t get all the way down. It’s sheer rock wall on one side and sheer drop off on the other. The scariest part is definitely making turns.

As the passenger, I got to enjoy the ride slightly more than Neal. I was over here taking these beautiful pictures, while he was white-knuckled on the steering wheel.

When we got to the bottom, there was a jeep that was stranded. They had just come down the mountain. The poor passengers looked shell shocked. We were high on adrenaline. We had just come down this beast!

Neal felt like he could breathe again at the bottom! But we didn’t know what was in store for us next. You see, Shafer Trail Road used to be a cattle trail. Cows can walk on anything! Cars, on the other hand, bottom out and slide backwards, and hate everything about driving through washes and dirt rocky roadway. We weren’t always convinced what we were driving on was “road.”

This incredibly narrow portion of the road was particularly problematic. We saw dirt bikes and motorcycles driving through here like it was nothing. Cadie, what we affectionately called our GMC Acadia, squeezed through rocks on both sides to get through the washes. Again, I got to take lots of nice pictures while Neal said things like “this is not the right way, this can’t be the right way.”

At some point on the road we came out to this beautiful clearing with a classic horseshoe type rock formation where the Colorado River forged its way through the landscape.

The rock edge here goes straight down. This was a gorgeous place to eat lunch. We saw some people setting up camp, but I’m pretty sure there’s no overnights here. Taking in the rock vistas here our nerves began to calm.

Here’s a video. I recommend turning off the audio 😉

The rest of the road was less treacherous except when you’re leaving this area. You have to go up an incredibly rocky, steep “road” and Cadie wanted none of it. But we pushed on and were rewarded for it.

We still had several miles before Moab. On the way out, there’s salt ponds that look very cool from the road and plenty more scenery to keep you distracted.

Salt Ponds
A broken down train with graffiti because of course
Colorado River

We wished at this point we had our climbing gear because as you head out there are rock climbers scaling the walls.

Moab is just at the end of this paved portion of the road. It was such an awesome ride we were flyin’ high the rest of the night. We hadn’t planned to take this way, but we were so so glad we did.

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6 Comments

  1. Lisa says:

    Wow what an adventure you guys had! I’ve not been here when in the US but would love to visit the next time. Your photos are incredible too.

  2. You are brave! I would love to do this drive for the rewards of the views — and the accomplishment of saying you made it! I’m going to keep this in mind for my next visit to Utah!

  3. On the travel wish list! Would love to visit Canyonlands National Park. I am not sure I have ever driven on a road that suggested a 4 wheel drive vehicle. It is great that you rented the right vehicle. It definitely sounds like my kind of road. So cool to drive over what once was a cattle trail. Such amazing views and photos you got. Definitely need to try this drive.

  4. Utah resident here. This looks like such a thrill!

  5. No thank you! Even just watching the clips made my head spin! I’m fine with rugged roads, but not the drops off the side.

  6. This looks gorgeous. I wish we lived within driving distance of something like that.

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