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Exploring the Potash Road & the Shafer Trail

This guide gives you mile-by-mile what to see while driving or biking the Potash Road, a scenic dirt road running along the Colorado River with stunning views from Moab to Canyonlands National Park

  View down Potash road toward Shafer Trail


The Potash road (Utah Scenic Byway 279) runs from Moab all the way to Canyon Lands National Park, a scenic backway running along the Colorado River. The road gets its name from the potash extraction facility at about the mid-way point.

You can connect to Canyon Lands via the Shafer Trail that climbs from the canyon bottom up to the park on the canyon rim 1000 feet above, from there you can loop back to Moab on the highway.
Taking your time on the route is the best plan, stopping and exploring all the sites along the way will take up an entire day.

Getting there

Head north out of Moab on Highway 191, after crossing the bridge over the Colorado River it’s 1.3 miles to the left turn onto Utah Scenic Byway 279 (Potash Road)

  • Set your trip odometer to zero once you turn off of Highway 191


Free, but $30 per car if you continue up Shafer Trail into Canyon Lands National Park 
  • The first 17 miles of the road from Moab are paved
  • The last 17 miles from the Potash facilitates to Canyonlands National Park is a dirt road with some ruts, sand and slick rock sections.
  • A 4X4 is recommended due to having better clearance, but some two-wheel drive cars traverse the entire road routinely. 
  • You can do the route from either way
  • If starting from Moab you don’t have to do the whole route and can avoid the national park fee by turning back at the park boundry
potash road 2
34 miles one way

A mile-by-mile guide of the Potash Road leaving from Moab

5 miles
Paper dolls & Bear Hunt Petroglyphs ( 38.544571, -109.600048 )
Look for the “Indian Writing” road sign and pull out adjacent to the river. Look 30 feet up the rock wall on the cliff side of the road you will see petroglyphs
Bear hunt petroglyphs
6 miles
Potash Road Dinosaur Tracks ( 38.532883, -109.608683 )
Also called the Poison Spider Mesa Dinosaur Tracks as they are located at the trailhead to the Poison Spider Mesa
9.9 miles
Corona Arch
You will pass the trailhead for this popular hike to Corona Arch.
16 miles
Long Canyon Jug Handle Arch ( 38.548634, -109.647366 )
Passing by the mouth of Long Canyon.
Potash Road Shafer Trail
Prasenjit Saha
16.5 miles
Potash site
Prior to the 1960s, the potash was extracted from mine shafts, at the time the deepest in the country. After 1963 when an underground explosion killed 18 miners 2700 feet down in the shafts a new method was used which you see today.
Now water is pumped from the Colorado River underground where it dissolves potash salts, the brine is pumped to the surface where a blue dye is added to speed up the evaporation process to 300 days in the huge basins so bright blue color they can be seen from space. 
Pavement Ends
Soon after you pass the Potash Plant just after the turn for Jackson Bottom Boat Ramp the pavement ends.
16.6 miles
Potash boat ramp
Take the short spur road to the left to the Potash boat ramp. This is the last toilet for 12 miles.
potash road boat ramp
16.7 miles
Coral Fossils
On the right, a small double-track dirt road takes you 200 yards to a gray limestone that was once the floor of a shallow sea over 300 million years ago. Look along the right edge of this limestone for fossilized horn and brain corals and sea shells.
18.4 miles
Stop sign
The potash mine intersection, watch for mine traffic.
19.3 miles
Head of Sinbad
As you climb look for a rock outcropping on the left that resembles the head of Sinbad, some people call it Elvis Rock, but you be the judge. To the right side of the road is a large rock that people like to take pictures pretending they are pushing the rock over.
The head of sinbad rock formation on the potash road in Moab
20.5 miles
Evaporation ponds
You pass the first of the large potash evaporation ponds.
potash ponds
22.3 miles
Cattle Guard
As you cross the cattle guard you enter BLM lands.
cattle guard you enter BLM lands
The scenery gets pretty nice from here on…make sure to allow time to take pictures
Scenery along the potash road
The La Sal Mountains from Potash Road
Canyon view
25.0 miles
Thelma & Louise Point
At the top of the steep grade and a cattle guard look for a short spur to the left that leads to a scenic overlook. Once known only as ‘Fossil Point’, it became famous in the movie Thelma and Louise where the two women drive their car off of the cliff at the end and is now known as Thelma and Louise Point.
Look up at the clifftops to the right of the road, for a viewing platform at Dead Horse Point State Park 1,000 feet above you.
 Thelma and Louise Point
Thelma and Louise Point
A short distance after the Gooseneck overlook watch for this view down into the canyon on your left
Colorado River in canyon below the road
26.7 miles
Gooseneck Viewpoint
Stop to see this gooseneck of the Colorado River where the river takes a major bend forming what is called a goose neck.
Gooseneck Viewpoint on Potash Road Moab
potash road 8

27.3 miles
Canyonlands National Park

You are entering Canyonlands National Park which is a fee area. Pay the fee when you reach the pavement in the park at the top of Shafer Trail Road.
At Mile 29.5 
Intersection with the White Rim Trail Road
The road to the left leads to the White Rim Trail road which requires a National Park permit to travel.
Turn to the right onto Shafer Trail Road. There is a big ledge on your right to stop at for a spectacular view. It began as a narrow mule track that was enlarged to a cattle trail in 1917 by John Shafer so he could get his cattle to the canyon bottom during the winter.
It was widened and improved into a dirt road in 1952 to allow dump trucks to bring uranium ore from the many mines in the canyon bottom area up to the rim.
The road goes uphill for two miles with many hairpin turns gaining 1000 feet to the canyon rim top. Watch for oncoming traffic, uphill traffic has the right of way.
Shaffer Trail Road
34.7 miles
Rim Top
You have reached the end of the scenic drive, at the rim of Canyonlands National Park-Island in the Sky District. There is a self-pay station here, or you may turn right to the park entrance booths.

Explore Nearby...


Crawl under the ledges and look up

Moab Grotto

Short hike to two rock art sites, one an over-night camp with art under overhangs and the 2nd is the Moab Grotto rock art site

Secret Spire sits along on rolling slickrock near Moab Utah

Secret Spire

A quick hike along a sandy road to a rock spire sitting on rolling slickrock hills near Moab

Walking through the Dellenbaugh Tunnel

Dellenbaugh Tunnel

An easy hike to a tunnel that takes you to an overlook into Spring Canyon near the Tombstone Rock formation

Moki Mesa

Hike to a hidden shelf above the Colorado river you get to using an old cattle trail blasted out of the canyon cliff face

Moab Maiden Hike Moab Utah

Moab Maiden – Hike

The Moab Maiden is a single petroglyph pecked into a large single boulder on a ridge above Kane Springs Creek. There are other petroglyphs at the cliff face at the overlook, as well as the ruin of a granary and pithouse.

Seven Mile Canyon Lower Hike 8

Seven Mile Canyon ( Lower ) – Hike

Explore a canyon that was part of the Spring/Fall Anasazi migration route, originating in the Maze District of Canyonlands National Park to the La Sal Mountains. There are Barrier style rock art panels in the canyon.

Hidden Valley hike Moab Utah

Hidden Valley – Hike

Discover a hidden Valley “Behind the Rocks” in Moab, and hike a two-thousand-year-old path used by Native Americans, see many petroglyphs and two ruins

The Owl Panel – Hike

This short hike takes you to discover the Owl Panel which also has the big man, lots of sheep, and other petroglyphs.

Arches National Park...

U-Turn Canyon

Scramble up to a secret canyon in Arches National Park above Park Avenue

Sand Dune Arch 3

Sand Dune Arch

Sand Dune Arch is a family favorite, perfect for kids, it is a quick and easy stroll on a sandy easy-to-follow trail

Sand Dune Arch 7

Skyline Arch

Skyline Arch sits against the skyline at the top of a large red rock fin. A short and easy walk.

Sand Dune Arch 4

Tapestry Arch & Broken Arch

Hike to both Tapestry Arch and Broken Arch on a short out-and-back trail that leaves from the Devil’s Garden Camp Grounds

Devils Garden arches national park 5

Guide for the Devil’s Garden

A special place walking through rock fins, towers and arches, see the famous Landscape Arch or hike the challenging Primitive Loop to see more remote sections of the Devil’s Garden

Tower Arch Arches National Park-2

Tower Arch Hike

Rarely visited due to its location in the western part of Arches National Park, a great place to go if you want a quieter experience off the beaten path away from the crowds

aaaa 12

Willow Springs Road

Willow Springs Road is a backdoor road into Arches National Park that avoids the toll gate, and reservation system

Park Avenue Arches National Park

Park Avenue – hike

This is a fun and easy hike and is a great introduction to hiking in Arches National Park for beginners, the trail gets you quickly immersed among the high red rock features of what Utah and the park is all about.

Windows section of arches national park 3

Windows Section of Arches National Park

The Windows and Double Arch are the main attraction, but you can see The Parade of Elephants, Turret Arch, Cove Arch, Ribbon Arch, Elephant Butte, and the Cove of Caves also.

Canyonlands National Park - Island In The Sky District...


False Kiva – Hike

The site sits in an alcove and a stone circle. There are some handprints on the back of the wall of the alcove and some faint images that are hard to make out today.

Mesa Arch Utah 3

Photography Tips for Mesa Arch

Every sunrise, Mesa Arch is descended upon by masses of photographers trying to capture their own early morning sunrise framed through the arch.

Canyonlands National Park - Needles District...

Dinosaur Tracks...

Tower Arch Utah 10

Klondike Bluffs Dinosaur Track – Hike

The tracks in this area are predominantly those of carnivorous dinosaurs called allosaurus, which were probably on the hunt for other animals that would come to what was once a large body of water.

Scenic Drives...

Potash road petroglyphs 6

Guide to the Potash Road Rock Art Sites

Just a few minutes from downtown Moab, on the Potash road running along the Colorado River is the opportunity to see a half dozen sites that hold hundreds of petroglyphs and even some dinosaur foot prints

La Sal Mountain Loop 4

La Sal Mountain Loop

The 60-mile route follows the Colorado River, and climbs into the La Sal Mountains via Castle Valley, it offers great views of the peaks and the red rock canyons far below.

Highway 128 Rock Art Moab Utah

Highway 128 Rock Art

An easy quick stop along scenic byway 128 if coming or going from Cisco to Moab. A large boulder with about 50  petroglyphs sits above the highway.

potash road 9

Potash Road / Shafer Trail

The scenic drive – Utah Scenic Byway 279, takes the back roads and runs from Moab to Canyon Lands National Park along the Colorado River

Anticline Overlook

Rarely visited by most travelers but is worth the effort. The view is overlooking Deadhorse state park and Canyonlands National Park Islands in the Sky district, to the north, looking over Hurrah Pass and the Kane Creek.

Everything Else...

Golf Course Rock Art Moab Utah 3

The Moab Man

See the famous “Moab Man” petroglyph near Moab’s golf course, plus other interesting images like Santa’s Sled and the Happy Sheep

2022 08 27_8 27 01

Courthouse Wash Rock Art

Visitors to Moab drive right by this easily accessible rock art panel next to the bridge over the Colorado River every day without ever knowing it is there.

Cisco Ghost Town Utah

Cisco Ghost Town

Cisco was once a thriving town in the 1880s, with hotels and saloons, and was a natural provisioning center for the ranchers in the area. Today there is a small revitalization of Cisco by artists.

Faux Falls Moab Utah 6

Faux Falls

Faux falls are man-made via an outflow from Ken’s Lake reservoir. Being so close to Moab, the pool at the bottom of the falls makes for a great shallow swimming hole for people and dogs in the summer. 

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