I just got back from two months living out of my 2005 Outback and bumming around out west. One of the highlights of my trip was traveling the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park. Below is a description, some pictures, and link to a hastily put together video from the WRT.
First, the car. It's a 2005 Outback 2.5 non-turbo, 5 speed manual, with approximately 180,000 miles at the time. All stock with the exception of King Springs all around which gave me about an inch of lift and 2004 KYB shocks all around. Tires were Pirelli Cinturato P7 All Season Plus with slightly more than 1/2 tread. Additional equipment included one full size spare, tire plug kit, air compressor, shovel, 30' 10,000lb tow strap, four quarts of oil, 2 gallons of extra fuel, duct tape, enough tools to fix almost anything on the car, and $200 worth of non-Utah beer purchased in Idaho (If you thought 4.2% Bud Light sucked, try 3.9% Bud Light...).
The White Rim Trail (or White Rim Road as the National Park Service refers to it), is requires more than 100 miles of off road driving to complete. Some quotes from the NPS about the trail include:
- "Under favorable weather conditions, the White Rim Road is considered moderately difficult for high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicles. The steep, exposed sections of the Shafer Trail, Lathrop Canyon Road, Murphy's Hogback, Hardscrabble Hill, and the Mineral Bottom switchbacks make the White Rim loop a challenge..."
- "A high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle (low range) is required for the White Rim Road. Towing charges are very expensive. Visitors caught in the backcountry with disabled vehicles can expect towing fees in excess of $1,000."
Permits are required for the WRT, and the NPS recommends 2-3 days to complete the WRT by car. Overnight permits are typically sold out many months in advance. However, you can get a day use permit the day before, or day of, your trip for free! So, with my typical lack of planning, I crossed my fingers, gave the Subie a pat on the hood, got a day use permit, and decided to go for it.
I decided to do the WRT counter-clockwise for two reasons. One, it put the more challenging spots (Potato Bottom and Murphy) earlier in the trip so that if I decided to back out, the return trip wouldn't be so long. Second, it allowed me to travel the approximately 25 mile long Mineral Road the night before, reducing my off road travel the next day. I drove the Mineral Road in the dark and found a spot to camp off the one lane road about a mile from the park border.
The next morning, I made it through Potato Bottom with no issues. It was heavily rutted, but I didn't bottom out. It it was wet, my all-season tires would have had problems with the clayey soil. From there, it was relatively easy driving with some soft sandy spots and some rocky spots, but nothing really worth mentioning. The next challenge was Murphy, which due to my CCW direction, I needed to go up. It was steep and heavily rutted. Previous travelers had taken the liberty of attempting to fill the ruts with 10-30lb rocks. The issue for me was my manual transmission. In order to make it to the top, I knew I would need a running start and would need to carry as much speed as possible. There would be no crawling up. If I stalled it, I would be a hair raising ride back down in reverse with a rock wall on the right and cliff on the left. It was a rough ride, but I made it on the first go.
Other than Murphy, there were a few downhill sections that required some good wheel placement. Otherwise, it was fairly smooth sailing. I didn't ever bottom out, but did drag my hitch a half dozen times entering/exiting some dry creek beds. I was able to go 40mph on some sections on the second part of the trip. I started at 6:30AM and was back at the visitors center at 3:30PM for a total of 9 hours. I used just over a 1/2 tank of gas coming from Moab, doing the trail, and getting back to Moab. This (obviously) included quite a bit of time taking pictures and video. Keep in mind that I also spent a fair amount of time driving well over the 15 MPH speed limit and have a fairly high tolerance for vehicle abuse. That said, I didn't do any damage to the car, although I did just have to replace a rear wheel bearing and get an alignment.
I also had a run-in with a back country park ranger on a mountain bike who was not impressed with my vehicle choice. I believe her exact words were "That is an illegal vehicle out here". She took a picture of my license plate and told me should would give it to the front country rangers who would write me a ticket. At this point I was about 15 miles from being done, but I wasn't about to get in an argument with an early 20's girl on a mountain bike out in the middle of nowhere. I went up to the visitor center and talked to a "real" ranger who assured me I was all set. They typically only issue tickets to people who have "inappropriate" vehicles and run into trouble.
I would say the White Rim Trail is within the capabilities of a Subaru if you have the ground clearance (aka, don't expect to make it in a stock Impreza), a good awareness of your surroundings, know where your wheels are, and have a high tolerance for abusing your vehicle. I wouldn't recommend it in a Subie if there has been any rain or there is rain forecasted during your planned trip. My manual tranny did great except for the super steep parts. An automatic would likely have been a better choice. Not sure how a CVT would do on the super steep stuff as I haven't driven one. Obviously, you'd be better off with something with true 4wd and a low range, but hey, I don't have one of those, so the Outback it is!!
Youtube Video -