Thing to Do

Experience the Shafer Trail

Canyonlands National Park

A light beige unpaved road winds back and forth down colorful sandstone walls.
The Shafer Trail winds 1,500 feet (457 m) down colorful sandstone walls.

NPS Photo

Canyonlands National Park

Black and white photo of a man smiling
John “Sog” Shafer, laughs while recounting the early ranching days. Date unknown.

Shafer Family

Shafer Trail History

The Shafer Trail is named after the Shafer family, who were Mormon pioneer settlers. Starting in 1916, John “Sog” Shafer, used this trail to move cattle from summer pastures on the mesa top to winter ground on the White Rim sandstone, several rock layers down into the canyon. John Shafer is credited for improving the trail and making access into the canyon easier. Many other trails at Island in the Sky also bear names for the families who worked them.

Expanding upon the work of Sog Shafer, the Atomic Energy Commission widened Shafer Trail and extended it to the White Rim Road to accommodate trucks moving loads of uranium-bearing rock from the backcountry and down to Moab for processing. Many backcountry roads in the Moab area used for recreation today were improved by the Atomic Energy Commission.

Black and white photo of old VW Bug traversing a rocky unpaved road.
A brave driver traverses the unpaved Shafer Trail in a VW Bug, 1965.

NPS Photo

From Ranching to Recreation

After Canyonlands was established as a National Park in 1964, the Shafer Trail transitioned from a ranching and mining road to a route used primarily for recreation. Each year, hundreds of visitors experience the thrill of driving down the winding sandstone cliff to the basin below.

While driving this unpaved road remains difficult to this day, with the right gear and technology, it's possible to safely traverse the Shafer Trail. Remember, unlike in the past, high-clearance, 4WD vehicles with low gear settings (4LO) are highly recommended to traverse this route. Visit our park website for more information on road conditions and safe driving.

Then and Now

Black and white photo of a herd of sheep along the winding Shafter Trail. Dark shrubs pepper the landscape. Black and white photo of a herd of sheep along the winding Shafter Trail. Dark shrubs pepper the landscape.

Left image
Sheep herders run sheep along the canyon, c. 1966.
Credit: NPS Photo

Right image
Today, the Shafer Trail is a challenging, unpaved backcountry road for recreational users seeking the experience of a lifetime
Credit: NPS Photo

Last updated: March 16, 2022