Exploring 4X4 trails through desert canyons and slick rock courses over wind-sculpted sandstone in a Jeep, has been one of my favorite experiences. Of all the places that I’ve traveled, and things I’ve been able to do, this experience for sure ranks in the top 10. Moab is famous for 4X4 trails because of the many off the beaten paths through desert canyons, and slick rock formations that are ideal for crawling over in a Jeep or other 4X4.

This has been on my Utah to-do list for a few years, and over Labor Day Weekend we rented a Jeep, and took it out for a day of exploring around Moab, Utah.

There are a few Jeep rental companies in Moab, and we used Canyonlands Jeep to rent a four-door Jeep for 210.00 plus tax. The rental included 150 miles, which was more than enough. Our all day adventure only took about only 90 of those miles. For insurance, you have to use your own plan, and you are able to buy a tire and windshield coverage from the rental agency for 25.00, which we didn’t get. To rent, you’ll need to be at least 25 years or old (per rental company policy), a credit card, proof of insurance, and your driver’s license.

Canyonlands Jeep  866-892-5337

The four door jeep we rented sat five people, and we filled it with five average size adults.  It was a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited with 4X4 with a 2.5-inch lift and oversized tires. Everyone can drive as long as they are 25 and have proof of insurance, you’ll need to register every driver when picking up the jeep, and there aren’t any fees for adding more drivers. You’ll be asked if you want to take the hard top sections off the jeep for better views. If you are renting during the summer months (June-Aug) I’d recommend keeping them on, and any other month as well if you want to avoid dust.

The rental was for one day, pick-up at 7:30 a.m. return by 6:00 p.m.  If the rental agency isn’t busy, and has returned their jeeps for the night, you can call ahead and possibly pick it up the night before with no extra cost. For our day we planned a route through Canyonlands National Park and to the Sand Flats Recreation Area to do Fins and Things, which is a slick rock jeep course.

We’d packed a cooler with drinks and lunch, and started the day off by following the Gemini Bridges trail from Highway 191 north of Moab to Canyonlands National Park. To start the Gemini Bridges road, go north from Moab on Highway 191 for about 9 miles, then turn off to the left. Here you will start a climb up a long switchback that will take you up a small canyon, then on to a plateau. Along the way, about 8 miles from the highway turn-off, there are twin sandstone bridges that you can walk across, the Gemini Bridges, hence the name of the trail. The trailhead for the bridges is well marked along the dirt road and the hike down only takes a few minutes.

Parked on the Schafer Trail watching a storm move up the canyon.

From Gemini Bridges, we met up with Highway 313 and then entered Canyonlands National Park. Schafer Trail starts to the left shortly after the park entrance/pay station. No permit is required for the trail, only the entrance fee into the National Park. The start of the trail is to the left of Highway 313, there are signs indicating where to turn off the highway. The Schafer Trail is a dirt road that follows the rim of a drastic canyon, then drops a few thousand feet using dramatic switchbacks. The views of the canyon along the rim are breathtaking, and the switchback down to the lower rim is a drive you will never forget. If you are afraid of heights, you might want to sit on the right-hand side of the Jeep. At the bottom of the switchbacks, the road exits the canyon and follows a rim a few hundred feet above the Colorado River.

We stopped for lunch at the Goosenecks and ate overlooking the Colorado River. From this point, if you look up you are looking directly at Dead Horse Point. To put the Schafer Trail in perspective, I’d visit Dead Horse Point State Park the day after the jeep adventure, and you can trace the entire length of the trail from the viewpoint.

View from Dead Horse Point. You can follow the Schafer Trail from the bottom left as it makes its way up the canyon in the upper right of the photo where you can make out a few of the switchbacks.

The Schafer Trail exits Canyonlands National Park and joins Highway 279 near Potash. Stop and view the evaporation ponds from the potash mine. They are spread throughout the valley floor and died blue to speed up the evaporation process, which creates a huge contrast to the desert colors.

We followed Highway 279 back to Moab, then headed to the Sand Flats Recreation Area to take the Jeep crawling on slick rock. The rental company allows you to take only one slick rock trail, and it is Fins and Things. Even though you are restricted to this trail, it is well worth it. The entire loop takes about five hours, but we just did the day use trail twice, which only takes about 45 minutes. The start of the one-way track is to the right of the paved road through Sand Flats Recreation Area. When you enter the recreation area you will be required to pay and entrance fee, which will include a made that will clearly indicate where the day use loop is located. This short route gave us a good chance to switch drivers so everyone was able to get a chance at the wheel. When you finish the route, you drive back to the start on the main road which takes under five minutes. Taking the jeep on the slick rock was thrilling! Mentally it is hard to comprehend what you are able to drive through and over, but the jeep covers the terrain perfectly. The trail is extremely well marked from all of the other jeeps driving over the rock and sand, and it is easy to follow the one-way track.

Time Estimates:

Moab to Gemini Bridges – 1 hour

Gemini Bridges to Schafer Trail – 35 minutes, 12 miles

Canyonlands to Potash via Schafer Trail – 1 hour 30 minutes, 17 miles

Potash  to Moab – 30 minutes, 20 miles (Paved Road)

Moab – Sand Flats Recreation Area (start of Fins n Things) – 5 mins

Day Use area of Fins N Things – 45 minutes per round

The jeep has to be returned by 6:00 p.m. and since Sand Flat Recreation Area is so close to Moab, we played around on the trails until it was time to return. Before returning, you are required to spray the jeep down at a car wash, there are numerous open bay car washes on the main road in Moab. The day in the jeep was a fantastic experience, and completely worth the cost of the rental. Find a few friends, rent a jeep, pack a lunch, and go exploring! Let me know if you have any questions!

Estimated Costs:

  • Jeep rental including tax – $238
  • Gas for the day – 6 Gallons, about $17
  • Car Wash – $6
  • Canyonlands National Park Entrance Fee – $25
  • Sand Flats Recreation Area – $5

Packing List

  • Driver’s license
  • Proof of insurance
  • Drinks
  • Lunch, we packed sandwiches, chips and dips.
  • Hiking clothes
  • Camera
  • Going on another adventure? Learn about the things I’ve learned to pack over the years Travel Tips: Austin’s Packing List


Utah is such an amazing state, to read more about where I explored in my own backyard this summer, check out these other articles about fantastic adventures in Utah.

Water Canyon

Utah’s Highway 12

My Favorite Utah Restaurants