Moab – A paradise for outdoor adventures – our Ultimate Guide
Do you love nature, hiking, biking
You will see beautiful spots in well-known parks such as the Arches National Park but also read about lesser-known parks such as Dead Horse Point State Park and Slickrock Trail.
Thinking about Utah, amazing nature and outdoor activities come to one’s mind. And Moab is the perfect hub for you to explore some of the best nature spots that Utah, and the USA, has to offer.
Moab is a small town located on the eastern side of Utah and is situated close to the Interstate 70. The interstate connects Denver (Colorado) in the East and the Highway 15 on the West side leading to Salt Lake City (Northbound) and Las Vegas (Southbound).
In this Moab Travel Guide post, we show you things to do in Moab and its very near surrounding.
These four stunning places can be discovered within a short drive from Moab:
- Arches National Park – one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world
- Canyonlands National Park – the hiker’s paradise and often underrated
- Dead Horse Point State Park – stunning views for hikers and mountain bikers
- Slickrock Trail – a must for mountain bikers
On top of the above, many excursions are being organized starting in Moab, like off-road adventures with squats or 4×4, mountain biking, canoeing, but also rock climbing.
With a population of approximately 5000 people, Moab is a relaxed and easy going place. One main street leads through the town with small local stores inviting to be discovered. Unlike many other American cities, it can be done by strolling on the pavement.
Moab relies a lot on tourism and offers a variety of hotels/motels and good restaurants, bars, but also fast-food restaurants.
It’s situated on the Colorado Plateau at 1227m elevation. This leads to warm summers, but also cold winters.
The area is also featured in many movies, such as Indiana Jones, Thelma & Luise, and Rio Grande.
Although a rather small town, it has a good medical service, and I know what I am talking about, after a mountain bike tour with a friend that didn’t end as planned ;-).
Four Stunning places to discover in and around Moab
Let’s dive into all of these four places in detail and explore the amazing things to do in Moab.
Let’s start with the best known of the four.
Arches National Park
The Arches National Park is probably the best known out of the list. The area became a National Park in 1971.
The park entrance is just a couple of km away from Moab.
As the name of the park says, the main attractions are Arches of all different variations. There are more than 2000 arches documented in the park.
It is a fantastic park, but as it is popular, it is also slightly crowded. Don’t expect relaxing hikes being at peace with nature. This, we will experience in the Canyonlands National Park (next point).
But why do so many arches exist in this area?
The National Park Service explains it nicely in their folders (and on their website).
In short, the essential aspects are the type of sandstone and its deeper layers. Entrada Sandstone consists of grains that are almost spherical, meaning the rocks are quite porous. Combined with various other deeper layers of sand & clay mixes, as well as a salt layer that flowed and created domes, the layers above the salt layer were forced to crack. The Entrada Sandstone, together with the sand & clay mixture, form cavities, like food trapped between teeth.
The park is divided into 4 main districts: Devils Garden, The Windows, Balanced Rock, and Delicate Arch.
The Devils Garden
The two main attractions of Devils Garden are the Landscape Arch, the longest arch in North America, and the Double O Arch.
The hike to the Double O Arch is really a nice one. A 6,8km round-trip with amazing views.
Some shorter walks lead you to other arches closer to the parking lot, for example to the Navajo Arch, Partition Arch, and Pine Tree Arch.
The Windows District
The Windows district does not include spectacular hikes but some great rock formations, such as the Double Arch (0,8km round-trip), the Elephant Butt, North and South Window (1,1km roundtrip, incl. Turret Arch).
The Double Arch is the tallest arch in the National Park.
As it does not involve strenuous hikes and is also accessible to people who prefer a more relaxed visit, the parking lots of the Windows District fill up quickly.
Balanced Rock is a cool place to see as it looks like a rock balancing on top of another one, but they are actually attached. It’s almost 40m tall and looks impressive.
It’s really a must-see, but it does not involve a great hike, as it is only a 0,5km round-trip.
Due to corrosion happen to shape the stones continuously, there is no way of knowing how long the rock will still ‘balance‘.
Last but not least, the Delicate Arch might be the photo spot that is connected to the Arches National Park like no other as it also symbolizes the State of Utah.
To see the Arch from close by, you will have to take a 4,8km round-trip. It’s a nice walk, and you are rewarded with a spectacular view. Although it can be busy during sunset times, it’s still worth it.
As Arches National Park is one of the really popular parks, best is to avoid it on national holidays and weekends.
The campground also fills up quickly and should be reserved in advance, in case you prefer to camp instead of taking a hotel in Moab.
Entrance fee: $25 per vehicle (valid for 7 days).
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Canyonlands National Park
The Canyonlands National Park is often underrated, as most people spend their time at Arches National Park and then head over to the Zion and Bryce Canyon National Park.
However, if you love the less popular places, remote nature, and to experience some of the best hikes, Canyonlands is the place to be.
Why is is so special?
The big difference to most of the other large National Parks is that you hike for the sake of experiencing these beautiful trails. The aim is not to reach a dedicated overlook or a particular rock at the end of the trail. For example, at Arches National Park you hike to see the Delicate Arch, but in the Canyonlands, you experience something great around each corner, and the hikes are all unique. It’s comparable to some of the longer trails in Bryce Canyon.
Canyonlands National Park is located southwest of Moab and is divided into three parts; the Island in the Sky, Needles District, and The Maze.
While the Maze is a remote area and only accessible via a dirt road drive of about 70 km and is the least visited part, the two other parts are equipped with visitor centers and can be easily reached via paved roads.
So if you are a real backpacker, The Maze might be your place.
The two other parts of the park, the Island in the Sky and Needles District, are great for day hikes, as well as multiple day backpacking tours.
Island in the Sky
The Island in the Sky entrance is the closest (of the three Canyonland parts) to Moaband located next to the Dead Horse Point State Park (see number 3 on this list). It is about 50km away from Moab.
Due to its proximity, it is also the most popular one. Although I should mention that we are still talking about just a handful of hikers (on day-hike trails) during weekdays.
It also offers a nice scenic drive with great overlooks. The Island in the Sky area is situated on a sandstone cliff of about 300m elevation which explains the stunning overlooks, like the White Rim Overlook and the Green River Overlook.
If you wish to explore the terrain even further, Island in the Sky has some very nice hiking trails. Some of the great day-hike trails are the Neck Spring (9,3km) and the Murphy Loop (17,4km).
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The entree of the Needles District is situated a bit further down the south. It can be reached via the Country Rd 191 (Southbound) and then the UT-211. It’s about a 130km drive. This might sound a lot, but when you get used to US driving distances, it is easily doable for a day-trip. The road is not crowded, and it’s an enjoyable drive.
Colorful Sandstone Spires
The Needles District is dominated by colorful sandstone spires that are located all over this area.
The hiking trails of the Needles District are a bit more challenging and even less populated. About 100km of trails can be found in this area, many of these are interconnected and can be combined to form a variety of different trails.
Some of the day-hike highlights are Squaw Canyon, Lost Canyon, Devil’s Kitchen, and Peekaboo.
Besides hiking, the Needles District is also a paradise for 4-wheel drives leading to campgrounds and great overlooks.
General Tips for Canyonlands National Park
Both, Island in the Sky and Needles District, have camping sites. To check available spaces and features, you can go to the official website here.
For overnight hikes, the longer trails feature various backpacking sites.
Also, keep in mind that the only water supply is at the visitor centers. Make sure to bring enough water when planning a longer hike during summer.
Biking in Canyonlands National Park
The park also features great mountain bike trails, for which you need to get a permit. Group tours can be booked at various organizers in Moab.
But you are allowed to bike on any paved road throughout the park without a permit. As the traffic is limited, this is a great place for racing bikes.
Entrance fee: $25 per vehicle (valid for 7 days, so you have enough time to explore more than one part of the National Park)
Dead Horse Point State Park
Let’s continue with our Moab Travel Guide and explore The Dead Horse Point
It features great hikes as well as super mountain bike trails. As the hiking trails are of shorter distance, the State Park is not the place to go if you want to enjoy an overnight-hike (choose the Canyonlands instead).
The State Park rewards visitors with stunning views of the Colorado River (that lays about 2000 feet below) and the Canyonlands National Park.
One of the must-sees of the park is the Dead Horse Point.
The Legend of the Dead Horse Point
The name comes from a legend where horses died at that particular point. Around the turn of the century, this spot was used to catch wild horses and it was a perfect spot, as it had steep cliffs around. So no way for the horses to escape. The Cowboys just needed to build a corral out of branches at one side, and the horses were trapped. The legend says that one time, cowboys forgot to take the corral away and the horses died of thirst, overlooking the river that runs just 2000 feet below them.
The State Park is situated west of Moab (about 50 km away), close to the ‚Island in the Sky‘ entrance of the Canyonlands National Park. The State Park also has a campground
Entrance fee: $15 per vehicle.
If you are a passionate mountain biker, you surely have this trail on your bucket list.
If you don’t know about it yet, it will soon make it on your list…
About the Slickrock Trail
Slickrock Trail is a spectacular trail of various lengths (16,9km, 10,9km, and 3,7km). Usually, the 16,9km trail is referred to as the Slickrock Trail. As a mountain bikers, we are used to the more forest-like trails, but this one is special as it leads through an open area and purely over red sandstones with a sandpaper-like surface. The name ‘Slickrock’ was given by settlers who had issues with the horseshoed horses that could not gain traction easily.
The trail involves steep hills and rough dips (usually marked with yellow dashes for your caution).
17 km does not sound like a lot, but the trail is quite challenging. And take the time into account to stop and take pictures.
General Tips for the Slickrock Trail
Note, that there is no water available on site, so be prepared, especially in the summertime.
The Slickrock Trail is situated in the Sand Flats Recreation Area. You get there via the Sand Flats Road, from the Moab City Center. Some cyclists ride to the trailhead of the Slickrock Trail but take into account that it goes uphill quite a bit.
Entrance Fee: Single Day Pass $5 per vehicle.
Bike Rental: Most of you will probably not bring a bike, but renting one is easy in Moab. I’ve been there more than once and always chose the Poison Spider Bike Shop. If you are a bike lover, you can also choose from high-end bikes. And the booking is easily done online. They also offer 4×4 tours.
Moab is an authentic All-American town. With its little shops and American Diners, the town also invites to spend some time strolling down the main street and having a beer in one of the restaurants/bars in the evening, after a great day of hiking or other outdoor adventures.
And it is the best place to spend more than one night during your US road trip, as it offers access to many great places and other amenities.
If you have been to Moab or any of the surrounding places, why not sharing your experiences on mundolore? Inspire others with your mini travel guides about the places you’ve seen.