Moab, Utah: Population 5,322, Elevation 4,026
Moab is the capital of Utah’s high desert. It sits in a valley on the Colorado River banks, under towering orange sandstone cliffs. Between the stunning red rock canyons and 12,000-foot peaks of the La Sal Mountains, there aren’t many outdoor activities you can’t do in Moab. The area is possibly best-known for the Slickrock bike trail, one of the top mountain bike trails anywhere, and the annual Moab Jeep Safari, an event that draws 4×4 enthusiasts from across the planet to experience technical, punishing rock crawling. But that’s hardly saying enough. Moab is also famous for its whitewater rafting, rock climbing, canyoneering, hiking, backpacking, highlining, base jumping, bike touring, hunting, and even skiing. If you practice an adventure sport, you probably already know Moab as a place where everything is turned up to eleven, from class 5 rapids to legendarily brutal sandstone climbing. The summer season is long, allowing for beautiful days in the sun, getting splashed on the river, and climbing red rock in the shade. And when it gets cold, the traffic in town is basically non-existent. In all but the dead of winter, there are pleasant days in the 50s and 60s, just without the crowds.
Local Adventure Vibe
Moab, and the people who live there, wear the orange dirt of the Colorado River Basin like a badge of honor. You can spot the diehards in town by their thoroughly broken-in techwear. Since Moab’s culture revolves almost entirely around the outdoors, there is no real flashiness or style that will earn you points. You either get out and go hard, or you don’t. There are events in town constantly happening – the Jeep Safari, road and mountain bike races, skydiving jamborees, stand-up paddleboard races, ultra-races, and highlining get-togethers. And, don’t for the never-disappointing annual “Trashion Show,” where locals drape themselves in junk and hit the catwalk for a satirical high-fashion competition to see who can be the most jauntly grimy.
Why exactly is Moab such a hub for outdoor recreation? First, it is at the threshold of two of Utah’s greatest National Parks – Arches and Canyonlands. Arches, home to Delicate Arch that is pictured on Utah license plates, is much more than just a scenic drive through the highest concentration of natural arches in the world. There are abundant canyoneering adventures, sandstone towers to be climbed, and even some moderate 4×4 trails to explore just off the beaten path. Canyonlands, on the other hand, could take a lifetime to explore. It’s divided into three districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze, each increasing in difficulty to access. Canyonlands boasts more mystery and untapped potential for those willing to go the distance, especially for bike tourers and off-road adventurers.
Outside of the National Parks, there’s a wealth of other opportunities for getting out. Sand Flats Recreation Area, just on the edge of town, touts some of the area’s most easily accessible mountain biking and off-roading. East of town are the La Sal Mountains, some of the state’s most imposing peaks. And in every other direction is a vast expanse of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land covered in trails for hiking, biking, and driving. In Moab, going any direction holds possibilities for adventure.
Food & Drink
The main drag of Moab has been home to dozens of eateries, coffee shops, and food trucks over the years. Some come and go, while others stand the test of time. The most noteworthy is the Moab Brewery, the top choice for an aprés IPA, with a solid beer selection brewed on-site and above-average pub fare. There are plenty of sit-down restaurants open for dinner on Main Street, but a few standouts are Desert Bistro, Sabaku Sushi, and Thai Bella. For lunch, the centrally located Moab Food Truck Park has you covered with – among other options – some of the tastiest Mexican food in town. If you’re in the mood to stop for coffee, Love Muffin Cafe has a great in-house blend and awesome pastries. Last but not least is Milt’s Stop & Eat, a mid-century drive-in serving some of the best burgers, shakes, and fries in the Southwest.
Places to Stay
Whether you’re camping out or crashing indoors, there are plenty of options to meet your needs around Moab.
A brief glance at Airbnb’s lodgings shows some very promising options.
Surrounded by public land, Moab is overflowing with scenic, easily accessible campgrounds.
Just outside town, the Sand Flats Recreation Area offers dispersed camping, primitive sites, group camping, and RV sites. Close to town and at the foot of the Slickrock bike trail, the location couldn’t be better.
Just north of Canyonlands National Park is Dead Horse Point, a scenic overlook and the gateway to Island in the Sky. Along with traditional campsites, this site offers yurt camping and hot showers.
On the banks of the Colorado River, surrounded by huge cliff walls, Grandstaff Campground is a convenient option close to town. At just $20 a night, it’s an awesome value.
View more options for roughing it around Moab on The Dyrt PRO. The Dyrt PRO – The Largest campground search platform with the most campground reviews and tips written. Now accessible offline for finding camping on the road.
Adventures in Moab
There’s no shortage of adventure in Southern Utah. But where can you go to practice your sport? Let’s talk specifics.
If you’re looking for the trip of a lifetime, 57hours has you covered. The company’s mission is to help you find outdoor adventures and make booking them simple and easy. Their trips are led by highly trained guides, who ensure you stay safe while exploring the mountains. What’s behind the name 57hours? There are exactly 57 hours from 3 pm Friday to midnight Sunday. That gives you 57 hours to pack as much adventure into your weekend as possible.
Maybe you lack the know-how, gear, or leadership needed to get into adventure sports. No problem! There are plenty of guided adventures in the area to get you into the heart of it. Here are some great options from the adventure guides at 57hours.com.
For $105 to $150 per person, experience some of the most unique mountain biking in the U.S. Bookings run from March to May and September to October. Beginners to advanced cyclists are welcome.
Climbing is both exhilarating and incredibly hazardous, if you don’t know what you’re doing, that is. From $140, book a guide to teach you what you need to know and show you some of the classic climbs around town. All ability levels are welcome.
If you want to kick it up a notch, do some multi-pitch climbing up some of the area’s outstanding towers. Prices range from $125 to $275, and experience levels intermediate to advanced are welcome.
There are more than a few decent walls around town. Some of them are the stuff of dreams.
Just minutes from town, Wall Street is a classic mile-long crag on the banks of the Colorado River. Park along the Potash Road and test yourself on over 130 routes, ranging from 5.3 slabs to grueling 5.13 finger cracks. There’s something for just about everyone. Just try not to distract the tourists too much as they drive past.
Castle Valley is one of the birthplaces of tower climbing. You can find some of the most dramatic, impressive multi-pitch climbs in the lower 48 right here. Classics like Castleton Tower, Ancient Art, and The Priest are bucket-list items for tower enthusiasts worldwide.
Indian Creek boasts some of the best crack climbing on Earth. If you’re looking to test yourself as a trad climber, Indian Creek is a spot you won’t want to miss. But be warned – Indian Creek will chew you up and spit you out. Most of the routes in the area are rated 5.11 to 5.13, and you’ll soon learn that the standard for difficulty is higher in Moab than most places.
You’ll never have time to see it all. But every second you spend trying is worth it.
Arches National Park offers some of the best bang for your buck when it comes to day hikes. Delicate Arch, Double Arch, Dark Angel, and the Sand Dune Arch are all spectacular, close to town, and accessible for people of all ability levels.
Canyonlands has its share of day hikes as well. But there are more backpacking opportunities here than in most areas around town. Lathrop Canyon and Murphy Hogback are good 1 to 2 nighters in the Island in the Sky district. The Needles district offers over 60 miles of trails to choose from, allowing you to go as far and see as much as you like.
● Around Town
A few other classics in the area are Morning Glory Arch and Corona Arch, both of which are free to access and relatively moderate. The North Fork of Mill Creek is also growing in popularity, featuring a short hike to several waterfalls and pools, which you can swim in.
There are plenty of rental shops and guidebooks in town. But here are some basics to get you going.
● Day Trips Around Town
Sand Flats is usually the first stop for newcomers to Moab. The two trails you’ll find there are Fins & Things and Hell’s Revenge. Fins & Things is rated 4/10 for difficulty and is a great intro into rock crawling for people with experience who have never driven on red rock. Hell’s Revenge, on the other hand, is more challenging, at a 6/10. Other classics around town include Cliffhanger, a stunning, grueling slog across a canyon rim over the Colorado River rated 8/10, and Poison Spider Mesa, a scenic climb overlooking Moab Valley, rated 6/10.
● The Maze
…and then there’s The Maze. The Maze is regarded by many to be the holy grail of hardcore, long-distance 4×4 adventuring, with park officials recommending all adventurers pack in extra gas, water, supplies for trail repairs, and a high-lift jack for self-rescue. Its name is incredibly fitting and not to be taken lightly. Campsites deep in The Maze can take more than six hours to reach. The Maze is not recommended for the inexperienced, the faint of heart, or those without locking front and rear differentials.
It’s hard to grasp all the cumulative miles of mountain bike trails around Moab. You can pick a direction and ride for days. But there are a few standout, must-see, bucket-list trails:
● East of Town
It would be a mistake not to describe Slickrock at length. It’s a trail that helped put Moab on the map. Consisting of around 95% rock, Slickrock rolls over a landscape of fins and saddles. If you have the balance, and the guts, nearly everything you can see is rideable. The other major trip east of Moab is the Whole Enchilada, which begins in the La Sal Mountains and descends almost 8,000 feet over 34 miles to the Colorado River, back to town. The route offers a full cross-section of the splendor of the desert, from dry, forested high montane to orange rocky lowland.
● West of Town
The Navajo Rocks Loop trail has a bit of everything, from flowy to technical, with incredible scenery. It’s rated easier than the others mentioned here, with low risk and high reward. Lastly, HyMasa/Captain Ahab is a 9-mile loop regarded by those in the know as being one of the best of the best. It climbs. It descends. It takes you to the edges of cliffs, over a mesa, to wonderland, and back. You’ll be in the car driving back to town wishing it hadn’t ended.
Long-distance enthusiasts will not be disappointed by Moab. Check out these finds from bikepacking.com.
Beginning in Fruita, Colorado, the Kokopelli Trail treks over 158 miles of desert to Moab. It’s 85% unpaved and is recommended to be done in 3 to 5 days. Combining paved roads, unpaved roads, and often challenging single track, it’s a wild-card voyage into some of the most rugged country in the West. Rated 6.5/10.
The White Rim is a classic trail circumnavigating the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands. It follows the canyon rim of the Colorado and Green Rivers along a white stripe band in the cliff walls. It’s 90% unpaved, although none of it is single track, and it can be done in 3 days. Rated 5/10 for difficulty, it’s a vast, scenic journey that intermediates and experts can enjoy together.
This is a lower commitment overnight that begins in Moab and follows the Kane Creek Road to Pritchett Canyon. Up the canyon, the trail winds back and forth through Kane Springs Creek. The second day climbs up out of the canyon and onto a mesa before descending Pritchett Canyon back to the road. It’s a lush diversion from the sometimes-oppressive heat of the desert. Rated 5.5/10 for difficulty, 80% unpaved road.
It goes without saying that red rock country jives with trail running. Here are some of the standouts in the area.
Held in November, the annual trail half-marathon begins at the Colorado River, climbing up almost 2,000 feet before returning. It climbs through Hunter Canyon and horseshoes at the top of the canyon, descending through Kane Creek Canyon.
If it’s not clear already, most of the trails around town can be biked, driven, or in this case, run. The Moab Rim Trail is a scenic jeep trail and a lovely bike ride, but as a runner, you will have to put in some extra sweat for the payoff. It climbs steeply up 1,000 feet in the first mile to the picturesque rim of the Moab valley.
If you’re here for the skiing, you might be in the wrong season. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.
● The La Sal Mountains
The range is isolated, potentially dangerous, and incredibly rewarding to those willing to go the distance. Popular trips include the three highest summits in the range, Mt. Peale, Mt. Mellenthin, and Mt. Tukuhnikivatz. Full descents will take you from bare alpine country to aspen and pine forests before you arrive back in the red rock jungle, all in world-class Utah powder.
It doesn’t matter who you are, how skilled, or how much you know. There is enough adventure, natural splendor, and wide-open space for you in the high desert of Southern Utah. All you have to do is go looking for it.