Seen from the air, the town of Moab looks like an outpost surrounded by a sea of buckled, twisted and worn sandstone sculpted by millennia of sun, wind and rain. Driving by car from the north or east, winding canyon walls hide Moab from view until you reach the edge of town, making it feel more like you’ve discovered Moab than merely arrived.
Main Street's traffic instantly confirms Moab's reputation as adventure sports mecca. Mountain bikers zip by on their way to the next epic ride. Massive Jeeps modified for rock crawling sport immense tires, winches and roll bars while hikers lope down the street with a gait trained for endurance and efficiency. For outdoor recreation enthusiasts of all stripes, the canyons, valleys, cliffs and spires surrounding Moab are a world-class playground.
Moab isn’t only about pushing the envelope. There are also quiet, reflective moments that make Moab enchanting: watching the sunrise at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, the sound of a kayak paddle slipping into the Colorado River, or hearing only your breath and a raven’s feathers against the wind as it glides along the canyon walls.
If roughing it isn’t your thing, you’ll find Moab calls to you, too. From hot air balloon rides over Canyonlands National Park, a Colorado River Stone Massage at Sorrel River Ranch, wine tasting with river and red rock views at Red Cliffs Lodge or maguro sashimi at Sabaku Sushi, you don’t have to sacrifice creature comforts to experience Moab’s beauty.
A visit to Moab is a journey of discovery – of stark and staggering beauty, surprise at how lively and inviting the town can be, or perhaps the bravery you didn’t know you possessed until you pointed your mountain bike tire down the trail and let gravity be your guide.
Author Edward Abbey (Desert Solitaire) eloquently describes the Moab experience as a place “where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you – beyond that next turning of the canyon walls.”
Moab is a 3 hour 45 minute drive from Salt Lake City, 5 hours and 20 minutes from Denver or 6 1/2 hours from Las Vegas. Moab is a convenient jumping-off point for travels southward to the Four Corners region and Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park or to Glen Canyon National Recreation area and portions of Lake Powell.
Arches National Park
Home to perhaps the most iconic landform in the state, Delicate Arch, and starting point for many traveler’s Mighty Five experience, Arches National Park’s otherworldly collection of 2,000 arches, slender spires and spectacular hikes make this a must-visit for any Moab vacation. For the best experience, visit early or late in the day as the colors are more vibrant, crowds are lighter and it allows you to avoid the heat of the mid-summer day.
Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands is bigger, bolder and more adventurous than nearby Arches, though some of the most iconic destinations, like Mesa Arch and canyon overlooks, lie only a short distance from the parking lot. Canyonlands is split into four distinct “districts.” Island in the Sky, characterized by sweeping views from outlooks to the Colorado River 2,000 feet below, is the most visited. The Needles district contains excellent hiking, the Maze district is remote, rugged and remarkable and the Green and Colorado Rivers offer single-day and multi-day rafting and paddling adventures.
It is difficult to understate the importance of the Colorado River in the history, present and future of the Southwestern U.S. Carving a broad path through the canyons just north of town, the Colorado River offers many recreation options for travelers, including half-day to multi-day whitewater adventures when the river churns with spring runoff, casual paddleboarding and kayaking when the river calms in the fall and jet boat tours year round.
Dead Horse Point State Park
A broad peninsula of land jutting out over the spectacular White Rim of the Colorado River, Dead Horse Point State Park specializes in the type of sweeping, jaw-dropping views that make visitors run for their cameras to try and capture the area’s grandeur. In recent years, a tight network of fun singletrack trails has begun attracting mountain bikers who want epic views with moderate rides, increasing the popularity of the park.
Sand Flats Recreation Area
Home to the most legendary of Utah mountain biking trails, the Slickrock Trail and Porcupine Flats are both challenging rides for intermediate/expert mountain bikers who want to savor the crown jewels of Moab mountain biking. Campsites are available within the Sand Flats Recreation area and the park is home to several ATV and motocross-friendly trails like Fins N Things, a playful romp between sandy washes and challenging slick rock obstacles.
Goblin Valley State Park
Hoodoos and goblins and yurts, oh my! Goblin Valley State Park is an open basin filled with thousands of sandstone pinnacles, from troll-sized towers to improbable toadstools that are great fun to walk around, through and between. Camping is available in the park and two yurts accommodate up to six people with heating and cooling, kitchen facilities and solar powered lighting.
San Rafael Swell
A favorite destination for Utah locals looking for spectacular scenery and rugged outdoor recreation without the crowds that sometimes occur at the National Parks, San Rafael Swell is a broad expanse of slot canyons, open hikes and stunning scenery linked by a lattice of dirt roads. Highlights include the Wedge Overlook, the playful slot canyons at Little Wild Horse Canyon or the Native American pictographs etched by the Fremont, Paiute and Ute tribes who used to call the area home.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
With a rich Navajo cultural legacy, ancient, Clovis-era, early human, archeological sites and some of the most iconic landscapes in the American West, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park and surrounding San Juan county bring together scenic beauty and hundreds of years of human history into an unforgettable travel destination. Monument Valley is the crown jewel in the area with jeep tours to Navajo hogans and the sandstone formations made famous in numerous John Wayne and John Ford westerns.
Natural Bridges National Monument
Natural Bridges is home to three expansive rock arches and the first International Dark Sky Park in the world. Though less accessible than Utah’s national parks, it is just as spectacular. At 6,500-feet in elevation atop the massive Cedar Mesa the park is a little cooler in the heat of summer than other parks. Abundant hiking, stargazing and canyoneering make this a quiet haven for those looking to explore a little off the beaten path.
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Lake Powell
Sun-drenched boating and an expansive lake ringed with towering cliffs and a labyrinth of side canyons, visiting Glen Canyon usually involves water skiing, jet skiing or relaxing in a houseboat on Lake Powell, soaking in the otherworldly scenery. From Moab, the closest approach is via the Hite Marina, accessed from Blanding.
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Moab’s unique combination of beautiful red rock scenery, two nearby national parks, and the cool waters of the Colorado River has made it one of the most sought after destinations in the southwest.