Moab is a biker’s paradise that conjures up images of sweeping canyons, red sandstone cliffs, and the iconic Delicate Arch. While the area is famous for its amazing mountain biking trails, there are also plenty of road riding options just waiting to be explored.
From gently graded out-and-backs to spectacular loops with tons of climbing, Moab has something to offer for every ability. River Road, also known as the Upper Colorado Scenic Byway, is a fun ride on a hot days because it is shaded by the towering red cliffs along the roadside, and the Colorado River keeps the canyon relatively cool.
In fact, two of Utah’s most quintessential national parks in the area — Arches and Canyonlands — don’t allow you to climb on named arches, and bikes are only allowed on roads and in parking areas — not on trails. Road biking provides a great option for checking out the parks under human power. In addition to being a mountain biking mecca, the Moab area is a road cyclist’s paradise as well.
In early mornings or with cloud cover, check out the scenery that inspired Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, written during his seasons as a ranger at what was then Arches National Monument. Today it’s Arches National Park, and the road through it is just over 18 rolling, gently graded miles one-way. You can see plenty of otherworldly formations from the road, but it’s worth bringing a bike lock and a change of shoes to park the bike and check out several short hikes to out-of-the-way arches.
Nearby Canyonlands National Park also offers some of the biggest views you’ll find in southeast Utah. The ride from downtown Moab to the end of the line in the Island in the Sky District is 35 miles and has 1,700 feet of elevation one-way — much of it in a sharp, switchbacking climb near the eastern end of Highway 313. Plan to take a short (3.5-mile) side hike to a perfect lunch spot at Murphy Point.
Complete Adventure Destination
The scenery you saw in blockbusters like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Thelma & Louise, and dozens of other movies and commercials provides plenty of rest day activity options, too. A half-dozen guiding outfits and shuttle services in town are available to take you rock climbing, rafting, or mountain biking.
There’s a huge variety of hikes, too. If your legs just need a quick stretch, try the 3-mile round trip hike to Delicate Arch or the 4-mile out-and-back jaunt to Morning Glory Arch up Negro Bill Canyon. If you want a more challenging outing, head up the Potash Road and check out the Corona and Jeep Arches, both of which require some scrambling.
Families should plan to visit Moab in the spring and fall—temperatures regularly soar into the triple digits during the summer months — and hardy cyclists will be rewarded with gorgeous snow-capped red cliffs in the winter. Road cyclists looking for community events in Moab shouldn’t miss the Skinny Tire Festival, held each March to beat the tourist rush, and the Moab Century Tour, held in October.
There are plenty of lodging options to choose from after a long day in the saddle, too: from rustic campgrounds to budget motels to the more luxurious Red Cliffs Lodge, Moab has it all. The BLM has upgraded a number of campgrounds in the area in the last two years, especially along SR-128 — expect new picnic tables and fire rings for the $15/night fee.
Downtown Moab is home to a number of chain and independently owned hotels, many of which offer bike storage — and, as a sign you’re really in the desert, most have pools to beat the heat. For those on a more generous budget, Red Cliffs Lodge is the perfect place to unwind with a glass of locally made wine after a big ride.
Though Moab has grown considerably in the last few decades, the surrounding area is very much a desert, so few amenities are available beyond city limits. You should carry plenty of water and nutrition, as well as a repair kit and spare tube, especially on Scenic Byway 128, where cell service disappears after a half-mile or so. Shoulders in the Moab area are often narrow and occasionally disappear altogether, so if you already have some experience navigating traffic you’ll feel more confident here.