The best way we have found to describe Moab is it is like you saw and hiked the Grand Canyon – but now you want to go and play in it. Moab is a destination built for playing. The main street is filled with trucks and jeeps hauling motocross bikes, mountain bikes, camping gear, repelling gear, dune buggies and more. Add to that it is home to both the Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park and there are any number of adventures for any age.
As for lodging, we chose the Red Cliffs Lodge which is an amazing setting with cabins right along the Colorado river and just under the shade of massive cliffs. The only downside is it is 20-25 minutes each way to and from Moab and the parks. We didn’t mind the drive in and out along the Colorado River but if we were pressed for time, we would look at the quirky Gonzo Inn in town or soon to be Hoodoo Moab (part of the Curio Collection by Hilton) opening in late 2017.
Dining in Moab was above expectations with everything from outdoor tables at the Quesadilla Mobilla food truck to fine Southwestern dining at Desert Bistro. While breakfast was a highlight almost every day and something the city does very well.
For air travel, we chose Southwest to fly into Salt Lake City and then back home again from Albuquerque. Of course, some travelers may want to head back home from Colorado or even over to Denver. Or, travelers can head southwest through Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon on to Las Vegas. If you do fly into Salt Lake City, it is a four hour drive to Moab – and Highway 6 between Spanish Fork and Price was at one time one of the deadliest roads in the U.S. However, ten years of improvements and added lanes have eliminated those issues. But it is still a winding canyon road with a lot of trucks so it is best to be alert. As our goal was to get to our destination, the first day was mostly drive-thru’s for food.
Travel Tip – When visiting Arches, we broke our visits into blocks. The park can be extremely busy so by arriving early and carefully picking what to see in four hour increments we could maximize our time with the least crowds. It is also a good idea to check what events are happening when you visit. Moab is always hosting marathons, bike races, motocross races and more – which may help to plan what days you go to certain places. For instance, the Skinny Tire race was in town when we were there so we made sure to avoid the parks they were using on certain days.
For our first block, we planned to visit the Delicate Arch first thing in the morning after a breakfast at the Eklecticafe. The arch is beautiful at sunrise and if you avoid the urge to stop other places, you can make this hike before the crowds arrive (which is somewhat strenuous walking up a rock incline much like Enchanted Rock in Texas) – meaning you won’t have photos with people taking selfies under the arch itself. Afterwards, be sure to take the short hike to the Wolfe Ranch and the Ute Petroglyphs which are much closer and clearer than we would have expected.
Afterwards, heading back towards the entrance you can take the Park Avenue Trail which is much better than just the overlook and is prettiest at mid-morning when the light shines down between the walls. Finally, the visitor center will be open by then and you can get passes to hike into the Fiery Furnace.
A note about the Fiery Furnace. This was quite frustrating as tours were cancelled when we were visiting; information was hard to come by; and the Park Ranger tried to discourage us from going on our own – telling us he got lost for five hours his first time. However, they do offer three hour guided tours in the summer which we would have taken but without the tour, hiking on our own was our only option. More on that later.
After a full morning of hiking in the park, we recommend lunch at Spoke on the Center in town. Like Moab’s residents, this restaurant celebrates bicycling and offers burgers and shakes – along with Macaroni Poppers stuffed in jalapenos and fried.
For the afternoon, we booked a jeep scrambling tour with Dan Mick’s Jeep Tours. Dan Mick is a staple of Moab (ranked #1 on TripAdvisor for things to do) and he along with a friend created the Hell’s Revenge trail which includes a steep climb up Hell’s Gate. You can look on YouTube and see several videos of inexperienced drivers rolling backwards in their vehicles attempting this hill. And Dan Mick’s is one of the few operators who take these trails versus tours where you only get to watch others drive the trail. The scramble includes ridges, quick descents, dinosaur tracks and beautiful overlooks. The truest way to experience Moab by Jeep.
For dinner, we chose Twisted Sistas Café and ordered several plates of tapas to share and a few glasses of wine – which continued after getting back to the Red Cliffs Lodge to watch the sunset over the river and cliffs on the back patio.
The next morning we started early at Love Muffin Cafe with hot coffee and Blueberry, Bacon, Maple Muffins. Yes, you read that right. We enjoyed this cafe so much we went again the next day. The cafe is filled with tour guides and locals all preparing for their day’s activities.
The second block for Arches was to hike the Devil’s Garden Trail first thing in the morning. This trail is at the very back of the park and becomes very busy later in the day where parking can be difficult. By arriving early, you can have the Landscape Arch to yourselves and some may even want to take the more aggressive path further on to the Double O Arch. The longer path involves rock scrambling and steep drops in areas so it would be best for those with good hiking shoes/skills and who are comfortable with scrambling.
We then used our pass from the previous day to visit the Fiery Furnace as only a small number of visitors with tags are allowed in. We only went about an hour into the furnace which was truly amazing. However, we can see why visitors quickly become disoriented and lost so we went as far as we were comfortable (meaning we got a little bit lost and decided that was far enough) and then made our way back out.
Our next stop is what you might call “tourist central”. The collection of Arches, Windows and Balanced Rock in the center of the park are always busy. One tip is to take the primitive trail to the Windows. About 100 yards to the left of the main trail in the parking lot is a small dirt path leading around the back of the Windows. For photographers, you can get an amazing sunrise shot through the North Window looking out on Turret Arch. This path then leads around the Windows back to Turret Arch and all of the other arches as well as Balanced Rock.
After a full morning, there is something special about the Quesadilla Mobilla food truck where you sit on the patio on main street and look out over the town. Our favorites were the pure sugar cane sodas (we needed energy by this point) and The Dirt Bag (cheese and refried beans) and Enchanted Chicken (with green chiles).
Here we made a side trip which may only appeal to those who want to see everything or really enjoy photography in unique places. We made the 1.5 hour drive from Moab to Goblin State Valley Park. Goblin Valley is filled with six-foot high mud hoodoos covering the valley floor which make for an amazing view. And what we did not realize is they are small enough for kids to climb all over them. Next door to Goblin Valley is also Little Wild Horse Canyon – another stop visitors may consider with more time. For us, it was back to Moab and a reservation at Desert Bistro for dinner.
Desert Bistro is the one fine dining option in town and reservations are highly recommended as there are not many tables. The food is terrific including an ahi poke salad, steak and antelope (a much tougher meat like a flank steak but seasoned very well).
The following day we started at Love Muffin Cafe again before meeting our guide for canyoneering and rappelling. We chose Eric at Windgate Adventures who we also highly recommend. Eric’s group offers trips ranging from first time beginners who want to repel to advanced rock climbing. We settled on the moderate full-day Land Before Time Canyon which included three full rappels of 130’, 70’ and 120’ as well as a trip down the Behind the Rocks Trail.
The first repel sits directly across from a full arch as you descend to the sandy bottom below. Afterwards you climb the ridges up to the peak to see 180 degree views of the rock ridges in every direction – which took a while to fully appreciate. Frankly, we were surprised this area is not noted on most of the review websites and was one of the most spectacular views of our entire trip. The trip continued for six hours, two more rappels and even canyon wall scrambling (called a “chimney move” as we were told). The chimney move involves pressing your back against a flat wall and feet against the opposite flat wall and making your way over a drop to the end. At some point on the trip, every one of us accomplished something we didn’t think we could physically do which was both scary and uplifting.
By the end of the trip, we were exhausted and Paradox Pizza has great pizza to pick up for dinner and take back to the hotel while resting a lot of weary muscles. The next day was our last day in Moab where we planned to visit Canyonlands and Dead Horse State Park.
And for more details on surrounding areas see our full itinerary for Moab and Dunton Hot Springs or Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce or destination notes for Canyonlands, Dunton Hot Springs, Albuquerque, Zion/Bryce Canyon, and Amangiri/Lake Powell.