On my first road trip out west, Utah was not high on my list of places to visit. I had seen photos of the Rockies and the Grand Prismatic Spring that drew my attention away from the hidden treasures that exist all over Utah. I visited Moab, UT as more of a pit stop on my way to Southern California and hadn’t expected it to become one of my favorite places on earth. This rugged western town is nestled just outside of Arches National Park and about 30 miles from the entrance of Canyonlands National Park. The National Parks draw in thousands of visitors to Moab each year, but there’s a ton to do in this area outside of Arches and Canyonlands. You could spend weeks exploring the mountain biking trails and floating on the Colorado River in this great area in Utah.
Getting to Moab
Moab is an outdoor adventure hub that’s located in eastern Utah about 30 miles off of highway 70. It’s about 350 miles from Salt Lake City and from Denver. One of my favorite drives in the world is the stretch of I-70 in between Denver and Moab. You can watch the landscape go from lush green picturesque mountains to rugged red desert rocks. Driving into Moab isn’t difficult and the highways surrounding the town are relatively well maintained. Just watch for falling rock, and if you’re driving into this area for the first time I always recommend arriving while the sun is still out.
Staying in Moab
If you were on your game early enough and got a spot inside of Arches National Park, located just right outside of Moab, then you’re in luck. There’s only 50 campsites in Arches’ Devils Garden Campground and RVs over 40ft are not permitted. If you weren’t able to reserve a spot inside the park, there’s a ton of accommodations in Moab that can suit all different types of travelers. RV parks, glamping yurts, hotels, primitive campsites and tiny houses are scattered all across this little desert town. Campgrounds do fill up quickly during their busy season (March – October), so be sure to book in advance. The entrance to Canyonlands National Park is about 30 minutes outside of Moab and has 41 RV accessible campsites, most of which are reserved on a first-come first-served basis. If you know the dates you’re looking to visit this part of Utah, reserving in advance is very helpful. If you’re just passing through and don’t mind boondocking on public lands, the Discover Moab site is a great place to find a primitive campsite.
Day Hikes in Moab
Canyonlands National Park is a global backpacking destination and is home to hundreds of backcountry trails for those looking to go off the beaten path. If you’re more interested in the best backpacking trails in Moab, check out our Canyonlands Backpacking Guide. For day hikers that like to be back at their RV at the end of the day, I’ve highlighted some of my favorite hikes in the area that you won’t want to miss
Aztec Butte Trail – Canyonlands National Park
Length: 1.7 miles
Elevation gain: 262 ft
Trailhead: drive 6.5 miles south of the Island in the Sky visitor center in Canyonlands National Park
This trail has a ton of history, gorgeous views and a fun rock scramble at the end. At the top of this bluff you can see ancient granaries and stone structures from the Aztecs who used to call this land home. It’s a short hike, but a great way to start or end your day in the park.
Corona and Bowtie Arch Trail – Bootlegger Canyon
Length: 2.3 miles
Elevation gain: 450 ft
Trailhead GPS: N 38 34.467′, W 109 37.941′
Bootlegger Canyon overlooks the Colorado River and the trailhead for the Corona and Bowtie Arch Trail is only a couple miles from the Moab city center. This hike is dog-friendly, family-friendly and is a great way to view all the gorgeous wildflowers Moab has to offer. The Corona and Bowtie arches on this hike are iconic and give you a glimpse of unique geography without entering the national park.
Dead Horse Rim Loop Trail – Dead Horse Point State Park
Length: 5 miles
Elevation gain: 900 ft
Trailhead: Dead Horse Point State Park Visitor Center at UT-313, Moab, UT 84532
This trail is super popular among visitors to Moab, and for good reason. This loop offers out-and-back options and several gorgeous scenic outlook points that you can only find in this part of the country. There’s options for mountain bikers and the rim trails allow dogs. I recommend downloading a map for this hike as the cairns can be difficult to spot.
Mill Creek Trail – Mill Creek Canyon Wilderness Study Area
Length: 2 miles
Elevation gain: 65 ft
Trailhead: 2200 Powerhouse Ln, Moab, UT 84532
What’s great about this hike is you’re able to get your feet wet while seeing some beautiful waterfalls in the desert landscape. Bring water shoes and make sure you follow the trail closely as it can be easy to get lost out here. This trail is dog friendly, but can get crowded so it’s best to get here early in the morning.
Double O Arch Trail – Arches National Park
Length: 4 miles
Elevation gain: 675 ft
Trailhead: 9.2 miles up the Arches Entrance Road, take the first right after Balanced Rock to the trailhead
If you’re only going to do one hike in Arches National Park, this is the best in my opinion. There’s some rock scrambling and also a few points where you can slide down smooth red rocks, which keeps the trail exciting. It may be a little bit challenging for inexperienced hikers, but if you’re up for the challenge it’s worth it to see these iconic bridge-like arches that are pictured in many Utah postcards. Take the primitive trail back to the trailhead if you’re looking for more solitude on your hike.
What to bring
You can check out our ultimate camping trip packing guide for a comprehensive list. But also, here’s an additional list of items that I would recommend bringing to this specific region:
- Plenty of sunscreen, lotion and chapstick for that hot, dry desert sun
- Dusters, rags and brooms for your rig – the desert dust will find its way in one way or another
- A hydration pack and/or water filter so you have enough drinking water on these desert trails – water is sparse in these national parks
- Plenty of cold weather gear – this area gets some chilly nights that you’ll want to be prepared for
- Tire patch kit because falling rocks are all over these roads
There are so many exciting things to do in Moab. Take a float trip down the Colorado River, rent ATVs and explore the overlanding trails in Canyonlands, check out the local art, traverse a mountain biking trail, or go see dinosaur bones. There’s adventure and tourist centers all over this little town and the locals are super friendly to visitors. Don’t be afraid to ask about where the best spots are for whatever kind of desert experience you’re looking to get into.
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