Never been to Moab? Never even heard of it? Moab is one of southern Utah’s greatest treasures. It is a small town surrounded by some of the best hiking and national parks in the world. Having been countless times myself, there are so many adventures to be had down in the red rocks that define Moab. The amount to do can be overwhelming, so below is a four-day guide to Moab!
For those on a budget, look no further than the Lazy Lizard Hostel. The hostel is just what you would expect: It is mildly weird (it is oddly situated behind some storage units), has a friendly staff, a communal environment, and is super cheap. Options include a dorm-style bunk room, private rooms, private cabins, and campsites. The hostel is clean, has free Wi-Fi, and is perfect for its location and inexpensive price. It isn’t uncommon to find a few animals taking refuge there as well.
If a hostel doesn’t sound ideal, hotels of varying caliber are plentiful, as well as camping. Moab has options for paid campsites as well as free camping on designated BLM land. Most campsites are first-come, first-served.
Head bright and early to Arches National Park, and pack breakfast and lunch to maximize your time in the park. Start with Park Avenue, a perfect way to begin the day, as the trail introduces you to the towering red rock cliffs. There is also a great view from the parking lot. Once you're finished here, keep driving through the park, stopping to see all of the attractions and do the mini-trails for each. A must-do stop is at Double Arch and the Windows; these are two of the most impressive stone arches in the park, and they are easy to see and explore.
You cannot miss out on the keystone of the park, Delicate Arch (the iconic arch on all of the Utah license plates). It is a 3-mile hike round trip, but because of the dramatic incline, it feels a bit longer. There is also very little shade, so even in the winter it is a warm way up. Along the way, be sure to stop to see the petroglyphs before crossing the sand covered twists and turns around the canyon to the top. Delicate Arch has to be one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Not only do you get an amazing red rock arch, but you get the La Salle mountains glowing behind it, the beauty of the landscape around you, a giant spiraling hole (looks like it was right out of Star Wars) in front of the arch, bright blue skies, and the occasional golden eagle soaring by. It is quite an incredible place in the world, and it is a definite must do when going to Arches. On the way down the trail there is a little arch that you can climb up for additional views of the Delicate Arch. I would recommend climbing through it on the way back so as not to ruin the surprise of turning that last corner on your way up.
After Delicate Arch, continue to the other stopping points along the park's map, completing all of the small trails as you wish. A favorite on the back leg is Sand Dune Arch, which is tucked in a shadowed canyon, with a floor of fine, soft sand. For those seeking off-the-beaten-path adventures in Arches, Tower Arch and Fiery Furnace are good options. Tower Arch is off of a dirt road within the park. The trail itself is more remote and exposed than others. Fiery Furnace is a “choose your own adventure” short loop that requires good navigational skills, some bouldering and canyoneering, and most importantly, a permit from the National Park Service.
For dinner, a great spot is the Moab Brewery. It is a fun, family-friendly atmosphere with good burgers and cheap beer.
Start your second day of adventuring with some wicked good coffee at Wicked Brew, a happy little drive through a kiosk right across the street from the Lazy Lizard. This is another day you will need to pack breakfast and lunch, as there are no places to stop on the drive down to Needles. Needles is about an hour and a half south from Moab. It is one of the entrances to Canyonlands National Park. Canyonlands has four sections: Island in the Sky, Needles, Horseshoe Canyon, and the Maze. Four-wheel drive vehicles are needed for the maze and horseshoe canyon as well as extensive pre-planning for the remoteness of those two parts of the park. On the way you will pass "Hole in the Wall," an interesting looking tourist trap, and Wilson Arch, and zero gas stations. Stop to climb up to Wilson Arch; it’s worth a quick scramble up to sit in the arch for a nice view.
Turn onto the road to Needles. The road to the park is 34 miles long, so be prepared with enough gas. There is a gas station at the very end of the road, but beware- only use this as a last resort, as the gas doubles in price. There are quite a few trails in Needles, but a great trail to get a taste of a little bit of everything is the trail to Chesler Park. The hike to Chesler Park is really fun, the terrain changes every quarter mile or so, and you get to climb through slot canyons, on the edges of canyons, and see extraordinary views of the Needles. Because the terrain is so variable, I would describe the hike as moderately difficult. Chesler Park is a perfect destination for a nice picnic lunch, and it is a very doable 6-mile stint.
After Chesler Park you can play around at the different vista points along the roads of the park. There is a short trail around Cave Springs, which is also really fun because you get to climb up ladders! It is a full day, so be sure to head back before dark to avoid the numerous roadside deer that frequent the area and pop up on cars at night.
Back to Arches! Devil’s Garden is at the very end of the park, and is an 8-mile loop trail that showcases multiple arches. It is a great trail to do if you have the energy, and it is often less crowded than the rest of the park. I would definitely rate it as the most strenuous of the hikes I’ve recommended, mostly due to the primitive nature of the trails. You hike mostly in deep sand and on top of slick-rock, and there is some rock scrambling involved. The arches you see along the way are spectacular, especially Double O Arch, which is like an hourglass-shaped arch with two different holes. There is also not a lot of shade on this trail, so come prepared for the heat, even in the winter.
Stop for lunch at the Moab Diner, a fun and quirky roadside diner with all the comfort foods needed after a long hike.
As a reward after this tiring hike, head out to Island in the Sky to see more of Canyonlands. Take your time enjoying in the amazing vistas of the park. Check out the upheaval dome, a strange formation that is still a mystery. One more short hike to Mesa Arch, which is the Delicate Arch of Canyonlands, is a must-do. Can't get much prettier. The arch sits on the edge of the canyon, a picturesque framing of the lands beyond.
Racing the sun, drive to Dead Horse Point for sunset, which is brilliant. The Colorado River, matched with the vast canyons, mountains, and the colors of sunset make for a perfect and exhilarating last few minutes of daylight for day three.
For dinner, check out the Blu Pig, a lively barbecue joint that often has live music in the evenings.
On your way out of Moab, stop at the Eclecta Cafe for breakfast. The cafe can be swamped with people, but it is very tasty (also a little pricey).
For the last hike of your adventure, go to Corona Arch down Potash road. What a hidden gem. This hike isn't in a park, but it is a beautiful place to go. The drive itself is great and runs along the river. There are more petroglyphs along the way as well as a lot of climbers along the cliffs! The hike to the arch is relatively short (3 miles round trip) and quite exciting, and it includes crossing railroad tracks, climbing up rock cliffs with the aids of ropes and ladders, and it has a worthy payoff at the top with Corona and Bowtie Arch.
Before leaving Moab for good, it is worth playing in the giant sand dune across from the entrance to Arches. That actually is probably the most difficult climb up of the trip, but the way down is fabulous, sliding and surfing in the steep sand dune all the way down. It is enjoyable for both children and adults, and it is the perfect end to a great adventure.