Magnificent Moab: Southeast Utah’s Mecca for Outdoor Adventure

by Sue Durio on October 10, 2023 in Travels,

The morning sun is spotlighting the vibrant colors of the high desert canyons and red rock formations as our jeep carefully climbs the rocky single-width dirt road leading to Gemini Bridges and on to the famed Potash Road/Shafer Switchbacks, skirting Canyonlands National Park.

You’ll need a high clearance 4×4 vehicle to navigate the Shafer Trail in Canyonlands National Park. The Shafer family used this trail in the early 1900s to move cattle from summer to winter pastures. Today it is a popular back-road route for Moab visitors, rated moderately difficult primarily for its narrow, steep switchbacks. Photo Maureen Beckett.

Up ahead, a camper truck approaches and we ease over to let it pass. The driver signals with two fingers that two more vehicles are in the group. A wave and closed fist by the last driver tell us the road is clear to move on. The scene repeats itself occasionally as we make our way deeper into the backroads around Moab and away from other explorers. Thanks to the trail guidebook the outfitters at Twisted Jeeps lent us, we meander what seems like untouched land with ease. And, along the way, we discover the breathtaking natural beauty that keeps outdoor adventurers flocking here.

Four-wheeling on Moab’s back-country roads is a popular way to see untouched scenery like this natural tunnel on the way to Gemini Bridges. Moab-based outfitter Twisted Jeeps equips renters with detailed maps to minimize unintended off-road diversions. Photo Maureen Beckett.

With two national parks, a renowned state park, bountiful slickrock access for hiking and off-roading, and the cool waters of the Colorado River nearby, Moab, Utah, has something to keep any outdoors enthusiast entertained indefinitely. And with its quaint inns, watering holes and eclectic restaurants, this charming high desert town is the perfect launchpad for active travelers.

Explore the Parks

Double Arch is easily accessible to visitors in Arches National Park, but it is best to arrive early morning or late afternoon to avoid crowds and heat. Photo Maureen Beckett.

Moab is within striking distance from Arches National Park (the visitor entrance is only 5 miles north on US 181) and Canyonlands National Park (about 30 miles north). Both can easily be experienced in a couple of days. The GuideAlong app is well worth the $16 it costs to access GPS-enabled audio tours of both parks. As you follow the narration, you can stop off at pull-out overlooks or opt to see these parks’ natural wonders up closer via hikes both short and long.

Most pull-off parking areas have (surprisingly clean) bathrooms, and many offer shaded picnic areas perfect for refueling mid-day. Have only limited time for a visit? Stop by the visitors’ centers and ask the park rangers for recommendations on must-see spots.

National Park visitors need a park pass; save time at the entrances by buying online. At Arches, you’ll also need to reserve a timed entry slot for visits between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m.

One of the most accessible arches in Canyonlands is the iconic Mesa Arch, and in Arches, the Double Arch. These popular photo opp locations can draw crowds, especially for sunrise and sunset shots. But the wait here, and at all the scenic stops, will reward with stunning beauty that pictures simply cannot fully capture.

Photographers are drawn to Moab’s intense high desert color palette and geological artistry. But even the most professional photographers can’t fully capture the stunning beauty of Moab as seen in person. Photo Sue Durio.

While you are in the area, don’t miss Deadhorse Point State Park’s panoramic views from 2,000 feet above the Colorado River. Its entrance is just four miles off the Canyonlands access road. Many visitors rate it their favorite of the three parks. All three parks are recognized as International Dark Sky Parks, making for unforgettable stargazing, too.

Drive the Slickrock

The dark lines traversing the slick rock ahead indicate the trail to follow on Fins ‘n Things, a moderately difficult UTV trail in the Sand Flats Recreation Area. Recreationists must buy permits to access the 9,000 acres of slick rock domes, bowls and fins located just outside Moab. Photo Sue Durio.

No trip to Moab is complete without experiencing the thrill of UTVing over slickrock boulders. Take a guided ride with longtime local outfitter High Point Hummer, or rent your own. Explore the near-vertical rock climbing accessible on nearby trails like Fins ‘n Things. While these 4WD beasts are built for rock scrambling, always keep safety first by wearing helmets, gloves and goggles. Utah requires all UTV drivers to pass a safety education course as well. And as with all Moab exploration, bring lots of water.

Hit the River

Detour onto Hwy. 128, a designated Utah Scenic Byway, for a jaw-dropping drive through the Colorado River gorge. Enjoy a picnic at one of the many riverside sites, or head to the patio at Red Cliffs Lodge for a glass of local Spanish Valley wine and a glimpse of river rafters as they navigate rapids. While here, visit the Museum of Film and Western Heritage, showcasing memorabilia from the many movies filmed here.

A day on the Colorado River gifts Moab visitors with an entirely different perspective of the red rock canyons. Mild2Wild rafting guides do most of the work on the tame Castle Valley stretch of the river, while guests enjoy the cool water, watch for wildlife and spot abandoned and under-construction movie sets along the river. Photo Maureen Beckett.

If being this close to the river is enticing you to get on the water, book a raft trip with one of the local guide services like Mild2Wild. Opt for a leisurely class 1 and 11 float through Castle Canyon, where you’ll float past abandoned movie sets and new ones under construction, learn about the geology and take a dip in the cool ruddy water. Or amp up the adrenaline with one of their longer overnight trips through Cataract Canyon or the Gates of Lodore.

Whether on land or water, there’s no end to the outdoor fun in Moab.


 Cover Photo Maureen Beckett.

Freelance writer Sue Durio is a regular contributor to Texas Lifestyle magazine, where she shares her love for adventure travel and unique destinations. Contact her at