The Moab area is one of Utah's main outdoor playgrounds, an ideal spot for hiking, boating, camping, or just plain horsing around (with or without the horse). In addition to the nearby national parks, Arches and Canyonlands, which are covered in full later in this chapter, there's plenty of room to roam on land administered by the Bureau of Land Management's Moab office, 82 E. Dogwood Ave., Moab, UT 84532 (tel. 435/259-2100; www.blm.gov/utah/moab), and the Manti-La Sal National Forest's Moab Ranger District, 62 E. 100 North (P.O. Box 386), Moab, UT 84532 (tel. 435/259-7155; www.fs.fed.us/r4). The best source for information is the Moab Information Center.
Because of the extreme desert heat in summer, the best time for most outdoor activities is spring or fall -- even the relatively mild winters are inviting. If you end up vacationing in the middle of summer, do your serious hiking and mountain biking early in the day, enjoy a siesta along the river or beside a swimming pool during the heat of the afternoon, and take a short hike in the evening, just before sundown.
The Moab area has thousands of miles of four-wheel-drive roads, most left over from mining days. These roads offer a popular way to explore this scenic country without exerting too much energy.
A number of local companies provide guided trips, starting at about $70 per adult and $60 per child under 16 or 17, for a half-day. You can also rent a 4X4 and take off on your own.
When hitting the trail on your own, either in a rental or personal 4X4, you will encounter everything from fairly easy dirt roads to "You-don't-really-expect-me-to-take-this-$50,000-SUV-up-there-do-you?" piles of rocks. Several four-wheel-drive trips are described in the Canyonlands section, later in this chapter, and a free brochure, available at the Moab Information Center, covers several others.
Poison Spider Mesa Trail, which covers 16 miles of 4X4 road, providing stupendous views down to the Colorado River and Moab Valley, is a favorite of four-wheelers. It's considered difficult; a short-wheelbase high-clearance vehicle is best. Allow at least 4 hours. To reach the trail from the Moab Information Center, drive north on U.S. 191 for about 6 miles and turn west (left) onto Utah 279. Continue another 6 miles to the dinosaur tracks sign, where the trail leaves the pavement to the right, passing over a cattle guard. From here, simply follow the main trail (which is usually obvious) up switchbacks, through a sandy canyon, and over some steep, rocky stretches. From a slickrock parking area on top, you can take a short walk to Little Arch, which isn't really so little.
One easy 4X4 road is the Gemini Bridges Trail, which four-wheelers share with mountain bikers (the trail is described below in the mountain-biking section). Those with 4X4s often drive the route in the opposite direction of the mountain bikers, starting at a dirt road departing from the west side of U.S. 191, about 10 miles north of the Moab Information Center. This involves more uphill driving, which is safer for motor vehicles -- mountain bikers usually prefer going downhill.
The self-guided Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trail provides a close-up view of dinosaur bones and fossils from the Jurassic period, 150 million years ago, including a sauropod leg bone, vertebrae, ribs, toe bones, and the fossil remains of a large tree trunk. To reach the trail head, drive about 15 miles north of Moab on U.S. 191, then turn left at an intersection just north of highway mile marker 141. Cross the railroad tracks and follow a dirt road for about 2 miles to the trail head. Allow about 1 hour. On the south side of the canyon are the remnants of an old copper mill that operated in the late 1800s. Also nearby are the ruins of the Halfway Stage Station, a lunch stop in the late 1800s for stagecoach travelers making the 35-mile trip between Moab and Thompson, the nearest train station at that time. From the dinosaur trail head, go north as though you're returning to U.S. 191, but at the first intersection, turn right and drive to a dry wash, where you turn right again onto a jeep road that takes you a short distance to the stage station. The trail is managed by the BLM's Moab office.
It might be hard to keep your eye on the ball at the 18-hole, par-72 Moab Golf Club course, 2705 S. East Bench Rd. (tel. 435/259-6488; www.uga.org/clubs/moab). Located 5 miles south of downtown Moab in Spanish Valley (take Spanish Trail Rd. off U.S. 191), the challenging course, nestled among red sandstone cliffs, offers spectacular views in every direction. Open daily year-round (weather permitting), the course has a driving range, a pro shop and lessons, cart rentals, and a snack bar open for breakfast and lunch. Greens fees range from $40 to $50.
The Moab area offers hundreds of hiking possibilities, many of them just a few miles from town. Get information at the Moab Information Center and pick up the free brochure that describes seven local trails.
Particularly in the summer, carry at least a gallon of water per person per day and wear a broad-brimmed hat.
A local favorite is the Negro Bill Canyon Trail, named for William Granstaff, who lived in the area in the late 1800s. Allow about 3 hours for this 4-mile round-trip hike, which is considered easy to moderate. You may get your feet wet, depending on the level of the stream you follow up the canyon. To get to the trail head, go north from Moab on U.S. 191 to Utah 128, turn east (right), and go about 3 miles to a dirt parking area. About 2 miles up the trail, in a side canyon to the right, is the Morning Glory Bridge, a natural rock span of 243 feet. Watch out for the poison ivy that grows by a pool under the bridge. (In case you don't remember from your scouting manual, poison ivy has shiny leaves with serrated edges, and grows in clusters of three.)
The Hidden Valley Trail is a bit more challenging, taking you up a series of steep switchbacks to views of rock formations and a panorama of the Moab Valley. Allow about 4 hours for the 4-mile round-trip. To get to the trail head, drive about 3 miles south of the Moab Information Center on U.S. 191, turn west (right) onto Angel Rock Road, and go 2 blocks to Rimrock Road. Turn north (right) and follow Rimrock Road to the parking area. The trail is named for a broad shelf, located about halfway up the Moab Rim. Many hikers turn around and head back down after reaching a low pass with great views of huge sandstone fins (the 2-mile point), but you can extend the hike by continuing all the way to the Colorado River on a four-wheel-drive road.
The highly recommended Corona Arch Trail offers views of three impressive arches, a colorful slickrock canyon, and the Colorado River. Allow 2 hours for this 3-mile round-trip hike, which involves a lot of fairly easy walking plus some rather steep spots with handrails and a short ladder. From Moab, go north on U.S. 191 to Utah 279, turn west (left), and go about 10 miles to a parking area on the north side of the road. A registration box and trail head are near the railroad; after crossing the tracks, follow an old roadbed onto the trail, which is marked with cairns (piles of stones).
For those who want to see the canyons from horseback, several companies lead guided rides (get current information from the Moab Information Center), and one company, Adrift Adventures, offers combination rafting/horseback riding excursions, starting at $109 each for adults, $99 each for children 8 to 17.
With hundreds and hundreds of miles of trails, a wide variety of terrain, and spectacular scenery, Moab is easily the mountain-bike capital of Utah, and possibly of the United States (although the folks in Crested Butte, Colo., might disagree). In addition to the mountain-biking possibilities on four-wheel-drive roads in the national parks, there are abundant trails on Bureau of Land Management and national forestlands that are much less trafficked than national park routes.
When you get into town, stop by the Moab Information Center for a free copy of the Moab Area Mountain Bike Trails pamphlet. Discuss your plans with the very knowledgeable employees here, who can help you find the trails most suitable for your interests, ability, and equipment. You can also get information, as well as rent or repair bikes, at Poison Spider Bicycles, 497 N. Main St. (tel. 800/635-1792 or 435/259-7882; www.poisonspiderbicycles.com). Bike rentals and repairs, plus shuttle services, will be found at Chile Pepper Bike Shop, 702 S. Main St. (tel. 888/677-4688 or 435/259-4688; www.chilebikes.com). Bike rentals range from $40 to $75 per day, with discounts for multi-day rentals. Bike shuttle services are also available from several of the companies, including Coyote Shuttle (tel. 435/259-8656; www.coyoteshuttle.com) and Roadrunner Shuttle (tel. 435/259-9402; www.roadrunnershuttle.com).
Several local companies also offer guided mountain-bike tours, with rates starting at about $85 for a half-day and about $110 for a full day. Multi-day biking/camping trips are also available.
The area's most famous trail is undoubtedly the Slickrock Bike Trail, a scenic but challenging 9 2/3-mile loop that crosses a mesa of heavily eroded pale orange Navajo sandstone just a few minutes from downtown Moab. Along the way, the trail offers views that take in the towering La Sal Mountains, the red-rock formations of Arches National Park, a panorama of Canyonlands National Park, and the Colorado River. The trail, open to both mountain bikes and motorcycles, is physically demanding and technically difficult and not recommended for children, novices, or anyone who is out of shape or has medical problems. Allow 4 to 5 hours, and expect to walk your bike in some areas. If you're not sure you're ready for the trail, get started on the 2 1/4-mile practice loop. To access the trail head from the visitor information center, take Center Street east to 400 East. Turn south (right) and follow 400 East to Mill Creek Drive. Turn east (left) and follow Mill Creek Drive to Sand Flats Road, which you take 2 1/3 miles east to the BLM's Sand Flats Recreation Area and the trail head.
Those looking for a somewhat less challenging experience might try the Gemini Bridges Trail, a 14-mile one-way trip that shows off the area's colorful rock formations, including the trail's namesake: two natural rock bridges. Considered relatively easy, this trail follows a dirt road mostly downhill, ending at U.S. 191 just under 10 miles from the center of Moab, so it's best to arrange a shuttle . To get to the trail head from the Moab Information Center, drive north along U.S. 191 to Utah 313, turn west (left), and go about 13 miles. Allow a full day, including getting to and from the trail, and be sure to watch for the magnificent view of Arches National Park from a hilltop as you approach U.S. 191 near the end of the ride.
Although dozens of fabulous trails are waiting for you to explore in the immediate area, mountain bikers who really want to go somewhere -- perhaps all the way to Colorado -- will want to check out Kokopelli's Trail and the San Juan Hut System. Winding for 142 miles across sandstone and shale canyons, deserts, and mountains, Kokopelli's Trail connects Moab and Grand Junction, Colorado. It combines all types of mountain biking, from demanding single track to well-maintained dirt roads, and passes primitive campsites along the way. Elevation change is about 4,200 feet. The west end of the trail is near Sand Flats Road in Moab; the east end is at the Loma Boat Launch, 15 miles west of Grand Junction. For more information contact the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association, P.O. Box 4602, Grand Junction, CO 81502 (tel. 970/244-8877; www.copmoba.org).
The San Juan Hut Systems, P.O. Box 773, Ridgway, CO 81432 (tel. 970/626-3033; www.sanjuanhuts.com), links Moab with Telluride and Durango, both in Colorado, via two 215-mile mountain-bike trail systems. Approximately every 35 miles is a primitive cabin with eight bunks, a woodstove, a propane cooking stove, cooking gear, and groceries. The route is appropriate for intermediate-level mountain-bikers in good physical condition; more experienced cyclists will find advanced technical single tracks near the huts. The mountain-biking season generally runs from June through September. The cost for riders who plan to make either complete trip is $850 per person, which includes use of the six huts, food, sleeping bags at each hut, and maps and trail descriptions. Shorter trips and vehicle shuttles are also available.
Those with the proper skills and equipment for rock climbing will find ample opportunities in the Moab area; check with the BLM. Several companies also offer instruction and guided climbs, with rates for full-day climbs generally from $120 to $200 per person. Contact Desert Highlights, 50 E. Center St. (P.O. Box 1342), Moab, UT 84532 (tel. 800/747-1342 or 435/259-4433; www.deserthighlights.com), Moab Desert Adventures, 415 N. Main St., Moab, UT 84532 (tel. 877/765-6622 or 435/260-2404; www.moabdesertadventures.com), or Moab Cliffs & Canyons, 63 E. Center St., Moab, UT 84532 (tel. 877/641-5271 or 435/259-3317; www.cliffsandcanyons.com). For climbing equipment, you'll find the biggest selection at Gearheads, 471 S. Main St. (tel. 435/259-4327), which also offers free filtered water (bring your own jugs). You can also get climbing equipment at Moab Desert Adventures and Pagan Mountaineering, 59 S. Main St., #2 (tel. 435/259-1117; www.paganmountaineering.com).
Watersports: Boating, Canoeing, Rafting & More
After spending hours in the blazing sun looking at mile upon mile of huge red sandstone rock formations, it's easy to get the idea that the Moab area is a baking, dry, rock-hard desert. Well, it is. But Moab is also the only town in Utah that sits along the Colorado River, and it's rapidly becoming a major boating center.
You can travel down the river, all the way down to Canyonlands National Park, in a canoe, kayak, large or small rubber raft (with or without motor), or speedy, solid jet boat. Do-it-yourselfers can rent kayaks or canoes for $35 to $55 for a full day, or rafts starting at $60 for a full day. Half-day guided river trips start at about $40 per person; full-day trips are usually $50 to $70 per person. Multi-day rafting expeditions, which include meals and camping equipment, start at about $350 per person for 2 days. Jet-boat trips, which cover a lot more river in a given amount of time, start at about $80 for a half-day trip. Children's rates are usually about 20% lower. Some companies also offer sunset or dinner trips.
Public boat-launching ramps are opposite Lion's Park, near the intersection of U.S. 191 and Utah 128; at Take-Out Beach, along Utah 128 about 10 miles east of its intersection with U.S. 191; and at Hittle Bottom, also along Utah 128, about 24 miles east of its intersection with U.S. 191. For recorded information on river flows and reservoir conditions statewide, contact the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center (tel. 801/539-1311; www.cbrfc.noaa.gov).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.