If you're on Instagram, you know that Moab, Utah has become one of the trendiest spots for outdoor enthusiasts and travel bloggers alike. With picturesque rock formations at Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, an abundance of outdoor activities (climbing, mountain biking, rafting, etc.), and hundred of miles of hiking trails, Moab has so much to offer. With so many options, it is easy to get overwhelmed so I have narrowed it down for you and created the Ultimate Guide to a Weekend in Moab.
Arches National Park Scenic Drive
Arches National Park is my favorite NP and I could easily spend days there exploring the different rock formations. However, most people don't have days to spend in a single park. To get in as much park as possible, do the scenic drive. You can get through the entire park in a few hours, spending about 10 minutes at each viewpoint. Here are the viewpoints you should definitely plan on swinging by (in order as you drive through the park from the visitors' center):
- Park Avenue Viewpoint
- Petrified Dunes Viewpoint
- Balanced Rock*
- The Windows*
- Delicate Arch Viewpoint*
- Fiery Furnace Viewpoint
- Sand Dune Arch*
* I would recommend doing the associated hike at these stops
If you are looking for a leisurely hike, there are a ton of easily accessible arches just a short distance from the parking lot. Here are a few that I loved:
- Balanced Rock Trail: .3 miles round trip (20 minutes*) - loop trail at the base of a fragile, picturesque rock formation
- The Windows Trail: 1 mile round trip (45 minutes*) - a gentle climb up a gravel trail leads to the massive North and South windows, and Turret Arch. Return via the same trail, or take the slightly longer primitive trail around the back of the Windows from South Window viewpoint.
- Sand Dune Arch: .3 miles round trip (20 minutes*) - cross deep sand to secluded arch among fins of rock.
- Broken Arch Loop: 2 miles round trip (60 minutes*) - from the trailhead at the Sand Dune Arch parking area, the trail crosses a large meadow to the arch and continues to the campground. Trail leads through fins with sand dunes and slickrock. The northern part of the loop includes some moderate scrambling.
* The times indicated are provided by Arches National Park - depending on your athleticism and hiking ability, these times can be significantly reduced.
Delicate Arch Trail
Delicate Arch is by far the most popular arch in ANP (it's even on the Utah license plate) and can be viewed from the Delicate Arch Viewpoint, a leisurely 100 yards from the parking lot. DO NOT SETTLE FOR THIS. The arch is so incredible that you need to literally stand next to it to fully understand its magnificence. The Delicate Arch Trail is one of the most difficult hikes in the park, but it is worth it. From the parking lot, it is a 3 mile round trip hike and the park expects it to take about 2.5 hours. Details:
- Open slickrock with no shade
- The first half mile is a well defined trail
- Follow the rock cairns
- The trail climbs steadily and levels out toward the top of this rock face
- Just before you get to Delicate Arch, the trail traverses a narrow rock ledge for about 200 yards (183 m)
This hike is difficult, but it is still just a hike, not a climb, and can easily be accomplished. Bring water - the park recommends 2 liters per person. Delicate Arch is a great spot to catch sunset and an even better spot to stargaze, but make sure you bring headlamps or flashlights to get you back down the trail in the dark. If you only do one hike in Arches, make sure it's this one!
Glamping at Under Canvas Moab
Moab has a ton of lodging options from campsites to RV parks to traditional hotels - something for every interest and budget. Because we only had one night in Moab, we wanted to be as close to the action (parks) as possible and when I came across Moab Under Canvas, I knew it was the perfect spot. Moab Under Canvas is a glampsite located on 40 acres, 7 miles north of downtown Moab, Utah, just moments away from the entrance to both Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park featuring luxurious tents that allow guests the opportunity to enjoy Utah’s spectacular desert without giving up the comforts of home. I have never glamped before and didn't quite know what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised with my experience. Under Canvas offers a few levels of luxury:
- Safari which features either 2 twin beds or 1 king bed just steps away from a communal bathroom with showers, sinks and flushing toilets.
- Deluxe that boasts its own private ensuite bathroom inside your tent which includes a shower, sink and flushing toilet. A wood stove keeps the tent warm at night and a private deck allows you to enjoy the night stars.
- Suite that features a private ensuite bathroom inside your tent which includes a shower, sink, and flushing toilet and a lounge area with a leather Queen sofabed in a secluded and more sheltered location with the best views at camp. A wood stove keeps the tent warm & a private deck allows you to enjoy the stars.
We opted for the most cost-conscious Safari tent with a wood burning stove and king bed, which had down and fleece blankets to keep us warm during the 35 degree night. We enjoyed making s'mores by the campfire and the incredible stargazing this remote location was able to offer. Under Canvas also provides numerous dining options including breakfast to be enjoying on site or taken to go, picnic lunches (which are great for taking into the park), and the option to BBQ your dinner just steps away from your tent. Moab Under Canvas was the perfect blend of the charms of camping with the luxuries of home.
Sunrise at Canyonlands National Park
I am not a morning person and it takes A LOT to get me out of bed in the morning, especially at 2 hours before sunrise (in this case, 4:00 am). However for this, it was totally worth it. From Under Canvas, it was about a 45 minute drive to the Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, the recommended sunrise spot. From the parking lot, it's about a 10 minute walk down to the vista. Apparently a lot of other people got that memo too, and at 5:15 (45 minutes before sunrise), the viewpoint of Mesa Arch framing the canyon below was already packed with tripods. Since I'm typically just an iPhone photographer, I was able to squeeze my phone in between tourists and snap a few shots of the sun lighting up the canyon. If you are hoping to use a tripod, get to Mesa Arch an hour before sunrise to guarantee the coveted spot in front of the arch.
Canyonlands National Park Scenic Drive
Being in Canyonlands before sunrise has its perks and once the sun is up, you pretty much have the park to yourself. Canyonlands is huge - spanning over 500 square miles - and is split into 2 primary regions: Island in the Sky and the Needles. These regions are not connected and have a 100+ mile drive between visitors center. Because of this, we opted to explore Island in the Sky, an easy 30 miles from downtown Moab. We drove around Island in the Sky, stopping at various viewpoints along the way. I would recommend starting as far into the island as possible at Grand View Point Overlook. GVPO features an amazing 2 mile hike that showcases spectacular panoramic views as it follows the canyon edge. After completing the Grand View Point trail, get back on the road and make sure you stop at these overlooks on your way back to Moab for lunch:
- Orange Cliffs Overlook
- Buck Canyon Overlook
- Green River Overlook
- Shafer Canyon Overlook
If you have extra time, grab lunch in Moab and head down to the Needles to check out the rest of the park. In 4 hours you can explore the scenic drive and graded dirt roads and hike the Cave Spring, Pothole Point, and Roadside Ruin trails, or the longer Slickrock trail. The scenic drive continues 6.5 miles past the visitor center, ending at Big Spring Canyon Overlook. There are several pullouts for short hiking trails, viewpoints, and a picnic area. Graded gravel roads lead to Cave Spring and the Elephant Hill trailhead. Get some of the best views of The Needles on the graded Elephant Hill access road (about one mile from the pavement).
Scenic Drive and Sunset at Dead Horse State Park
You pass the entrance to Dead Horse Point State Park just before the Island in the Sky entrance to Canyonlands. 32 miles (51.5 km) from Moab, Dead Horse Point State Park is one of Utah's most spectacular state parks. The view from Dead Horse Point overlook is one of the most photographed scenic vistas in the world. Towering 2,000 feet above the Colorado River, the overlook provides a breathtaking panorama of Canyonlands' sculpted pinnacles and buttes. There are miles of pet-friendly developed hiking trails in the park, including a paved trail which provides easy access to some of the most scenic views. Spend some time exploring the viewpoints and head to Dead Horse Point for stunning sunset views.
Tips and Tricks
- If you are planning on venturing past the paved viewpoints, invest in hiking shoes! They make a huge difference when walking on slickrock. I love my low-profile Keens.
- Arches and Canyonlands offer very few services in the park, so plan ahead! Bring enough food (high protein options such as nuts, jerky, and granola bars) and water to get you through the day. There are a few water bottle filling stations throughout the parks, but very few are near trail heads.
- Moab is a desert, so expect up to 40 degree temperature swings throughout the day. Bring layers (and a rain jacket for that unexpected shower) to ensure that you are adequately prepared for the day.
- If you are planning on doing anything at night, bring a flashlight or headlamp. The dark sky is awesome for stargazing, but make sure you are being safe and smart while navigating around.