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Walking along the spine towards Landscape Arch

Moab Itinerary Ideas for the Ultimate Visit

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve visited Moab. It’s one of my favourite places – not because the town is anything special; rather, it’s centrally located in an area of extreme beauty and within a short distance of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.

I think spring or fall are the best times to visit Moab. Our first visit was in August – for a canoeing trip on the Green River. It was a big mistake with temperatures soaring to 100°F by 11 AM. It gave us a reason to swim rather than paddle the river. So unless you love heat, avoid the months of June through mid-September.

Moab itinerary ideas for an unforgettable visit 

Day 1: Arrive in Moab

Fly into Denver, Salt Lake City or Las Vegas and rent a car. It’s about a six hour drive from Denver, a 4.5 hour drive from Salt Lake City or a 6.5  hour drive from Las Vegas. If you’re coming from Denver take the scenic Highway 128 instead of Highway 191. It’s an outstanding drive, especially around sunset.

You can fly into Grand Junction, just two hours away or Moab itself but you pay a premium for these flights.

The drive to Moab via Highway 128 - the scenic route from I-70
The drive to Moab via Highway 128 – the scenic route from I-70
Some of my favourite type of southwest US scenery
Some of my favourite type of southwest US scenery

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Where to stay in Moab

My preference is the Sunflower Hill Luxury Inn. I’ve stayed here on most of my visits and love the place. Breakfasts are outstanding. There is now a pool for lounging and a hot tub as well as a large common area filled with interesting reading material. The owners are very knowledgeable and will steer you in the right direction every morning.

An alternative is the Best Western Plus Canyonlands Inn on Main Street. The rooms have been renovated and come morning there is a full hot breakfast buffet.

Another upscale alternative you pass on the way into Moab if you take Highway 128 is the lovely Red Cliffs Lodge situated on the Colorado River.

There are loads of alternatives – that are less expensive on the strip entering and leaving Moab. If you don’t mind camping, the campgrounds in the national parks are an excellent choice.

One year we camped under the stars in Arches – falling asleep to the howling of the coyotes. You should reserve in advance during busy season. For more information visit this page on camping in Arches National Park.

Dinner suggestions: Wander down Main Street and see what catches your fancy. We tried the Twisted Sistas Cafe the first night.

My Moab itinerary includes a stay at the Sunflower Inn
My Moab itinerary includes a stay at the Sunflower Inn

Day 2: Pay a visit to Arches National Park

After breakfast head for Arches National Park. Plan on a full day so go prepared with drinks, a lunch, snacks and ‘sundowners’. Many of the hikes to the various arches are short but if you want something longer and very beautiful but with fewer people choose the Devil’s Garden – Primitive Trail Hike.

I also recommend choosing a spot to enjoy the sunset. Bring some wine and snacks and watch the sun go down. We chose to do that at Balanced Rock.

Dinner Suggestion: The Broken Oar

Some of our favourite hiking on the Devils Garden trail
Some of our favourite hiking on the Devils Garden trail
Another view of Balanced Rock
Another view of Balanced Rock

Day 3: Enjoy a sunrise visit to Dead Horse Point State Park and Canyonlands National Park

Start the day early so you can catch the sunrise over the Colorado River at Dead Horse Point State Park. Check ahead so see when the sun is rising and plan to be there 20 – 30 minutes beforehand. Dress warmly as desert mornings are cold. Allow 40 minutes to drive the 30 miles.

A golden glow over the Colorado River
Watching the sun come up in Dead Horse State Park

Head back into town for breakfast and enjoy a leisurely few hours before heading back in the same direction – this time to explore the Islands in the Sky section of Canyonlands National Park. Before you head out make dinner reservations at the Cowboy Grill at the Red Cliffs Lodge Restaurant.

Try the Murphy Point hike in the Islands in the Sky Area. And don’t forget to check out Mesa Arch. It’s an easy hike and the view is incredible.

Mesa Arch in Canyonlands
Mesa Arch in Canyonlands
Stunning views of the Green River Valley
Stunning views of the Green River Valley
Watching the sun set at dinner at the aptly named Red Cliffs Lodge
Watching the sun set at dinner at the aptly named Red Cliffs Lodge

Day 4: Head to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park

Allow a full day to explore the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. Its 74 miles southwest of Moab so it will take you about 1 hour and 20 minutes to drive it. Before you leave Moab stock up on cold drinks and lunch supplies.

Once on Highway 211, the road that takes you to the Visitor Centre – take the time to stop at Newspaper Rock Archaeological Site. I also found pausing by the side of the road to appreciate the emptiness of the area very worthwhile.

For an idea of what you’ll see check out: Day Trip to Needles District, Canyonlands National Park.

Restaurants: For an upscale meal make a reservation at Desert Bistro.

Newspaper Rock Archaeological Site - a petroglyph panel recording about 2,000 years of history though the meaning of the figures is undecided
Newspaper Rock Archaeological Site – a petroglyph panel recording about 2,000 years of history though the meaning of the figures is undecided
The start of the Slickrock Trail, Needles District, Canyonlands National Park
The start of the Slickrock Trail, Needles District, Canyonlands National Park

Day 5: Spend a day on a bike in the Moab area

Moab is world-renown for its mountain biking. Even if your skill level is extremely basic, there will be a trail for you.

Some of my favourite bike rides over the years include Gemini Bridges, the famous Slickrock Trail (try the practice loop at the very least), Flat Pass, Klondike Kliffs and the spectacular White Rim Trail – which is best done as a four day supported ride.

You can rent bikes, bike racks and organize tours – from one day through to multi-day tours with Rim Tours, a reputable company that’s been around for years.

Start or end the White Rim Trail on the Shafer Trail
Start or end the White Rim Trail on the Shafer Trail – Photo credit: Tom Kelly On Flickr

Day 6: Either head home or if you have the time I suggest a visit to Capitol Reef National Park for several days of hiking and exploring.

Drive the scenic route from Moab to Torrey near Capitol Reef National Park via Highway 191, 95 and Highway 24.

It’s a full day of driving I highly recommend with wonderful diversions like Natural Bridges National Monument.

You could easily spend a day hiking in Natural Bridges National Monument
You could easily spend a day hiking in Natural Bridges National Monument
Looking up the Colorado River from the bridge on Highway 95
Looking up the Colorado River from the bridge on Highway 95
The approach to Capitol Reef National Park if you're driving west
The approach to Capitol Reef National Park if you’re driving west

Before you book anything, check to see if there is a special event happening. Our visit to Moab in late March coincided with the Moab jeep safari so the place was over run with jeeps. It’s usually around Easter.

Other useful information can be found on the Discover Moab site.

I will never tire of visiting Moab and the fabulous red rock country around it. If you have other recommendations related to exploring Moab please leave a comment.

Coming in 2021 – another way to get to Moab

There’s going to be a new way to get to Moab beginning in 2021. Pick up the Rocky Mountaineer train in Denver for a 2 day scenic trip with an overnight stay in Glenwood Springs. It will have the same level of service on the Rocky Mountaineer route through the Rockies in Canada – and I can tell you that I had an amazing experience. For more information check out Rockies to the Red Rocks.

Riding the Rocky Mountaineer from Denver to Moab
Riding the Rocky Mountaineer from Denver to Moab over 2 days through stunning scenery

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

The Ultimate Itinerary to Visit Moab, Utah

 

 

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. My dad just came back from this area and was raving about how beautiful it is. I think the only problem would be prioritizing your time as there are so many parks and beautiful places to hike. This guide helps for those figuring out a strategy to visit.

  2. Great information here, but directing a novice rider to Slickrock, even the practice trail, is not wise. Slickrock is a black diamond rated trail, and the rating is very accurate. The scenery is spectacular, but if you’re a novice rider, hike it, don’t bike it! It is not for the faint of heart.

    Bob Hawes
    Multi time visitor and avid mountain biker.
    Kelowna, B.C.

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