Moab, a small town in SouthEastern Utah is quite possibly the adventure capital of the United States. The stunning red rock landscape surrounding the town in every direction offers numerous opportunities for hiking, biking, off-roading, boating, climbing, and more. It is also directly adjacent to two of the state’s “mighty five” national parks– Arches and Canyonlands.
These parks will suck in most weekend visitors for the extent of their visits– and for good reason. These are two of the country’s most magnificent national parks and definitely warrant the visit. However, the Moab area offers endless opportunities for adventure outside the park boundaries and without the crowds. On top of this, the town of Moab is a hub for guiding operations. Be it rock climbing, rafting, or even base jumping, there are dedicated and professional guides in Moab who can both figuratively and literally “show you the ropes”.
Here we’ll lay out some of our all-time favorite adventure options for a trip to Moab outside of the National Parks.
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The hiking in Moab is world-class and unique. Most first-time visitors feel as though they are setting foot on an alien planet. Towering red sandstone cliffs provide the landscape’s backdrop and despite being a desert environment, the Moab area is awash with life and water resulting in many stunning oases. This is because Moab is situated on top of a natural aquifer. There is a huge underground reservoir of water under the town that is fed from the neighboring La Sal Mountains– one of the country’s youngest mountain ranges and the second highest in Utah. On top of this, the mighty Colorado River flows through Moab, just North of the town. Here we’ll share a few of our favorite hikes that capture the spirit of Moab.
Mill Creek Canyon
If the idea of a desert oasis captures your imagination, Mill Creek Canyon is a perfect stop for you. This canyon is located just five minutes from downtown, making it an easy outing to squeeze in amongst other activities. It is best in the summer, as the full hike leads to an enchanted swimming hole.
From the trailhead follow the well-worn path up the canyon and weave back and forth along the stream. Don’t be afraid to get your feet wet. There are numerous spots to stop for a soak, even right next to the parking lot. If you follow the trail all the way, about a mile up the canyon’s left fork, however, you will be rewarded with the best swimming hole in the Moab area. Clean clear water flows down a waterfall and fills up the sandstone walls in a beautiful pool where you can lay out the towels and go for a swim. The more adventurous will want to scramble around to the side for an exciting cliff jump into the pool. Always make sure to check the water level before jumping as it can get low towards the end of the summer.
If you haven’t quite gotten your hiking fix in you can continue up the canyon. Past the swimming hole, where most people stop, it is more secluded but just as stunning. When you are satisfied, retrace your steps back to the parking lot and swing by Milt’s Stop and Eat for a burger and milkshake, just a few minutes from the trailhead.
The Fisher Towers
The Fisher Towers Loop is another one of our favorite hiking excursions in the Moab area. This one is a bit further outside of town but is well worth it for the drive alone. Follow Highway 128, known to locals as “River Road” east for about 40 minutes. This road has been voted as the second most scenic drive in the country, next to Highway 1 in California. It winds along the Colorado River through a towering red rock canyon before opening up into Castle Valley. Keep an eye out here as you may notice the backdrop to some of your favorite movies– many old westerns as well as more modern classics have been filmed in this area. Continue until you see the Fisher Towers Trailhead on your right.
The full out-and-back trail is 4.2 miles but you can also turn around at any point if you are feeling tired. It is best in the fall, winter, and spring as summertime temperatures can exceed 100 degrees with little shade. On the hike you will encounter some of the most alien-feeling rock formations nature can . The cutler sandstone towers rise as much as 900 feet above the ground making anyone feel small in their presence. You may even see some rock climbers scaling the cliffs above the trail! For the best experience, do this hike around sunset. The dusk light illuminates the towers in an orange glow and creates shadows that stretch out hundreds of feet from their base.
No trip to Moab would be complete without experiencing it with the help of an experienced local guide. Moab offers numerous adventurous activities that could be dangerous for a novice to step into on their own. By hiring a guide, you can know that you are in safe hands as well as learn a wealth of information about the local area. On top of this, you will probably hear some corny jokes. Guides are like servers in that they earn most of their wages through tips, so make sure to show your appreciation by leaving 15-25% gratuity!
Moab’s position next to the Colorado makes it an ideal hub for all sorts of river activities. From extreme whitewater rafting to mellow standup paddleboarding, there is something for everybody. Regardless of your choice here, any time spent floating down the Colorado is time well spent. The best time of year to go on the river is in the late Spring when the water levels are peaking from snowmelt. Our top choice for a guide service for the river world is Paddle Moab. They are a small, family-owned company that gives a more intimate experience than the larger, more corporate rafting companies in the area.
We wouldn’t be surprised if this is the first time you have heard the word canyoneering! It is a unique activity to the desert southwest which involves hiking, scrambling, and rappelling through water-carved slot canyons. Canyoneering allows you to experience the heart of the desert in a thrilling and breathtaking way. Plus it’s a great way to face a fear of heights! If you don’t have any experience with rappelling or climbing don’t worry, your guide will teach you everything you need to know and keep you safe along the way. Our top choice for a canyoneering trip is with Moab Cliffs and Canyons. They are a locally owned company with well-trained guides in both canyoneering and climbing.
Moab offers the best off-roading in the country. The rolling Navajo sandstone domes create natural obstacle courses for drivers to test their abilities in the elements. On top of this, it is an exciting way to see more of the terrain Moab offers when your legs are burnt out from hiking. There are many tour options in various vehicles, some of which you drive and follow the guide, and others where you ride along with an experienced driver. Our top choice here is Moab Tour Company. They offer every tour option you could want and have been in business for over 20 years.
A big trip to Moab filled with hiking, rafting, and other adventures will leave anyone exhausted. Luckily there are numerous quick side quests to tick off when energy levels are low. Here are two of our favorites.
Because Moab is situated on an aquifer there are a handful of natural springs throughout the area where water flows directly out of the rocks. Water starts as snowmelt and spends decades getting filtered through Moab’s porous sandstone rock. By the time it comes out of the spring, it is completely safe to drink.
Matrimony Springs is the most popular of these. Located right across from Lyon’s Park on the side of Highway 128 is a quick, easy spot to pull over and taste the freshest water in Moab. Folklore says that when you drink from Matrimony Springs you marry Moab forever and will always return, so plan accordingly!
Viewing ancient petroglyphs is a great way to step back in time and appreciate a different era. A couple thousand years ago the Native Americans that lived in the area (Navajo, Ute Paiute, Hopi) left traces of their cultures by carving into the sandstone rocks they lived amongst. You can still view this rock art in numerous places around Moab. Here are two of the best quick stops to see petroglyphs:
- Potash Road Petroglyphs
From town, head North and take a left onto the scenic Potash Road. From here drive just about ten minutes. You will pass a huge rock climbing area called Wall Street so look out for climbers on the adjacent cliff. Right after this, look out for a road sign that says Petroglyphs. Pull over and look about fifteen feet up on the cliff next to you and you will be rewarded with a stunning petroglyph panel from a time!
- Poison Spider Trailhead
From the spot mentioned above keep driving down Potash for another five minutes or so until you see signs for the Poison Spider Trailhead. Park in the lot and walk five minutes following signs for dinosaur tracks. Here you will get an excellent two-for-one stop– from the same spot you will be able to see both petrified dinosaur tracks and a massive petroglyph panel!
Moab is the quintessential adventure hub of the United States and offers a plethora of adventure outside of the park boundaries. Whether you spend your time in Moab hiking, rafting, canyoneering, or offroading, you will be rewarded with exciting memories that last a lifetime. On top of this quick stops like Matrimony Springs and petroglyph panels provide fascinating respites. The natural beauty and adventure potential of the area make it a must on any traveler’s bucket list– so pack your bags and gear up for your big adventure to Moab!