Red Rocks and Beyond: A Guide to Moab and Its Incredible Natural Parks

By dcglobejotters | Jan 25, 2021
North America > United States > Utah > Moab

Pretty as a postcard: Delicate Arch, one of the most famous geological structures in the world

Often regarded as the gateway to Utah's astonishing red rock canyon country, Moab serves as an ideal base for hikers, cyclists, kayakers, and nature enthusiasts. Enveloped by imposing crimson sandstones cliffs, striking vistas, and expansive landscapes, the alluring town of Moab couldn't have asked for a more perfect backdrop if it tried.

While Moab serves as an excellent launching point to explore the natural playground right outside its doorstep, the town itself has evolved as a lively tourist destination brimming with restaurants, bars, shops, art galleries, and even a bookstore.

Below is how to spend four adventure-filled days in Moab and the remarkable red rock desert range that surrounds it.

Arches National Park


Fantastic red rock formations and astoundingly formed arches that look like they were carved by the hands of artists, Arches National Park is incredible. The sheer number and diversity of perfectly formed arches scattered throughout this expansive park is mind-blowing.

Finding zen in Arches National Park

Finding zen in Arches National Park

We spent multiples days exploring this wondrous park. Each time we discovered a new arch, we would turn the corner, and find an even bigger, bolder, and more beautiful arch. This park is a true marvel.

Like most extensive parks, Arches boasts a wide variety of hikes and of course, an abundance of arches. Upon leaving the visitor's center, stop and explore Park Avenue, one of the first major attractions in the park. Along the easy one-mile trail, you'll see many of the park's popular and highly recognizable natural formations including the Three Gossips, the Courthouse Towers, Queen Nefertiti, and the Tower of Babel.

Park Avenue

Park Avenue

The Three Gossips

The Three Gossips

Next is the iconic Balanced Rock, a massive boulder weighing about 3,600 tons perched upon a precariously narrow pedestal of stone underneath it. The trail leading up to it is extremely short, .3 miles roundtrip, making it super accessible for everyone.

Balanced Rock

Balanced Rock

Another major area of interest, and certainly worthy of taking some time to explore, is the Windows section, comprised of The Windows, Turret Arch, Cave's Cove, and Double Arch.

The Windows

The Windows

The two arches stand side by side, formed from the same sandstone. A huge "nose" separates the two, spanning over 100 feet wide.

The Windows

The Windows

Turret Arch may be the smallest arch of the Windows area, but it's no less impressive. In fact, it's part of a more elaborate castle-like structure that features a spire. The views from here are nothing short of jaw-dropping. The short walk to Turret is less than a quarter mile and involves a few stairs.

Turret Arch

Turret Arch

My favorite of this area was without question the Double Arch, a dramatic rock formation that consists of two arches sharing the same stone as their foundation. The distinctive structure is nothing short of impressive and spell-binding. Although the trail leading up to it is short (a mere half-mile roundtrip), I found myself stopping multiple times to allow myself to bask in its splendor. Expect this arch to be busy with others also coming to marvel at its majestic beauty.

Double Arch

Double Arch

Two magnificent arches located near the Devil's Playground campground that should also not be missed are the Sand Dunes Arch and Broken Arch. As the name suggests, Sand Dune Arch is surrounded by sand, making a bit more unique than the other arches, and a lot of fun to meander through.

Sand Dune Arch

Sand Dune Arch

The arch is mostly shaded, the walkway is very short, and the setting is one enormous sandbox-- making it an attractive place to explore with kids. It's also a lovely spot to rest for a bit in the cool shade while nestling your toes down deep in the sand (and maybe take a few selfies).

Cooling down in the shade while sinking down in sand

Cooling down in the shade while sinking down in sand

Clambering up the sandstones of Sand Dune Arch

Clambering up the sandstones of Sand Dune Arch

One of my favorite arches in the park was Broken Arch, which isn't broken at all; in fact, it's more heart-shaped than anything. The flat and easy hike runs mostly through grasslands and is very picturesque and quiet. Note that while the trail is short, it's not very well marked, so be careful not to get lost!

Broken Arch

Broken Arch

The shining symbolic star of the park is without a doubt the awe-inspiring Delicate Arch, a must-see while exploring the park. Beyond its notoriety in the national park realm, Delicate Arch has become one of the most famous and recognizable geological formations on the planet.

The term delicate was first coined in 1934 when a writer described the arch as "the most delicately chiseled arch in the entire area." Unlike the previously aforementioned trails, the steep climb to see Delicate Arch up close and personal is much more strenuous. While the 3-mile roundtrip hike isn't long per se, it does include a rather arduous ascent. Highly recommend carrying plenty of water with you. There is no shade along the hike and no relief from the brutal southwest sun.
Delicate Arch is the creme de la creme -- it's not to be missed by any means!

Things to know when visiting Arches National Park:

  • The park is open year-round, 24 hours a day; the visitor center is open every day excluding Christmas Day.
  • While some national parks are free to enter, Arches is not. $30 per vehicle, pass is good for 7 days (keep your receipt!).
  • Guided tours (including transportation) are available
  • There are several days throughout the year when entrance into the park is free including Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Veteran's Day. Visit https://www.nps.gov/arch/planyourvisit/fees.htm for additional free days and more information.

Canyonlands National Park


Characterized by its broad desert landscape dramatically carved by the Colorado River, Canyonlands National Park holds the title as Utah's largest national park. While it is sometimes overshadowed by its neighbor Arches (approximately 30 miles separate the two), Canyonlands is an incredible natural wonder -- an impressive tour de force that is not to missed.

Gorges, mesas, canyons, mammoth scarlet structures, and spectacular 360 degree vistas are just the beginning when it comes to this monstrously vast desert region.

Most visitors will launch their visit to the park at Island in the Sky, the most accessible spot in the park that offers sweeping views of the surrounding terrain. Start at the Grand Viewpoint, which overlooks the White Rim, the Needles, and distant alpine mountains.

Island of the Sky - Grand Viewpoint

Island of the Sky - Grand Viewpoint

Next, hike to Mesa Arch, a sensational arch situated on a cliff edge. The vista from underneath the arch is arguably more incredible than the arch itself. This was my favorite place in the park.

Mesa Arch

Mesa Arch

The most perfect view comes from under a rock

The most perfect view comes from under a rock

A few other outstanding hikes include Aztec Butte (one mile roundtrip), Whale Rock (one mile roundtrip), and Upheaval Dome (first outlook is a little less than a mile and the 2nd outlook is nearly two miles). All of these hikes offer phenomenal panoramic views of this wide-ranging region.

Things to know when visiting Canyonlands National Park:

Dead Horse Point State Park


Sensational sunset gazing at Dead Horse Point State Park

Sensational sunset gazing at Dead Horse Point State Park

After a full day of hiking, finding a lovely spot to relax and watch the dazzling sunset at Dead Horse Point State Park was the perfect ending to a pretty perfect day. Like everywhere else in and around Moab, the arresting views here are extraordinary -- the imposing desert landscapes that stretch across the region are a nature lover's dream.

There are plenty of trails to hike along of course, but our tired legs and aching feet were begging to rest upon the red rock perches that overlook the sprawling desert terrain. The park's utter immensity, dramatic colors, endless layers, and exquisite sunset left us breathless.

I'm not exactly sure how Dead Horse didn't make the cut to be included in the neighboring national parks; its grandness, raw splendor, and magnificence is equally as impressive and just as captivating as Arches and Canyonlands. Dead Horse is a must-visit on any Moab itinerary, especially for those looking to catch a fiery sunrise and/or chase a gorgeous sunset.

Things to know when visiting Dead Horse Point State Park:

Moab Horses


There's more to red canyon country than national and state parks. Horseback riding along rugged trails encircled by jaw-dropping scenery has quickly become one of my favorite things to do while traveling. For me, meandering through the open back country on horseback while surrounded by the desert's untouched splendor is as close to perfection as it gets.

Fitted and ready to go!

Fitted and ready to go!

We booked a wonderful half day trail ride with Moab Horses. The duration of this tour is about 3 hours, however we were actually on horseback for a little more than 2 hours. They were very thorough with safety procedures, matching us with the appropriate horse based on size and experience level, and saddle fitting. Small group tours are limited to 8 people (we had 6) and our guide was extremely knowledgeable and affable.

The tranquil ride winds through towering cliffs, garnet stained mesas, and the Colorado River, making for an amazingly memorable ride. Highly recommend!

Things to know when booking your Moab Horses trail ride:

  • The half-day trail tour is $110 per person (excluding taxes and gratuity).
  • Private rides are also available.
  • Allow yourself additional time to get there -- it's a bit hard to find (we got lost) and there's a good chance you won't have cell service
  • Visit https://moabhorses.com/ for more information

Where to Eat in Moab


I'll venture to say that most people aren't coming to Moab for the food. With that said, we were pleasantly surprised with how well we ate here. The town of Moab surprisingly offers quite a lot in terms of a diverse dining scene. We mostly dined at casual spots like breweries and local pizza joints, but we found some more upscale gems as well. Unfortunately we couldn't get into Sunset Grill, hailed by many as one of Moab's best restaurants. I was so focused on planning out our hikes that dinner reservations fell by the wayside (very unlike me!). If you can, grab a table and let us know how it is!

Below are our recommendations for eating well in Moab.

Moab Brewery

A quintessential spot in town, Moab Brewery produces some excellent microbrews, ales, and lagers. Expect typical brewery food like nachos, burgers, fish tacos, and fries. Bonus points awarded her for offering a number of vegetarian options like black bean burgers and veggie burritos and wraps.
https://themoabbrewery.com/about.html

Zax Restaurant

Zax Restaurant won't be winning any awards for ambience anytime soon, but their friendly service and delicious pizzas more than make up for it. It's also a great place to watch the game and enjoy some local beers.
https://www.zaxmoab.com/

Josie Wyatt's Grill

Located in Moab's first ever 4-diamond hotel (this seems like a pretty big deal out there). Josie Wyatt's Grill is a beautiful and much more upscale dining establishment than any of the other spots on this list. The menu isn't very extensive but it does focus on locally sourced produce and delicious cocktails. Snag a table on their gorgeous patio if you can!
https://josiewyattsgrille.com/

Spoke on Center

A great spot for a casual lunch and a lovely outdoor area to bask in that southwest sunshine. Think burgers, salads, sandwiches, and milkshakes. Located right in the heart of Moab, Spoke on Center is a convenient and lovely spot to take a break from an active day.
https://www.thespokemoab.com/

Moab Food Truck Park

I mean. Who doesn't love a good food truck? No-one, that's who.

Red rocks and the open road, baby!

Red rocks and the open road, baby!

Additional Tips to make the most of your trip to Moab:


  • We flew into Salt Lake City, rented a car (a car is a must here!) and drove to Moab, about a 3 hour and 45 minute drive.

  • As with most places, when you decide go to Moab can drastically affect your experience. Summertime can be extremely hot and temperatures often exceed 100 degrees. Spring and fall are often touted as the best times to visit. We traveled in mid-September and the weather was perfect -- average temperatures during the day were in the 80s.

  • We rented a lovely townhouse conveniently located near the heart of Moab and the nearby parks. Of course, there are a number of hotel and other accommodation options, but we felt the most comfortable renting a home due to Covid (and prefer to have more space whenever possible).
    https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/41481549

  • Liquor laws in Utah have become less strict over the years, but they're still stricter than many other states. Restaurants and bars can serve alcohol after 11:30 a.m. The maximum alcohol content for beer served in restaurants and bars is 4%.

  • I really wanted to join an evening astronomy tour in Moab (I did a stargazing tour in Sedona years ago and absolutely loved it) but every night during our stay was booked. Make sure to book well in advance if you're interested in one. https://www.moabastronomytours.com/

Bottom Line:


I have wanted to visit Moab and the neighboring national parks for years now and I can honestly say this trip exceeded my already high expectations. The area's richness, vastness, and boundless beauty is nothing short of extraordinary. Nature lovers, adventure seekers, exercise enthusiasts, and travel addicts will surely fall head over heels for this stunning sandstone region.

The perfect ending to a perfect day: sunset gazing at Dead Horse Point State Park

Happy Traveling, All!

Moab United States Restaurants Food Dead Horse Point State Park National Parks North America Horse Canyonlands National Park Brewery Arches National Park Utah

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Written by JoAnn Hill
Hello, Fellow Travelers! My name is JoAnn and together with my husband, we’ve traveled to 53 countries and 46 U.S. states. We’ve smoked honey-dipped cigars in the tobacco fields of Cuba. We’ve belted out karaoke tunes with Japanese businessmen in Tokyo. We’ve slept in the frigid temperatures of the Sahara Desert in Morocco. We’ve marveled at the Northern Lights in Iceland while blasting Ice Cube’s “Today Was a Good Day” in the middle of the night. We’ve danced in the streets of India while celebrating the union of friends. We’ve hiked the verdant coffee fields nestled in the Andes Mountains in Colombia. We’ve swam along... Read more

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