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Canyonlands National Park —Photos by Sarah Boyum

First-Timer’s Guide: Moab, Utah

We unearth the small-town charms in this high-desert destination.

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Venture far enough west on I-70, and the Colorado Rockies will eventually be replaced by wide open desert and sheer red rocks jutting out of the barren landscape. Follow the Colorado River, snaking its way through a series of canyons, and you’ll eventually stumble upon a hidden desert gem: Moab, Utah. A mecca for mountain bikers and outdoor enthusiasts alike, the tiny desert town of just over 5,100 is a stone’s throw away from two beautiful national parks (Arches and Canyonlands) and a stunning state park (Dead Horse Point). Set against the backdrop of rocky, crimson landscapes and desolate desert sand, Moab is a year-round destination for festivals, races, and events. But now is the time to go. Due to its dry, hot climate, the ideal months to visit are mid-March through May and late September through November. So what are you waiting for?


The Odometer: 354 miles, one-way

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Getting There: For the most straightforward route, take I-70 W and get off on US-191 (exit 182). But we say, take the scenic route: From I-70 W, take the Cisco exit onto 128. The road winds through canyons, following the Colorado River, with mulitple photo opps along the way. Bonus: It adds only about 20 extra minutes to the trip.


Explore: Spend the day discovering Arches National Park. Take a quick jaunt up to see the Delicate Arch and snap a tourist-y photo standing under its shadow. For a longer day hike, explore the Devils Garden Trail, the longest in the park. We suggest arriving early to beat the crowds (and the heat). The entrance fee is $25 per vehicle or $10 per person (if entering on bike or foot).

Bike: Try your skills on Slickrock Trail. This 10.6-mile ride, ranked one of the most difficult in Moab, is entirely on Navajo sandstone—white stripes zigzag over the rocks marking the trail. Not a rider? Off-roaders can play around on the nearby Hell’s Revenge Trail, which crosses over Slickrock in multiple places.

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Challenge yourself: Make the 40-minute drive to Canyonlands National Park’s Island in the Sky, and tackle the Syncline Loop Trail, which travels 8.4 miles around the perimeter of Upheaval Dome. The trail climbs more than 2,000 feet, with 1,400-plus feet of loss. Signs at the beginning of the trailhead warn hikers of its strenuous nature, and because its marked primarily with cairns (small towers of rocks), the trail can be hard to follow and easy to lose. Hikers who do attempt the entire loop are rewarded with knock-out views of seemingly endless canyons and unique rock structures.

Sip: After a long day running, hiking, or biking, nothing satisfies quite like a cold beer. Grab a Black Raven Oatmeal Stout brew at Moab Brewery, and take home a six-pack of the award-winning Rocket Bike American Lager. If you prefer a non-alcoholic thirst quencher, get a much-needed caffeine boost with an iced vanilla latte (don’t forget to order frozen coffee cubes) from Moab Coffee Roasters. The cozy café sits on 191, the main drag through Moab’s downtown.

Eat: Perched on a cliff overlooking Moab, the iconic Sunset Grill boasts “million-dollar views” and fine cuisine for a fancier evening. For more casual fare, hit up Moab Diner for their all-day breakfast or a Green Chili Sauce Cheeseburger. Nab a quick snack at Love Muffin (try the carnitas breakfast burrito paired with a chai latte) or grab a slice at Paradox Pizza (with a side of garlic knots, of course). Pay a visit to Desert Bistro, which serves vibrant seafood dishes and a great variety of meats (pheasant sausage with white cheddar mac ‘n’ cheese, anyone?).

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Stay: Pitch a tent or drive an RV into one of BLM’s various campsites on Highways 128, 279, or 313. Spots are first-come, first-serve with no reservations accepted. If you prefer a proper bed, nab a spot at one of Moab’s many local lodging options, from the cheap (Lazy Lizard Hostel has rooms starting at $11) to more upscale (the funky Gonzo Inn has king rooms and suites available). For a resort and spa experience, book a room at the picturesque Sorrel River Resort just outside Moab along Hwy. 128.

Don’t Miss: The sunset over Canyonlands’ Island in the Sky. The canyon directly across from the visitor’s center offers expansive views on a clear day.

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