A Weekend in Moab, UT Exploring the National and State Parks

 
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Let me start off by saying that one could definitely spend more than a weekend in Moab and still not have enough time there. Between the national parks, state parks, mountain biking, dune buggies, rafting, zip lining, hot air balloon rides, etc., you'll never be bored here. On my recent trip with Allie J from Her Postcard Life, we focused on the national and state parks in the area because of our tight schedule. Check out my guide below for a fun-filled weekend in Moab.

HOW TO GET THERE

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Getting to Moab is not terribly difficult and there are actually a few different options too! If you're coming from far away and need to fly, you can fly into Salt Lake City, Grand Junction or Denver-- all of which are great options!  You can also catch a flight from Salt Lake City to Moab on a small prop plane, but we opted out of this since rental cars were far more expensive once in Moab (plus, who doesn’t love a gorgeous scenic drive?!)

DRIVING TIMES:

Salt Lake City to Moab: 3:45 minutes

  • Despite not being the fastest route, this was the most cost-effective option when we booked our flights (which we did through Skyscanner- one of my favorite travel apps!). We had unknowingly opted for a "mystery" rental car, which turned out to be a Jeep Grand Cherokee for only $25/a day! If landing later in the day, I'd recommend breaking up the drive like Allie and I did. We stayed halfway between Salt Lake and Moab in Price, UT at the Holiday Inn Express, which far exceeded my expectations!

Grand Junction to Moab: 1:45 minutes

Denver to Moab: 5:30 minutes

WHERE TO STAY: 

Moab surprisingly has a wide variety of places to choose from depending on your budget! Looking for something a little more unique? Allie and I opted to stay at Under Canvas Moab, one of the trendy new glampsites that you can find outside a handful of national parks in the United States! Depending on your budget, you have a few different options for your tent. Allie and I chose the most cost-effective option-- the Safari Tent, which offered a wood-burning fire place, a king-sized bed, two chairs, a dresser, and some portable chargers (none of the tents have electricity aside from the portable lanterns and chargers). No electricity means no heat in the tents! Find your inner Girl Scout like I did and build a fire before going to bed so it isn't 35 degrees in your tent when you wake up for your sunrise hike! Next time I stay with Under Canvas, I'll probably upgrade to a Deluxe or Suite tent with a bathroom inside (those bathroom walks in the middle of the night were chilly!). Plus, these two upgrades have some of the best views of the property. 

WHAT TO DO:

ARCHES NATIONAL PARK

Arches National Park is ranked as one of the top five National Parks in the United States and noted as one of the most photogenic parks for good reason. I could have spent days here exploring, but given our time constraints, we decided to just allot an entire day to the park. Plan ahead and get there early to avoid lines at the gate and make sure you grab a map at the gate! Tip: From May 2017-November 2017 the whole park will be closing at 7 P.M. Sunday-Thursday for construction. Make sure you take this into consideration if planning to see sunset in the park since it's usually around 8:30 P.M. You can also check out the Arches National Park website so there won't be any surprises when you get there. 

Popular Sunrise Spots:  Turret Arch, Double Arch, Landscape Arch, Double O Arch

Popular Sunset Spots: Delicate Arch, Fiery Furnace, Skyline Arch, Balanced Rock, and Tower Arch

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SCENIC DRIVE & VIEWPOINTS

If you're short on time and can't spend a whole day in Arches National Park, I'd highly recommend stopping at each viewpoint on the map and spending around 10 minutes at each. Here are some of my favorite viewpoints that we stopped at: 

  • Park Avenue Viewpoint and Trailhead: The first stop and the perfect viewpoint to get you excited to be in the park! Plus, you only need to walk a few hundred feet!
  • Tower of Babel: Also visible from Courthouse Viewpoint, this spot is less frequented given the number of parking spots. This was a great way to get up close to some of the larger rock formations without going off the path!
  • Balanced Rock: Definitely worth a quick ten minute stop. Easily visible from the road and many other parts of the park, the walk from your car to the base of the formation may only take a minute or two.
  • Windows: Windows could also easily turn into a short leisurely hike, but definitely make your way up the short path from the parking lot to see the giant window holes in the rock formations. **Bonus points if you make your way over to see Turret Arch too!
  • Double Arch: While technically characterized as a hike, it's only 0.5 miles round trip and well worth it! Make sure you get up under the base of the arch and look up to see the separation between the two arches!
  • Delicate Arch Viewpoint: There are two different options for this viewpoint: The Upper Viewpoint and the Lower Viewpoint
  • Fiery Furnace Arch Viewpoint

If you see a parking spot at a viewpoint and think you should just come back later, think again. Parking spots are rare and hard to find at some of the more popular viewpoints in the park. If you see one, grab it!

SHORT HIKES IN ARCHES NATIONAL PARK

Most of the Arches are super accessible and are usually just a short walk from the parking lot. Take a few minutes to stretch your legs and explore these short, easy hikes! 

  • Balanced Rock: I'm not sure I would truly count this as a hike, but Arches National Park does on the map so I've decided to include it here. The whole loop is 0.3 miles. Make sure you walk up to the base of the formation and look up! You'll be in awe at how such a bizarre structure formed! 
  • Windows: Although this technically qualifies as a viewpoint, I listed it as a short hike because you'll definitely want to spend more than ten minutes here exploring the rock formations at both the North and South Windows and the Turret Arch. You can either make your way back to the parking lot or take the long route and make your way around the side of the South Window and do the Primitive Trail. Either way will take you to the exact same place in the parking lot. 
  • Broken Arch/Sand Dune: This Arch is part of the Devils Garden Loops and is a very leisurely stroll. The Broken Arch and the Sand Dune Arch have the same parking and are great easy hikes for families with young children. Make your way from the Sand Dune Arch and cross through a large meadow towards Broken Arch. 

The Delicate Arch Hike

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The Delicate Arch is easily the most popular Arch in the entire park. There are two separate viewpoints for it and a hike all offering different perspectives of the Arch.  I personally don't think either viewpoint does the Arch justice and would not waste my time even walking the few hundred yards from the parking lot to see it unless you truly do not have the time to spare. From the Lower Viewpoint, the Arch looks like it is nearly a mile away. If you're going to go out of your way to see anything while in the park, this is definitely the spot to do it for (It's so popular that it's even on the license plate!)!

While the Delicate Arch trail was definitely the most difficult hike we did in the park, it's still doable. *Seriously, we saw a woman make the climb in backless block heels and a skirt. If she can do it, so can you!* The trail is incredibly easy to follow, but does take some time. The total hike is 1.5 miles each way, so allot for approximately 2.5 hours depending on your athletic ability. 

 Delicate Arch is a well-known spot for sunset. Large crowds will be there waiting for it, so get there early to reserve a good spot. The Arch is so popular because of the way the sunlight makes the red rock glow. Tip: The light hits the Arch only during certain months of the year-- typically later in the summer (shout out to our photographer friends we met that explained this to us), so make sure if you are spending sunset here that it's during the right time of the year! Make sure you bring a flashlight so you can easily make your way back down to the parking lot. 

CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK

Canyonlands National Park is so large that there are actually two sections to the park: Islands in the Sky and Needles. The two visitor centers are hundreds of miles apart, so if you're time in Moab is limited, I'd recommend going to the Islands in the Sky part of the park since it is a short drive from Moab. 

WATCH SUNRISE AT MESA ARCH

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One thing we learned while in Moab is that the sun sets late and rises early. This meant that we had to be up at 4 A.M. to make sure we'd be in the park in time for sunrise. After reading up on various recommendations, we settled on sunrise at Mesa Arch for it's breathtaking views through the Arch of the sun rising over the mountains and casting the first light on the canyons 2000 feet below. Since Mesa Arch is a short ten minute walk from the parking lot, we were not the only people that had this idea. The Mesa Arch is very close to the path, which only allows a certain number of spots for the perfect sunrise view (much unlike our experience at Delicate Arch the night before which had a huge viewing area). We showed up 45 minutes before sunrise and there were already tripods PACKED into the small space. This may have just been bad luck for us since it appeared that it was one entire tour bus taking a photography class from one individual, but if you want to use your tripod make sure you get there early and dress appropriately. It will be cold!  I was fortunate enough to squeeze my tripod in (although one guy did almost knock it into the canyon 2000 feet below on more than one occasion) so I could get some great shots of the sunrise.  

Since the sun rises around 6 A.M. you'll most likely have the park to yourself for a few more hours! Take this opportunity to explore some of the more popular view points or hikes. We started at the Grand Viewpoint Overlook! What was supposed to just be a quick viewpoint, quickly turned into one of the most breathtaking strolls. The total round trip for the Grand Viewpoint Trail is 2 miles and is incredibly easy. Most of the hike was flat and followed along the edge of a canyon offering incredible panoramic views for the entire walk. This was easily my favorite part of Canyonlands National Park and I could not recommend it to someone more. 

CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK VIEWPOINTS

After finishing up at Grand Viewpoint Overlook, do the scenic drive through Canyonlands National Park and stop at the various view points. Our favorites were:

  • Green River Overlook: The photographers that we met at the Delicate Arch the night before also recommended that we watch sunrise here. Not a fan of huge crowds? This may be a great alternative to Mesa Arch! 
  • Orange Cliffs Overlook
  • Shafer Canyon Overlook: This offers spectacular views of the canyons and the mountains far off in the distance. *Bonus points if you make your way out to the ledge for a breathtaking photo! 
  • Buck Canyon Overlook

DEAD HORSE POINT STATE PARK

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For our final few hours in Moab, we headed to Dead Horse Point State Park which is located just outside of the Island in the Sky entrance to Canyonlands National Park. If you haven't figured it out, Moab is home to some absolutely INCREDIBLE parks and this state park is no exception. Dead Horse Point State Park is obviously much smaller than the other parks that we visited during our trip, but offered spectacular sunset views. Arrive early to Dead Horse Point Overlook to secure a parking spot and explore both the East and West Canyon Rims. The West Canyon Rim is where you'll be watching sunset, so scope out where you want to sit back and watch as the sun goes down over the canyons and Colorado River 2000 feet below. 

TRAVEL TIPS:

  • Climbing on the arches will secure you a $10,000 fine. We've all seen those cool photos of the person in the bright colored jacket on top of an Arch. The sad reality is that these photos are either edited or the people are inconsiderate enough to avoid all of the warnings through the parks that the arches are incredible fragile and could be ruined from foot traffic on top of them. Don't be that person. 
  • Bring packed lunches into the park to avoid having to leave! Allie and I survived off of beef jerky, almonds, and power bars for breakfast and lunch during our days in the park and were always famished by dinnertime.
  • Bring hiking shoes! I read recommendations that insisted hiking shoes weren't necessary and I couldn't disagree with them more.  Hiking shoes have great traction and give you much better grip for climbing things! 
  • Sunscreen is not enough. Wear a hat to protect your skin. 
  • Drink lots of water. It is recommended that each person drink 2L of water per day and filling stations aren't particularly easy to come by. I'd recommend filling up at the beginning of the day at the entrance to the park. 
  • Moab is located in a desert, meaning the temperatures while vary greatly. Make sure you pack lots of layers as you'll most likely be adding and removing layers throughout the day as the temperature changes

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN TO MOAB? WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE PART ABOUT IT?