Moab, Utah is the classic adventure destination. Whether your interests are hard-core thrill seeking or maybe something more relaxed, this idyllic small town has you covered. If this is your first trip or your 10th visit, this ultimate guide to the best things to do in Moab is for you!
Moab is a small town that is big on adventure. People fall in love with those gorgeous red sandstone cliffs, but there’s so much more to the town and the region. While best known as the northern gateway to Utah’s National Parks, there are tons of activities in the area to keep you busy.
Growing up nearby, I’ve spent a lot of time visiting Moab and this guide is built from those experiences. We hope you enjoy it.
Explore Arches National Park
This is what draws millions of people every year to Moab. Arches National Park is one of the top national parks in the U.S. and the crowning gem of the Mighty 5 National Parks – the five national parks located in Utah.
While there are thousands of sandstone arches (caused by water erosion) around Moab, the densest and most impressive collection of arches can be found in this park. Don’t miss the world-famous Delicate Arch (a moderately intensive, 3-hour hike), which adorns the Utah state license plate.
Also, not to be missed is the Fiery Furnace and Devil’s Garden areas. My personal favorite is the Double Arch or Balanced Rock, particularly at night when the stars are out.
If you plan to visit, check out our detailed Guide to Arches National Park.
Experience Canyonlands National Park
To the west of Moab is the mighty Canyonlands National Park – one of the largest national parks in the U.S. This park is so big that it is divided into three distinct districts. To the north, Island in the Sky, towers over the Colorado and Green Rivers, and has incredible views that stretch to the horizon. The mostly-flat paved road will take you to all the major overlooks and the Mesa Arch, all of which soar over 1,000 feet over the valley below.
For the more intrepid travelers, the Needles District (named for the towering rock formations that stick up) is located south of Moab and offers remote hiking and off-roading away from the crowds near town. The Colorado River flows through it and makes a great multi-date whitewater rafting trip.
Finally, to the west, is The Maze – mile after mile of a vast labyrinth of rock formations that are hours away from a paved road and anything even remotely resembling civilization. If you’re looking for total solitude, this is the spot.
Most visitors to Moab will drive the upper section of Island in the Sky, before returning to town and then driving west along Potash Road to see some of the lower Canyonlands.
See Dead Horse Point State Park
This large state park sits on a mesa between the town of Moab and the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands. Its most striking feature is a 2,000-foot drop to the Colorado River below and the U-shaped bend in the river known as the gooseneck.
Dead Horse Point shares much of the same southern view of The Needles section of Canyonlands, but with one distinct advantage – it receives a small fraction of the number of visitors. When the other parks are packed, you can still be away from the crowds here.
I recommend tacking this on to the same day you do Canyonlands. Start at Island in the Sky in the morning (early) and then come over here for some hiking without crowds and a picnic before you return to town.
Explore Downtown Moab
While you’ll want to get out of town and explore the natural surroundings, don’t overlook the town itself. Be sure to spend some time walking along Main Street and popping into the souvenir and outdoor outfitters.
Not to be missed is Back of Beyond Books, which has a small section devoted to Edward Abbey, the cranky-but-prolific writer of the desert southwest (and a one-time park ranger at Arches). Pick up a copy of his Desert Solitaire or The Monkey Wrench Gang.
Go 4×4 Off-roading
Moab is the off-roading, 4×4 capital of the world. There are more Jeep trails and challenges here than just about anywhere. Whether you are a beginner or a pro, there’s something for you. And, come Spring, thousands of off-roaders and Jeepers descend on Moab for the annual Easter Jeep Safari, a celebration of all things offroad.
The most famous trail is Hell’s Revenge, located just east and above the town itself. These slick rock sections feature some near vertical ascents and descents – and are not for the faint of heart. You can rent appropriate off-road vehicles, or go with a guide. This is expert-level driving.
Other trails include the vertigo-inducing Shaffer Trail or White Rim Trail, both located within Canyonlands. Both offer significant vertical exposures, but neither are particularly technical from a driving standpoint. If you want a truly easy ride, look to Elephant Hill or Long Canyon Trail.
Note: Check local trail conditions before heading out, particularly in winter. Some roads and trails close due to ice, rock slides or washouts.
Ride the Mountain Biking Trails
Moab is a mountain bikers dream. At the pinnacle of trails is the Slickrock Bike Trail – a challenging 12-mile (4 ½ hour) looped ride with grueling climbs and dramatic descents. If you’re a beginner, consider the Slickrock Practice loop (about 2 ½ miles).
Of course, there are hundreds of trails throughout the area. From flat, paved paths that hug the Colorado River, to backcountry trails that go over the mountains to Colorado.
If you are new to mountain biking, consider taking a guided tour of the Courthouse Loop (bike and everything you need is provided). Experienced riders can rent a mountain bike and explore on their own.
Drive Highway 128 (the Colorado River Road)
One of the prettiest drives in Utah, Highway 128 hugs the Colorado River, which marks the southwest boarder of Arches National Park. The gorgeous red sandstone cliffs plunge dramatically to the river below. This drive is an absolute must for anyone visiting Moab.
There are a handful of campgrounds and picnic areas along the route, making a great place to get out of Moab for a few hours and have a picnic with scenery.
Wander Along the Potash Road
State Highway U-279 is called Potash Road because it heads southwest from town along the banks of the Colorado River to the potash mining facilities. But along the way, it passes some of the best spots in the area: rock climbing at Wall Street, roadside petroglyphs, and even dinosaur tracks.
The first 17 miles are paved and very flat, making it popular with bicyclists and runners. From there, the road heads uphill (changing its name to the Shafer Basin Trail and a 4-wheel drive vehicle becomes necessary), heads past Thelma & Louise Point (yes, where the movie was filmed) and then up the dramatic switchbacks of the Shaffer Trail.
Climb the La Sal Mountain Loop
A third scenic drive takes you away from the red rocks and up into the La Sal Mountains. From here, there are breathtaking views of the Canyonlands, and even Arches far in the distance.
This paved drive takes you up into the La Sal Mountains. It’s a great spot for camping and fishing. In the fall, the aspen trees turn bright yellow and red, making it a great spot for leaf peeping.
The drive takes about 3 hours (60 miles) in total. However, be prepared, there are no services (food or gas) along the route, and many of the turns are tight, making them unsuitable for RVs or tow trailers.
Gawk at the Petroglyphs
Petroglyphs are a combination form of art and writing that were carved into the rocks by Native Americans, primarily the Ute, Pueblo and Fremont tribes. The area around Moab has dozens of places to see these unique rock art creations that tell important stories for the tribes.
Most notably, on the road to the Canyonlands Needles Visitors Center is the Newspaper Rock State Historical Monument. Right by the side of the road, Newspaper Rock, is a single rock slab that has the densest collection of petroglyphs in the region. They are also incredibly well preserved.
Visitors to Arches National Park can see glyphs at Wolf Ranch (the Delicate Arch Trailhead) and there are also some along Potash Road. And for those coming from the north, there are a number of good ones on the drive to the Sego Canyon ghost town.
If you have a passion for Native American art, consider taking a detailed petroglyph tour.
Soak in Ken’s Lake
Just south of town in the Spanish Valley is Ken’s Lake. This is a large, relatively shallow lake perfect for paddleboarding, kayaking, and fishing. There’s also a large campground popular with RVers and groups.
You might see recommendations that this is a good spot for a swim. And while swimming is possible, we don’t recommend it. First, it’s darn cold. Second, the rocky bottom catches a lot of fish hooks, which can snag on your feet. If you do want to swim, consider water shoes.
Chill Out at the Faux Falls
Immediately adjacent to Ken’s Lake are the Faux Falls. These waterfalls are actually manmade. They channel water from Mill Creek down into Ken’s Lake below. The waterfalls are quite impressive (especially after big rains).
From the parking lot, it’s a little less than a ½ mile to the falls. This makes a great spot to wade into the water and cool off on a hot day. There will probably be lots of other people around with the same idea.
We recommend water shoes because the bottom is quite rocky.
Explore the Slot Canyons
One of the defining characteristics of the desert southwest are the slot canyons. These deep, narrow canyons are carved into the rock by water erosion. They are beautiful and wildly popular. Unfortunately, there aren’t many slot canyons near Moab. They tend to be concentrated in the southern part of the state near some of Utah’s famous rock formations.
But there are a couple of good options. Entrajo Canyon, located just above Ken’s Lake and the Faux Falls, is accessible by technical canyoneering, but it isn’t particularly difficult. It’s best to do it on a guided tour.
Otherwise, Moonshine Wash (about 75 miles/2 hours from Moab) and the Mary Jane Canyon/Professor Creek (about 20 miles away) are two other good options.
Experience the Moab Giants
If you are wondering what to do in Moab with kids, head to Moab Giants north of town. The giants are dinosaurs, of course. And this fun spot serves as a kind of all things dino in the area.
It’s part museum, part interactive experience, part prehistoric aquarium, and part playground. There are fossils, dirt to play in, and giant recreations of what the dinosaurs used to look like, which you can see from the highway leading into town.
While a little kitschy, there’s a lot of information here. This area is a hotbed for paleontology and a number of notable fossils have been found right across the highway at the Utahraptor State Park.
If you have kids in tow, don’t miss out on the Moab Giants.
Challenge Yourself Rock Climbing
The area around Moab is known for exceptional sandstone rock climbing. There are routes for novice to expert. One popular area is located west of town along the Potash Road. Here, climbers can try the Wall Street routes, over 100 routes rated from a pedestrian 5.4 to 5.12).
If you’re a novice, start out on the School Room Slabs (rated 5.4-5.5), a sub-section of Wall Street. The routes start from the road, so be very careful of passing vehicle traffic and don’t step backwards blindly to get a better look. Specialty rock climbing tours with experienced guides are also possible.
Confront the Rapids While River Rafting
In the heat of the summer, one of the best Moab activities is whitewater rafting. A number of companies in Moab lead trips, so you’ll surely find a company with space available. The most popular trips are full-day floats on the upper Colorado section starting near Fishers Towers and following the Highway 128. Class 3 rapids are as rough as it gets, so you’ll likely get wet, won’t experience too rough. If you are interested, consider pre-booking your rafting trip.
For die-hard rafters, the lower section southwest of town goes through Canyonlands National Park and ends up at Lake Powell. This is a multi-day trip and is best for people who have rafted before.
Rafting is a great high adventure activity and the perfect way to cool off on hot summer days!
Glide Along While Paddleboarding/Kayaking
Similar to rafting, kayaking and paddleboarding are also good watersport suggestions. You can head out on the calmer sections of the Colorado River (near Lion’s Park). Or, you can try your luck in Ken’s Lake.
Explore the Area Hiking or Backpacking
Hiking is arguably the most popular activity in Moab with nearly every visitor engaging in hikes to some degree. Hikes throughout Arches National Park and Island in the Sky are the most established and most heavily trafficked.
Hikes in Needles and The Maze, as well as the Manti-La Sal National Forrest will be less crowded. For all hikes in the area, be prepared! Pack your own food and plenty of water regardless of the season.
If you are looking for a more immersive experience, multi-day backpack trips can be done in Canyonlands with an appropriate backcountry permit. This is not for beginners and should only be attempted if you are fit and really know what you are doing.
See the Dinosaur Tracks
Kids love to see massive footprints left by dinosaurs, and there’s a ton of them in the area. You can see dino tracks at Moab Giants. But you also discover them in the wild.
Good spots are in the Utahraptor State Park or west of Moab along the Potash Road. There are also several places south of town.
Visit Utahraptor State Park
Founded in 2021, Utahraptor State Park is the newest park in the Moab area and pays tribute to the numerous dinosaur fossils found here. In fact, a dozen species of dinosaurs have been discovered here that are found nowhere else in the world.
Also located within the boundaries of the current state park was the Moab Isolation Center – a concentration camp for Japanese-Americans in World War II (similar to the larger and better known Camp Amache in Colorado). The new state park is expected to be pay tribute to that part of our country’s history, although nothing remains of the original camp.
The park is currently being built out and made more accessible, but it is open for camping and other activities.
Enjoy Lion’s Park
Lion’s Park can be found at the edge of town where the Colorado River Road meets the Highway 191. It sits across the Colorado River from Arches and has stunning views of the cliffs.
This is also where several of the local bike trails start. So if you’re riding up Highway 191 towards Arches/Utahraptor or along the river, park here. Be sure to walk across the pedestrian bridge over the Colorado River and take in the views.
In the summer, this park is usually packed with visitors having picnics. And if you have kids, allow some extra time for them to play on the unique playground.
See the Street Art Murals
For a small town, Moab has a surprisingly large number of street art murals throughout downtown. Of course, there’s the ubiquitous “Welcome to Moab” mural (every town needs a “welcome to” mural).
But there’s also some fun ones like Delicate Arch or the mountain lion on the side of the car wash. The murals are popular selfie spots, so take your best shot and share it with your friends.
Slide Down the Moab Sand Hill
North of town across from the entrance to Arches National Park is an enormous hill of sand. Years ago, some enterprising individual discovered the FREE entertainment value of sliding down the hill. With that, one of the best free activities in Moab was born.
But first, you have to hike up the hill. It’s a LONG way up and the sand isn’t the easiest to climb. For every step you take, you slide back six inches.
Ideally you would have a paraffin-waxed sandboard or sled. However, the hill is step enough that plastic snow sleds will work just fine (keep your weight to the back to get started).
Whether you are kid or just young at heart, this is a thrill!
Visit a Ghost Town
Ever wanted to visit a creepy abandoned town? The west is full of them and there are several in the vicinity of Moab. If you’re coming in from the north, there are two ghost towns: Sego and Cisco.
Sego is completely abandoned and is located up a dirt road due north of Thompson Springs. Be sure to check out the petroglyphs on the way. The road is passable to SUVs, but you might not want to take a small car up there.
The other town is Cisco, located right off the highway. Cisco isn’t completely abandoned, but it is close. In 2015, Eileen Muza bought the property with the goal of turning it into some kind of artist residency/hippie hot spot. Both offer the opportunities see crumbling infrastructure and dilapidated buildings.
Grab a Souvenir at the Moab Rock Shop
Located right at the north end of downtown, the Moab Rock Shop has been selling rocks and other souvenirs for numerous generations. Youngsters can get their hands on rocks, dinosaur bones and a nice collection of oddities.
Chill at the CommuniTea Garden
Moab’s small CommuniTea Garden is a multi-purpose space. They grow herbs, vegetables and wild flowers, which are available for purchase at the honor box. But they also grow the human spirit through educational programs, workshops and other initiatives.
We included on this list because it’s a nice quiet place in downtown to enjoy a coffee and the view. And every time we’ve visited, we’ve met locals from Moab and had some very interesting conversations (and picked up some great restaurant recommendations).
Sample the Wines at Spanish Valley Vineyards and Winery
Located south of town in the Spanish Valley, there’s a winery that produces estate-grown and bottled wines. The Spanish Valley Vineyards and Winery specialize in German-style white varietals (Riesling and Gewürztraminer).
As a bonus, the winery has killer views. This makes a great place to stop off after a long day of mountain biking or hiking.
Enjoy a Beer at Moab Brewery
Moab’s only microbrewery, the Moab Brewery, has a nice location on Main Street just south of the river. They serve up some pretty good food and brew their own beer on the premises.
Utah’s antiquated laws are modernizing (at a glacial pace). It’s now possible to have a beer up to 5% ABV. It feels like a real beer.
Dine at the Food Truck Park
It seems everywhere has a food truck park now, and Moab is now different. The Moab Food Truck park features 14 trucks providing everything from Asian and sushi to burritos and tacos. There’s also specialty trucks serving coffee and gelato.
The food truck park can be found on West 100 North street and is open daily for lunch and dinner. Come hungry, eat at one of their picnic tables and enjoy the views. We’ve found that this makes a great spot for a post-hike snack in the afternoon.
See the Sunset from Needles Overlook
There’s nothing quite like a sunset in the desert southwest. They just seem so much more vibrant and colorful here. The secret is that the dust that kicks up reflects some of the light. (You can read the full technical description here). And one of the best spots to see sunsets is at Needles Overlook.
About 30 miles southwest of Moab, the Needles Overlook towers 1600 feet above the canyon below. The edge of the mesa offers a nearly perfect 360-degree view of Canyonlands. But…the overlook actually isn’t in the national park. If you decide to come here, you’ll likely be completely alone.
The overlook is easy to find. Just follow County Road 133 until it ends at the cliff.
All three of parks in Moab (Canyonlands, Arches and Dead Horse Point State Park) are certified International Dark Sky Parks. That means they are absolutely perfect for stargazing. Head out to your park of choice on a clear night after dinner and you will be rewarded with some of the most impressive stargazing ever.
If you have a good camera, you can also partake in some astrophotography. (Note: light painting is no longer permitted in Arches.)
Stay/Eat: We are frequently asked where to stay in Moab. The city has a surprising number of accommodation options. We recommend the Springhill Suites by Marriott since it is the closest to both Arches and Canyonlands, although is a little further from the restaurants in town. Otherwise, the Hotel Element, Hyatt Place Moab and the Hampton Inn Moab also make a great base.
Lance Longwell is a travel writer and photographer who has published Travel Addicts since 2008, making it one of the oldest travel blogs. He is a life-long traveler, having visited all 50 of the United States by the time he graduated high school. Lance has continued his adventures by visiting 70 countries on 5 continents – all in search of the world’s perfect sausage. He’s a passionate foodie and enjoys hot springs and cultural oddities. When he’s not traveling (or writing about travel), you’ll find him photographing his hometown of Philadelphia.