Moab, including Arches National Park, is one of those important once in a lifetime vacations! If you’re investing the time and money to visit, then you want to make the most of it. Follow our “things to do in Moab” 4-day itinerary to be sure you maximize what you can see in the Moab, Utah area …and maximize your FUN!
DAY 1: GET SETTLED AND REACH FOR THE STARS
MORNING: CHECK INTO YOUR HOTEL & GRAB A BITE
Spend the morning getting settled between the red rocks of Moab. This gives you an opportunity to drive down from the Salt Lake City Airport (about 4 hours). If you can find a flight into Grand Junction, CO then the drive is under 2 hours, but you’ll want to be careful because I-70 is often closed for spring/summer snow storms and/or mudslides during the high season.
WHERE SHOULD YOU STAY?
We visited in our RV and boondocked right outside Arches at Willow Springs Trail. It works great for RVs and tent campers, as there are portable toilets. We loved it and would absolutely return, but you should be aware that it is common for dust storms to occur in the spring, and this place is very dusty!
If you prefer a less rugged option, then Downtown Moab offers plenty of accommodations! Moab Springs Ranch is one of the top ranked places to stay in the area. They offer two types of accommodations: 1) stand-alone luxury bungalows with studio style living and 2) large one, two and three bedroom townhouses.
Need an affordable option for the family? Try Homewood Suites by Hilton Moab, with WiFi and both indoor and outdoor pools.
LATE AFTERNOON: YOUR ENTRY INTO ARCHES + STAR GAZING
We visited Arches at the end of Spring 2021 when the number of tourists were reaching record-breaking numbers. And guess what? We had small numbers of people on every hike we did.
Why? We went early….left during peak hours…and then came late. It’s the trick to seeing this park right!
Every season will be different, but we noticed that going into the park after 4pm was key to enjoying the afternoon activities.
We recommend enjoying the ride along Arches Scenic Drive to begin your adventure. Take it in from the moment you drive through the gate…all the way to the very end of the park (you’ll do a loop in the parking area of Devil’s Garden.)
As you head back, be sure to turn toward Double Arch/the Windows Arches. That’s where you’ll spend the evening (I recommend a picnic, for sure!)
From the parking lot you’ll first hike to Double Arch – my oldest’s favorite arch in the park! On the other side of the park is The Windows Section. Hike to Turret Arch plus North Window and South Window. Plan to spend at least an hour in this section (Double Arch to South Window) and a little longer if you have young kids and/or want to enjoy snacks on the Window arch as the sun sets. It’s spectacular.
As the sun sets, head to your meeting place with RedRock Astronomy. And don’t forget that it will take you about 30 minutes to get from your location in the park to the main road in Moab.
Yes, you’ll want to schedule this activity several weeks in advance (at least.) The time you plan to meet will vary depending on sunset times when you visit (usually anywhere between 5pm and 9pm, depending on the season). Meeting spots are generally some pre-planned location between Moab and Canyonlands.
What can you expect? Not just a constellation-point program, but a small-group entertaining and educational view of the planets, galaxies, star clusters, nebulae, and other breathtaking celestial sights via high powered telescopes and learning tools. Whew! Sound awesome? That’s an under-statement!
Planning a National Parks road trip? The America the Beautiful Pass covers entrance for an entire year to all the US National Parks and over 2,000 federal recreation fee sites. Fees are covered for everyone in the car for per-vehicle sites and for up to 4 adults for per-person sites. This is a no-brainer, friends. While fees vary, you’ll likely break-even after two visits. Plus, REI will donate 10% of pass sale proceeds to the NPS Foundation.
DAY 2: DELICATE ARCH AND MOUNTAIN BIKING
MORNING: HIKE TO DELICATE ARCH & EXPLORE THE PARK
There is nothing as magnificent as Delicate Arch. When you think about visiting and you imagine all the feels…it’s even better than that in real life! But let me tell you, to avoid the crowds and to see her in her best light…you want to be there when the sun rises. It’s not easy, I know. But trust me when I say it is worth it.
Once again, keep in mind as you plan that it will take you about 30-40 minutes to get from the park gate to the parking lot for Delicate Arch. Depending on the season, it might take you a moment to get a parking space, too. We missed sunrise by 30 minutes, just because we didn’t take the drive into account.
Plan on about 3 hours to hike and explore the arch. When we arrived, there were only a few dozen people around the arch, watching the sun rise and taking in the grandeur. I know your first response might be to run up and grab a selfie or a family photo…but take note as to whether or not it’s time for that. I absolutely love how the early morning felt more spiritual, and the other people felt it, too. You’re not going to see it without people at any other time! Soak it in before grabbing shots.
Once you peel yourself away from this beauty, there is a lot more to see in the park before lunch.
Drive North to Devil’s Garden. You’re going to take the trail to Landscape Arch, which was Dan’s favorite arch in the park. It’s 3 miles and about 2-3 hours of hiking. Do me a favor…don’t turn around when you just see it. Walk all the way…all the way…up to it, as close as you can get. It just gets more and more spectacular as you close in on it.
If that’s all you can hike the rest of the morning, you’ve done well! We didn’t do any additional hikes because the kids were exhausted from waking up at 4:30am. However…if you’re up for it, continue on this trail to add Double O Arch and Dark Angel Arch to your plan. The crowds dissipate, and the arches will not disappoint.
When you wrap up exploring Devil’s Garden, you’ll head south on the main road. Be sure to make these stops on your way out of the park:
- Fiery Furnace Viewpoint. It’s an amazing spot, but was closed to hiking when we visited. Given the opportunity, I’d add this to our list by packing a picnic rather than heading into town for lunch. If it’s closed when you visit, be aware that you can still stop at the viewpoint for a taste of the furnace. Our friends at CFA did the Fiery Furnace hike several years ago. Check it out!
- Balanced Rock. You don’t even have to get out of the car if you don’t want to!
- Courthouse Towers Viewpoint. Be sure to look for Three Gossips and The Organ.
- Park Avenue Viewpoint. Have an extra day to explore? Hiking here is a great add-on.
Finally, be sure to stop in the Visitor’s Center to stamp your passport and grab a sticker or t-shirt. You’ve got to be out of the park by about 11:15 in order to make your next adventure on time…so pack your lunch and eat in on the way!
AFTERNOON: CLIFFSIDE MOUNTAIN BIKING
You’ll find Dead Horse Point State Park only about 35 minutes from Moab, and you can’t miss it! There is a great campground here, too! We stayed a few days and loved being close to the magic.
Sure, you can take a scenic drive of the canyon here (It’s breath-taking!), but why go by car – or even foot – when you can BIKE it! This was one of our families Top 10 adventures in Utah!
Reserve your bikes from Bighorn Mountain Biking, and pick them up inside the park right near the trailhead. You have to be at the rental pick-up location before noon, and you’ve got three hours to enjoy on the trails. We fully planned to spend all three hours out there, but as novice riders we were spent after about 2.5 hours. But, we saw everything we wanted to see!
The team here will give you a trail map and guide you on the path that suites your experience level. For those who like to plan ahead, consider the route we took: Intrepid to Raven Roll…Keep going to Big Chief (with the very best views) and then head back to home base via Pyramid.
I note for wary parents…this biking adventure allows you to bike along the rim of the canyon. I was very nervous about it, especially because my guys are new mountain biking. The truth is that the trails are not too close to the edge. I felt safe the entire time along the trails I mention above. Anxious parent? You got this!
Now, before you leave the park after your mountain biking adventure, be sure to follow the main road to the end of the park for a view of Head Horse Point.
DAY 3: ISLAND IN THE SKY AT CANYONLANDS NPS
Canyonlands NPS is gigantic, and the entrances are very far away from each other. If you have additional days to add to your itinerary then consider visiting The Maze, The Needles and Horseshoe Canyon on your other days. Our friends at CFA explored beyond Island in the Sky if you want the deets.
In this post, we’re covering the Island in the Sky region because it is the most accessible from Moab, and offers the most bang for your buck.
Once again, to avoid the crowds you’ll want to be at the park around sunrise: The early-bird gets the worm. Or in this case, the best views.
- Enter the park…resist the urge to stop at the jaw-dropping views…and head straight to Mesa Arch. This is the most popular destination in the park, and to see the sun rise over the canyon without a long line then get here early!
- From Mesa Arch, head further into the park and South to Grand View Point Overlook where you can take in the overlook and hike the easy but beautiful 1.8 mile trail here.
- Keep heading North on Grand View Point Road then continue North on Upheaval Dome Road to the Green River Overlook.
- Now, many people recommended Whale Rock trail to us since we were with the kids. You’ll keep going on this road to Whale Rock if you want to take on that 1 mile hike. We skipped it, though, in favor if Aztec Butte, which is just beyond the Green River Overlook.
- Aztec Butte is 2 miles, round trip..but it took us about 2.5 hours because we explored every nook and cranny along the route.
- We didn’t make it all the way to the top of Aztec Butte because it was super steep and very very windy on the day we visited. It didn’t seem safe to do that last 10 yards with the kids…but WOW! It was still so beautiful.
- A spur trail off the main trail takes you to ancestral Pueblo granaries are over 1,000 years old! They are a little hard to find because they are kind of “under” the trail. Don’t give up; it’s so worth it!
- Don’t leave the park without a stop at Shaffer Canyon Overlook near the Visitor Center.
DAY 4: RAFTING OR ARCH HIKING – YOU DECIDE!
ADVENTURE OPTION: WHITEWATER RAFTING
The Colorado River runs right through the middle of Moab, and you can’t leave without feeling her power. The best way to do this? White water rafting!
Traveling along the river, several splashy rapids provide a little rock and roll to the classic western vistas. Between rapids there is time for picture taking and swim breaks. Their skilled and professional guides are well versed in the human and natural history of the Colorado River. You’ll depart with a renewed understanding of the river and canyon. It’s the perfect way to end your Moab adventure.
Off-roading is another great adventure option in Moab. Check out the fun Moab off-road adventures our friends did!
MELLOW OPTION: MORE ARCHES!
If you want to end your adventure on a more mellow note, then take a tour along Potash Road outside Moab. Along this spectacular corridor you’ll find lush canyons, dinosaur tracks, ancient rock art, arches, and more.
Start by turning onto 279/Potash Rd, which is off of I191 just north of the river.
- About 2 miles after your turn, pull off at the turnout and take in the amazing views of the Moab Valley and the Colorado River.
- About 4.5 miles up you’ll see the Wall Street climbing area. FYI, this road is also referred to as Wall Street because of the amazing canyon walls. Pull off and grab some fun views of climbers on the slickrock. If you’re like me, you’ll probably be holding your breath the whole time.
- Just beyond here look for the parking lot pullout with a sign that says Indian Writing. You’ll see a 125-ft panel from the Formative Period (bring binoculars) plus if you keep your eyes peeled you’ll see three-toed allosaurus tracks on the north side of the road. Look for the spotting tubes!
- From the rock art, go about 5 more miles to the Gold Bar camping area where you’ll find the trailhead for Corona Arch. This trail is 2.4 miles and labeled moderate. It’s not too difficult, but there is an area on the slickrock that includes safety cables to help you climb, but it’s only one small section.
- From there you can head to the Potash boat ramp if you’d like to put in a canoe or kayak…or just see the water. Beyond the boat ramp is a dirt road, which is awesome but requires a 4WD.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO UTAH
- UTAH: 50+ Astounding Things To Do In Utah: Your Ultimate Bucket List
- KANAB: 12 Mind-Blowing Things To Do In Kanab (Plus Day Trips)
- PARK CITY: Your “Things to Do in Park City” Family Fun Itinerary
- BEST HIKES IN BRYCE CANYON: 13 Best Hikes in Bryce Canyon for Families
- UTAH NATIONAL PARKS: Plan a Breathtaking Trip to See the Utah National Parks
- ARCHES: ARCHES NATIONAL PARK – EPIC GUIDE 2022
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