The Ultimate Guide to Moab, Utah: How to do Moab the Right Way
Moab is one of the most beautiful cities in the state of Utah. With several National Parks only a short drive away, sprawling deserts, and rock formations, Moab transports you to a new world.
Since I spent my high school and college years in Salt Lake City, Moab was a common destination for my travels. Almost every summer or spring, I would head down to explore these great wonders.
Before discovering these beautiful lands, I was convinced that the deserts were a dead wasteland with nothing to offer. You see, I was raised in Los Angeles and my definition of beauty relied on lush vegetation, high peaks, and long beaches rather that vast open lands.
I was wrong.
While the Arches of Moab are certainly no secret, I never really appreciated its glorious beauty until I visited. Now, I am obsessed.
RELATED: Utah’s Best Kept Secret: Goblin Valley
Even as a Colorado resident, we still manage to make it down to Moab every year. Each Memorial Day weekend for the last four years, we have made the trek to our camping extravaganza to catch up with old friends, party, and take in the natural beauty of the surrounding areas.
But as you’d imagine, holiday weekends draw the crowds.
Coming into Moab on Memorial Day weekend, you’ll notice bumper to bumper traffic up and down Main Street. This can be a bit of a damper when it comes to escaping into the middle of no-where.
However, as a person who has spent much time in these deserts, it’s not to difficult to get that secluded trip that you came to Moab for.
Check out my tips to make the most out of your trip to Moab from a person who has spent countless years exploring this town.
WHEN TO GO TO MOAB ?
Moab gets hot. Like really really hot. I mean, it is a desert and much like you would expect, it is very hot in the middle of summer.
The best times that I like to visit Moab is late spring like April or May.
Depending on the year, temperatures can range from the high 80s to the mid 90s while staying relatively clear. This year in particular was hotter than the past few but most people I know can agree that this is the best times to go temperature wise.
Too much earlier than that, it can get cold and rainy. My freshman year, I went for Spring Break. It was very cold and windy. I left early but my friends that stayed told me they woke up with icicles growing on their face. They ended up getting a room.
Now, I am not saying that it’s that bad to check out these deserts at those times since it tends to be less crowded since it’s off season. Just be prepared with gear or alternate accommodations just in case. Remember, it can snow in Moab.
On the opposite side, middle of summer could be unbearably hot. Like I mentioned, it gets up to the 90s in May, so you could only imagine how hot it can get in July or August. I have stayed in Moab during these times before, but I opted to rent a cheap room instead of camp. My fiancé Robb has camped here in August and has told me stories of extreme heat. It didn’t sound fun.
When I go to Moab, I prefer camping so it’s a bit of a loss if we have to stay in a hotel.
As for fall, I personally haven’t visited in this time, but I imagine that it is similar to visiting in spring. Usually by this time in the camping season, I am a bit worn out and the thought of driving six hours to camp isn’t quite as appealing as early season. Not to mention that it eventually gets darker earlier in the fall. Whatever floats your boat though.
This is an opportune time to avoid crowds since I am not the only one who shares these thoughts. Moab is really the best when there aren’t too many people around.
WHERE TO STAY IN MOAB?
As I mentioned, I love to camp in Moab. There is something about being immersed in this red rock paradise that cannot be beaten.
Also, if you have ever slept under a clear desert sky, you would know what I’m talking about. You can get miles and miles away from people, leaving an unpolluted sky where you can clearly see the moon and stars. If you’re lucky and there is no moon, you can get some of the most breathtaking views of the milky way. It’s truly enchanting.
The trick of camping in Moab, however, is to find someone away from people.
I get it. Some people want to be near accommodations. The thought of being far away from running water can be intimidating.
However, I think the best experiences in Moab is when you actually feel like you are a world apart from civilization. I say that you should give it shot, even if only once because the surreal experience can’t be beaten. On top of that, you can be as loud as you want or as quiet as you want without a bit of disturbance.
Moab offers some of the only places that you can really escape all society. Near Denver, it’s practically impossible to camp without people near you unless you are willing to travel hours away. Even so, you probably will run into people.
Not so much in Moab.
When you find these secluded spots, you may not see a single soul your entire trip. It’s just amazing.
Besides, camping away from civilization does not mean you have to sacrifice any style. Just about a week ago, I spent six days in the middle of nowhere and it didn’t feel primitive at all.
If you check out my tips to glam up your campsite, you too can bring luxury to your site, wherever you go! Between the lights, décor, and great food, civilization was hardly missed. Seriously, it felt more like a music festival than roughing it in the wild.
Check out how to glam up your campsite in my glamping article here.
So where do you actually camp? Here are a couple suggestions.
This is where I went for my first camping trip to Moab with several friends. When entering Moab from the north on Highway 191, take the turn onto UT – 128 drive for roughly half an hour until you get to Onion Creek. You drive through a gorgeous canyon over a couple of rivers.
Don’t get caught up on one of the sites along the river since they are close together and usually full. It’s worth the drive to get to Onion Creek. Once you are there, there are several dispersed campsites along the way.
Another year, the first several were filled but you can keep going as long as you can until you find something. There is a whole other section of sites near the top of the creek. Just make sure you head any signs telling you not to camp in a particular site.
No one wants to be woken up by a park ranger in the middle of the night. It’s happened to me and my friends one year and she got a ticket. We weren’t allowed to start a fire and the night sucked.
You will need somewhat of a decent vehicle to get to these spots depending on the year. There are several river crossings that can be deeper if it’s been rainy. Luckily, Robb has a Subaru, so it isn’t a problem on our end but be wary if your car has low clearance.
When I first went, we just parked my car near the entrance and had a truck take us to the site.
One year, this was not open due to the rain. If that’s the case, I recommend driving this road a little longer. There are some sweet paid sites just a couple miles after this spot that totally do the job.
Canyonlands: Island in the Sky
Another cool spot to camp at is near the entrance of Canyonlands Island in the Sky district. When heading into Moab on Highway 191, take the turn off to Canyonlands on UT – 313. There are plenty of BLM dispersed campsites along the way which are often not filled.
One year, we had trouble finding a spot until we found this hidden gem down a dirt road. Much like I mentioned before, listen to signs along the way, especially if you go down a dirt road. They often clearly mark where dispersed camping is allowed and not allowed.
This one is easy for any car to reach so it’s a good option if you don’t have the most optimal outdoorsy vehicle.
Canyonlands: Needles District
Ok , this is probably one of my best kept campsite secrets to date and yes, I’ll be returning every Memorial Day weekend. I mean, we’ve camped here for the last four years and planning on our fifth. Don’t worry, there are more dispersed sites down the road.
This is my favorite area to camp in since no one goes down here. Canyonlands Needles District is roughly an hour south of the city of Moab, making it too much of an inconvenience for most people. Just head south on Highway 191 until you get to Highway 211. Head towards the Canyonlands entrance and you will find some awesome sites.
I usually pick a spot in the Indian Creek recreational area and they are sweet!
There are also spots up near the park entrance that sport really cool red rock backdrops. Again, watch the signage so you don’t end up camping somewhere you aren’t supposed to. There are so many great spots in this area, there is no reason to camp where you shouldn’t.
If you are struggling to find somewhere, just keep going. There are a lot of awesome spots on BLM land that allows you to camp for free or cheap in Moab. You just need some patience.
Now if you aren’t camping, there are plenty of hotels on Main St. in Moab. I’ve only stayed at the Super 8 on the north end of town but it definitely gets the job done. It’s one of the cheapest motels to stay in and it does have a pool and hot tub.
Personally, I believe Moab is more about the outdoors, so I don’t care to spend much on a hotel anyways.
WHAT TO DO IN MOAB?
Obviously, the National Parks are a must. Given that I’ve been there several times, I often don’t make it in but it’s totally worth it to go in if you’ve never been.
Arches National Park
Arches is basically right next to the town and I believe you need to check it out at least once. The iconic Delicate Arch will blow your mind away. After a moderate 3-mile hike, you will come across this gorgeous bowl with Delicate Arch at the edge. It’s huge!
This hike can get a little challenging near the end but it’s totally worth the effort. I mean, it’s on the Utah license plate for goodness sake.
Besides this hike, there are several short walks to see other cool sites within the park. I’ve been able to hit many of them in one day, even without too much skills in hiking. Double Arch is a fun one for the kids.
I personally feel that Arches hikes are generally pretty easy and I’m not this hardcore hiker.
The only thing to note is that it is the busiest park in the area so opting for a weekday or Sunday might be your best bet. I’ve seen huge lines trying to enter the park.
Canyonlands is broken into three distinct districts. The main district is Island in the Sky and it will blow you away. The expansive canyons are jaw droppingly beautiful.
I’ve been to Island in the Sky and Needles but haven’t made it to the Maze. The Maze District has areas that require high clearance vehicles and permits but I hear it’s really cool from the best man of our wedding. One day, I’ll get over there and give you all an update.
One of the main hikes in Island in the Sky is the easy Mesa Arch trail near the entrance. It’s the most photo-esque part of the park and is a simple half mile paved walk to get there. You’ll definitely want to check it out.
Depending on skill level, you can add Upheaval Dome, Syncline Loop, Aztec Butte, or whatever you like to the mix. Warning though, the Syncline Loop is pretty difficult and long. You basically climb down a cliff. It’s really pretty though!
Upheaval Dome is probably the best option if you want a moderate hike to make your trip more worthwhile. Aztec Butte is pretty fun but there is a bit of a rock climbing aspect so be careful.
In the Needles District, there are a few hikes you can check out when entering the park from Highway 211. The biggest appeal of this district in my opinion is how far it is from civilization. I’ve checked out Slickrock Foot which was a fun and relatively flat 3-mile loop and the Pothole Point area where you can check out neat formations and a great overlook of the Needles.
To be honest, I enjoy the Island in the Sky section more than what you can access without a high clearance vehicle in Needles but the campsites in the area are worth the drive. You can also briefly check out Newspaper Rock on Highway 211 when venturing down to this region.
Outside of the park, there are a couple of sweet hikes that surround the area. These are great alternatives for when you are trying to save money or add a fun bonus to your trip.
Negro Bill Arch
This hike was one of my favorites in the region. It’s not too challenging and within only 5 or so miles back and forth, you reach an awesome arch at the end. Don’t let the length intimidate you f your not the best hiker. It’s basically flat the whole way.
To get there, go north on Highway 191 heading out of Moab. Turn right on UT – 128 and your destination will be on the right.
I recommend this hike for those who have already seen Arches or want to avoid the dreaded line to get in. It’s also quite lush throughout the trail, which is pretty cool in the desert.
Mill Creek Waterfall
This is hands down my favorite hike in Moab. Its basically a small oasis in the desert. With crisp waters and sweet cliffs to jump off of, this location cannot be missed.
This gem is also incredible accessible since it’s right in the town of Moab. Especially if you are hitting Moab in the middle of summer, I highly recommend this refreshing stop. It’s pretty easy to get to places where you can swim and it’s a beautiful short hike along the way.
The hike itself is 7.5 miles but you can get to the first pool with a gorgeous natural waterfall within a mile.
It does get a bit crowded so be warned. I usually don’t want to be near anyone while camping but this hike is a great exception. Check it out and you will see why.
Make sure you bring your swimsuit and towels!
One thing I haven’t done much of in Moab is the paid adventures or tours. I am young and don’t have much money. Plus, as you’ve probably noticed, I tend to avoid people while in Moab.
However, there are plenty of paid tours and rentals that you can get into in Moab. I think you can get a lot of Moab in with hiking and camping but for adrenalin junkies, there are plenty of options. Many companies offer jeep tours, river rafting, biking, zip lines, whatever.
Moab is a place of adventure.
WHERE TO EAT IN MOAB?
The town of Moab offers plenty of options for a great meal. I myself always find myself going to my favorite stops when heading home from a camping adventure.
My favorite recovery place is Moab Brewery. Maybe it’s because I’m a Denver gal but I’m always driven to check out craft beers. After the warm cheap beers near the end of a camping trip, that crisp Hefeweizen always does the trick. Robb is more of an IPA man but whatever your drinking, Moab Brewery does the trick.
Another added bonus is that Moab Brewery keeps the prices reasonable despite it being in a tourist town. You can easily get a gourmet burger for under ten bucks!
Not a drinker? No problem! They also create their own gelato which hits the spot after a day or days in the desert! Moab Brewery is perfect!
Wake n Bake at Eddie McStiff’s
Silly name aside, this was a staple when venturing to Moab as a college kid.
With great breakfast, lunch, and coffee options, this was often the best place to recover after a weekend of camping. I’ve always enjoyed the cute artsy coffee shop vibe and reasonable prices, especially as a college kid.
Grab a coffee and feel yourself revive after a night outside as I have done over several Moab adventures! It’s just what you need to get back out and about for the rest of your day.
So, there you have it. Here are my tips to do Moab the right way from a former Utah resident.
Are you heading down to this red rock wonderland anytime soon? What are your plans for your trip? What things do you think shouldn’t be missed when visiting Moab? Let me know in the comments!
My husband was just in Utah for work and fell in love. He would love exploring the Moab. Great article
Thank you Alison! Even though I dont live in Utah anymore, my fiance and I always try our best to make it back to Moab and the regions around it. It’s almost as if you are on a different planet.
Visiting these parks is at the very top of my list right now, and I am hoping to make it there in the Fall. This was super helpful!
Thanks! I definitely think you will love it. I want even much of a desert person until I checked out these beautiful places. It’s life changing!
This post reminded me that I need an RV. I so want to visit here!!
You definitely won’t be disappointed! Moab is absolutely stunning. I’m a tent camper myself but if visiting too far off from the times I suggested to visit, rent camping could become unbearable and an RV would sure come in handy. There are so many sweet sites that are accessible to RV including the sites near Island in the Sky of Canyonlands.
We took the kids camping through Utah last summer and stayed a couple nights in Moab!! Loved it!! We went in the heat of the summer so we camped at Warner Lake which is up the mountain from Moab. Spent all day in the desert heat and cool nights thick in the aspens!! Highly recommend!
Oh wow, I haven’t been to Warner Lake before but I’d love to check it out, especially since this year, my annual trip to Moab will likely be moved from the cool spring to the heat of summer. Thanks for the tip!
Arches and Canyonlands are great National Parks. I’m a park fanatic in general. Great to read your take on them and more.
Thanks Andrew! My fiance was born and raised in the Salt Lake area and his mother took him to a bunch of parks as a kid. I’m so glad he shared these treasures with me since they are unbelievably beautiful.