Moab, Utah is the gateway town to two of Utah's five national parks - Arches and Canyonlands - thousands of acres of Bureau of Land Management land (free backpacking and car camping!), a rock climbing mecca, the Green and Colorado Rivers for rafting, and the dream landscape for geology enthusiasts and photographers. Its deserts are strewn with canyons, arches, mesas, buttes, dinosaur tracks, and Native American rock art. With a little over 5,000 permanent residents, it's also just a fun and laid back basecamp for a weekend... or a few weekends.
6am: Sunrise Run
There are beautiful red rock walls surrounding the entire town of Moab. If you have twenty or thirty extra minutes, do yourself a favor and get a quick jog through the neighborhoods. It gives you good feel of the Moab community and the sunrise is unreal.
If you're not planning a huge hike that morning, go for the half order. It's still tons of food but saves you a few bucks. The coffee and pastries are amazing but don't get swept away at the tables -- their glass cases are full of beautiful jewelry and it's hard to say no!
9am: City Market
On your way out of town, stop by City Market for some essentials: peanut butter, jelly, a loaf of bread, a few apples, and maybe some chocolate. You'll be set for all your lunch and snack needs.
9:30am: Gear Trader
Forgot anything you wish you could pick up before hitting the trail like water drops, a first aid kit, cozy jacket or microspikes? Head to Gear Trader for a huge selection of used gear.
10am: Arches National Park
Dive right into Arches with perhaps its most famous landmark: Delicate Arch. It's just a three mile hike, roundtrip, from the trailhead past an old settler's cabin, across a salt creek (don't drink it!) and over a long slope of slick rock. And then bam, beauty.
2pm: Canyonlands National Park: Isle of Sky
This is one of the best scenic drives in the southwest. You should have plenty of time to get out at each viewpoint to marvel and take pictures but if you're stretched be sure to check out (at least!) Mesa Arch and Grand View!
6pm: Dead Horse Point State Park
A local favorite! Your arrival time will change depending on the time of year but just be sure to get there 30 minutes before sunset so you can watch the light change over the La Sal Mountains, the Green River, Isle of Sky, and all the mesas and canyons that stretch out to the horizon.
8pm: Rio Grille
If you're me, you're hungry! Check out a dive bar with amazing food: Rio Grille. I highly recommend the blue cheese burger (plus bacon) with tater tots. Wash it down with a local Utah microbrew like Unita, Wasatch, or if you wanna keep it really local, Moab Brews trucked in from just down the street.
8am: Moonflower Co-Op
Head over early for yummy breakfast burritos and fair trade coffee! Stock up on snacks for a big hike today and make sure you fill up your water bottles at their cafe.
9am: Canyonlands National Park: The Needles
Your hike today is one of the best in the state! It's a beautiful drive from Moab to the southern part of Canyonlands National Park. I highly recommend the Chesler Park Loop Joint Trail. Drive down to the Elephant Hill Trailhead -- it's narrow, dusty and a bit rocky but we did it in a two-wheel drive rental car so don't be intimidated -- and park in the lot. The trailhead is clearly marked.
It's 10.5 miles (hence the early start) but definitely worth it! It takes you through a series of otherworldly rock formations, broad meadows of pinyon pines, juniper, and sagebush, and up and down wide canyons. Once you reach the Joint Trail you go below ground, squeezing between giant boulders and narrow canyons. It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing and a photographer's dream! Many a National Geographic spread was shot on the Joint Trail.
6pm: 98 Center
Get back all those calories you lost in your hike at the best food in Moab!
9pm: Canyonlands: Isle of Sky
If you still have some energy in you, I highly recommend heading back into Canyonlands for some stargazing. It's a Gold Tier International Dark Sky Park, meaning the stars are unreal. You can see upwards of 2,500 stars on a clear night! If it's the right time of year you also might be able to hop on a short Full Moon Hike.
7am: Love Muffin Cafe
Get a quick coffee and a muffin and make sure you're all packed up for another hike. Water? Sunscreen? Snacks? Camera?
8:00am: Arches National Park
You're hiking Devil's Garden Loop, the longest and most difficult maintained trail in Arches National Park! The 7.8 mile hike starts at the end of the paved Devil's Garden Road. You'll hike past seven arches including Tunnel Arch, Pine Tree Arch, Wall Arch, and Landscape Arch. Then you'll see a junction for the Primitive Trail, the strenuous section that is mostly dirt, slick rock, and navigating the giant playground of sandstone fins and canyon wash you're about to pass through! The trail is well-marked with cairns. There are some exposed sections and some parts where you need to climb on hands and feet. But the scenery is unbelievable and the views are definitely worth it.
12pm: Wicked Brew Coffee
Make sure you're hydrated before grabbing a cup of coffee at this drive thru and hitting the road. Happy trails!