Last year, I penned a thinkish piece about why I book plane tickets without asking anyone else first. I got excited, booked a trip, took said trip, and then… life got in the way, and I didn’t end up posting a recap in any sort of timely fashion.
Now that my Facebook notifications are telling me that I was kickin’ it in Utah 1 year ago, it’s about time to share a seasonably appropriate look back on my time out west, in hopes of offering some insight for any of you who are considering a trip to Mars — I mean — Moab, Utah.
Side note: for those of you who aren’t aware how utterly and completely OFF THE WALL I can be, the majority of my photos from this trip feature Miles the Monster, because he’s probably more photogenic than I am.
When you’re alone with your own thoughts for days on end, humanizing inanimate objects is completely normal, right? See Tom Hanks & Wilson the Volleyball in Castaway if you don’t agree.
WHO CAN RELATE TO THIS GUIDE?
While I embrace the notion of solo travel, when I travel alone, I do so while erring on the side of caution. My MO is to stick to beaten paths and reasonably populated places so that if anything *does* go wrong, I won’t be too far away from the ability to seek help.
To my fellow travelers who are looking to take those intimidating first steps out of the comfort zone and into the world of solo travel, this one’s for you. No need to cannonball in and go off on a solitary backpacking trip through a foreign country. A long weekend in a new city or state may be just the right place to start.
BEFORE YOU GO: GEAR UP
Utah is hands down the most underrated state that I’ve ever been to. I’d never set foot in UT until just over a year ago, and I ended up there 4, (yes FOUR) times by the time 2016 ended. Moab is a serious adventurer’s community, with no shortage of activities to keep you entertained for days. Mountain biking, camping and rock climbing require a fair amount of gear, but when airplanes are involved, you’ve got to pick and choose which items make the cut and into your suitcase.
All I knew I’d be doing was hiking and hopefully gazing at a ridiculous amount of stars. With no specialty activities in mind, I packed the usual clothing & toiletries and made sure I had 3 quality items with me:
- Backpack / Kelty Redwing 44
- Hiking Shoes / Merrell Siren Sport GTX
- DSLR Camera / Nikon D3300
Everything else was truly just details. In Moab, gear rentals are readily available for almost anything outdoorsy you can think of. If there’s only one thing on that mini list that you invest in before you go, let it be good hiking shoes.
You’ll be climbing up and down many slanted rock faces, and simple sneakers (or even trail running shoes) lack the support and grippy soles to help you keep your footing and hike safely. I’ve had my Merrells since… 2011 (I think) and they’ve held up incredibly well. While there are many reputable brands out there, if you have NO CLUE where to start, give Merrell a try.
GETTING TO MOAB
While a bustling town, Moab is no major metropolis. If you’re flying to Utah, you’ll most definitely need a set of wheels to get to, from, and around the Moab area.
There is an airport in Moab, but it’s mainly for charters. Assuming you’re flying on one of the main commercial airlines, Moab is 236 miles from Salt Lake City International (SLC) and 114 miles from Grand Junction Regional airport in Colorado (GJT).
I went with the 4-hour “ROAD TRIP!” option and flew in/out of SLC. It was half the price to fly to/from Salt Lake than it was to Grand Junction. While more convenient, keep in mind that using regional airports can drive your ticket price up by hundreds of dollars. In my case, it was a $400 savings.
While there are multiple hotel/motel options in town, you’re not going to find a high-rise Marriott anywhere closeby. Moab is a serious adventure community, but the last time I went camping was in Girl Scouts about 20 years ago. Therefore, wasn’t racing to pitch a tent on my own in an area of the country I’d never been to.
I considered ‘glamping’ at Moab Under Canvas. But, having just opened at that point in time, their rates were a bit steep for what I wanted to spend. Enter Airbnb! I rented a room in a condo just a mile south of downtown from a nice couple named Scott & Laura. As it turns out, Scott knew a vendor I’ve worked with on the Indy 500 in the past who lives in Moab. Small freakin’ world.
Given that I spent the majority of my time hiking and scooting around during all daylight hours, it was nice to have a homey place to head back to and rest each night, but there was no need to spend out my nose for a space I really didn’t spend much time in.
I had a little exploration time on Thursday, then all of Friday and Saturday in town. I spent Sunday morning in Moab until it was time to drive back north to SLC, where the USAW Olympic Trials were coincidentally taking place.
DAY 1 // Travel Day & Arches National Park
Taking the early flights westward, I landed in SLC a little before noon on Thursday. After grabbing the rental car and doing a Whole Foods snack run down in Draper, I hit the road and got to Moab around 4:30p.
I initially beelined it to my Airbnb, but my hosts weren’t home from work yet. Having driven by the entrance to Arches on the way into town, I doubled back and figured with some daylight left that there was no point in waiting until the next day to start exploring.
Park Avenue Trail
I got to Arches late enough in the day that the guard shack was unmanned and I didn’t have to pay any sort of admission fee to enter. Sweet! Armed with nothing but a park map [PDF] from the Visitor Center, I figured I’d just start driving and stop at whatever little scenic turnoffs I could find.
I first found the Park Avenue Trail. Still in my travel clothes with my backpack still crammed from flying, I left most of my things behind in the car and took a short wander into the canyon. Miles thought it was a pretty first view of all those majestically red Utah rocks.
The Park Avenue Trail is a flat shortie, which can be a great walk to fill in an hour or so. I didn’t do the entire thing, mainly because I didn’t want to spend all my time in the VERY FIRST spot I found, lest I miss out on something else cool. Plus, it was an overcast day which wasn’t cooperating photographically as much as I’d have liked.
The road through Arches is a slow and windy two-lane, but I’m not sure who would want to speed through this park anyway. If you do, you A) miss out on so many amazing rock formations and B) will probably drive off a cliff. Safety first, people.
North Window & Turret Arch
After continuing on from the Park Avenue trailhead, I headed off to the Windows Section of the park, which has multiple arches all near a single parking area. Efficiency, yea!
I can’t help but think Turret Arch looks like you put a chocolate castle in the oven. What I didn’t realize until arriving in the park is how MASSIVE these structures really are. Look closely in the photo below. Those little dots on the trail leading up to the rocks? People.
The cloud cover kept intimidating me into thinking the sky could open up any minute, so I tried to keep within reasonable running distance of the car. Once I was finished putzing around the North Window, I paused along the trail back to the parking lot and snapped this next one in half a second before moving on.
Just because it isn’t on a map doesn’t mean it’s not worth seeing. This twisted desert tree ended up as one of my favorite photographs of the trip.
DAY 2 // Arches National Park
Friday morning, my first order of business was to chase those views of the most famous arch of all (aka the one on Utah’s license plates), Delicate Arch.
The hike to Delicate Arch is about 1.3 miles, moderately uphill. It’s a 500′ elevation gain in total. Depending on your fitness level, I’ve read it can take up to 60 minutes for a casual hiker. I think I got up there in 38 minutes.
Coming from the east coast, jet lag had my body thinking my 7:45a start time was almost 10:00a, so I was raring to go. The beginning of the hike takes you by historic Old Wolfe Cabin and a wall of petroglyphs drawn by the Ute Indians.
The hike starts pretty flat, and then about 1/3 of the way in, you hit a bit of an incline. At the top, the terrain levels out a bit, and then hikers continue along up an open rock face. Cairns (those little rock stacks) are present as trail markings. It’s important to be mindful of their purpose and not knock them over, or build your own in random places just for kicks.
As the hike continues, you find yourself hiking along a ledge blasted into the side of a huge rock, and you start wondering where are both the safety rails for that big dropoff to your left, and where this f’ing arch is that everyone keeps talking about.
Then, I couldn’t even finish the “WHERE IS IT?!” thought in my head before I rounded the corner and Delicate Arch appeared out of nowhere.
Mother Nature does some seriously nice work. I’m happy that I got up and into the park early (nobody was a the guard shack… again!) and up to Delicate Arch on the early side.
By the time I started my return around 9:00a, the trail was more crowded and the parking lot was absolutely packed. If you don’t want to deal with a logistical headache, get yourself to the parking area no later than 8am.
Down and off the trail for the biggest attraction in the park by 10:00a, what to do now? Keep driving, keep stopping, keep walking, keep snapping photos.
Skyline Arch is a quick quarter-mile flat walk from a small pull-off area along the main road in the park.
After the short stroll to Skyline and back, it was time to head off toward the second most popular arch in the park, Landscape Arch. Spanning 290 feet, it’s the largest arch on the planet.
Due to rockfall in recent years, hikers are unable to get up close, underneath and personal as with some of the other more notable arches in the park.
The hike to Landscape Arch begins in the Devil’s Garden campground area, which is the farthest into the park you can go by car. The hike itself isn’t too long and there isn’t much elevation to contend with: it’s 1.5 miles round trip.
The trail continues farther into Devil’s Garden, offering nothing but more scenery as you continue along. Once I got myself up onto this long rock ledge, I scooted off to the quiet end to simply sit and bask in the sun for a bit. Unfortunately, you can tell in the photos that the clouds were rolling in. The sunshine didn’t last all day.
By the time I realized that I could no longer subside on a protein bar and water for the remainder of the day, I started my way back down and out of the park with food on the brain.
But first, I headed back to the Windows Section to check out Double Arch, which I didn’t do the day prior. At this point, the sky was completely white. I’m sure Double Arch looks phenomenal with blue skies.
Oh look, it does! Thanks, mediocre photoshop skills. Here’s approximately what you can expect if you make it to Arches NP on a clear day. I didn’t. Wah.
I then felt a few rain drops and saw lightning off in the distance. Fun fact about me, I dislike thunder and lightning. That’s a pleasant downgrade from the ‘deathly afraid’ that I was when I was a little girl. Not one to be the tallest thing around in a flat and open area, off to the car I went to get down into town and find myself a burger and a beer.
Katy doesn’t mess around with unpredictably airborne bolts of electricity.
DAY 3 // Corona Arch & ATV Tour
On my third day, I meant to head to Canyonlands National Park, which is also a short drive from Moab. However, I kept seeing all sorts of adventure companies with their ATVs and buggies for rent, and I wanted to get out and do something different than just hike, snap a photo, hike some more.
Corona Arch & Bowtie Arch
After booking myself a 4-hour ATV tour beginning at 2pm, I didn’t have much time to get to Canyonlands and back without feeling rushed. Enter the hike to both Corona & Bowtie Arches.
Corona Arch is the main attraction on this 3-mile round trip hike. The trailhead and parking area are marked, located about 4mi out of Moab along Route 279. Early in the trail, you’ll have to cross and active train track. Be careful, and not insta-stupid. Nobody wants to get hit by a train trying to get a track selfie. Look both ways and keep moving along.
While most of this trail is flat, there is a little bit of a sketch portion on uneven ground that requires a ladder and some moki steps carved into the rock face. There’s no shame in going slow and steady so you don’t lose your balance and end up in a ravine.
Second to only Delicate Arch, Corona Arch was one of the ‘archiest’ arches I saw on my trip. In the photo below, you can see vertical lines from bungee and climbing gear from past adventurers.
I was informed by a local that bungee jumping off of the arch was a halted practice once a recreational jumper had measured their cord without accounting for the slack when it was stretched to its max at the bottom of the jump. This proved to be a fatal error, and climbing/jumping from the 140-foot arch was banned in 2015 by Utah’s Bureau of Land Management.
Thankfully some of the clouds from the day before had moved their way out of town, so I was able to park my rear end near the arch and do a happy amount of basking in the sun for almost an hour before turning back toward the car.
ATV Tour – Moab Tour Company
Years ago, one of my friends had a family farm with a ton of land and a pair of quads to go with it. We used to spend many a summer evening taking the ATVs out to play along the perimeter before going through a lot of beer around the campfire. Those days long in the past, I decided ATVs would be the source of this trip’s adrenaline rush.
After taxes, waivers, etc I was all set with a 4-hour guided tour for just under $200. Our group ended up being small, 5 of us and 1 guide. The experience was worth every penny.
There are a ton of off-roading trails outside of Moab, and for someone who’s new to the area it can be rather easy to get lost. While some people may consider organized tours ‘cheesy’, I love that both navigation and equipment maintenance are the least of my worries.
After some winding around and getting comfortable with the machines, we ended up near two huge rock formations called the Merrimack & the Monitor, named for 1800s warships.
At this point in the day, I was pretty excited that the clouds had moved over enough to give me a true red rock & blue sky photo op.
Then, it was off for some high-speed fun in the dust. It took timid little me until about halfway through the tour to figure out that as long as I held on tight to the handlebars, I’d go as fast as the machine did, so I might as well hang on GO KINDA FAST!
By the end of the trip, I looked like I’d gotten into fisticuffs with a can of Swiss Miss, and the chocolate won. If you’ve never given something like an ATV or snowmobile tour a try, I recommend it 100%.
DAY 4 // Dead Horse Point & Road Trip Northbound
Sunday was my last day in Moab. While my flight wasn’t until Monday, I had plans up in the Salt Lake area that night. Again, I meant to go to Canyonlands. However, the USA Weightlifting trials were happening 3 blocks from my Airbnb in the city, and I wanted to be settled in before going full lifting geek and heading out for the night.
Instead of Canyonlands, one of my Utah resident friends put Dead Horse Point State Park on my radar. It was slightly closed than Canyonlands NP, and it was in the right direction toward the highway to get back to SLC. Talk about a scenic drive, and a ton of admiration for all of the road cyclists I saw kicking ass and taking names on all of the hills I drove up to get to the park.
Dead Horse Point State Park
I’ve been told that DHP is known as the Grand Canyon of Utah, and the views did not disappoint. The name’s backstory is a bit morbid, so I’ll let you go and look it up on your own time.
Mother Nature, you do such nice work. At Dead Horse Point, you can drive most of the way to the rim of this beautiful canyon. I took the photo above standing about 5 feet from where I’d found a parking space at the Visitor Center.
On the other side of the visitor center, catch yet another beautiful view of a hairpin turn in the Colorado River. This view (above) is from what’s considered the main overlook of the park.
At this point in time, the clock was ticking and I knew I had to hit the road for Salt Lake. Note to self, start riding your bike more, return to Moab with ambition (and cardio conditioning) to give mountain biking a go next time around.
Aaaaaand off I went. I tried to convince myself that it was okay to sit in the car for 4 hours on a sunny day, but I was reluctant to leave Moab. About 90min into my trip north, the weather matched my mood and it was gray and rainy all the way back to Salt Lake City.
PLANNING A TRIP TO MOAB?
- Arches National Park is doing a significant amount of road construction within the park from April – November 2017. Portions of the park will be closed to vehicle traffic during this time.
- Downtown Moab has a small town vibe, but it was always bustling. Parking is scarce. Be prepared to walk.
- Eat breakfast at the Love Muffin Cafe! Delicious and adorable. Gets crowded early with everyone looking to carb up before a day on the trails.
- Moab Brewery is a hot spot in town, if you’re lucky enough to find a parking space in your first lap through the lot after 6pm, buy a lottery ticket on your way home.
- With how progressive the town is, you may forget you’re in Utah. This means strict liquor laws. If you want to experience a beer at its intended ABV, order it bottled. Draft beer in served Utah may not exceed 4.0% ABV.
This is by no means a crash course in all things Moab. There is far too much to do there to squish into 3 days. With only a few days, there were sights unseen and stones unturned. Moab is most definitely a destination I plan to return to. It doesn’t look like my summer will allow me to make it back in 2017, but it’s most certainly on the short list of places I need to continue to explore as soon as the calendar allows! 🙂
- Arches National Park (USNPS Official Website)
- Discover Moab (City of Moab’s Official Tourism Website)
- Visit Utah: Things to Do in Moab (UT Office of Tourism)
- Moab Travel Information (Utah.com)