Most folks will cruise through Moab in order to visit Arches National Park, and for good reason Arches is drop-dead gorgeous! But after the obligatory visit to that National Park there’s a whole nother way to spend a few days in this dusty, quirky desert mecca. There’s honestly a plethora of ways to adventure in Moab with options to ramp up the intensity or really slow it down. If you’re curious, I’ll share my personal fave way to spend 36 hours trotting through the land of red rock and rivers.
A Little About Moab
Perfectly placed between the Colorado River and the 12,500ft La Sal Mountains, Moab is nestled in a valley smack dab in the heart of the Colorado Plateau. It’s home to fascinating geology carved by rivers and wind found within its two iconic national parks, state parks, and miles of wild, rugged BLM land. Strewn across all of its red rock glory lay miles and miles of hiking, mountain biking, and off-road trails leading to hidden arches, dinosaur tracks, vistas, ancient rock art, and primitive campsites under the stars. However, Moab the town itself also offers plenty for visitors before or after they head out into the desert. What was originally inhabited by Navajo, Ute, and Paiute Indigenous people later became a southwest trading hub and even became deemed the uranium capital of the world. More recently though it’s become known as a mecca of outdoor adventure for climbers, bikers, hikers, off-roaders, and anyone seeking the magic and solitude of the desert. Moab’s main strip is peppered with colorful murals, quirky cafes, and local shops featuring handmade art and treasures. Despite its growing popularity and tourism, Moab has stuck fast to its roots and maintained its artsy, unique, desert rat culture.
Why Take My Advice
Hmm valid question. I suppose the obvious answers would be because I’m based in Southern Utah and call the desert home nomadically bouncing between Hurricane and Cedar Mountain. Or because I’ve guided multi-day trips across the desert before coming to Erem and had the opportunity to experience the major hotspots amongst the beloved national parks and recreation areas. But the real reason I think my advice is worth a cent or two is perhaps the way I choose to travel and explore this sandy, cactus-filled paradise. I go for the off-the-radar, less visited, less hyped adventures. True the hot tourist spots are that way for a reason (so for sure go check those out too) but I’ll take the vista that requires high clearance to get to, has no amenities in sight, and may be slightly less epic by instagram standards but I’m practically guaranteed to be sharing it with no one else besides jackrabbits and coyotes. Also I love good food, not fancy food mind ya, but solidly good food and I plan adventures around killer donuts, drool-worthy tom yum soup, and expertly spiced biryani. So if you’re looking for adventures ranging from slightly less trafficked to devoid of humanity that also combine suggestions for my favorite desert rat gourmet pit stops then my travel advice just may be up your alley.
How to Spend 36 hours in Moab
Moab is a 5 hr drive from my home base near Zion so after that much time in the car I’m ready to snag some quick sustenance before heading out to stretch my legs. Moonflower Co-op is my consistent go-to. This is hands down my favorite place for easy grab-and-go snacks and lunch. Their apple rosemary scones are *chefs kiss*, and I daydream about their vegan parmesan kale salad and spicy peanut quinoa salad. I pop in every single time I’m in town (sometimes every day honestly).
Photo credit: Moonflower Co-op
Midday in Moab tends to be rather toasty, and I’m not looking for anything too intense so heading over to hike Grandstaff Canyon sounds perfect. You can cruise alongside the CO river en route to this shady stream-laced hike even stopping to have lunch at the Lion’s Park trailhead (where you can also fill up your hydration bladder or water bottle and have restroom access). The hike is around 5.7 miles long with a nice mix of sun and shade with lots of little offshoot trails for exploring. This is also a good trail option for pups providing plenty of options for them to cool off and get a drink.
Fuel up for tomorrow’s sunrise adventure by grabbing dinner at Milt’s Stop n Eat a sweet little 1950s drive thru serving some darn good burgers (give the elk a try), fries (and tots), alongside some seriously good shakes (strawberry all day long)! They’ve also got several non-meat options. Want something a bit lighter? I'd head back to Moonflower and grab one of their awesome large salads!
Bartlett wash is mainly a mountain bike area however if you’re a fan of being on foot it’s actually a peaceful, beautiful place to wander about, full of wide open vistas and interesting slickrock formations. In my opinion it’s also one of the best hikes in Utah. It’s the perfect place to watch the sunset colors light up the sky. Keep in mind that 4 wheel drive is preferable to make it out this way although if it’s been dry you should be good in a standard vehicle. If there’s been rain recently or in the forecast for the day, definitely only make the drive if you’ve got the right vehicle as the area can quickly wash out on you. It’s a bit of a trek from town but it’s 100% worth it, just respect the area and make sure to practice LNT.
Bartlett Wash. Photo Credit: Austen Woodard
Still deciding on a place to stay? Check out these Moab campsites and Airbnb’s.
Up for a buttkicker of a sunrise adventure? Set your alarm for a pre-dawn wakeup and head out to hike Castleton Tower Trail, but be warned, this hike is mainly a climber’s trail which means it’s pretty exposed, a little scrambly, and gains some serious elevation over a relatively short distance. Not a fan of heights then a great alternative would be to head to Corona Arch instead which is a beautiful mellower spot to catch those first rays of light, and that early you’ll most likely have it all to yourself.
Image: Castleton Tower
Image: Corona Arch
By now you should be ready for some caffeine and a bomber breakfast so head to Moab Garage Co to get the McLovin (I always sub bacon and add avocado) with their silky smooth flat white. Grab a chair and chow down while you people watch.
McLovin. Photo credit: Moab Garage Co.
Take a nice little wander around the main strip of Moab to check out locally made arts and various nicknacks. My favorite spot to drop in is Moab Made because they always have new items handmade by local artisans. Whether it’s unique jewelry, awesome stickers, or watercolor paintings of the surrounding desert you’ll find it here.
Antica Forma - Classic pepperoni no questions asked (unless you’re vegetarian then you get a pass) otherwise you don’t even need to look at the menu online beforehand, the pepp pie here is just too good. Bonus, they’re open late so you can still make it even after adventures that keep you out after dusk.
Up for a drive again? Well then Dead Horse Point State Park is another gorgeous sunset spot and the Dead Horse Rim Loop Trail provides vistas aplenty. It will take about 45 mins from Moab and you’ll need to pay the $20 per vehicle fee, but if you’re looking for some killer shots this would be the place. Perhaps you’d rather just use your National Park pass, then head to Canyonlands NP to catch sunset over Green River Overlook. Another great option would be to head straight to Canyonlands after your wander so you could explore the 2 mile out and back trail at Grandview point before catching a Green River sunset. Good news, Antica Forma stays open til 10pm so that pizza is still on the docket.
You’ve got some options this morning: you can go bust out an am hike (Mill Creek would be a beautiful and refreshing option) to get some movement in before heading home, you can sleep in cause you’re whooped from the last 2 days (no judgment here), or you could go stretch it out at Desert Power Yoga at one of their 7am weekday classes, or 9am weekends or if you’re REALLY lucky your visit might align with when they collab with Moab Underdog Rescue for some puppy yoga!
Image: Mill Creek
Love Muffin Cafe is perfect for a quick and so so good breakfast. Their sunrise veggie panini or bombero breakfast burrito paired with the most flavorful oatmilk latte in town are the perfect start to the day. Heads up, last I checked they were open for takeout only.
Time to head home! Go swing by Moonflower for road munchies before hitting the highway!
You might also like: