When you make the turn on HWY 191 to start the descent into Moab, Utah, you transition from a world of pine trees and alpine peaks to a landscape splattered with globs of slick-rock and arches that are a million years old: it’s like being on Mars. We spent a week in Moab and found it to be a very interesting little town, with just the right amount of quirk.
Moab is a free camping paradise! The entire town is surrounded by either Forest Service (FS) or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. Not to mention the fact that you could probably stealth camp on Main Street and no one would notice, or care. You can see all of the campsites we visited while in the Moab area, we have included GPS coordinates so you can find them on your next visit.
Considerations for boondocking in and around Moab:
You can’t poop in the desert like you can in the woods
- Due to the sensitive nature of the desert soil, defecating on the desert floor or even burying your poo is highly destructive to the environment. Bring along a portable toilet or use public facilities that are scattered all over town. Most campgrounds won’t allow you to stay unless you have a toilet set up.
- It is a desert, bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and common sense
Seriously, temperatures can reach 100+ in the summer time and mixed with the dry heat can zap the energy right out of you. Remember to carry emergency water in your vehicle and always fill up at the visitor centers that offer free water. Below are a few of the free water locations we found in Moab:
- 7-Eleven on Main St– FREE potable water to fill your RV or water jugs
- Arches and Canyonlands National Park Visitors Center– The National Parks don’t want you falling out on the trail, use their water, you’ve paid for it already
- Moab Visitors Center on Center St– The visitors center has every brochure and map you could need to navigate Moab and they sell OHV permits for off-roading. Stop in and ask the clerk about the guy from Louisiana with a strange accent.
Moab is home to some of the most unique and beautiful landscapes in the world, most notably in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. These national parks boast some of the most premiere arches and canyons in the World. The town supports world class mountain biking, hiking, and off-roading with a fine mix of culture and entertainment to go with it.
Arches National Park
Based on the name, you can guess what you will see at Arches National Park. Countless 300-million-year old arches abound in the park. These sandstone structures litter the horizon of this well-kept park. We became spoiled in Arches, because the road was just finished in the Fall of 2017 and is in excellent shape. On your way into the park, be sure and stop in the Visitor’s Center and fill up plenty of water bottles and jugs if you have them. You will be surprised at how much water you can drink in the desert.
The Windows Section of the park gives a warm-up hike to a set of arches that are all within a half-mile of the parking lot on easy trails. North Window, South Window, Turret, and Double Arch are well worth the short walk from the car.
Delicate Arch is the main attraction for park visitors and it seems the only way to secure a photo of the arch with no one in the middle of it, is to hike up in the early morning and secure a spot before the sun rises. We did not do that and wished we had. The trail to Delicate was littered with hundreds of people trying their best to climb the moderate slickrock trail. It was hard to be frustrated with the number of people, because at least they are outside taking their kids on a hike. The arch itself is beautiful and well worth the 3-mile roundtrip hike.
Devil’s Garden is the furthermost section of the park and it boasts the most remote trail in the Devil’s Garden Loop Trail. On this 7.2-mile loop, you will see Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch, as well as Landscape Arch. Landscape Arch was especially impressive due to its 306-foot span and interesting history. In September 1991, a massive, several hundred-ton rock fall caused a section of the trail to be blocked off. Hikers were the witnesses to the rock fall and had to scramble to safety.
Canyonlands has a lot to offer both in Island in the Sky and the Needles District. The Island in the Sky offers views and trails from the top of the mesa, down. And the Needles District is known for its needle like features that grow out of the valley floor. The two districts are only 20 miles apart as the crow flies but take over an hour to drive between them.
We opted to stay in the park at the Willow Flat Campground. The campsites were super clean and much closer to the attractions in the park than they would be if we drove in from Moab. Just down the road from our site was the Green River Overlook which sports an amazing view of the Green River from a couple thousand feet up.
Rachael’s Pick in Moab
If you only get time for one stop in Canyonlands make it Mesa Arch. This is a very short hike from the parking lot, about 300 yards. The arch itself was not the grandest we saw, but the view behind the arch was spectacular! We got up just before the sunrise and biked to the trail. It was a cloudy morning, so the sunrise wasn’t awe-inspiring, but as the rays of the sun began to light up different parts of the canyon it seemed like every few minutes the view would change just a little bit. The distant horizon started as just a dark expanse but had so many shapes and colors as the sun brought it to life!
If you have enough time for a little bit longer of a hike take the two-mile round-trip hike out to Grandview Point. Island in the Sky gets its name because the park is on a big mesa. This hike takes you to the southernmost point of the mesa. As you walk out and look to the east there are several layers you will see below you. About 1,500 feet down is the White Rim. It is a layer of rock that looks white compared to all the red rock around you. On this layer there is a trail, the White Rim Trail (they thought really hard about the name), if you are lucky you will see either 4x4s or mountain bikers making the 100-mile trip around the mesa. As you look past the white rim and even further down you can see the Colorado River several thousand feet below you. As you approach the point look to the west and you will see the Green River. At the point you can almost see the confluence of the two rivers and you realize the shape of the mesa is formed by these two rivers.
Both hikes each had great features of their own, but the commonality of the two is the vastness of the views. It was amazing to realize just how far into the distance you could see.
If getting off of the road is your thing, then Moab is for you. Whether it is in a 4×4 or on a mountain bike, you can find a perfect trail system in Grand County. Because we live in a bus, we chose to hop on our Mountain Bikes and check out a couple of Trail Systems in the area.
This trail system has something for everyone. Easy, rolling blue/green runs or black diamond expert runs are available from most every trailhead. We chose to start at the top of the Mesa and ride the downhill first on the Getaway Trail. In hindsight, we would have started at the bottom and ridden up to enjoy the downhill on the way back to the trailhead. You are rewarded at the bottom with a short hike down to the Gemini Bridge which has formed over a stream and is a real sight to see.
The world-renowned trail at slickrock is world renowned because it is difficult. The entire trail is, you guessed it, slick rock. The terran is steep and you must have the appropriate gear and attitude to ride it successfully.
Bring the appropriate bike
It seems that the most successful of riders on Slickrock were on 27.5-29” full-suspension bikes, with flat peddles. Most had some sort of knee protection and had aired down their tires a bit.
Have a good attitude
If you never rode in Moab and you expect to fake it until you make it, you will be very frustrated at the experience. Come in willing to learn and willing to try a section a couple of times before you get it right.
Zach’s Pick in Moab
Klonzo has something for every skill level of rider, even specifically for young riders that are new to the sport. This park is located off of Willow Springs Road and is located on BLM land. The trails are well marked and well mapped. I really enjoyed the Wahoo and Vertigo lines on the North side of the road as they really pushed me and my riding ability. The trails combine slickrock and dirt singletrack as well as tough climbs and spirited downhill sections.
Start on the South side and warm up on Rollercoaster, then head over to try your hand at the more difficult but much more rewarding North side.
Food, Groceries, and Ammenities
We typically don’t eat out very much and Moab was no exception, the only place we visited in town for food was a coffee shop, Moab Roasters. The coffee was high quality and they sold pastries and gelato, but no gluten free food options. Other than the coffee shop we did not eat-out, so this review is really only for the grocery store. The City Market on Main Street had plenty of GF options and they were clearly marked with reasonable prices. If you are willing to cook your own food Moab can accommodate!
We did laundry at Moab Laundry Express and it was exceptional. The building was on a quiet street, the inside was clean, and the machines worked great. There are also 24-hour security cameras on the premises, which made us feel even better about the location. The next time we are in Moab, we will do laundry here again.
Moab, UT is such a unique and strange little town that everyone should come and see. Even if you aren’t a die-hard mountain biker or if you don’t like 4x4s, Moab has something to offer everyone. Come check it out before it gets too big and too developed to enjoy.