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The mystique that is Moab

Your adventure awaits

By Sue Durio

A picture may be worth a thousand words. But even as you fly over the magnificent red rock canyons on final approach into Moab, Utah, it is evident: No picture will be able to adequately compare to the stunning geological masterpiece of a region you’re about to see in person.

Hot air ballooning along Moab’s red rock cliffs. Photography by Sue Durio.
Hot air ballooning along Moab’s red rock cliffs. Photography by Sue Durio.
Recently named one of the 50 most charming small towns in America, Moab draws adventure-seekers from around the world for one primary reason: location, location, and more beautiful location. With Arches National Park in its backyard, Canyonlands National Park, a renowned state park just 30 minutes away, and the Colorado River neighboring it, Moab is surrounded by breathtaking landscapes beckoning for up-close looks. 

The drive south from Canyonlands Regional Airport into Moab teases visitors with peeks at what awaits in Arches and Canyonlands national parks, two of Utah’s famed “Mighty Five” national parks. Arches is just on the outskirts of Moab about 10 minutes north. The turnoff to both Canyonlands and Dead Horse Point State Park is just beyond. To access both national parks, you’ll need National Park visitor passes, available online or at the entrance gates. Arches visitors also need a timed entry reservation if exploring between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Before venturing out, download the GuideAlong App for GPS-enabled narrated tours of both parks. If you have a couple of days, earmark one for Arches and take the short hikes to Double Arch, Balanced Rock, and Delicate Arch overlook. On day two, spend several hours exploring Canyonlands, coupled with a sidebar to the impressive Dead Horse State Park. For a special treat, get an early start to watch as the sun rises through Mesa Arch in Canyonlands, or stay late for some serious stargazing. All three parks are International Dark Sky Designated.

  A day on the Colorado River. Photography by Sue Durio.
Photography by Sue Durio.
Photography by Sue Durio.
Photography by Sue Durio.
Not sure which is a more exciting mode of transportation, aircraft to sightsee the area or Jeeps to explore the area. Oh, of course, it’s the aircraft!With 1.8 million acres of surrounding public land, there’s no shortage of four-wheeling trails just waiting to be explored. Rent a UTV from High Point Hummer in town, then head to Sand Point Recreation Area for an unforgettable day navigating near-vertical slick rock and boulder-littered trails like Fins ’n Things. Trails are rated easy, moderate, and difficult so ask your outfitter for recommendations for your skill and comfort level. Utah requires all UTV drivers to pass a safety education course.

If UTVing piques the adventure driver in you, test out one of Twisted Jeeps’ fleet of customized Wrangler Rubicons on the back roads around Canyonlands. Gemini Bridges is a great beginner trail delivering amazing views as it leads to the iconic Gemini Bridges. Follow it on to the popular Potash Road/Shafer Trail, where you’ll meander from the Colorado River and slowly wind up the single-lane, red rock cliff-hugging switchbacks.

A day on the Colorado River gives visitors an entirely different perspective on Moab’s red rock cliffs. Sit back and take in the scenery through Castle Canyon as longtime local outfitter Mild2Wild’s guides navigate this mostly calm stretch. Along the way, spot wildlife, learn about early settlers, and pass both abandoned and current movie sets. Want to explore more? Drive Highway 128, a Utah Designated Scenic Byway, through the Colorado River Gorge. Pack a lunch to enjoy at one of the many riverbank picnic sites, or venture about 12 miles to Red Cliffs Lodge. There, you can sip on local Spanish Valley Wines as you watch rafters from the shady deck. Don’t miss the Museum of Film and Western Heritage, also housed at this historic working ranch.

Sue Durio is a freelance writer and aviation enthusiast who flies with her husband in their Cessna 310.

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