Mountain biker sitting on cliff in Moab

Hit the trails with your mountain bike in Moab. (Photo: Getty Images)

Weekend Getaways

Hike, Bike and Soak Up Moab, Utah’s Desert Wonderland on a Weekend Getaway

Most people see Moab, Utah as a mecca of outdoor recreation — and this tiny Utah town, with a population of fewer than 6,000 people, lives up to its adventurous reputation. Wedged between two national parks, Canyonlands and Arches, Moab is the place to go for hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, white-water rafting and more.

But Moab has developed a foodie scene, too, with high-low offerings that range from cheap (but amazing) eats at the Moab Food Truck Park to the upscale cuisine served at the bistros in town.

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

Friday: Hike the Slot

Head 23 miles northeast of Moab to hike one of the great natural wonders of the American Southwest: the Mary Jane Slot Canyon. On the way, fuel up with a stop at Horsethief Coffee, just a mile north of town on the grounds of the historic Moab Springs Ranch. Fun fact: Butch Cassidy is said to have slept here after robbing a Colorado bank.)

Take a peek at the old ranch house, now on the National Historic Register, before enjoying your breakfast on the gardened terrace (we’re assuming the “Robber’s Roost” bagel sandwich, with bacon and free-range eggs, honors Butch, but even if not, it’s delicious).

Professor Creek & Mary Jane Canyon Trail, as it’s properly called, is one of many slot canyons etched into the southern Utah landscape, all characterized by dramatically narrow red-rock or sandstone gorges.

Luckily this one is relatively close to town, easy enough for most hikers and extremely beautiful. The out-and-back excursion of 9-ish miles will have you hopping across a creek bed (dry in some seasons) until you reach a cooling waterfall at the turnaround point. Along the way, the oddly beautiful rock formations — shaped by wind and water — tower over you as you drop ever further into the slot.

Rock climber scaling wall
Try your hand at rock climbing. (Photo: Getty Images)

On your way back to town, drive through Castle Valley for its view of Castleton Tower, a 400-foot-tall slender spire of sandstone — which may well have rock climbers standing atop it.

When you get back to Moab, head to the Moab Food Truck Park to grab a well-deserved taco or sandwich from one of the vendors. From there, it’s time to explore downtown’s maze of shops, cafés, galleries and other local businesses.

Be sure to stop into the Moab Museum of Film & Western Heritage. The museum takes visitors through the history of the area, especially the Western films made by legendary director John Ford.

Get dinner at the fabulous Desert Bistro, which marries upscale Southwestern cuisine with French fare. Think: bison-stuffed empanadas topped with a mole sauce, pan-seared sea scallops in a pool of lemon-adobo beurre blanc and duck confit in an ancho-habanero demi-glace.

Saturday: Take to Two Wheels

Cycling is a fun way to experience all that Mother Nature has to offer in and around Moab. After all, there are nearly a thousand miles of mountain-bike trails crisscrossing the landscape, most with adrenaline-triggering features such as ravines, riverbeds, canyons and mountains.

But before any of that: breakfast at the Moab Garage Co., a retro-cool spot where you can get your motor running on inspired coffee drinks, vegan bowls, burritos and more. Doughbird for doughnuts (yeast, cake and croissant-style) is another stylish choice.

If you didn’t bring a bike, stop into downtown Moab’s Bike Fiend to chat with the experts about the best rental for the trail you have in mind. They rent high-end e-bikes, gravel bikes, mountain bikes and even hitches and carriers to attach to your car.

One popular, if strenuous, route is the Whole Enchilada Trail, a 30-mile ride (give or take) that brings you through alpine forests to the top of the La Sal Mountains, followed by a 7,000-foot descent to the emerald waters of the Colorado River. If that sounds like a little too much enchilada, your friends at the bike shop can advise you on alternative routes.

Post-ride, you’ve earned the lunch of your dreams — whatever they may be. Fancy a 1950s-style drive-in? Then check out Milt’s Stop & Eat Moab, serving traditional fare made with elevated ingredients, including grass-fed beef hamburgers and blue-cheese bacon cheeseburgers served on a toasted brioche.

Your last activity might sound tailored to kids, but we promise it’s a must-see for adults, too. Moab Giants is a playground and outdoor museum that’s all about dinosaurs, featuring full-scale replicas of the creatures, some of them posed charging across the terrain. There’s also a prehistoric aquarium and an interactive museum — just a 10-minute drive from downtown Moab.

Mexican street corn on the cob
Enjoy some top-notch Mexican fare. (Photo: Getty Images)

For dinner, try Moab Brewery, the town’s only microbrewery, serving local lagers, IPAs, ales (the Dead Horse Amber Ale draws rave reviews) and spirits, including the acclaimed Canyonlands Confluence Single-Malt Whiskey.

The brewery’s filling, unfancy food puts local ingredients to good use for appetizers like “Mexican Street Corn” and “Rockin’ Root Beer Candied Bacon.” If you didn’t have a burger for lunch (or even if you did), try the famous “Moab Monster” burger, which is every bit as big as it sounds.

Sunday: Explore the National Parks

Dedicate your last day to exploring the dramatic desert landscape by way of the Moab area’s two national parks, both easily accessible from downtown. The most popular, Arches National Park, is famous for its red-rock formations — and for the crowds who pile in to see them.

Get a head start on the masses with an early alarm and a quick to-go coffee and breakfast panini at Love Muffin Café, then drive 10 minutes north to the park. Get there before 7:30 and you’re likely to find a parking space.

Delicate Arch in Moab National Park
Hike to see the famous Delicate Arch. (Photo: Getty Images)

Whether you’re in shape, out of shape or somewhere in between, there’s an accessible trail for you. One lovely route that’s good for all fitness levels is the Delicate Arch Trail. The round-trip hike is 3 miles, and the first half of it is steadily uphill. Along the way, you’ll get to see Ute petroglyphs on the rock walls.

At the top of the trail, stand next to Delicate Arch. One of the world’s most photographed natural arches, you might recognize the structure from Utah’s state license plate. (For other choices, trail conditions and a map, stop at the visitors center on your way into the park.)

After the hike, hop back in the car and cruise the Arches Scenic Drive, a 22-mile paved road that winds its way through the park, offering amazing views. There will be many enticements to pull over and get a closer look. And you should. The “Windows” section of the drive is particularly stunning, as the landscape is studded with natural arches.

Be sure to find Balanced Rock, perhaps the most popular stop along the way. Once you lay eyes on this incredible (and seemingly precarious) configuration of red rocks, you’ll understand its name.

In the late afternoon, continue to cruise to your second national park of the day, Canyonlands, a 30-minute drive from Arches. Less busy, but just as impressive, Canyonlands preserves the colorful buttes, mesas and spires, carved by flowing water over the course of millennia. At nearly 340,000 acres, the national park is Utah’s largest.

Focus your energy on Islands in the Sky, the park’s highest section, offering jaw-dropping views of the twisting canyons below. At the end of the day, make your way to the Mesa Arch trailhead. A 0.7-mile hike will bring you to the curved rock formation. Find a comfortable slab of rock to relax on and wait until sunset to enjoy the stunning show.

For dinner, get a table at Sunset Grill, billed as Moab’s oldest restaurant. The elevated terrace offers sweeping views, and the dinner offerings are some of the best in town, including garlicky escargots, filet mignon and Idaho trout.