Beginner’s Travel Guide: Three-Day Weekend in Moab, Utah

Moab is a popular destination for Denverites, Coloradans, and plenty of my other neighbors out west. If you haven’t made a road trip to this desert destination, put it on your list! The only challenge is deciding what sights to see (and resigning yourself to the fact that the town is way less cool than all of the crazy awesome nature surrounding it).

Yes, Moab the town is not my cup of tea. The Main Street is a four-lane highway that isn’t the most pedestrian-friendly. There are long waits to cross the street and lots of traffic noise since there are semis and off-roaders galore driving through. There are huge crowds and a lot of tourist trap restaurants and stores.

But, it’s all worth it for the surroundings. Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, and other public lands around the city are all stunningly beautiful. There’s enough to make two weekends out of it – here’s how I’ve spent them myself.

Getting There

If you’re driving from Colorado, make sure to take the scenic route down Highway 128. It only adds about 15 minutes to the drive and you follow the Colorado River for the entire second half of the drive. It’s absolutely gorgeous and 100 times more scenic then taking I-70 the entire way. Take 70 home so that you can save the time on the return trip – it can feel like a long drive back otherwise.

Another hot tip for Coloradans: stop for lunch at the Hot Tomato in Fruita (best pizza ever) and then mosey over to Best Slope Coffee for a caffeine roadie and some snacks to tide you over for the rest of the drive. Once you leave Fruita, you’re kind of also leaving civilization until you get to Moab, so make sure to stop in this funky little town (I’m biased, it’s one of my favorites).

Where to Stay

If you can arrive by mid-day Thursday, you can try to score a free BLM campsite along Highway 128. There are a ton of options, but they fill up quick.

Your non-camping, but still affordable, alternative is the Lazy Lizard Hostel. Billy and I have stayed in one of the cabin rooms (pictured above) as well as the dorm-style rooms in the main house. The hostel is certainly not fancy, but it’s clean and super cheap.

All of the rooms at the hostel have shared bathrooms, but they’ve all got hot showers and are shockingly hair-free considering how many people go in and out of them. There are also plenty of hotel options, they’re just super expensive.

When to Go

Spring and fall are the best times to go to beat the heat and the crowds. It is sweltering in the summer in Moab, plus the parks are even more crowded since everyone is on summer vacation.

I’ve gone twice in late March and had beautiful weather and empty trails both times. I like going in the spring because it’s typically warmer than Denver during the day and gives me a little preview of summer when I’m super tired of chilly weather at home.

Day 1: Friday

After arriving to town, grab a quick dinner at the Food Truck food court that’s right downtown. Parking is…a mess so don’t even attempt to get into the parking lot that backs up to the food truck area. Just find street parking on a nearby street, even if you have to walk a few blocks. Moab is flat, so you’ll be fine!

Catch the sunset at either Canyonlands National Park or Dead Horse Point State Park. Make sure to pack layers (it gets surprisingly windy and cold!) and a headlamp, flashlight, or your phone to make your way back to the car safely.

Both parks are about a 45-minute drive outside of town. Billy and I got to town at 5, grabbed dinner at the food trucks, and then went straight to Dead Horse Point to make the 7:40 sunset. This left us about 30 minutes to walk around before staking out our spot for sunset. Here’s my trail guide >>

Sunset at Canyonlands

If you go to Canyonlands (Island in the Sky is the name of this region of the park), you’ll be almost totally alone, which some people prefer. Drive through Canyonlands until you get to the Grand View trailhead. There isn’t a bad spot, so wander around on the trail until you find a rock to sit on that’s facing west.

If you’re comfortable staying until it’s dark, the stargazing at Canyonlands is unreal. Just make sure you download a stargazing app before you leave town so you know what you’re looking at!

Day 2: Saturday

For First-Timers

If it’s your first time visiting Moab, start at Arches National Park and do the Devils Garden hike (trail guide here).

Double O Arch at the end of Devils Garden Trail.

You’ll want to get an early start to beat the heat and the crowds, and there are no quick options for breakfast in Moab (even the McDonalds is pretty slow). You’ve got access to a kitchen at Lazy Lizard, so pick up a few staples at the grocery store on your way into town. To be honest, I normally just get Pop Tarts to eat on the way to the trail. #vacation

For Trail Runners

Get a run in on beautiful desert single track at the Pipe Dream trail just outside of town. You’ve got rolling hills (okay, there are a few big ones), views of the mountains, panoramas of the town and the desert, and you can choose your own adventure. The trail goes for just over nine miles, so go for as long as you want and turn back for home when you’re ready for lunch.

In heaven on Pipe Dream!

After a shower and a nap, head out to dinner at Arches Thai. This is my favorite dinner spot in Moab – and yes, I know, it seems random for a good Thai place to be in this small little town in the middle of this giant state of white people. But trust me!

For Return Visitors or If You Have 4 Days

If you’ve already been to Moab, or if you have four days, make the drive to the lesser-visited Needles area of Canyonlands National Park. It’s an hour and a half south of Moab and a really unique landscape. The drive is beautiful and easy, and you have your pick of tons of beginner-friendly trails. Here’s my beginner-friendly guide >>

The Needles area of Canyonlands is like a trip to Mars…and I mean that in the coolest way possible.

For Sunset

No matter where you spent the day, if you’re feeling up for another trip out to a park for sunset, go to Arches (yes, even if you’ve already been there). Delicate Arch is a complete zoo at sunset, but the Windows Loop Trail is less crowded and you see multiple different arches that still make good photo ops!

The view from the top of the Window Loop trail in Arches National Park at sunset.

Day 3: Sunday

Before you head home, grab breakfast at Elektra’s. Just be ready to wait! It’s a small little cafe on your way out of town with plenty of yummy options and a fun local feel.

If you’re feeling super ambitious, you can get up at the crack of dawn to do sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park. However, I’ve never had it in me to get up that early and also be with hundreds of my best friends.

After breakfast, it’s time to head back to reality (unfortunately). While the tourist trap-ness of the town is less appealing, to me it’s worth dealing with for everything that surrounds it. If you can swing four days, make sure to hit all of the spots I’ve mentioned. If not, just make sure you go back!

Published by Laura Cardon

Laura Cardon moved to Colorado as an adult and quickly realized how difficult it was to get started exploring the outdoors in a state full of experts. She founded Outdoor Beginner in 2014 to fill the gap in beginner-friendly content for camping, hiking, skiing, and other outdoor activities. In addition to Outdoor Beginner, she coaches beginner trail runners and works at Runners Roost in Golden, Colorado, where she lives with her spouse and toddler.

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