If you love the outdoors, Utah’s probably on your radar. While hiking, biking, or whitewater rafting in The Beehive State is enticing, they all require a proper home base to be fully enjoyed. To that end, the humble city of Moab is about as perfect of a ground zero destination as you can find. Yet there is much more to this southeastern Utah town than being a convenient space to rest your head between nature-fueled treks.
A Brief History of Moab
Moab was established in 1878 by Mormon settlers. This doesn’t mean they were the first people that lived here – Native American petroglyphs indicate that indigenous people lived here as early as the 16th century. Not surprisingly, the new settlers chose to name the settlement Moab after a Biblical region – specifically, after an area found on the eastern side of the Jordan River. It officially became incorporated in 1902.
The city spent its first few years as an agricultural town until the discovery of uranium shifted its economic focus to mining. In the 1950s, the discovery of a rich uranium deposit inspired the city to be known as “Uranium Capital of the World.” When the boom for the chemical waned in the 1970s, economic focus re-calibrated toward tourism, as people began to flock to the city to explore the surrounding abundant wonder.
Take away these tourists, and modern-day Moab is the perfect definition of a small town. As of the 2010 census, the city’s population is just over 5,000. However, they make up for this lack of local citizens by welcoming the world’s outdoor enthusiasts and thrill-seekers into their borders every year.
Location, location, location. This isn’t just a catchphrase the real estate world likes to use. In the case of Moab, it’s the perfect descriptor as to why it’s become one of Utah’s most vibrant, if not important, destinations.
The city is located less than 10 minutes from Arches National Park, home to some of the most breathtaking natural rock sculptures in the world. It’s also about 30 miles northeast of Canyonlands National Park, a year-round paradise chock full of picturesque buttes and sprawling backcountry trails.
Because Moab is between two gorgeous national parks, it’s established itself as a home base for those that love adventure, but still want to hold onto some semblance of civilization during their getaway. Even though the city is small, it’s well-prepared to welcome the perpetual crush of global tourism.
What to Do in Moab
Doing things in Moab Utah focuses on activities that don’t happen within the city’s borders. These activities drill down much deeper than merely visiting national parks. Once you set foot in Arches or Canyonlands, the possibility for activity feels virtually endless.
The main draw at Arches National Park is the natural rock shapes that dominate the landscape. As the name suggests, no formation gets more attention than the stone arches, natural rock structures organically formed into bridges thanks to millions of years’ worth of erosion. There are over 2,000 of these pieces of splendor scattered throughout the park, the most famous being Delicate Arch, a free-standing formation measuring 46 feet high and 32 feet wide.
Arches are far from the only reason to drop by the near-77,000-acre park. Several hiking trails will lead you to incredible landscape panoramas. Most of these trails are compact enough to make multiple same-day hikes possible. If you don’t feel like getting out of your car, you can tool down the Scenic Drive, a 36-mile round trip jaunt that weaves through the park’s beauty.
Canyonlands National Park is a haven for serious outdoor enthusiasts. The park’s beautifully rugged sprawl affords plenty of room for a wide host of heart-pumping activities, from hikes to Native American rock art panels to backcountry four-wheel driving excursions.
The Colorado River bisects Canyonlands, making the park an essential destination for whitewater rafting enthusiasts. For a more serene experience, it is possible to explore some of the more remote areas of the park on horseback.
These national parks aren’t the only nature-based destinations to explore during your Moab excursion. Nearby Dead Horse Point State Park is a near-5,400-acre hunk of land famous for its role in the climax of the 1991 “Thelma & Louise.” Just outside of Arches, Moab Giants Dinosaur Park is home to fossils, bones, and life-size dioramas of the impressive yet extinct beasts.
Other activities allow you to connect to Moab Utah itself. Adventure Park Moab is a family-friendly adventure-themed park featuring ropes courses and climbing towers. The Museum of Moab, founded in 1958, provides visitors a glimpse of the city’s history through geological finds, historic artifacts, and hands-on activities for children.
Where to Stay in Moab
Moab’s location between two busy parks demands that the city be well-equipped for visitors from other parts of Utah and the rest of the world. Fortunately, the city is well-aware of this. There are plenty of hotels in and near Moab Utah that make it convenient to come to the area and stay with a minimal amount of fuss.
While there is a small smattering of luxury lodging opportunities, most of what you’ll find in Moab is unpretentious hotels. This isn’t too surprising since most people that come to Moab are looking to spend the lion’s share of their time here to explore the outdoors. Expect to see places ranging from familiar chains to independent spots carrying a rustic vibe that ties in well with the surrounding nature.
With that being said, there are a few lodging options that offer “extended stay” features, such as kitchens and extra rooms. These options may be ideal for families or large groups.
Heartier adventurers headed to this slice of Utah will be happy to know that there are several excellent Moab Utah camping options to choose from. These include two on-site grounds planted in the middle of Canyonlands National Park – ideal for those that want to be in the heart of the action. Those that own trailers will note that Moab is also home to several RV parks.
Where to Eat at Moab
If you’re coming to Moab, Utah for outdoor adventure, you’re going to have to eat at some point. This isn’t a problem, though. The restaurants in Moab Utah can not only provide you fuel for your excursions but also provide you a memorable meal.
Because the world comes to Moab, the city’s dining scene is a little more eclectic than what you’d see elsewhere in southeastern Utah. You can expect to see everything from steakhouses serving wagyu beef to properly prepared regional Mexican fare. Moab is also home to an award-winning craft brewery – something that may surprise a few people, given Utah’s notoriously strict alcohol laws.
One word of warning. Even though Moab’s dining scene is more eclectic than other places in the region, it still skews toward a meat and potatoes-focused comfort food vibe. What this means, is you won’t find an abundance of vegetarian or low-calorie options here. However, the latter may not be too disconcerting for those that come to Moab seeking adventure – all of those calories are poised to burn up during various treks.
Things to Know Before You Go
Moab, Utah’s weather is consistent with the rest of the southeastern part of the state, meaning that those that come here in winter can expect to encounter the possibility of snow and cold. However, this isn’t an issue whatsoever. It merely adds a different dimension to the outdoor bliss that’s worthy of exploration, too.
For instance, snowfall in Arches can make the already-alienesque landscape even more otherworldly – an aspect that’s bound to quicken the pulse of photographers everywhere. Plus, the ski-friendly La Salle Mountains are a little over an hour southeast from Moab.
If you come to Moab and the sun is out, be prepared to battle with the sun. Southeastern Utah is technically desert, and the sun will act in kind by baking the landscape from spring to fall. As such, bringing more sunscreen than you think you’ll need is as essential as packing a good pair of hiking boots.
It’s also important to bear in mind that Moab is a global destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Because of this, you can count on large crowds coming through this landscape if you come here during peak times. This may run a little interference if you’re planning to come here for complete peace and quiet.
However, this doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to reach your moment of Zen. Crowds tend to gather at Arches or Canyonlands during the swell of the day. If you come to either just before sunrise or after sunset, most of the crowds will have dispersed.
Enjoy and Explore!
Moab is more than just a small city. It’s the gateway to a level of outdoor adventure and natural splendor that can’t be matched. Whether you’re an adventurous type or merely someone that loves looking at natural beauty at its peak, Moab is the perfect place to come to after a day of soaking in splendor.