Moab, Utah is known as one of America’s greatest (and most remote) natural playgrounds. Here beyond the limited network of roads which generally keep to the perimeter is the true wilderness of two national parks, Arches and Canyonlands, plus Utah’s Dead Horse Point State Park.
Escapists can immerse themselves for days at a time in these backcountry regions with the proper equipment and guidance from the staff at Moab Adventure Center, the region’s go-to source for outdoor adventure. They offer a variety of ways to experience the parks that are suitable for all ages and levels of fitness.
For active adventurers, fat tire mountain biking is a great way to fathom the mysteries of millennia ensconced in the iconic red rocks that symbolize the area’s parks. Those new to mountain biking may opt for the Courthouse Loop trail with commanding views into Arches National Park ($95 for age 5+). The Intrepid Trail inside Dead Horse Point State Park is one of Moab's newest routes and features countless vistas of the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park ($95 for age 12+).
One way to explore Arches National Park is on a guided hike into the maze-like Fiery Furnace (Adult: $89, Youth 5-15: $67). Best accessed in the company of an experienced guide, this hike twists and turns among contorted orange-tan fins, towers, spires and arches. Moab Adventure Center guides lead two-hour hikes in this trackless area, pointing out hidden attractions such as Surprise and Twin Arches. Although the hike is moderately strenuous in places, it can be enjoyed by anyone in reasonably good physical condition.
“But when it comes to pockets of true isolation, Canyonlands is it,” says Pearce. “For example, to get to the park’s Maze District, most people take a long, arduous hike following a long dusty drive to the trailhead. However, by raft on a four-day Cataract Canyon trip (Adult: $1395, Youth 10-15: $1045), you can access a site in the Maze called The Doll House via a scenic hike from the river. The trail is steep, climbing over 1,000 feet from the river to the top of the canyon, but certainly beats the 7.5 hour drive from Moab to get to this location.”
When it comes to exploring Canyonlands, visitors should keep in mind that in this wilderness of stone there are no roads that link from one “district” or iconic point to another. Although these points may appear close on a map, the distances are between two to six hours by car. For this reason, most visitors find it impractical to visit more than one area in a single trip.
One solution is a scenic flyover based out of Moab (tours start at Adult: $123, Youth 3-15: $123, 2 & Under: Free). In a high-wing Cessna aircraft equipped with voice-activated headphones passengers enjoy conversations with the pilot who is also the tour guide. Everyone has a window seat to take in views of Arches, Canyonlands or Monument Valley, depending upon the tour. The pilot will describe the geology and dynamics of the Colorado River and Green River, the Island in the Sky, and the rugged Maze and Needles Districts of Canyonlands, the Windows of Arches and more.
Moab Adventure Center can also arrange for a sunrise hot air balloon flight over the Moab backcountry. Flights last about an hour and are priced at $300 for participants age 6 and up