Canyonlands and Arches National Parks: Your Guide to 2 Days in Moab, UT
While cliché as this may sound, words cannot truly describe my weekend at the US National Parks in Moab, UT. The trip is one I'll never forget. We woke up before the sun to watch the sunrise over Delicate Arch and stayed up late into the early morning to capture the Milky Way. If you love to hike and you're looking for an epic adventure, head to Moab, UT to explore Canyonlands and Arches National Parks.
I don't know about you, but my family wasn't big on road trips growing up, so I never traveled to the national parks out west. When our friends invited us to visit them in Salt Lake City, we knew we had to plan a trip. I of course had heard of the Grand Canyon, but I wasn't as familiar with the other national parks and didn't know what to expect. I was completely blown away by the incredible landscapes and still cannot believe these places exist in the country I've lived in all my life.
If you haven't been to this area of the world, I highly recommend planning a long weekend to Moab, UT to experience the magic for yourself.
What to See and Do
Day 1 - Dead horse Point State Park & Canyonlands National Park
Wake up early to drive the 4 hours from Salt Lake City to Moab, UT. As you approach Moab, you can either head right into the parks or stop at Sweet Cravings Bakery + Bistro for a great sandwich to fuel your afternoon.
Your first stop in the area should be Dead Horse Point State Park (about 40 minutes from Moab) for an incredible view of Canyonlands and the Colorado River. As you’re driving south on 191 towards Moab, you’ll turn right onto 313. The entrance fee is $15 per car. I still can’t believe this area isn’t a national park. Absolutely gorgeous and a great introduction to the area. Drive out to Dead Horse Point and walk around the picnic area for breathtaking views.
After Dead Horse, head back towards Moab, but instead of turning right to town, turn left toward Canyonlands National Park. The entrance fee is $25 per car and good for 7 days. Plan to spend a few hours in the park. Make sure to plan accordingly because you do not want to miss Mesa Arch.
Stop at the Visitor Center on your way in to pick up a map if you weren’t given one upon entry. Canyonlands has three distinct areas that you cannot access all at once because of the canyons (duh, right?). If you’re only in the area for a couple days, I suggest sticking to the Island in the Sky area to hit all of the main attractions.
Drive to the end of the road (about 12 miles into the park) and start with a 2 mile (round trip) hike out to the Grand View Point, a gorgeous easy hike along the rim. You’ll want to give yourself around 2 hours to complete.
If you have time, stop at Green River Overlook on your way to the Mesa Arch to see the Grand View Point from another angle. A great option if you don’t want to hike out to the Grand View Point because the Green River Outlook is right at a parking lot.
Next, on to the famous Mesa Arch. The trailhead is near where the Green River Overlook road turns off the main road. The walk out to the arch is an easy 10 minutes. Words can’t describe the view. You have to see it for yourself.
After Mesa Arch, head into Moab. Have dinner at Moab Brewery and stop at the Village Market for snacks for the morning. Get a good night’s sleep. You’ll need it for tomorrow.
Day 2 - Arches National Park
Today is the big day: Arches National Park. I’m going to suggest something crazy and bold - wake up early to hike in the dark to watch the sunrise at Delicate Arch. Trust me, you’re in for one of the biggest treats. I’d put this day as one of my top 10. You can check the time of sunrise here. Give yourself 30 minutes to drive to the trailhead at Wolfe Ranch parking lot from the park entrance. The hike out to Delicate Arch is 1.5 miles, so give yourself plenty of time. You’ll be hiking in the dark, so make sure you have a headlamp and watch very carefully for the markers. You’ll want to get there before the crowds show up just after sunrise. Prepare for a spectacular and magical morning.
After your hike back to the parking lot, head back towards the entrance of the park to see Balanced Rock and the Windows Section. Park the car again at the Windows Section and complete the short loop to Turret Arch, South Window, North Window, and Double Arch.
After your long morning, enjoy a well deserved breakfast at the Moab Diner. Then, take the afternoon off - nap and wait out the midday heat. Have an early dinner before going back into Arches for the evening. Your first stop should be Sand Dune Arch, about a 10 minute walk from the parking lot.
From there, get back in the car and continue on to Skyline Arch. No need to go all the way up to the arch.
Finally, you’re up for a sunset hike out to the Double O Arch. Park at the end of the road at the Devils Garden Trailhead. You’ll first see Landscape Arch about a mile in. You can either return back or keep going to the Double O Arch (about another 1.5 miles) over slippery rocks and narrow passages. If you don’t like heights, this hike is not for you. Make sure to leave plenty of time to get back if you’re not comfortable hiking in the dark. Again, you’ll need your headlamp. You’re in for another treat if you’re in the park at night to see the Milky Way and infinite stars.
If you enjoy astrophotography, head back to the Windows Section to capture the Milky Way over North Window.
Where to Eat
> Sweet Cravings Bakery + Bistro - a great spot for sandwiches
> Moab Diner - after a sunrise hike, go to the Moab Diner for a hearty down and dirty breakfast
> Jailhouse Cafe - a classic breakfast joint with delicious pancakes. We stopped here on our way out of town the last morning.
> Moab Brewery - a microbrewery with solid bar food. Good dinner option.
> Eddie McStiffs - another solid bar food option
> Village Market - stock up on snacks for those long, hot days in the parks
You’ll need a car to explore the parks and get around Moab. To get there, you can fly into Salt Lake City, UT and drive the 4 hours. United Express also recently started flying directly into Moab (as of April 30, 2018).
> Hiking boots - I highly recommend wearing a sturdy hiking boot with ankle support if you’re going to do any of sort of real hiking. The terrain is slippery and uneven. These are my all-time favorite hiking boots.
> Hiking socks - I love Stance hiking socks. Trust me, you’ll want something high, so your boots don’t rub.
> Layers - Although it will be extremely hot, you’ll want to protect yourself from the sun by wearing thin long layers on top. During the day, I wore a moisture wicking long sleeved shirt over a sports bra and tank with shorts. If you’re hiking at night, bring a pair of sweats to put on over shorts as it gets cool.
> Camelbak - I purchased a Camelbak backpack for this trip and it was well worth it! I bought this one, but you could also go with something smaller and less expensive if you don’t think you’ll need all the space.
> Water bottle - Bring an extra water bottle along with your Camelbak. The Platypus is great because it fits a lot of water, but doesn’t add a lot of weight.
> Headlamp - If hiking anywhere near sunrise or sunset, a headlamp is essential and a real game changer.
> Don’t forget a camera, hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen!
> Jeans and tops for dinner - Moab is very casual.
Where to Stay
TBP Insider Tips
> If visiting during the summer months, the parks can get very busy and extremely hot. I recommend breaking up the days by going early in the morning, taking a break during the peak hours, and then returning to the parks during the late afternoon.
> Bring more water than you think you need. Between the heat and the altitude, there’s no such thing as drinking too much water. You can fill up your water bottles at the park visitor centers.
> Bring toilet paper and a disposable bag in case you need to use the bathroom as you're hiking. You may also want hand sanitizer.
> If you're planning on doing the sunrise hike at Arches, the entrance station and Visitor Center will not be open. You'll want to stop at the park on the first day to pick up a map. Your entrance fee to Canyonlands also covers Arches, so no need to worry about the number of times you enter the parks. At this point, you can also sign up for a special hike, see next point.
> The Fiery Furnace hike is one of the most popular in Arches. In order to complete, it’s recommended that you sign up for one of the ranger-led hikes because of the dangerous terrain. You must purchase tickets in advance for the morning hikes and you can sign up 6 months before. You can read more about the Fiery Furnace here. Unfortunately, we planned more of a last minute trip, so there wasn’t any availability for the morning. For an afternoon hike, you can try to go to the Visitor Center on the day you arrive in Moab to sign up, but these fill up very quickly. You can sign up for an afternoon hike up to 7 days before in person only. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any availability when we checked. You'll want to plan an extra day for the Fiery Furnace hike beyond what's outlined in this post's itinerary.
> Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park is known for its sunrise views and Delicate Arch in Arches National Park is known for its sunset view. As such, both of these areas during these times are overcrowded. I suggest flipping them, as my itinerary outlines. If you have two sunrises in you, you can switch the days around a bit or head back into Canyonlands to see Mesa Arch again at sunrise.
> Don’t expect cell service in the parks.
> Drones are not allowed in US National Parks.
A special thank you to Harrison Lasser for his epic astrophotography.
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