Sitting on the sandstone looking at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, you’ll have a moment where you think to yourself “how did this even happen?” Then, when you’re exploring Canyonlands National Park, you’ll find yourself looking out over the vast network of fissures formed over thousands of years of erosion that make the park special and say the same thing, but for a different reason.
Moab is a well-known adventure town in Utah and has earned its place on the map for every Utah National Parks road trip thanks to its proximity to two of Utah’s Mighty Five National Parks – Arches and Canyonlands. With two days in Moab, you’ll spend a day in each, marveling at the contrast between geology between each of the two parks that are just 50 miles apart but seem to be worlds apart in terms of the natural features that make them special.
This is a guest post by Matt Hansen of Wheatless Wanderlust.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. This means that should you click on certain links, and then subsequently purchase a product, I will receive a small commission.
Table of Contents
- 1 Two Days In Moab: Where To Stay
- 2 How To Spend Two Days In Moab, Utah A Perfect Itinerary
- 3 Practical Information for your Moab Itinerary
Two Days In Moab: Where To Stay
In Moab, you have a few options in terms of where to stay.
Devils Garden Campground: If you’re up for camping while you’re in Moab, this is the only campground inside Arches National Park. It’s a perfect location for exploring Arches because it is at the end of the scenic drive, which takes about 45 minutes to navigate from the entrance.
You’ll be perfectly positioned for both an early morning and a stunning sunset on the first day of this itinerary. There are only 54 sites, and you’ll need to book your spot as early as humanly possible.
The Expedition Lodge: This is a mid-range motel-style place to stay in the heart of Moab. It’s a perfect location, just off of Highway 191 (the main road through Moab) and within walking distance of all sorts of shops and restaurants. Rooms are simple and spacious, and there’s a pool and an arcade room onsite.
Curio Collection by Hilton: Just across the road in a similar location to the Expedition Lodge, this is a beautiful boutique hotel. Rooms are modern, and you can choose between one and two beds, depending on the size of your group. It has an onsite restaurant and an outdoor pool for you to enjoy when you’re not out and about exploring Moab and the surrounding area.
How To Spend Two Days In Moab, Utah A Perfect Itinerary
With two days in Moab, you’ll want to spend a full day in both Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, which are the two big attractions in the area.
There are plenty of great things to do near Moab outside of those two parks if you find yourself with an extra day or two in Moab.
You might enjoy: From Moab: Full-Day Canyonlands and Arches 4×4 Driving Tour.
Moab in 2 Days: Day One
Spend your first day in Moab exploring Arches National Park. The park entrance is less than 15 minutes away from the center of town.
Hiking Devils Garden
On your first morning in Moab, make a beeline for the Devils Garden trailhead, which is at the end of Arches Scenic Drive. It’s the best hike in the park, and it’s totally customizable for your experience and fitness levels.
This is at the beginning of the itinerary so that you can get it done before the heat of the day starts to set in. It’s very exposed – not a lot of shady spots – so you’ll want to wear sunscreen, a hat, and bring plenty of water with you.
If you do the full loop, which is 8 miles long, you’ll see eight different arches along the way (don’t miss Double O Arch and Landscape Arch). You can return either the way you came or make it a loop via the primitive trail, which is less well-marked and involves a little bit of route-finding and scrambling, which is a fun experience for more experienced hikers.
You can do a shorter four-mile out-and-back hike to Landscape Arch, Navajo Arch, and Partition Arch. Then, stop by Pine Tree Arch and Tunnel Arch on the way back, which are found on an offshoot trail right near the parking lot, and you’ve seen five arches in just four miles.
From here, you’ll make your way all the way back to the entrance, making stops along the way at some other notable spots in Arches.
This is among the best hikes in Arches National Park, if not the entire country, and you’ve probably seen pictures of it before. It’s the most popular spot in the park, which means you’ll likely be sharing the view with 100 of your new closest friends.
It starts from the Delicate Arch Trailhead (surprise!) and climbs to a spectacular arch with a backdrop of the La Sal Mountains in the distance, which are snow-capped in the winter and spring. To get there, it’s a 3-mile hike that climbs up a giant slab of slick rock – good hiking shoes are a must, no flip flops!
The Windows at Sunset
This is one of the best spots to see a diverse range of arches, and it’s even better around sunset, when the rock starts to glow as the golden light of the setting sun reflects off of the red sandstone that makes up the arches.
The Windows – there are two of them, North and South, which are connected by a short and sweet loop trail – are on the south side of the parking area. Turret Arch is along the same loop and is worth a stop too with its small arch and taller turret.
Double Arch is on the other side of the parking area, and is made up of two arches sharing the same base structure. It’s an easy quarter of a mile from the parking lot.
You might like: Sound and Light Show with Dinner at the Colorado River.
Moab in 2 Days: Day Two
Spend your second day exploring Canyonlands National Park, the second national park near Moab.
There are three (or four, depending on who you ask) regions within Canyonlands, but with only 2 days, you’ll want to focus on the “Island in the Sky,” which is the most popular part of the park and is the closest region to Moab.
Spend the morning and afternoon exploring Canyonlands, then head over to a nearby spot for sunset over the vast canyon.
What an introduction to Canyonlands. This is one of the most popular spots in Canyonlands and for good reason. The arch isn’t a towering arch that you’ve seen in Arches yesterday, it’s shorter and wider, and through the arch, you get a great view of Canyonlands.
Every morning, pretty much year-round, photographers line up an hour before sunrise to jostle for position to get that perfect shot with a sunstar through the arch as the sun rises.
Then, thirty minutes later, there’s basically nobody around. Mid-morning – an hour or so after sunrise – is probably the best time to be here.
White Rim Overlook
This is one of the best views in the park, and it only takes about a mile to get out to the rim of the mesa to see the spectacular views. It’s mostly flat and traverses the desert landscape to get out to a point that has a 270-degree view of the surrounding landscape. Take a second to rest in the shade of the rocks at the end of the trail and admire the view, then head back the way you came.
You can hike down to White Rim Road from here, which is the lower plateau that you can see from the overlook. It’s called the Gooseberry Trail, and it’s a VERY steep hike, climbing straight down the wall of the canyon in tight switchbacks. Remember, what goes down must come back up, at least in Canyonlands.
Grand View Point
Grand View Point is one of the best views in the park, hence the name. You’ll follow the road until it ends at the parking lot for Grand View Point, and then follow a trail along the rim of the mesa until it ends at a peninsula (for lack of a better word) that juts out over the canyon and gives you a perspective on just how vast this part of the park really is. Layers and layers of canyons and canyon wall sprawl out in front of you as far as the eye can see. Make sure to climb up to the top of the small hill to get an even better view.
Take a Scenic Drive
From Grand View Point, which is the end of the road in Canyonlands, take your time on the drive back to the park entrance. Make sure to stop at Buck Canyon Overlook for a magnificent view of the vast network of cantons, then take the fork in the road to Upheaval Dome Road.
Along Upheaval Dome Road, there are a couple of stops with short hikes that are worth your time. Stop to walk out to Aztec Butte, a 1.7 mile (round trip) hike that takes you to the top of a butte with great views and some well-preserved granaries that were built by Puebloans almost a thousand years ago. The last portion of the trail is a bit of a scramble, but it’s doable for most people. Bring plenty of water.
Next, head out to Upheaval Dome, which is at the end of the road. Marvel at the geology, which scientists still aren’t quite sure about (there are multiple theories, featuring an impact crater and a salt bubble). You can learn about both theories along the 1.7-mile (round trip) long trail, which is mostly flat.
On your way back to the main road, stop at Whale Rock, which is along the side of the road. It looks like a beached whale from a distance, and you can climb up onto the smooth sandstone and do some exploring.
Dead Horse Point State Park at Sunset
Dead Horse Point State Park is the last destination on your itinerary. This is a perfect end to your time in Moab, where you’ll watch the sunset over a bend in the mighty Colorado River. Park at the main visitors center at the end of the road and walk along the west rim trail. Find a spot with a nice view, take a seat, and watch the show unfold as the sun dips low in the sky, illuminating the canyon with a soft golden light before dusk settles over the landscape.
Other activities you might enjoy:
– Half-Day Rafting Trip on Colorado River.
– Arches National Park and Canyonlands Scenic Airplane Flight
Practical Information for your Moab Itinerary
When is the best time to visit Moab
The best time to visit Moab is in the spring and fall, when temperatures are warm (but not blazing hot) and crowds are a bit thinner than in the packed summer months, when families with kids on summer break descend on Moab.
In the spring and fall, temperatures will be in the 70’s and 80’s during the day, and drop in the evening to the 50’s and 60’s. It’s still a popular time to visit Moab – particularly around spring break in March and April. In the fall, retirees arrive in Moab to explore the area after the raucous kids and their families head home for the start of the school year.
In the summer, temperatures during the day are regularly at or above 100 degrees Fahrenheit and will stay relatively warm throughout the evening. You need to make sure to stay hydrated – always carry 2+ liters of water per person – and plan on doing most of your strenuous activities early and late in the day, when the heat is a little more bearable.
How to get around the city
There’s no getting around it – the best way to visit Moab is by car. Most people visiting Moab either arrive as part of a broader road trip through Utah, or fly into Moab and rent a car when they arrive. With your own car, you’ll be able to get out and explore Arches, Canyonlands, and beyond at your own pace.
There’s not much of a public transportation scene to speak of, so having your own car is going to be essential for exploring.
Author Bio: Matt Hansen is the founder of Wheatless Wanderlust, where he and his wife Alysha share their favorite finds, from amazing hikes in America’s National Parks and beyond, to the best gluten-free donuts and coffee shops around the world.