I know I talk an awful lot about creating family travel bucket list goals and how our family has specific travel goals. So it seems a little counter-intuitive to tell you that we recently returned to Moab, Utah for our fourth time. (It was our third time as a whole family. My husband and I went once before having kids.) Yes, we want to diligently check off new places on our bucket list. But it’s also OK to have a favorite place that feels like a special place to our family. For our family, that place is Moab.
Moab has so much going for it. Warm desert air. Amazing, sweeping desert landscapes. Unique arch formations that are rare to find anywhere else in the world. Opportunities galore for hiking, mountain biking, off-roading, zip lining, viewing American Indian rock art, seeing dinosaur tracks and remains… The list goes on and on. After six days spent at a place we’ve visited several times before, we still left feeling like we didn’t get to do all that we wanted to experience.
Here is our experience on our latest trip to Moab.
Goals for the Trip
Our overall goal for this trip was to experience some of our favorite places in Moab, while also trying some new things. The balance of familiar and new is a hard one to strike when revisiting a favorite place.
Our itinerary for our six days in Moab ended up being as follows:
- Raven’s Rim Zip Line Adventure – zip lining has kind of become our family’s thing, so we made an appointment
- Driving the Shafer Trail to Dead Horse Point State Park – a harrowing but gorgeous drive past Thelma and Louise Point to a park that bears strong resemblance to the Grand Canyon
- Grandstaff Trail – there’s a long story about this one, but the family wanted to finally conquer this trail
- Canyonlands National Park – we haven’t spent much time there in our last couple trips, so it was time to revisit
- Arches National Park – our son’s birthday fell during our trip, and this was the place he wanted to see that day
- Family Rockaneering with Moab Cliffs and Canyons – we have done this before, and the kids loved it
The Town of Moab
Moab is a town of about 5,000 permanent residents, but in the busy seasons it can contain up to 30,000 people. It has really developed its tourism infrastructure immensely since my husband and my first trip there in 2003. One of the guides on our adventures said they are building about three hotels a year. It still manages to have small-town charm and is a draw for families, young adults (we were there during spring break), and adventurers of all kinds.
Pro tip: For families traveling to Moab, there is a ginormous sand hill just north of town on the west side of the main highway. It’s on public land, and it’s a magnet for kids. This is an outstanding place to take kids to let them run up (and roll/slide down) the hill. Even our 14 and 10 year olds love this place!
As we often do on our trips, we stayed in a vacation rental in Moab. At the south end of town is the Moab Golf Course, and on that golf course is a large number of town homes, many of which are clearly vacation rentals or seasonal homes for people. There was not one Utah license plate in the parking lot outside our town home. It’s a great place to stay, but be forewarned that golf courses can be dangerous. Our daughter was sitting on the back patio, which was just off a green, and she was almost hit by a golf ball!
When to Go to Moab
We have been to Moab four times: in March (twice), May and October. I can’t stress enough how much I would recommend going in the spring or fall, versus the summer. This trip was in March. Our highs were in the upper 50’s to lower 70’s F. We were really hot on hikes. I can’t imagine trying to tackle this heat and the crowds in summer. The guide for our rockaneering adventure also happened to be a local Emergency Medical Technician, and he had endless stories of people needing rescue in the summer because they tried a three-mile hike with a half-bottle of water. Whatever time of year you go, make sure you have plenty of water.
Also know that Moab has events throughout the year in Moab, the biggest of which is their Easter Jeep Safari. Jeep drivers from around the country (maybe the world) descend on Moab the week before Easter through Easter Sunday for this event. If you’re not a fan of crowds, I would avoid this time of year. Having said that, my cousin and his wife just went over the Safari week and seemed to have a blast.
Raven’s Rim Zip Line Adventure
In a nutshell, if you like adventure, you must go to Raven’s Rim! We have done several zip lines in recent years, and this one was definitely our favorite. And the panoramic views of the area you get from up there are hard to beat. You can read more about it in our review. We had a blast! It set the bar high for the rest of the trip. (The picture at the top of this post is atop Raven’s Rim. You probably guessed that by looking at all the gear.)
Shafer Trail to Dead Horse Point State Park
We had driven the Shafer Trail before, when the kids were little, so we thought it’d be fun to take the kids on a more memorable drive on this iconic road. It’s a rugged 19-mile road that, when taken from the Moab area, ends within Canyonlands National Park’s Island in the Sky district, near Dead Horse Point State Park .
While it’s not technically that challenging as far as off-road adventures go, you definitely want to be driving a vehicle with some clearance under it, preferably 4-wheel drive. My husband drives a Jeep Wrangler, so we were pretty set. There were not a lot of vehicles sharing the road with us, but you may find it encouraging to know that it is a somewhat traveled road. In good conditions you likely won’t be the only one out there.
The reason to drive this trail is to see the amazing views on the road less traveled.
Probably the most notable view along the way is Thelma and Louise Point. If you’ve seen the movie (and even if you haven’t) you may know that (spoiler alert) Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis drive off a cliff at the end of the movie. This point is where that scene was filmed. It’s not marked with signage as T&L point, but it is the one major turnoff/overlook on the trail. My daughter and I re-enacted girl power poses at this point. Here we are, on our first trip in 2009, and nine years later…
We even saw big horned sheep on the drive!
Near the end of the drive (when you’re in Canyonlands’ boundaries) the ascent full of switchbacks is impressive and exciting.Here it is from near the top:
The kids were a little freaked out by the drive, but overall I think they appreciated it for the adventure it was.
Dead Horse Point State Park
If you’ve seen any movies with scenes that take place in the Grand Canyon, chances are they were actually filmed at Dead Horse Point State Park, as the views are strikingly similar and access to a state park is much easier for film crews to attain than at a national park.
When you see the views at Dead Horse Point State Park, it’s hard not to be awed. It’s got to be one of the most beautiful state parks in the United States. We only did a little exploring here, as the kids were kind of tired. You can hike a loop all the way around to see both sides of the park, which would afford you some pretty amazing views.
This trail is one of our favorite hikes in Moab. I write about it in more detail in this post. I highly recommend checking this trail out, especially if you are traveling with a dog. Our dog loves this trail, though she’s a little too old to actually finish it. While hiking in a beautiful canyon you get to cross a creek (many times), enjoy a bit of shade here and there, and the reward at the end is a beautiful arch, Morning Glory Arch, which you get to go right underneath. Just an awesome hike.
Morning Glory Arch in the background
Morning Glory Arch
Canyonlands National Park
I also wrote in more detail about our brief but awesome visit to Canyonlands in a separate post. Canyonlands probably doesn’t get as much love as Arches National Park, mostly because Arches is so conveniently located a few miles north of Moab. It’s probably an hour drive to Canyonlands from Moab, but it is most definitely worth it. It has spectacular views, unusual formations, ancient Puebloan ruins, and the ability to get a panoramic view of the park from Aztec Butte. It is not to be missed!
Mesa Arch…just an amazing view!
View from Aztec Butte
Atop Aztec Butte
Ancient Puebloan granaries just off the Aztec Butte trail
Arches National Park
Our son’s 14th birthday happened to fall during this trip, and his choice was to visit Arches National Park. Our main hike that day was with the rest of the masses, to Delicate Arch. Delicate Arch is the iconic arch you see photos of when you hear about Arches National Park. It is a wonder to see in person.
Know that the hike to Delicate Arch is not one to take lightly. There is quite a bit of ascent to get to the arch (and you can get right up to the arch, if you choose…be prepared to wait your turn for a picture). There are also some rather perilous edges. We watched a woman almost not able to stop herself from going over a pretty serious dropoff. Someone in the parking lot asked us if we thought their stroller could make it on the trail. The answer is a definite no.
But the payoff is fantastic. Delicate Arch is so amazing.
Because we were nearing the end of our trip and were tired from adventures the day before, we settled for driving with the other masses of people through the park to spy some of the other arches. This was not our first trip to Arches, so we weren’t as diligent as we have been in prior trips.
Family Rockaneering with Moab Cliffs and Canyons
This was our second time patronizing Moab Cliffs and Canyons for a family rockaneering adventure. (Note: We did not request, nor did we receive, any complementary or discounted fees for this experience. They did not know I am a travel blogger.) Since we had done rockaneering at their normal site before, we asked if they could take us on a similar half-day experience in a different location. They definitely delivered.
Our guide, Chris, was fantastic. He guided us through some difficult (for us) terrain and talked my husband, not a fan of rappelling, through a very tricky rappel at the end.
And our kids got to climb this! He could only take two people, and our kids were much more excited about the prospect than we were. This climb was a pretty impressive way to end our last day in Moab.
I really can’t say enough about how great the staff and experience were with Moab Cliffs and Canyons.
One tip: bring a rain jacket or wind breaker on the trip if going in the spring or fall. The winds up where we were felt pretty brutal, and it actually did rain on us a little on our hike out.
- If you love natural wonders and adventure, and Moab wasn’t on your radar before now, definitely look into it. You can make it a luxury experience or a hard-core adventure sport extravaganza.
- As stated above, I am not a fan of ridiculous heat. I would recommend visiting the area in the spring or fall.
- We haven’t even scratched the surface of all Moab has to offer, and we have been there four times! There is really something for everyone here.
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If you found this content helpful, check out our other travel destination posts from our family’s travel bucket list: