If you are planning a Southwest adventure, Moab, Utah is probably on your list. It is an epicenter of outdoor travel possibilities, situated near several public lands and accessible the majority of the year. This area is well known for some deservedly famous attractions but it has an abundance of hidden gems too. This guide will fill you in on some of the most unique things to do in Moab Utah so your trip will be packed with incredible moments!
Stay in a Yurt at Dead Horse Point State Park
Where: Dead Horse Point State Park
Details: Book four months in advance through Reserveamerica.com
Dead Horse Point State Park is an incredible state park tucked between Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. The location is perfect for easy access to both locations and the park itself has spectacular scenery that should not be missed while in the area. If you are looking for a unique lodging opportunity, try staying here at a yurt. A yurt is a round tent-like structure with canvas-walls that is built to be more sturdy but are usually portable.
There are two sets of five yurts at Dead Horse Point State Park. I’d recommend staying at the Moenkopi section due to their prime canyon views, more secluded location, and easy access to the park entrance. Reservations typically go on sale four months in advance through Reserveamerica.com.
See the Milky Way from a Dark Sky Park
Where: Arches NP, Canyonlands NP, Dead Horse Point State Park
Details: Visit during the new moon phase for best viewing.
The night sky in this area is a phenomenon all on its own. Plan your visit during the new moon cycle to have the optimum stargazing and Milky Way viewing opportunities. Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Dead Horse Point State Park are all designated Dark Sky Parks. That makes this one of the premiere things to do in Moab, Utah! Check the parks’ activities schedules to see if there are any related activities like Star Parties while you are visiting. While staying at the Moenkopi Yurt during the new moon, we were able to see the Milky Way from the balcony. If you like astrophotography, be sure to bring your camera gear!
Drive the Shafer Trail from Canyonlands
Where: Canyonlands NP to/from Moab
Details: Ensure you have a 4WD high-clearance vehicle, which can be rented. Road closed when there is snow.
Ready for an adventure? Then hit the road on the Shafer Trail, also known as Shafer Canyon Road to Potash Road For this drive, the National Parks Service recommends having 4WD as a well as a high-clearance vehicle. No permits are required for the drive unless you’d like to continue on to White Rim Road as well. The drive can be completed from either direction, Canyonlands to Moab or vice-versa. Key features of the drive include the famous switchbacks, the point of Dead Horse Point State Park, Thelma and Louise Point (from the final scene), and the Potash Evaporation Ponds.
Check out Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite
Where: Bureau of Land Management off of 191, north of where it meets 313
Details: No reservations needed to stop in at this self-guided interpretive trail.
Are you a Jurassic Park nerd? Me too! Utah overall is the perfect place to embrace your inner paleontologist. Around Moab alone there are a half dozen dinosaur sites. One of the most centrally located, easy to get to, and all around awesome is the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite. Dinosaur footprints were fossilized here in what used to be a lake. Circumstances aligned just right to preserve the tracks of both carnivorous and herbivorous dinosaurs as well as crocodiles. The fact that crocodiles existed then and still thrive today is simply fascinating! This trail is about .25 miles, is viewed from a boardwalk, and truly is one of the most unique things to do in Moab Utah.
Take in sunrise at Mesa Arch
Where: Canyonlands – Island in the Sky District
Details: Get there early for sunrise and for this trail in general as the parking lot fills up.
You’ve likely seen a picture of this spot even if you didn’t know where it was. What is an unexpected surprise is how short a hike this is. It is only about a half mile in each direction. Mesa Arch is very popular at sunrise. If you are planning to visit during this time to take photos, be sure to get there a bit earlier than you think you need to just to be safe. There is some beautiful scenery right around the arch, so I’d highly recommend taking some time to explore the surrounding area before heading back from the arch.
Enjoy Grand View Point Overlook
Where: Canyonlands – Island in the Sky District
Details: Major views, a short hike, and a great picnic spot.
The scenery here is epic in scale. Standing at the Grand View Point will give you a chance to soak in the views in every direction from the southernmost point in the Island in the Sky District. Below, you’ll see White Rim Road snaking its way through the park. You can also see all the way to the Needles District of the park. To me, one of the canyons looks like a giant T-rex footprint. To enhance the experience, you can add the two mile Grand View Point Trail.
Get to know the Arches that are the Park’s namesake
Where: Arches NP
Details: Save some time to explore some of the less famous arches that you may not know by name.
Arches National Park has over 2,000 arches within the park boundaries but in many cases visitors only see a few of the most famous arches such as Delicate Arch and Landscape Arch. While these icons are absolutely worth checking out, be sure to also leave some time to check out some of the lesser known arches in the park. The Sand Dune and Broken Arch Trail allows visitors to see two unique arches on a relatively flat 1.7 mile loop. The Devils Garden Loop, which contains Landscape Arch, gives visitors the option to see seven arches depending on the route taken. Note the optional Primitive Route involves some scrambling and is not well marked. Do additional research if you’d like to try this portion of this trail.
Things to do in Moab Utah
- In some areas around Moab, including around the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite, there is a fragile substance called “biological soil crust.” This crust is vital to protecting living plant species such as lichen, algae, and bacteria as they work to grow in the desert environment. Staying on designated trails and roads is critical to ensuring this protective crust remains undamaged.
- If you find any dinosaur fossils, leave them as is. Do not move or try to take replicas of them. To report findings to the proper authorities, note the location, GPS coordinates (if known), and features of the area and contact the agency that manages that land (BLM, National Park Service, etc.)
- If your Southwest adventure will take you to the Grand Canyon, check out this full North Rim vs. South Rim Guide.
- Yurt Reservations at Dead Horse Point State Park can be researched and reserved through Reserveamerica.com.
- Canyonland’s information on the Shafer Trail including viewing and driving guidance.
Things to do in Moab Utah – What do you think?
What are your favorite things to do in Moab Utah? Let me know if I missed anything or if you’ve tried any of these!