Adventure Responsibly and Off-The-Beaten Trail in Utah’s Arches and Canyonlands National Parks Region


Sandra Salvas/Sandra Salvas

Southern Utah’s iconic red rocks draw millions of visitors every year, and it’s easy to see why. Accessing awe-inspiring wilderness is easy and there’s adventure and something new to discover at every turn. Factor in the passionate communities that call these wild places home— with their own distinctive outdoor culture, ever-expanding array of bars and eateries, and cozy accommodations—and you have a veritable active vacation paradise.

Respecting local traditions, people, and the fragility of the land is essential, including a practice of Leave No Trace, avoiding over-trafficked areas and recreating responsibly, whether on foot, bike or off-highway vehicle (OHV). Check out Do it Like a Local for more information and specialized guides by sport and interest for even more beta (that’s rock-climbing lingo for tips).

While hopping on just about any trail is sure to impress, this journey seeks out some of the more under-the-radar spots so you can visit the Arches and Canyonlands region at its most tranquil and feel good about it too. Early morning starts are the way to go here (so you can beat the heat and the crowds). Read on for everything from local favorite hikes to mountain biking on the region’s famed slickrock terrain.


Trip Designer

Visit Utah

To discover for yourself why Utah has a well-deserved reputation as one of the outdoor recreation capitals of the world, Visit Utah has all the tips you need to explore the state’s iconic landscape. From famous hikes to local gems, Visit Utah helps visitors travel responsibly to keep the state’s local business communities and cherished landscapes Forever Mighty.
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Trip Highlight

Bike Over Petrified Dunes

Ride a rollercoaster-like mountain bike trail over petrified sand dunes and ancient seabed with views of red rock arches in the distance.
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Sandra Salvas

DAYS 1-2The express route to adventure

There are multiple ways to get to Moab for travelers who are flying. If you’re renting a car, opt for a vehicle with all-wheel drive and higher ground clearance. (Four-wheel drive isn’t essential, but something more than your typical sedan could come in handy on dirt roads.) Driving from Salt Lake City takes just under four hours. Flights to Canyonlands Regional Airport (the closest airport to Moab) are available from Denver and Salt Lake City. Ease into the red rock landscape with a stay at Under Canvas, a glamping resort 12 miles north of Moab. It’s a chill, scenic spot to relax at after travelling and to enjoy unrivaled stargazing.

After a sunrise coffee overlooking the desert, check out and get ready to lace up your boots and get dirty for the first hike of the trip. Corona Arch, one of the top trails outside the park is just an hour from Under Canvas. Pack plenty of water (at least two liters per person) along with snacks, sun protection, and an extra layer or two. The three-mile hike features three arches with a few steep cable and ladder sections for an adrenaline rush.

Like many trails in the region, it covers large expanses of slickrock where there isn’t a defined path. Instead you’ll need to follow rock cairns (stacked rocks) that mark the trail. Cairns are essential for navigating in the desert—be sure not to disturb them or add your own when enjoying a trail.

Head into Moab after working up an appetite. There’s a thriving and international dining scene with options for every palate and budget. Some highlights include 98 Center Moab for Vietnamese fusion fare, the classic Moab Diner, the upscale Desert Bistro and local favorite food truck Quesadilla Mobilia. Plan to stay the next two nights in Moab. Book a room, townhouse, or bungalow at the historic Moab Springs Ranch. You’ll have easy access to town and a book to relax with after your daily adventures.
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Marc Piscotty/Marc Piscotty

DAY 3Riding the iconic slickrock

If you’re committed to the early riser routine on this trip, wake up an hour before sunrise to catch the first light at Dead Horse Point, about 40 minutes from town. Perched 2,000 feet above a major bend in the Colorado River, the point offers an expansive view of buttes and canyons that are the result of millions of years of geological activity. In case you sleep in, this is also a great spot to catch the sunset after an active day.

Moab’s mountain biking terrain is some of the most unique in the world with a wide range of difficulties, from world-class expert to mellow trails. Ride the rollercoaster-like Slickrock Trail, 11 miles of petrified dune, with the guides from Moab-based Rim Tours. Pack more water than you think you’ll need, especially if you’re not used to warmer temperatures. The ride generally takes about four hours but you’ll likely want to explore some of the side trails along the way. And don’t be afraid to tackle the Practice Loop by way of introduction to the unique conditions of riding on sandstone.
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Sandra Salvas/Sandra Salvas

DAY 4Going deep into Arches

Today’s early morning wakeup call isn’t one to miss. Pack up your daypack with all of your hiking essentials for the day (including a lunch) and hit the road before sunrise. The Devils Garden Primitive Loop in Arches National Park is one of the least-visited and most beautiful hikes in the area. Another benefit of the early start: You’ll avoid the lineup into the park that can occur by mid-morning. Keep an eye on park social media for visitor alerts and have a backup plan to avoid the area when congested.

About an hour from Moab, the entire loop takes four hours, more or less, but it’s easy to spend all day exploring the side paths and taking your time. Expect to see several iconic arches without the crowds at trails closer to town. As its name suggests, parts of this trail are “primitive” with minimal markings so be sure to keep an eye on cairns as you progress through the loop.
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Sandra Salvas/Sandra Salvas

DAY 5Sunrise to sunset in Canyonlands

Check out of your accommodation and leave Moab early in the morning. Head south toward Canyonlands and stop off at the Needles Overlook just shy of an hour from Moab. This bird’s-eye view over the vast Canyonlands will illustrate the sheer expanse and amount of time one could spend exploring this rugged region. From the Overlook, return to the highway and continue south to S.R. 211, the Indian Creek Corridor Scenic Byway. A destination in and of itself, the byway leads to the Needles district of Canyonlands. The Needles is named for the colorful sandstone spires that jut out of the landscape, and its long trails and thin crowds make it popular with backpackers. If you have an extra day, consider taking time for a long day hike here where you can expect solitude and steep elevation changes.

Heading south, consider a stop at Newspaper Rock—just 15 miles off of U.S. 191 on the Indian Creek Corridor Scenic Byway. Marvel at the 2,000-year-old petroglyphs that line sandstone cliff walls. Continue on to the oasis-like town of Bluff for the next two nights, about an hour and a half south of Needles Overlook. Bluff Dwellings, offers a relaxing spa-like environment while boutique inn La Posada Pintada, serves homemade breakfast. Bluff is situated between the sandstone walls of the canyon with the placid waters of the San Juan River flowing through town. Ancestral Puebloan art can be found right in town at Sand Island where ancient petroglyphs line the sandstone walls.

For more history, visit River House outside of town. (You’ll need a vehicle with extra clearance and ideally all-wheel drive). The Ancient Puebloan house is thought to date back to between 900 and the late 1200s and several rooms remain intact. Petroglyphs dot the walls around the house. Always visit ancestral sites with extreme care, with attention to loose clothing and backpacks that could come into contact with fragile structures.
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Sandra Salvas/Sandra Salvas

DAY 6Monoliths and local art

Wake up early for a scenic drive through to the Valley of the Gods, about 40 minutes from Bluff. There are no trails to hike, but there’s plenty to explore. Wander (safely and respectfully) toward whatever captures your attention. Expect tall, red mesas and dramatic spires jutting up from the valley floor.

On your way back to Bluff make time for a stop at Twin Rocks Trading Post, where you’ll find an incredible view of the Navajo Twins rock formation and ancient and contemporary Native American art. The shop is renowned for its quality and craftsmanship of Navajo art. Here you’ll find some of the best turquoise jewelry and natural turquoise gems, Navajo jewelry, Navajo rugs and baskets, Hopi jewelry, Zuni jewelry, and carvings in the region. Authentic Native American arts and crafts require great skill and knowledge honed over generations—and the prices reflect that commitment to quality. Patronizing Twin Rocks is one of the best ways to give back to this extraordinary community of artisans, to support their livelihood and take home a memory with real value and a story behind it.

Finish the day off relaxing on the San Juan River. Rent raft, paddleboard or get the help of a guide from Wild Expeditions. The river gives a one-of-a-kind perspective on the geology of the canyon. Expect the waters to run a bit faster (and colder) in the spring due to snow-melt.
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Sandra Salvas/Sandra Salvas

DAY 7Bears Ears en route to SLC

The Canyonlands are rich with areas to explore and Bears Ears National Monument warrants a full trip on its own—and one that requires extra preparation and a deep appreciation for the land to travel safely and responsibly. If you’re interested in extending your trip, Bears Ears is a great way to do it — Bears Ears Education Center and Edge of the Cedars State Park will help orient you to the land. is about an hour and a half from Bluff, then Salt Lake City is another five hours. Meanwhile, Canyonlands Regional Airport is about 2.5 hours away. This land is sacred to the Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Hopi Nation, and other tribes. The lands here are largely untouched and feature stunning open vistas of red rock buttes, mesas and juniper forests. If a short visit is all you have time for, the drive through this region alone will ignite the desire for a return trip to the Canyonlands region of southeastern Utah.
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