With the closure of borders to U.S. citizens, we’ve been “forced” to explore our own land. Some of us needed this push, and some of us are already well versed in America’s beauty. We know it will always be here when we get home, so we rush off to the exotics and foreign lands with promises of new experiences. The United States has 62 National Parks and 419 National Park Sites. That’s more than plenty to explore for years, and not even including all of the wonderful scenery in between.
This last week my best friend Ashley and I took a road trip to Moab, Utah. With safety as our main priority at a time like this, we headed to the beehive state for a little fresh air. We decided to knock it all out in one day get to Moab as fast as possible. With a quick stop in LA from Santa Barbara to pick up Ashley we got on the 15 and drove North East for a total of 13 hours (snack and gas stops included). However, there are many places to stop along the way if you want to take your time; Joshua Tree National Park for a California detour, Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada, Zion National Park with its next-door neighbor Bryce Canyon National Park just to name a few options.
When arriving in Moab there are many options for where to stay. You can camp, stay at a hotel/motel in town, or spend your evenings down the Colorado River 20 or so miles at the Sorrel River Ranch for a little luxury and seclusion. We chose the motel route and stayed in the center of town at The Expedition Lodge (in complete honesty probably the nicest motel you could stay at) I would say it was comparable to a Hyatt Place, clean and spacious. But whatever you are looking for there are definitely suitable options in Moab.
Moab sits in between Canyonlands and Arches making it a central point for tourists to stay when trekking out to the desert. It is a mecca for the outdoor enthusiast and active traveler. Every option for adventure awaits in Moab. Mountain biking, white water rafting, swimming, hiking, canyoneering, off-roading, skydiving, horseback riding, climbing, stand-up paddling, stargazing, and jetboat rides, this place has got it all.
The town itself has many dining options (for takeout or dine in). For the nights we did not grab take away and watch the sunset we ate at restaurants with outdoor patios that were well distanced and enforced masks when moving through the restaurant. A few personal recommendations would be Moab Garage Company for breakfast and lunch, Giliberto’s Mexican Taco Shop for drive-through tacos (perfect to take food with you to a scenic viewpoint) and Moab Coffee Roasters for your caffeine and ice cream fix. We did not stop at Moab Brewery but heard great things, however, we did try local Utah beer and it was the perfect refresher to a day filled with hiking, and exploring under the hot Utah sun.
The National Parks
Arches National Park is the main draw to Moab. Only a mile to the entrance from town, the park sits above the Colorado River looking across the desert in every direction. With over 2,000 arches in the park, you will definitely get your fill of these beautiful formations. We hiked around in the mornings, getting a decent amount of miles under our belt while completely encompassed by the natural terrain, with towering stacks and arches above or nearby. The Windows section is rather popular but I don’t let that discourage you, its definitely worth the stop (this area is more of a viewpoint than a hike anyways, perfect for kids to run around at. Stargazing is a huge draw to the certified International Dark Sky Park. Head up for sunset with dinner and stay for the universe’s evening show.
Canyon Lands National Park is just a short and very scenic drive away. About 30 miles west of Moab lies miles and miles of canyons formed by wind and water dating back over 275 million years ago. The landscape is completely different than Arches and the park is over four times the size. The most popular and accessible area of Canyonlands is the Island in the Sky district. With viewpoints and many trails, you can spend days exploring this park. If you don’t have that much time don’t worry, there are so many breathtaking viewpoints that you will definitely leave feeling satisfied and little more in tune with Mother Nature.
If you are planning on visiting both parks it is worth it to buy the annual park pass for all National Parks. The National Park websites are always a huge help and boasting information if you ever have a question or want to plan your route/activities. Please check these sites before planning a trip, with the everchanging pandemic situation some parks have closed areas. You wouldn’t want to plan a trip and arrive only to be turned away. However, most National Parks are welcoming visitors for the season.
Another spot not to miss is Dead Horse Point, just four miles ahead of Canyonlands sits this state park. It is mostly famous for its view above a gorgeous bend of the Colorado River. It is also very popular for sunset. I would definitely recommend grabbing dinner from a local restaurant, a bottle of wine, and a blanket and spending the evening at the overlook.
Many of us tend to rush to a seaside retreat in summer to cool off and relax. Well, giving a complete fair warning Moab will not be cool. We got lucky and the temperatures stayed between 89 and 93 degrees for all days with only one spiking to 102. A normal week in the Utah desert can easily jump beyond 100. However, the heat was never really an issue. Start your day early and beat the heat in the mornings. Do your most strenuous activities such as hiking, climbing, and biking in the mornings. Midday you can head down to the Colorado River for a dip, float, swim, raft, whatever you may desire. There are also other nearby creeks to hike through cool off in. For evening activities, you can take a jeep rental or go off-roading in your own 4-wheel drive vehicle, or simply head back to the parks for sunset. You can also go out for another activity such as biking or hiking once the day has cooled down a bit.
We ended our trip with a quick stopover in Park City. The famous ski resort town is not as bustling as usual but still had plenty of people roaming around. Taste your way through the town, as almost all restaurants offer outdoor dining. There are so many beautiful hikes around Park City, we chose a popular and “not too crazy” one up to Bloods Lake. This was a perfect afternoon activity, paths covered in wildflowers overlooking mountains and valleys for miles that ended at a beautiful lake to cool off and swim in (or jump on the rope swing). If you like to mountain bike then this is definitely your place, with more than enough options to fill your days.
As a side note, Ashley and I felt safer in Utah than in California, as far as local shops and restaurants taking safety precautions for coronavirus. Every establishment we walked into enforced masks and had hand sanitizer at the door for use before touching anything. We also noticed more regimented cleaning processes and more spacing. The only time we really encountered other people on our hikes was in Arches National Park on the popular trails. I would say about 60% of people had masks (ourselves included of course).
As someone who lives to travel being stuck at home has been a little trying. I changed this trip several times before finding a route and place that I felt was low risk and would be a fun vacation. It was truly the ideal choice. I could easily go back to Moab in a heartbeat just to trek across the landscapes and relax in the river. There is something about being in the desert that always provides a feeling of peace. This trip was the perfect remedy for a case of the quarantine blues.