The rough-and-ready desert outpost of Moab is nestled in a sandstone valley in southeastern Utah, with easy access to amazing rafting, hiking, mountain biking, climbing and other adventures in a remarkable expanse of sand, stone and sky.

The town itself is little more than a strip of adobe shops, bike stores, guiding outfitters, restaurants and t-shirt shops; its real draw is the proximity to the amazing public lands nearby.

Moab is ringed by a remarkable collection of national parks and open areas of wilderness, covering a far-reaching geological area known as the Colorado Plateau. From Moab, you can take day trips or longer adventures in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. You can mountain bike on slickrock sandstone trails that extend beyond the horizon, and raft down the churning Colorado River. All manner of other adrenaline-filled activities are possible among the surrounding desert spires, canyons, arches and hoodoos. 

If you live for the thrill of the great outdoors, look no further. Here are the top things to do in Moab.

Walkers looking at a rock arch in Utah
Creeping up for a glimpse of a rock arch in its natural habitat, Arches National Park © Marina Poushkina / Shutterstock

Explore the Fiery Furnace

There are more than 2000 documented arches in small but mighty Arches National Park. Delicate Arch is by far the most photographed and most visited, but to get beyond the crowds, head out with the rangers for an informative guided tour of the Fiery Furnace. In this natural warren of arches and canyons, you’ll find amazing secret passages, hidden corners, and remarkable glimpses of the flora and fauna that thrive in this harsh desert environment. You’ll need to book the free ranger-led hikes ahead of time; during the shoulder season, they sometimes offer permits for self-guided walks, but it's easy to get lost, so we advise a guide.

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Visit Island in the Sky

Canyonlands stretches for over 520 sq miles, making this the biggest national park in Utah. There’s so much to do and see, you'll need days to even scratch the surface. Island in the Sky is by far the most visited and most accessible area of the park. Located just 20 minutes from Moab, this sprawl of eroded plateaus has awe-inspiring overlooks that provide a bird’s eye view of the canyons, slickrock and desert landscapes. There are a number of worthwhile hikes like the 30-minute jaunt to famous Mesa Arch, or you can take on a longer trek to Neck Spring or Lathrop Canyon. 

Hike to the Dollhouse in The Maze

The Maze is the least visited and most difficult to access section of Canyonlands National Park, and that's part of its magic. Here you find some of the best canyoneering in Utah, extreme 4WD trails and plenty of splendid isolation. A castle-like collection of eroded hoodoos, the Dollhouse is one of the Maze’s most iconic sections, with tight slot canyons, towering spires and some interesting archaeological relics.

Getting here can be tricky; it's a four-hour trip by 4WD across very rough terrain, with no water, food or gas supplies en route, but the trip is half the adventure. Another option is to tack a day of hiking around the Dollhouse onto a Colorado River rafting tour. If you're short on time, jet-boats buzz up the river for two hours from Moab to Spanish Bottom, about 3 miles from the Dollhouse.

Catch the sunset at Deadhorse Point State Park

Avoid the national park crowds with a trip to Deadhorse Point State Park. Located about 45 minutes from Moab, the park offers up some great hiking trails and one of the best river views known to man. For many, the highlight is sitting at one of the eight overlooks and enjoying the immense vistas, the quiet silence and maybe one of Utah’s legendary sunsets. For our money, Deadhorse Point Overlook is one of the most inspiring sunset spots in America. You could sit for hours watching the colors change over the serpentine course of the majestic Colorado River.

Mountain bikers on a desert trail near Moab
Riding the desert trails near Moab – now that's mountain biking! © Saro17 / Getty Images

Mountain bike the Slickrock Trail

Moab is home to some of the best mountain biking on the planet. Trails range from super flowy slickrock rollercoasters to dicey experts-only descents of canyon walls, with big drops and tough, technical angles. The most iconic trail here is the aptly named Slickrock, a 9.6-mile loop that takes you over desert sandstone through super smooth rollers and fun turns. It’s like biking on the moon.

For truly radical mountain biking, consider the Whole Enchilada, a 26.5-mile epic featuring a 7000ft descent from a high-alpine area on the edge of Manns Peak, winding up on the red rock paradise outside Moab.

Read more: The best time to go to Moab for outdoor adventures and more

Raft Cataract Canyon

The most iconic whitewater adventure in Utah is in Cataract Canyon, below the confluence of the Colorado River and Green River, in the heart of Canyonlands. This pristine stretch of river has some of the most powerful whitewater on earth, with giant Class V waves and heart-pumping drops through challenging features such as Satan’s Gut and Little Niagara. Trips take anywhere from 4 to 6 days.

An amazing way to tackle this expedition is as part of a rowing clinic with OARS, one of the world’s preeminent rafting operations. These hands-on adventures allow you to grab the sticks with a professional guide standing by to take over if needed. It’s like a guided trip on steroids: you'll learn to read rapids, tie knots, rig to flip, and navigate mountains of whitewater. After 17 miles of paddling, an added perk is having the guides cook you a gourmet meal while you sit and watch the sunset with your trip mates.

Paddle Professor Valley

Paddleboarders, canoers, and, well, even inner tubers will love the day-long float through Professor Valley, on a stretch of the Colorado River known as the "Moab Daily." With its gorgeous red canyon walls and easy riffles, this is Moab’s signature Booze Cruise – a gentle drift compared to the churning whitewater more commonly associated with the area. If you want to elevate this into a multi-day adventure, you can outfit a canoe or inflatable kayak known as a "ducky" and make this into a two or three-day float.

See the Moab Giants

This kitsch piece of Americana is one of the many reasons Utah is a playground for kids and adults alike. The dinosaur museum has an animatronic T-Rex, a 5-D prehistoric aquarium (that’s two more D’s than most), plus open-air exhibits featuring life-size replicas of your favorite extinct creatures, including Allosaurus, Avaceratops Lammersi, Ceratosaurus and many more. Many of these monster lizards stalked the Utah wilderness during the Jurassic period. The outdoor Dinosaur Trail features over 100 model dinos, with fun lessons that will educate the whole family. If you come here, add on a trip to nearby Potash Road for some afternoon swimming on the Colorado River, one of the best free activities in Moab.

Go Canyoneering

In the open spaces and national parks surrounding Moab, there are about a million canyoneering options. However, these thrilling gorges are not for newbies. Rains 100 miles away can cause canyons to flash flood at a second’s notice, rocks can fall unexpectedly, and it's easy to get dangerously lost in these trail-free wildernesses.

For an easy-in to Utah canyoning, go with a guide; trips range from easy 3-mile tours on the Bow & Arrow and Morning Glory canyons, to harder routes through the Rock of Ages and Fiery Furnace. The Maze section of Canyonlands has some truly awesome canyoneering for people with lots of experience and just a bit of fearlessness.

Drive the Colorado River Scenic Byway

Utah is a road tripper's heaven. The national parks all have scenic drives with amazing overlooks, but to get away from the traffic, head out northeast from Moab along the Colorado River Scenic Byway. The road matches the curves of the Colorado River for most of the way, with tremendous views of sandstone cliffs, a few fun camping spots and a whole lot of open Utah sky overhead. Stop for swimming, paddleboarding or short side hikes along the way. With a little extra time, you can hike to the base of the Fisher Towers, a crumbling set of rather gothic sandstone towers or just marvel at the towering monoliths of Castle Valley.

Gaze at the stars

For night owls, Utah offers some of the best stargazing to be had anywhere in the US. In this electrified age, most people only see a tiny portion of the 2500 stars that should be visible to the naked eye on any given night, but in Utah, away from any major urban area, you will come closer to the cosmos. Many of the national parks offer ranger-led stargazing programs, but the easiest way to view the stars is to check the moon (views are best when the moon is new or hidden), head out to a remote overlook, turn off your phone and all your lights, allow 30 minutes to get used to the darkness, and then gaze in awe at the universe.

Deadhorse State Park is a good place to start. On a clear night, you’ll see the Milky Way, meteorites, planets, constellations you don’t even have a name for, and far-away galaxies in the limitless skies overhead. Look close enough, and you might even spot an earthly rocket streaking across the night sky. Red Rock Astronomy in Moab has high-quality telescopes and runs some informative curated talks that are well worth checking out.

A female climber ascending a rockface at Indian Creek
Climbing the mighty crack known as Scarface at Indian Creek, Utah © Shutterstock / Cavan Images - Offset

Rock climb the red rocks

There are some truly top-tier climbs to be had just outside of Moab. Experienced rock gods and goddesses can start the adventure with sport climbing on Potash Road, world-class cracks at Indian Creek, and a bunch of scary trad routes on outcrops such as Castleton Tower, requiring a solid rack of large and medium nuts, hexes and cams. The roadside pull-out at the Big Bend campground has an awesome collection of bouldering problems for folks traveling without a rope.

While Moab's do-it-yourself climbs are amazing, many people prefer to go with a guide. Organized climbing trips range from easy cragging afternoons near Moab to multi-day seminars on crack climbing in Indian Creek. If you have the strength, skill and stamina to lead multi-pitch routes rated up to 5.9+ using mostly trad protection (and the head to navigate the tricky third pitch), the day-trip up Castleton Tower is not to be missed.

Hiking beyond the national parks

Bring your hiking boots and plenty of water: the hiking in the desert wonderland around Moab is out of this world. There are established trails in all of the national parks, state parks and public lands, but the real adventures begin outside the parks, where there are hundreds of rugged trails. Grab a map and compass, follow wilderness safety protocols, and head out across this moonscape of outcrops, hoodoos, arches and canyons for some truly amazing wilderness encounters.

For grown-up adventures, the area near the Maze known as Robber’s Roost offers up some of the best trailless hiking and canyoneering to be found anywhere in Utah. It was here in Bluejohn Canyon that Aron Ralston was forced to amputate his right arm after becoming trapped by a boulder, an ordeal which was dramatized in 127 Hours. Don't make the same mistakes: carry plenty of water and always tell someone where you are going and when you'll come back.

Head out to Castle Valley

The day-trip out to Castle Valley makes it onto many Moab itineraries. This scenic two-hour drive takes you along the Colorado River and past iconic monoliths such as Castleton Tower and the crumbling cliffs of the Fisher Towers. Along the way, take a few hours to check out the nostalgic exhibits at the Moab Museum of Film and Western Heritage at Red Cliffs Lodge. With a bit of energy, you can scramble your way right to the base of Castleton Tower (where you may find a group of climbers waiting for a shot at the ascent). Sit back and exhale, and watch as clouds fly across the sky, casting dramatic shadows over the desolate land below.

Dad and baby hiking in Arches National Park
There's no minimum age for enjoying the thrills of Arches National Park © Shutterstock / My Good Images

Go four-wheel driving

Cruising down Moab’s main strip, you’ll see an endless parade of Mad Max-inspired jeeps, dune buggies and other four-wheeled monsters. This is just another face of the thrill-seeking culture that comes with this desert oasis. You'll meet flag-flying four-wheel drivers, campervan hippies, counter-culture mountain bikers, slurpy-sipping RVers, and about every other shape and size of person on this great planet of ours. Joining this eccentric crew is part of the fun of driving off-road in Utah.

Hell’s Revenge is one of the most popular 4WD routes. Taking 3 to 4 hours, the route takes you over some really wicked obstacles, past rocky domes and into the wild depths of the desert outside Moab. Most of the trail involves driving on bone-shaking slickrock, with arrows marking the way. There are broken rocks, rock ledges and other obstacles to avoid, along with some heart-pounding tracks along cliff edges that might just have you throwing your jeep into reverse.

While it's certainly a challenge, if you stick to the designated trails and are respectful of the extremely delicate ecosystem, off-road driving here can be a whole lot of fun. As a common courtesy, if you see a biker or hiker, slow down so they don’t have to suck a cloud of dust and exhaust fumes as you barrel past like a dusty demon of dirt.

Visit the Moab Museum

Not every Moab activity involves throwing yourself at the landscape. Touting itself as a small museum with big stories to tell, the Moab Museum has an interesting collection of photos and artifacts from the area, starting with the Ancestral Puebloans and following the historic road to early Mormon settlers, uranium prospectors, river runners, and more. It's well worth a detour on a rest day from activities in Moab.

Camp in Bears Ears National Monument

Just spending the night under that big Utah sky is an experience all by itself. Out in the desert, you'll find plenty of solace and solitude. Look towards the public lands surrounding Moab, where you can camp in primitive campsites on top of cliffs, alongside rivers and way out into the far-flung corners of this uncharted wilderness.

Ownership of these public lands has been the center of many a debate in Utah, Washington, DC, and beyond. If you are lucky enough to camp out in the true wilderness of Bears Ears National Monument, you'll see what all the fuss is about and why it's one of the state's best attractions. There are “developed” camping areas at Indian Creek Falls, Hamburger Rock, Creek Pasture and Superbowl, but this is camping on the rugged side; there's space to camp and toilets, but you'll have to carry your own food and water.

If wild camping isn’t your thing, try out a night of glamping in a gorgeous Victorian-style tent at the acclaimed Moab Under Canvas.

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This article was first published October 2021 and updated December 2021

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