Camping and glamping in the
red-rock wonder of the Colorado Plateau
When it’s time to get out of the office and decompress, you’ll find that Utah’s remote back roads, byways and scenic highways are easily within reach. Pick up Interstate 15 south to U.S. Route 50 for starters, then head east through a changing landscape of sandstone fortresses and scrubby roads to your first destination. We’ve created a weekend road trip that includes swanky “dirt chic” glamping along with rustic wilderness camping, dramatic lessons in history and getting to know the outdoors like an old friend. Dirt seekers and gypsies are welcome.
Horseshoe Canyon’s Desert Soul
A couple hours south of Salt Lake City, the little town of Scipio is the turnoff point to snake up scenic U.S. Route 50 to US-24, with its unusual shapes luring you to numerous lookouts. A quick stop in Salina to hit Mom’s Cafe (10 E. Main St., Salina, 435-529-3921) for a country breakfast will keep you full until you’re fireside at Horseshoe Canyon trailhead.
An extension of Canyonlands National Park, Horseshoe Canyon is where some of the West’s most noteworthy rock art can be seen. The canyon is a 30-minute drive down on a dusty (but graded and well-marked) dirt road. Tomorrow’s hike to the Great Gallery will evoke passages of Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire.
Camping is not allowed in the canyon itself, so stake out a camping spot for the night at the BLM-managed Hans Flat Ranger Station (Recreation Road 777, 435-259-2652, NPS.gov/cany/planyourvisit/maze.html), a wild and scenic campground west of the canyon, filled with Native American spirit. And then, relax. You’re in for an evening of epic sunsets, soul searching, fireside s’mores and Milky Way stargazing. A vault toilet is provided, but no water.
Rock Art Panel Loop
Pop open your roof-top tent bright and early for a morning of hiking. Hint: stick to the cairns. A perfect start to your “warrior” weekend, stock your daypack full of water and protein snacks, and warm up your hiking legs with this 6.5-mile journey to ancient petroglyphs (etched in rock) and pictographs (painted on rock).
At the canyon floor, you’ll wind along three miles of canyon cliffs to the complex designs and humanistic figures of the famous Holy Ghost panel at the Great Gallery, which features Barrier Canyon-style etchings dating back an estimated thousand or more years. Grab your selfie sticks, because everyone will want a photo before zig-zagging back to camp.
Sick of adventure yet? We didn’t think so. Once back to your car, hit the gas on US-24 north and join Interstate 70 one hour away, then east to the Highway 191 for your drive to Moab. There, you’ll be welcomed by mom-and-pop shops with rows of kitschy gifts. Make time to stop for green eggs and ham at Love Muffin Cafe (139 N. Main St., Moab, 435-259-6833, LoveMuffinCafe.com).
Rested and refueled, take the scenic Highway 128 along the Colorado River Gorge (a favorite for film commissions) to your next destination: Fisher Towers Campground (drive east on SR-128 for 21 miles to a gravel road signed “Fisher Towers.” Follow road south for 2.2 miles to the Fisher Towers Trailhead and picnic area. You’ll find a 5-site campground suitable for tent camping available on a first-come, first-served basis. Vault toilets, fire pits and grills provided, but no water. The $15 fee to the BLM will be some of the best dollars you’ve ever spent. Moab BLM Field Office, 82 E. Dogwood, Moab, 435-259-2100).
With your snooze-spot covered, you have the rest of the afternoon to hike around and explore outlooks tucked between the towers and expansive river basins as you wind to the southeast. The area to the south is known as Onion Creek and is a breezy haven for hawks seeking thermals. You may even see climbers, scaling spots like Stolen Chimney, gaining some serious altitude. Plan on four hours for the hike before cutting back to camp.
Sand Dunes and a Glamp Basecamp
Next up, take your camping up a notch with luxury safari tents and full-service basecamps, providing easy access to the White Wash Sand Dunes (BLM.gov) for the day’s outing. From “glamp” campsite Moab Under Canvas (13784 US-191, Moab, 801-895-3213, MoabUnderCanvas.com), you’ll have four walls of sturdy tent and, gasp, an en suite bathroom to detox the past two days of sweat. These pre-fab tents provide plenty of desert chic a few miles north of Moab’s Main Street.
Another glamp option is TerraVelo Tours (TerraVeloTours.com), a traveling basecamp that navigates for you with bike tours and pre-booked private camps.
Don’t get too comfy after you’ve settled in because the outdoors are calling. If you’ve opted for your own itinerary, the White Wash dunes are a 45-minute drive northwest of Moab (travel north on US-191 to Interstate 70, proceed 7 miles west, take exit 175, and head south on Ruby Ranch Road) where you can traverse ATV trails on your own wheels. A permit is required if venturing on your own, so plan ahead, or book a tour with High Point Hummer & ATV (281 N. Main St., Moab, 435-259-2972).
Wind down with a stunning view from the door of your posh glamp spot. More park and trail information is available at Utah State Parks OHV & Field Office (82 E. Dogwood, Moab, 435-259-2100).
Colorado River Gorge, Bike Rides & Coffee With Locals
Utah is blessed with some of the best bike-riding trails in the world, with a backdrop of the La Sal Mountains, petrified sand dunes and the Colorado Gorge. Largely a world without color, the tremendous cliffs more than make up for it. Hit the pavement with your rental bike from Poison Spider Bicycles (497 N. Main St., Moab, 800-635-1792, PoisonSpiderBicycles.com) and traverse the entire length of the Moab Canyon Pathway (13.2 miles) or a portion of it, like Deadman’s Ridge (5.5 miles). Easy access can be found along the south side of the Colorado River, a place that leaves you feeling as if you’re at the edge of the world.
Consider yourself lucky if you’ve secured a spot at one of the luxury glamp spots where you can return for a hot-shower rinse before getting back on the road to return to city life. Finish your four-day, taming-the-wild adventure by traveling up US-191 to Interstate 70. Then make a beeline to Green River for a stop at the hippy-esque Green River Coffee Co. (25 E. Main St., Green River, 435-564-3411, GRCoffeeco.com), a locals’ hangout, and a great spot for a cappuccino, eclectic furniture, walls full of memorabilia—plus a burrito the size of your head. Get back onto US-191 and travel north to Interstate 15 and Salt Lake City.
This is an adventure for those with a fondness for stretches of legendary landscapes and memorable summer road trips. Make this the summer you hit the road and turn up Billy Ocean’s song “Get out of my dreams … and into my car.” Your next adventure is just around the corner.