Spring into Moab’s rugged riding, rafting and red-rock majesty

Of the many symbols that represent Utah to the rest of the world—Temple Square, the Jazz logo, skiers waist-deep in powder, Promontory Point and fry sauce—one symbol shows off Utah’s natural beauty so well that the state chose to put it on a license plate: Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, just outside Moab.

Moab is a destination offering no shortage of adventures. Two national parks—Arches and Canyonlands—provide unparalleled hiking, climbing and camping opportunities. Rafting the Colorado River connects you with the unique terrain of southeastern Utah. The surrounding landscape offers horseback riding, hiking, canyoneering, rock climbing, ballooning, off-road riding and, of course, mountain biking—the sport Moab made famous (or perhaps vice versa).

With so many choices, it’s a difficult to squeeze everything into a long weekend, but give the following itinerary a shot with your own personal tweaks. Also, if you can add on another day or two, continue east on Interstate 70 just beyond the state line to Grand Junction, Colorado, where you’ll find a national monument right next door to wine country.



Salt Lake City to Moab
Leaving Salt Lake City in the early afternoon, prepare for a 233-mile drive to Moab that takes about 3 ½ hours. Travel Interstate 15 south to Spanish Fork, where you’ll hop on U.S. Route 6 and travel east. That road eventually joins up with U.S. Route 191 South, just outside of Helper.

By then, you’ll be about mid-point in the trip, making it the perfect time to stop at Balance Rock Eatery & Pub (148 S. Main, Helper, 435-472-0403, online on Facebook), a time-tested eatery serving everything from breakfast to steaks, plus a few original items such as a beef stroganoff sandwich. Whatever you get, don’t miss out on a side of fresh, hand-cut fries. The restaurant also regularly hosts live bands showcasing original material.

After dinner, continue on US-191 south until it joins up with I-70 East near Green River. Travel east on I-70 to the Crescent Junction exit where you’ll pick up US-191 south again. That road will take you directly into Moab.

For your first night’s lodging, consider Red Cliffs Lodge (Mile Post 14, Highway 128, 866-812-2002, RedCliffsLodge.com), a few minutes out of town. But once you get there, the views are stunning, and you can relax in your own cabin right by the Colorado River. If you arrive before 7 p.m., stop by the Castle Creek Winery (435-259-3332, CastleCreekWinery.com), located on the property, to pick up a bottle of Monument Red or Petroglyph White to sip as you watch the river roll by.



Horseback riding/exploring Moab
In the morning, walk over to the Main Lodge on the Red Cliffs property for the breakfast and a view. Also, put in an order for a box lunch to take with you on a horseback ride through the surrounding area led by Red Cliffs’ own experienced wranglers.

The ride will take you on trails traveled by many Hollywood cowboys. When you return to Red Cliffs Lodge, head downstairs in the main building to visit the Moab Museum of Film and Western Heritage. Moab has long been a favorite of filmmakers, and the area’s unique landscape has been the backdrop for entertainers ranging from John Wayne to Johnny Depp. The very land Red Cliffs sits on was used by legendary director John Ford while making a string of classic Westerns in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Later on, if you have time, check out the Moab Area Movie Locations Auto Tour (DiscoverMoab.com/pdf/movie.pdf) developed by Discover Moab, featuring set locations ranging from John Ford’s 1949 Wagon Masters to Michael Bay’s 2014 Transformers: Age of Extinction.

In the evening, head back into town and check into The Gonzo Inn (100 W. 200 South, Moab, 435-259-2515, GonzoInn.com), a unique boutique hotel in the heart of town and within walking distance of restaurants and outfitters. Another in-town option is the Lazy Lizard International Hostel (1213 S. Highway 191, 435-259-6057, LazyLizardHostel.com) where you can get the classic international hostel experience for a low price, or even rent a stand-alone cabin. Either way, be prepared to pay in cash.

After settling in, head out to some of Moab’s freshest food at Milt’s Stop & Eat (356 E. Millcreek Drive, 435-259-7424, MiltStopAndEat.com). This classic American drive-in features grass-fed, hormone-free beef and buffalo burgers along with ice cream and malts made from locally sourced milk. The chili cheeseburger has been a favorite with diners since the place opened in 1954.

If you want to keep the evening going, head over to Moab Brewery (686 S. Main, 435-259-6333, TheMoabBrewery.com) and check out locally crafted brews such as Porcupine Pilsner and Dead Horse Amber Ale.



Floating the Colorado River/Hiking at Arches National Park
Start the day at Moab Diner (189 S. Main, 435-259-4006, MoabDiner.com) for breakfast.This place is noted for its Sweetwater Skillets—a blend of fried potatoes, bacon, green onions, bell peppers and cheese topped with two eggs. You can also opt for chorizo, fajita steak or kielbasa, but whatever you choose, make sure to get it smothered with their famous green-chili sauce.

After breakfast, head down Main Street to Moab Adventure Center (225 S. Main, 435-259-7019, MoabAdventureCenter.com) where you can book a variety of trips, from ballooning to Hummer safaris. But it’s hard to beat a half-day of guided rafting on the Colorado River from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. During the spring, you can expect mild-to moderate-whitewater rapids.

In the afternoon, head back into town and track down Quesadilla Mobilla (89 N. Main, 435-260-0289, QuesadillaMobilla.com), a gourmet food truck that melts cheese onto a tortilla with all sorts of other great things like slow-cooked beef, sautéed corn and spicy sweet potatoes. The truck can often be found on Main Street, but check out Quesadilla Mobilla on Twitter and Facebook for exact locations.

After lunch, head to Arches National Park (435-719-2299, NPS.gov/arches), on the north end of town. One of the park’s charms is that accessing many of the world-famous rock formations—Delicate Arch, Double Arch, Windows and Park Avenue—are all easy hikes, many less than a mile. You don’t have to travel far to take in the breathtaking beauty of spots you’ve only seen before on calendars.

If you’re looking for something more challenging, check out the ranger-led Fiery Furnace hike into a labyrinth of narrow sandstone canyons. The hike takes three hours on an unmarked trail that includes all sorts of narrow gaps. The cost is $16 for adults and $8 for children. Contact the visitors’ center for current times and hike registration.

In the evening, once you get back to town and cleaned up, check out the Blu Pig: A BBQ and Blues Joint (811 S. Main, 435-259-3333, BluPigBBQ.com) where live music is a nightly occurrence and the ribs are always ready. In addition to all of the pulled pork, brisket and sides you can put away, you can indulge in steaks, burgers and Southern classics like fried catfish po’ boys. Besides all that meat, Blu Pig claims to have the largest selection of whiskey, tequila and beer in the Moab area.



Canyoneering/Dining in Moab
Get up early and grab a quick coffee and “Rise & Shine Tacos” filled with eggs, pico and ham or sausage at Wake & Bake Cafe (59 S. Main, 435-259-2420, WakeAndBakeCafe.net).

Once you’re full, get ready for a vertical adventure in canyoneering with Moab Cliffs & Canyons (253 N. Main, 435-259-3317, CliffsAndCanyons.com). The half-day trip to Ephedra’s Grotto is perfect for beginners. The 4- to 5-hour guided trip includes a short hike and an exhilarating rappel into a green canyon next to one of the largest natural land bridges in the world.

Cliffs and Canyons will drive you back into town where you can get a hot dog to go at Oh My Dog (83 S. Main, 702-622-7236, online on Facebook). Look for the orange food truck on Main that has gourmet hot dogs, including classics like Chicago and Coney Island styles, but branching out into Vietnamese and other exotic creations.

On your afternoon return to Salt Lake City, stop in Price at Sherald’s Frosty Freeze (434 E. Main, 435-637-1447, online on Facebook) for a burger or sandwich and pick from a variety of shake flavors.

Once you’ve tried Moab, you’ll find yourself going back again and again because there’s so much more to experience. The itinerary provided here doesn’t even include Canyonlands, mountain biking or dining at Moab’s many unique pubs and eateries.

Simply put, Moab is an adventure playground that can be re-discovered every time you visit.

Follow Kathleen Curry & Geoff Griffin on Twitter @TravelBrigade