How to Spend 2 Epic Days in Moab Exploring Canyonlands & Arches National Parks

by | Last updated Oct 19, 2020 | USA | 0 comments

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Moab is an awesome adventure travel destination in the stunning state of Utah. Home to the wild Canyonlands National Park, mind-blowing Arches National Park, and a portion of the refreshing Colorado River, Moab is where you could easily hang out for a few days and never tire of the red rock landscape. We spent 2 days in Moab on our road trip across the American Southwest and we already wish to go back!

There are many things to do in Moab that a 2-day itinerary won’t fully cover, but it’s a good amount of time nonetheless. With 2 days in Moab, you can at least dedicate one day to discover Canyonlands National Park and its many breathtaking vistas and trails, and the other day to explore the world’s largest collection of mesmerizing natural arches in Arches National Park.

On top of Moab’s two national parks, the Colorado River cuts through the outskirts of the town, tempting anyone in search of some respite from the desert sun to enjoy a dip in its cool waters. We saw many kayakers and swimmers during our 2 days in Moab and we wish we had both the time and the energy to enjoy more of all that Moab offered! With that said…

Here’s my recommendation for what to see and do in Moab in two days!

How to Spend the Perfect 2 Days in Moab

Two days in Moab isn’t a TON of time to spend here, but it’s like I said it’s a good amount of time to get introduced to all that Moab has to offer.

You might be wondering if you’ll have enough time to combine Arches and Canyonlands in just one day, but I wouldn’t recommend doing that. The driving time alone to get to Canyonlands and Arches from downtown Moab takes an effort and you’ll miss out on some of the best views and hikes.

Instead, what I recommend doing when you only have 2 days in Moab is to dedicate one day to each national park: one day in Canyonlands and the other day in Arches. After all, it’s because of these two parks that most people come to explore Moab!

With that said, we were surprised at how much MORE Moab offers. Especially if you love adventure travel, Moab offers plenty of activities to keep you entertained for a few days.

Since Moab features two national parks, make sure you buy an America The Beautiful park pass and save money! (The card pays for itself if you plan to visit 2 or more NP’s within one year).

Getting to Moab

Moab is in eastern Utah just before the border to Colorado. The closest international airport is in Salt Lake City, UT which is a 4-hr drive away. Denver’s airport is a 5 1/2 hour drive away. We reached Moab in one day by crossing southern Utah through Monument Valley after spending 3 days in Sedona, AZ.

Where to Stay in Moab

Moab is a fairly small desert town but luckily there are plenty of places to stay. Unfortunately, accommodation in Moab isn’t very budget-friendly. Because Moab is the gateway to 2 National Parks plus the Colorado River, it is a big adventure travel destination for both US and international travelers which makes prices kinda steep.

We were able to snag 2 nights at the semi-budget Inca Inn Motel on the edge of downtown (around $60/night) and it was perfect for our trip. Just somewhere easy and comfortable where we could rest our sore bodies after a day of hiking. It was the cheapest we could find on somewhat short notice without having to camp out of our car in a BLM campground.

If you have a more flexible budget, these other hotels in Moab look awesome and have amazing reviews: Red Cliffs Lodge ($$$), Sunflower Hill Inn ($$$), Aarchway Inn ($$+)

Day 1 in Moab: Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park in Moab, UT

Did you know Canyonlands National Park is Utah’s largest park? You might also be surprised that Canyonlands is actually divided into three different sections: Island in the Sky (the one you’ll likely visit from Moab), the Needle, and the Maze.

The Island in the Sky district, towering 1,500 ft above the canyon floor on a mystifying plateau, is where most travelers go to see the many amazing pull-outs and overlooks of Canyonlands. It takes 30-40 minutes to drive from Moab to reach Canyonlands (Island in the Sky).

How much time you need in Canyonlands really varies based on how much you intend to hike, how many viewpoints you want to see, and if you want to go off-roading.

If you are up for an exciting adventure, head to the Island of the Sky in a 4WD, high-clearance vehicle or jeep so that you can return to Moab via the Shafer Trail (pictured above – you can also start from Moab and end in Canyonlands). The Shafer Canyon Road features daring, dirt roads that feature massive switchbacks, scary steep cliffs, ancient petroglyphs, and a chance to see wildlife. Popular landmarks are the White Rim Road and the Musselman Arch.

Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, Moab

If you want more of a “relaxed” adventure at Canyonlands National Park, then drive the scenic paved road (20 miles), check out the many pull-out vistas, and choose a small hike. The most popular short hike in Canyonlands is none other than the famous Mesa Arch hike (pictured above). Sunrise is the best time to go if you are wanting to photograph the arch. But beware you will be alongside an army of photographers with their tripods! The Mesa Arch hike itself is short and sweet – it’s a 0.5-mile loop that takes only 25-30 minutes to visit in total. If you plan to visit for sunrise, don’t forget there is a 45-minute drive from Moab. Upheaval Dome is another good option for a shorter hike to enjoy while exploring the Island of the Sky.

Day 2 in Moab: Arches National Park

Delicate Arch at sunset in Arches National Park, 2 days in Moab

Do you know where Arches National Park got its name? Of course – for all its arches! But did you know that Arches National Park has over 2,000 documented natural sandstone arches – the largest concentration anywhere in the world?

When you have 2 days in Moab, you’re definitely going to want to spend an entire day exploring Arches. Not only are there a dozen or so epic hikes to do here, but just driving through the park is a sight in itself. Unlike Canyonlands where you kinda need to hop in and out of your car, Arches puts on a whole show you can enjoy right from your car window.

But as usual, the best bits are hidden waiting to be explored and discovered on your own two feet. One of the many amazing natural wonders of Arches National Park is the picturesque Delicate Arch. But to reap the reward of this view, you’ll need to hike 3 miles round-trip and power up some steep slick rock! The best times to visit Delicate Arch are for sunrise or sunset. Again – prepare to get there early in both cases to get the best seat in the house where you can set up your tripod/camera while enjoying the view.

Other icons to visit during a full-day adventure is Landscape Arch (spanning 300+ feet!), Double Arch inside Devil’s Garden (feature two tall arches with unique windows), and Balanced Rock. These, plus many more hikes, are worth checking out! With only 2 days in Moab, it’s unlikely you’ll get to do more than 2-3 hikes in Arches, but that just means you’ll have to plan another trip!

Other Fun Things to Do in Moab in 2 Days

Colorado River in Moab, UT

Off-Roading in a Jeep

If you want the thrill of adventure and have a free afternoon during your 2 days in Moab, then I highly recommend doing a guide off-road jeep tour on the Hell’s Revenge Trail that overlooks into Arches NP. There are many other off-road trails to do and most offer self-drive tours. You could also go on your own in a 4WD. Either way, the Hell’s Revenge trail is considered “nature’s roller coaster” and is an epic activity to include in your 2 day Moab itinerary!

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Rafting on the Colorado River

If you aren’t a fan of hiking and you want to spend your 2 days in Moab a little differently, then you should consider taking a half-day rafting adventure on the Colorado River. There are a few places where you can raft, canoe, or kayak. Check out Moab Kayaking Trips for class I-II rapids and Moab Rafting for self-guided and multi-day trips.

Dinosaur Museum

The Moab Giants Museum & Dinosaur Park was closed when we went due to the pandemic, but it is one of the top things to do in Moab under normal circumstances (check here for updates). It is where you can witness over 130+ full-sized dinosaur recreations and their tracks around Moab as you walk along the historic half-mile dinosaur trail.

Shopping & Eating in Downtown

Moab has a quaint little downtown district to explore. Start your shopping spree at 100 South St all the way to 100 North – there are a handful of local shops, art galleries, and trendy boutiques lining these two blocks.

Downtown Moab

If you love unique art and artisanal items, head inside Moab Made. Every purchase directly supports a local artist! Tumbleweed is another regional arts shop that features bright, colorful artisan goods. If you love outdoor and adventure gear, then you’ll find Desert Wild Moab to be so cute too.

For places to eat, historic downtown Moab has just about everything you could crave. There is an awesome Moab Food Truck Park right off the main street in downtown to check out. We ate at the insanely good Quesadilla Mobilla yellow food truck right on the corner of that street. I highly recommend the Sweet ‘N Spicy with a side of lime sour cream!

Quesadille Mobilla food truck in Moab, Utah

There’s also a couple of great cafes for your coffee and iced frappe fixes – we loved Coffee Roasters and was tempted by the Jailhouse Cafe for its famous breakfast. For dinner, we couldn’t help but eat twice at Pasta Jay’s on the corner. It was just too good to pass up a second time. I can’t vouch for any of their dishes other than the ravioli entrees (cause I ordered them both times lol) but seriously – the Green Chile Ravioli simmered in an anaheim green chile and cream sauce was excellent!

Biking

There are several epic biking routes in Moab that traverse the red rock landscape. Some skirt the Colorado River while others take you through the national parks. We wanted to bike the Potash Road that follows the river but ended up feeling too tired from hiking all week. I highly recommend renting a bike while spending 2 days in Moab; especially if you visit in the spring or winter when the days are more pleasant.

So, there you have it! If you have only 2 days in Moab then you have a difficult choice to make between spending two full-days in each national park or spending half-days and then including extra activities such as biking, rafting, or off-roading into your afternoons. There is so much to do and see in Moab that two days will have you leaving wanting more!

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