With two nearby national parks, Moab, Utah, is a perfect hub for an outdoor family vacation
Blazing red rock formations and watery canyons make Moab, Utah, a playground for all ages—but particularly for kids, who delight in this region’s abundant opportunities to climb, splash, dig and explore.
With a good sun hat and plenty of sunscreen, children thrive in Moab’s canyon country, where the very landscape encourages imaginative play. Two nearby U.S. national parks—Canyonlands and Arches—are also perfect for hiking. In particular, my family’s favorite trail in Arches is 1.5 miles (one-way) and leads to the approximately 50-foot-high Delicate Arch, a Utah icon that rises out of a vast sandstone bowl where kids love to run and frolic.
On especially hot days, however, I suggest heading to Grandstaff Canyon, where the hiking trail parallels a perennial stream in which kids can wade and splash, motivating them to complete the 2.5-mile (one-way) trek to Morning Glory Bridge. At 243 feet long,
Morning Glory is the sixth-longest stone span in the U.S. To shorten the hike—and tack on a thrilling rappel—book the Ultimate Moab Canyoneering Adventure from Moab Adventure Center. The half-day guided tour starts with two pulse-quickening rappels and ends with the streamside hike down Grandstaff Canyon.
Our daughter also loves to explore Moab’s many dinosaur tracks and fossils. An interpretive panel at the Poison Spider trail site told us how to identify the stone slab where we would find tracks left by three-toed therapods and other dinosaurs. After climbing up to the slab and marveling at the imprints, we continued along the trail to admire petroglyphs carved into the cliffs by the Fremont people, who inhabited this region until about 1300 AD. (Note: For indoor, air-conditioned discovery, suggest clients head to Moab Giants, a dinosaur museum with a fossil excavation site and 3D theater that lets kids peer into dino-filled seas.)
When temperatures soar, kids will love rafting down the Colorado River, which is surrounded by staggeringly beautiful red cliffs. When not bouncing through rapids, kids can jump overboard and bob in the cool water — making this one of the most effortless ways to take in the sculpted red-rock scenery. Full-day rafting trips with operator Moab Adventure Center include a riverside barbecue and are open to kids as young as 5 years old.
WHERE TO STAY
Families who want to wake up to stunning canyon views should stay at Sorrel River Ranch & Spa, a resort located on the banks of the Colorado River. Its cabins and suites overlook sculpted buttes rising up from the water’s edge, and the property’s adventure concierges can organize anything from jeep tours to hot air balloon rides.
But Sorrel River Ranch is about a 30-minute drive from Moab and Arches National Park, so families who prefer a centrally located home base should choose from the growing number of hotels in the town itself. Brand-new options include Hyatt Place Moab and Homewood Suites by Hilton Moab.
Swimming pools make both properties great for kids; Hyatt’s outdoor pool lets parents enjoy red-rock views while they are supervising splashing tykes, while Homewood’s indoor pool features saltwater rather than chlorinated water.
Additionally, the new Hoodoo Moab (part of Hilton’s Curio Collection) is slated to open this summer, and it will offer a more upscale experience than you’ll find at most Moab hotels. It will include an on-site pool and playground, as well as steaks and sushi at Josie Wyatt’s Restaurant and Bar.
WHERE TO EAT
The all-you-can-eat pizza, soup and salad buffet at Zax’s Restaurant in Moab lets hungry kids refuel with no wait time. Plus, its option for outdoor seating keeps families from feeling cooped up.
And should you want to cap off your desert adventuring with an icy treat, Moab offers a plethora of options. My daughter’s favorite is MoYo, a frozen yogurt bar with a boggling selection of flavors and toppings. But because I consider myself more of a gourmand, I love Moab Garage Co., which uses liquid nitrogen to freeze its made-to-order ice creams.
The Details: Discover Moab (www.discovermoab.com)
TIPS FOR DESERT ADVENTURES
I have been visiting Moab for about 20 years — first, as a childless adventurer, and now, with my 8-year-old daughter. Her dad and I have learned that a few adaptations to the desert climate can make a big difference in kids’ comfort and enjoyment.
–The presence of cacti makes closed-toed shoes a must for hiking and scrambling along the rocky terrain.
–Because days here heat up quickly (90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher is common in the daytime from spring through fall), we schedule outdoor activities for first thing in the morning, when our energy is highest and temperatures are pleasantly low.
–To encourage the kiddos to drink water (locals recommend 1 gallon per person, per day), we pause periodically for drinking contests where we challenge the kids to drain their bottles faster than the adults.