Three-day weekend: Moab keeps you moving
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and it’s the only meal served at the Jailhouse Café ($; 7-noon; 101 N. Main St.; 435/ 259-3900). A stack of old-fashioned ginger pancakes with Dutch apple butter and a side of thick, salty bacon will power you through a morning at Canyonlands.
Canyon marvel. About 33 miles southwest of Moab via U.S. 191 and State 313, Canyonlands National Park’s Island in the Sky District ($10 per vehicle; www.nps.gov/cany or 435/719-2313) provides sprawling ― and easily attained ― views of the artfully eroded landscape, including Mesa Arch and the spire called Candlestick Tower. For a quick hike, climb 1/2 mile to the top of Whale Rock or take the Aztec Butte Trail 2 miles (round trip) to ancient stone granaries built by Puebloans hundreds of years ago. Adventurous drivers with four-wheel-drive and good ground clearance can take the Shafer Trail Road 6 miles to the Shafer Canyon Campsite.
Drink a scorpion. Wash away trail dust with a Scorpion Pale Ale at the Moab Brewery ($; 686 S. Main; 435/259-6333). It serves a wide range of burgers, sandwiches, and vegetarian offerings to replace any calories that you left in Canyonlands.
Get your bearings. The Dan O’Laurie Canyon Country Museum (1-8 Mon-Sat; $2; 118 E. Center St.; 435/259-7985) offers a thorough primer on the town’s history and the archaeology and towering geology all around you.
Sunset cruise. A leisurely 7-mile evening float down the Colorado River northeast of Moab with the outfitter Oars Canyonlands ($49 per person, minimum of four passengers, reservations required; 543 N. Main; www.oars.com or 800/346-6277) offers the chance to glimpse great blue herons, sandhill cranes, and bighorn sheep. There are a few rapids, but nothing death defying.
Big appetite. By opening their Desert Bistro ($$$; opens at 5:30; 92 E. Center; 435/259-0756) only for dinner, Karl and Michelle Kelley can spend their days rock climbing. Somehow they reserve enough energy to offer some of Moab’s best meals, such as seared beef tenderloin with a gorgonzola crust.
A day on the Colorado River starts early, so head over to the Moab Diner ($; 6 a.m.-10 p.m. daily; 189 S. Main; 435/259-4006) for the Sweetwater Skillet, which buries fried potatoes, bacon, diced green onions and bell peppers, and melted cheese beneath two eggs any style in a skillet.
Get wet. Westwater Canyon, 70 miles east of town, provides the Colorado River’s most challenging day near Moab. Over the course of 17 miles, you’ll encounter towering red rock cliffs and powerful rapids, including Skull Rapid, a blender of whitewater. Pray your guide doesn’t send you into the Room of Doom Rapid midway through. Tag-A-Long ($125 per person; 452 N. Main; www.tagalong.com or 435/ 259-8946) is one of several outfitters that run Westwater frequently.
Don’t get wet. Stroll the 900-acre Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve (free; W. Kane Creek Blvd., 2 miles west of Main; 435/259-4629) along the Colorado River and look for some of the 200-plus bird species that pass through during the year. Afterward, visit Dead Horse Point State Park ($7 day-use fee; State 313, 31 miles southwest of Moab; www.stateparks.utah.gov or 435/259-2614) for a dizzying 2,000-foot gander down to the goosenecks of the Colorado River.
Fireside dining. At the Center Cafe ($$$; 60 North 100 West; 435/259-4295), which serves entrées such as pan-seared lamb loin accompanied by roasted garlic flan, you can sit inside under wood beams and before a flickering fire, or enjoy the evening air in the adobe-walled courtyard.
Try the quiche of the day or go for the banana-nut pancakes at the appropriately named Eklectica Cafe ($; 352 N. Main; 435/259-6896).
Pick up lunch. Grab a box lunch built around a smoked turkey, smoked ham, or avocado-veggie sandwich at the Red Rock Bakery & Internet Cafe (74 S. Main; 435/259-5941).
Take a spin. Mountain biking helped stoke Moab’s recreational furnaces, and it continues to be the town’s hallmark. The Slickrock Bike Trail ($5 per vehicle; 3 miles east of Moab at the Sand Flats Recreation Area on Sand Flats Rd.; 435/259-2444) offers nearly 13 miles of trails that wind along formations called Lion’s Back, Swiss Cheese Ridge, Shrimp Rock, and Icebox Canyon. To see if your skills meet the challenge, take a spin on the 2-mile-long trail called the Practice Loop.
Or take a hike. For those who want their feet firmly on the ground, head 5 miles north of Moab on U.S. 191 to Arches National Park ($10 per vehicle; www.nps.gov/arch or 435/719-2299). Park at the Courthouse Towers Viewpoint, then stroll down Park Avenue, a mile-long boulevard of stone that leads to a sublime vista. For a hike of just over 5 miles, take the Devil’s Garden Trailhead to Double O Arch, then veer off onto the “primitive” loop (unnamed) that leads you over and between rock fins and back to Landscape Arch. From there it’s less than a mile back to your car. The park’s most famous feature, Delicate Arch, is best seen at sunset. The 1 1/2 miles to the arch is uphill from the trailhead, so allow at least 40 minutes; take a flashlight for the hike back.
Chow down. Pizzas and pastas crowd the menu at Eddie McStiff’s ($$; 57 S. Main at Center; 435/ 259-2337). With 22 pizza toppings to choose from, including roasted garlic and dried tomatoes, you might want to avoid the decision and go with the barbecued ribs.