Visiting Moab With Kids…

Moab, Utah is world-class mountain biking destination. It’s also a playground for rock-climbers, backpackers, and river rafters. But while this rugged desert town has a reputation for attracting outdoorsy, cliff bar munching adrenaline seekers, it’s also the perfect vacation spot for the minivan, spilled goldfish crackers, in bed by 8:30pm type of traveler. In other words Moab is a great place for families.

Why is this desert town a great place for families? Well, if you can avoid being sun-baked and dehydrated, there are two national parks less than an hour away, a gorgeous uncrowded state park, an awesome paved bike path, Native American petroglyphs, beautiful hiking trails, and the Colorado River. With some saavy planning and basic outdoor safety common sense, there is no shortage of fun to be had when visiting Moab with kids.

kids in moab hiking on a trail in arches national park
Hiking on an uncrowded winter day in Arches National Park

Arches N.P, Canyonlands N.P and Dead Horse Point State Park

From Moab you can easily reach Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park. All three parks are very kid-friendly and have a variety of easy but massively beautiful hikes.

Arches National Park

This isn’t an official statistic but I’m guessing 99% of families visiting Moab spend at least one day in Arches National Park. Arches National Park is the closest park to Moab, in fact it’s only a five minute drive from many Moab hotels. While the drive to get to Arches is short, be prepared for a long line to actually enter the park. Especially around the 9am park rush hour.

Delicate Arch/Wolfe Ranch

Once you’ve made it into the park you will need to hike to fully apprecaite the desert landscape and get the best view of the famed arches. The three-mile roundtrip hike to Delicate Arch is one of the most popular hikes. This isn’t the trail to take if you want to feel alone in the desert. Even early in the morning there are plenty of people lugging fancy cameras out to the arch to try to capture the perfect sunrise.

Frequently visitors are in such a hurry to get to Delicate Arch, they rush right by what remains of Wolfe Ranch and some beautiful petroglyphs that adorn one of the rock faces. Whether it’s on your way to Delicate Arch or on your way back I recommend taking the ten minute detour to get a glimpse of what life was like for past residents of the area.

The petroglyphs at Wolfe Ranch

Devil’s Garden

If you are looking to avoid crowds, which is nearly impossible in popular National Parks such as Arches, head to Devil’s Garden. By no means is this hike a secret, like Delicate Arch it’s a popular hike. Yet, while this hike has the potential of being almost eight miles, many hikers turn around after seeing the first few arches. To really get away from the bustle take the “primitive trail” out to Double O Arch. Seeing the “difficult” and “strenuous” description deters a lot of folks from taking this trail but the scenery is gorgeous and with a fraction of the tourists. Do be aware that you will have to do some basic navigating using rock piles, small trail signs and employing common sense to stay on the trail since it’s not as well marked as the main trail. Also, as with many trails in Utah, there are also a few scrambles and a couple sections that might make people with a fear of heights nervous. But really it’s not too bad!

So many arches to see on the Devil’s Garden Trail!

Canyonlands National Park

Haven’t been to the Grand Canyon yet? Doing the Grand View Trail in Canyonlands National Park gives a little taste of what it’s like to be standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon. The vast rainbow sherbet colored canyons are what attract people to Canyonlands, yet it might just be the enchanting Native American ruins that thrill your kids the most. Either way a day at Canyonlands is likely going to exceed your expectations.

There are several access points to Canyonlands National Park. From Moab, the “Island in the Sky” entrance is the closest. All the hikes listed below are on the Island in the Sky side of the park. To reach “The Needles” side you must exit the park and enter through the kiosks on that side of the park. If you’re only spending a day in Canyonlands I would recommend visiting the Island in the Sky side of the park. Less time in the car means more time enjoying the beautiful scenery.

Mesa Arch

This is a quick hike. And by quick I mean that to reach the arch, snap a few pics and get back to your car will take less than thirty minutes. Don’t think that just because it’s a short hike it’s not worth doing. Walking out to the picturesque arch perched on the edge of a massive cliff (keep an eye on your kiddos) is thirty minutes well spent.

Mesa Arch in Canyonlands is a short, kid friendly hike
Peeking through the Mesa Arch at Canyonlands National Park

Aztec Buttes

I’m a huge history dork. I love history. Even if you’re not as into artifacts and ancient cities as I am, sitting next to a Puebloan structure that was built several hundred years ago is a pretty magical experience. The hike itself is only about two miles. However, with steep slick rock sections, the trail is more adventurous than your typical two-mile stroll. Don’t worry, with decent shoes and the natural gripping texture of the sandstone you can channel you inner gecko and ascend the steep final section of trail.

Kids will love the Aztec Butte Trail in Canyonlands National Park
Puebloan remains on the Aztec Butte Trail

Grand View Point Trail

The grand finale of your day at Canyonlands is the Grand View Point trail. If your family is done with hiking (aka kids are complaining and even ice cream bribes won’t get them to walk any further) you can simply park then walk for ten seconds to the overlook. If no one has melted down you can follow the cliffside trail out to the end. The views are spectacular and while you’re walking along a cliff there is a decent amount of space from the edge of the trail to the edge of the cliff.

hiking canyonlands with kids while in Moab
grand view trail in Canyonlands National Park
Feel like you’re at the Grand Canyon on the Grand View Trail

Tips for Visiting Canyonlands National Park: It takes 45-60 minutes to drive to Canyonlands from Moab. There is no food or gas in or near the park. Make sure you fill up your tank in Moab and bring plenty of grub to sustain you for the day. Also, because the elevation of Canyonlands is higher than Moab, the air temperature can be a little cooler. Bring an extra layer of clothing just in case.

Dead Horse Point State Park

The road into Dead Horse Point State park isn’t particularly scenic and reading the pamphlet about how the park got it’s name will probably be the most depressing moment of your Moab vacation. Luckily, pulling into the main lot will turn your reading about dying horses frown upside down. Dead Horse Point State Park has been said to be a miniature version of Canyonlands National Park. The trails at Dead Horse allow both hikers and bikers. I noticed that the majority of the people using the trails while we were there were bikers. If your family is somewhat experienced with mountain biking I highly recommend ditching the hiking boots and exploring the trails via bike!

The views at Dead Horse Point State Park rival those of neighboring Canyonlands National Park

Mountain Biking in Moab with Kids

Dead Horse State Park was by far our favorite spot to mountain bike in Moab with kids. However, if you have extra time to explore the Moab area via bike here are a few other kid friendly trails.

Dead Horse Point State Park

The trail system is impecably makred and there is a nice selection of beginner/intermediate trails. The Intrepid Trail is a loop that has a little bit of everything. Big views, technical rocky sections and some fun flowy parts. It’s a great trail for sampling all that mountain biking in Moab has to offer.

The other trails aren’t much more difficult than Intrepid Trail and don’t have quite the majestic views but they’re worth riding if you have enthusiastic and confident kiddos.

Bar M Trails

Bar M is a beginner trail that is part of the larger Moab Brands trails network. Considered to be one of the easiest trails in the area, this approximetly nine mile loop is wide enough for a car to drive on and doesn’t have as many rocky sections as other Moab mountain biking trails. Close to town and with an easy to find trailhead this is a great trail for families who want a mellow inroducation to mountain biking in Utah.

To get to the trailhead: google “Bar M trails”. It’s just a little off of Highway 191 and has a parking area with pit toilets.

Dino Flow

A local bike shop recommended this to us as a kid friendly trail. While it’s not particulaly steep or treacherous it is fairly technical. There are a lot of rocky sections and even my husband who is an experienced mountain biker had to get off his bike a few times. Don’t expect this to be a fast, flowy ride. It took us several hours just to go five miles. Nonethelss, if you the time (and paitence!), or older kids, Dino Flow is a doable more advanced family ride.

Lastly, make sure to check out the neat dinosaur footprints. At the end of the ride you will come to a well maintained parking area. Follow the signage up the hill to the dinosaur footprints.

To get to the trailhead: there are a few places you can park to access the trail. Google might try to take you on an off-roading adventure. Don’t let Google lead you astry. Enter “Klondike Bluffs Trail” and take the route that has you exiting Highway 191 closest to the airport.

Another option is to enter “Copper Ridge Dinosaur Trackways” into Google and start from this end of the trail. I saw people riding both directions on Dino Flow so I don’t think it really matters which way you do the ride. If I were to do it again I would park in this lot. The dirt road is better maintained and it’s more convenient for checking out the dino prints!

kid mountain biking at dead horse state park near Moab Utah
Biking at Dead Horse you get the views without being uncomfortably close to the canyon edge
Cruising down a section of slick rock

Other Things to Do in Moab with Kids

Sometimes you don’t have quite enough energy for a full day National Park adventure but you also can’t be trapped in a hotel room with your children for another minute. These mini-adventures are low-key outings that will burn the last bit of your kid’s energy and still get you back to your hotel with plenty of time for an evening hot tub soak.

Moab Bike Trail

Full disclosure: parts of this paved bike path aren’t particularly scenic or enjoyable. Nonetheless, the parts of trail that are closer to Arches National Park and the Colorado River are beautiful around sunset. Depending on where your hotel is in Moab you could easily ride the path out to the Colorado River or the Courthouse Wash Petroglyphs.

A sunset bike ride on the Moab Bike Trail

Petroglyphs

These petroglyphs are awesome. No entry fees, crowds, or obstrusive railings.

Finding the petroglyphs takes a little bit of effort, but getting to them is part of the fun. Especially if you get to them via bike. If you’re biking from Moab, continue across the Colorado River. A few minutes later you will see a large dirt turn-off and a narrow single track path leading down to “wash” ( what desert dwellers call dried up riverbeds). As you walk down the embankment on the single track you will see a path going up a hill on your right. This is the path to the petroglyphs. If you miss this path you will end up at a trail sign directing you back towards the path. After a few minutes of rock scrambling you will be standing in front of three-hundred year old art.

looking down at highway and the desert from courthouse wash in moab
The view looking towards the highway from the petroglyphs
sign helps you find the petroglyphs when in Moab with kids
If you can spot the information sign you can easily find the petroglyphs
courthouse wash petroglyphs in Moab is a fun thing to do with kids
Looking up at the petroglyphs

Corona Arch Hike

This approximately three mile hike rivals any of the hikes in Arches National Park. It also is dog friendly so if you happen to be in Moab with kids and your fur baby this is the perfect hike. A short ladder and a pointless cable add excitement for young hikers and the Corona arch is incredible.

Tip: Get to the trailhead early. This hike is popular with locals and the trail gets busy by mid-morning.

mother and kids hiking to Corona Arch in Moab. One of the best hikes that isn't in Arches National Park
Hiking to Corona Arch
A ladder and a short cable section add excitement for kids on the hike to Corona Arch
Arch in Moab
Looking up through one of the arches on the Corona Arch hike

Find Someplace to Take a Dip

If you’re visiting Moab in the warmer months by lunchtime you’ll be seeking a respite from the afternoon heat. Whether it’s hunkering down in an air-conditioned AirBNB or finding a refreshing body of water to jump in, you won’t want to be out hiking in triple digit temps.

The Best Hotel Pools in Moab

The easiest option is to stay someplace with a pool. Both Springhill Suites & Fairfield Inn by Marriott and the Hyatt Park Place are family friendly chain hotels with great swimming pools. In fact most of the hotels in Moab have some type of pool for guests to chill out in.

Find a Swimming Hole

For those wanting a swim sans chlorine, take a dip in Mill Creek. It’s only about a 1/4 mile hike to this popular swimming spot. Make sure to pack out your trash and be respectful during your time at Mill Creek. Once upon a time it was just a local’s spot but with the increase in visitors there’s been more litter and graffiti. Also, you might be tempted to jump off the cliff into the swimming hole BUT it’s actually quite shallow in many places. Is a blurry pic worth a broken leg?

To get to the Mill Creek swimming hole simply google ” Mill Creek North Fork Trailhead”. There is a free parking area at the end of the road.

Swimming in the Colorado River

It seems like swimming in the Colorado River would be a logical way to cool off on a hot Moab afternoon. However, the current of the river in the Moab area is surprisngly strong and there is quite a bit of silt in the water. Some people venture up Highway 128 and find calmer sections of the river. Just be careful and remember that the river is better suited for rafting than swimming.

Check Out Dinosaur Stuff

Dinosaur Prints in the Desert

A one minute walk gets you to an area where there are actual preserved dinosaur footprints. It’s pretty cool to imagine that millions of years ago there were dinosaurs in the same area that you’re now hiking and biking in. This is a neat free and quick thing to check out if you’re in the area.

Getting to the dinosaur footprints: The quickest, easiest way is to google “Copper Ridge Dinosaur Trackways”. Coming from Moab you will take Highway 191 past the airport and then turn off onto a well maintained dirt road.

Moab Giants

I can’t personally vouch for this place because it was closed during our trip to Moab. And to be entirely honest, even if it had been open we probably wouldn’t have gone. We just aren’t that passionate about dinosaurs. However, it looks like an interesting air-conditioned activity for when the fam needs a break from hiking and biking.

dinosaur print in the moab desert
Imagining the dinosaur that left this print behind…

Day Trips From Moab

You’ll be hard pressed to run out of things to do in Moab. Nonetheless, should you find yourself hankering a change of scenery there are a few family-friendly adventures within two hours of Moab.

Hike in a Slot Canyon+Goblin Valley State Park

If you’ve never experienced hiking in a slot canyon, head to Little Wild Horse. For those of you who’ve hiked “Peek a Boo” near Escalante, you’ll probably find Little Horse not quite as impressive. Little Wild Horse is an about eight- mile hike that most people do as a loop.

Just a stone’s throw away from Little Horse, Goblin Valley State Park is off the beaten path. A local family said it’s their favorite park in Utah and we were excited to check it out. Unfortunately for us we were pressed for time and after hiking Little Horse we didn’t have time to visit Goblin Valley.

Tip: Give yourself an entire day to explore Goblin Valley State Park and Little Horse I would recommend doing Goblin Valley first and having a picnic lunch or snack in the park before heading to Little Horse.

the narrow walls of Little horse Canyon in utah
Little Horse Canyon is an easy to navigate slot canyon 1.5 hours from Moab
Little Horse Canyon is a family friendly hike near Moab
Unlike Peek-a-Boo Canyon, Little Horse Canyon rarely gets super narrow
sign for little horse canyon near Goblin Valley State Park
Doing the loop doesn’t take much more time than doing the hike as an out-and-back

Tips and Tricks for Visiting Moab

  • Consider going during the off-season. Spring and summer are the most popular times to visit Moab. The parks are busier and the hotels are more expensive. You can still have good weather in November and March but experience Moab with fewer crowds.
  • What do you want to do in Moab? What you want to do in Moab will help determine when to visit. If you’re looking to go river rafting, many of the outfitters are closed between October- April. However, mountain biking is fantastic during the cooler months.
  • Start your day early. This is especially important during the hot summer months but a good idea year round if you want to encounter fewer people on the trails and easily find a parking spot at the trailhead.
  • Stay on the North side of Moab. For the quickest, easiest access to Arches, Canyonlands, and Dead Horse, stay on the side of Moab that’s closest to Arches. By staying in this zone there are fewer traffic lights between you and many of the Moab area’s best sights!
  • Consider Cooking. Restaurants in Moab are hit or miss. There can be long waits at the tastiest spots so you might want to consider cooking a few of your own meals. However, if you are going to brave a long wait with hungry, tired kids, I highly recommend Thai Bella. It was our best meal in Moab and some of the best Thai food I’ve ever had!
  • Ride with a repair kit. Bring spare bike tire tubes and everything you need to fix a bike tire on the trail. It’s very easy to pop a tire while riding in Moab.
  • Get Your Day Pass! Depending on the time of year, many National Parks, including Arches National Park require a day pass. Get yours ASAP!
Corona Arch near Moab
There are plenty of arches to discover in the Moab area

What to Bring to Moab

  • Sunglasses, wide brimmed hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Lotion/chapstick
  • Beanie/mittens ( if going during colder months)
  • Day pack
  • Insulated water bottle
  • Hiking shoes with good traction
  • Long socks (sand will inevitably get in your shoes when hiking and ankle socks/ “no-show” socks make the pesky sand a blister liability)
Arches National Park with Kids
An arch in the distance at Arches National Park

Getting to Moab

Driving

The biggest caveat of traveling to Moab with kids is getting to Moab with kids. It’s not easy. Traveling to Moab from many West Coast cities takes 15+hours. That’s a lot of iPad time, gas station bathroom breaks, and spilled snacks. Fortunately, the roads in Utah are generally free of traffic and easy to navigate. Do bring plenty of water in the car and don’t let you gas tank get too close to empty. There are long stretches of highway that are devoid of gas stations.

Flying

Imagining spending an entire day driving with your kids bouncing around in the backseat might have you fantaszing about flying to Moab. Flying to Moab is a possibility. There is a small airport fifteen minutes outside of town, unfortunately only a few airlines operate flights to Moab. Moreover, you’ll likely have a layover and to fully appreciate all that Moab has to offer you’ll need to rent a car. When you do the travel math of how long it takes to get to the airport + a layover + a long car rental line you might be disappointed to discover that you don’t save that much time flying versus driving.

The Bottom Line: Moab is a great vacation destination for active, adventurous families. You can easily spend a week exploring the Moab area. If you’re going to Moab with kids, avoid the sweltering summer months, book a place with a pool, and make sure to check out some of the fantastic hikes that aren’t in the nearby National Parks!

Mountain biking at Dead Horse State Park

Further Reading on Visiting Utah With Kids

Southern Utah Road Trip: Zion, Bryce, Capital Reef and More!

Please follow and like us:

Leave a Reply