To reach most of Moab's prime hiking trails requires a short drive to trailheads; these routes are all picturesque. For more options, pick up the brochure Moab Area Hiking Trails at the visitor center.
Kane Creek Scenic Drive and U.S. 191 South
The high cliffs just southwest of town provide fine views of the Moab Valley, highlands of Arches National Park, and the La Sal Mountains. The Moab Rim Trail turns off Kane Creek Boulevard 1.5 miles downriver from Moab. The total driving distance from the junction of Main Street and Kane Creek Boulevard is 2.6 miles; look for the trailhead on the left, 0.1 mile after a cattle guard.
You can see the sky through Little Arch across the river from the trailhead. Four-wheel-drive vehicles can also ascend the Moab Rim Trail, although the rough terrain is considered difficult for them; the first 200 yards will give drivers a feel for the difficulty. The trail climbs northeast 1.5 miles along tilted rock strata of the Kayenta Formation to the top of the plateau. This hike is moderately difficult, with an elevation gain of 940 feet and good views nearly all the way. Once on top, hikers can follow jeep roads southeast to Hidden Valley Trail and descend on a hiking trail to U.S. 191 south of Moab—a 5.5-mile trip one-way. Experienced hikers can also head south from the rim to Behind the Rocks, a fantastic maze of sandstone fins.
You'll see not only a "hidden valley" from the Hidden Valley Trail but also panoramas of the Moab area and Behind the Rocks. The moderately difficult trail ascends 500 feet in a series of switchbacks to a broad shelf below the Moab Rim, then follows the shelf (hidden valley) to the northwest. It then crosses a low pass and follows a second shelf in the same direction. Near the end of the second shelf, the trail turns left to a divide, where you can see a portion of the remarkable fins of Behind the Rocks. This divide is one mile from the start and 680 feet higher in elevation. The trail continues one-third mile from the divide down to the end of the Moab Rim Trail, which is a jeep road and hiking trail. Instead of turning left to the divide, you can make a short side trip (no trail) to the right for views of Moab.
To reach the Hidden Valley Trailhead, drive south three miles on U.S. 191 from Moab, turn right and go 0.4 mile on Angel Rock Road to its end (the turnoff is just south of Milepost 122), then turn right and go 0.3 mile on Rimrock Lane.
A look at the topographic map will show that something strange is going on at the area called Behind the Rocks. Massive fins of Navajo sandstone 100-500 feet high, 50-200 feet thick, and up to one-half-mile long cover a large area. Narrow vertical cracks, sometimes only a few feet wide, separate the fins. Archaeological sites and several arches are in the area. The maze offers endless exploration routes. No maintained trails exist here, and some routes require technical climbing skills. If you get lost (which is very easy to do), remember that the fins are oriented east-west; the rim of the Colorado River Canyon is reached by going west, and Spanish Valley is reached by going east. Bring plenty of water, a topographic map (Moab 7.5-minute), and a compass. Access routes are Moab Rim and Hidden Valley Trails (from the north and east) and Pritchett Canyon (from the west and south). Although it is only a couple of miles from Moab, Behind the Rocks seems a world away.
Hikers along Hunters Canyon can see a rock arch and other rock formations in the canyon walls and the lush vegetation along the creek. Off-road vehicles have made tracks a short way up; beyond that you'll be walking mostly along the creekbed. Short sections of trail lead around thickets of tamarisk and other water-loving plants. Look for Hunters Arch on the right about one-half mile up. Most of the water in Hunters Canyon comes from a deep pool surrounded by hanging gardens of maidenhair fern. A dry fall and a small natural bridge lie above the pool. This pretty spot marks the hike's three-mile point and an elevation gain of 240 feet. At this point, the hike becomes very brushy. To reach the trailhead from Moab, drive eight miles on Kane Creek Boulevard along the Colorado River and up Kane Creek Canyon. The road is asphalted where it fords Hunter Creek, but the asphalt is usually covered with dirt washed over it by the creek.
You can make a longer hike by going up Hunters Canyon and descending on Pritchett Canyon Road. The road crosses the normally dry creekbed just upstream from the deep pool. To bypass the dry fall above the pool, backtrack 300 feet down the canyon and rock-scramble up a short, steep slope on your right, heading upstream. At a junction just east of there, a jeep road along the north rim of Hunters Canyon meets Pritchett Canyon Road. Walk northeast one-half mile on Pritchett Canyon Road to a spur trail on the left, leading to Pritchett Arch. Then continue 4.5 miles on Pritchett Canyon Road to Kane Creek Boulevard. This country is more open and desertlike than Hunters Canyon. A 3.2-mile car shuttle or hike is needed to return to Hunters Canyon Trailhead.
The Portal Overlook Trail switchbacks up a slope, then follows a sloping sandstone ledge of the Kayenta Formation to an overlook. A panorama takes in the Colorado River, Moab Valley, Arches National Park, and the La Sal Mountains. The hike is 1.5 miles (one-way), with an elevation gain of 980 feet. This trail is a twin of the Moab Rim Trail across the river. Begin from Jaycee Park Campground on the right, 3.8 miles from the turnoff at U.S. 191; mulberry trees shade the attractive spot. Expect to share this trail with many mountain bikers.
The 1.5-mile (one-way) Corona Arch and Bowtie Arch Trail leads across slickrock country to these impressive arches. You can't see them from the road, although a third arch—Pinto—is visible. The signed trailhead is on the right, 10 miles from U.S. 191 (midway between Mileposts 5 and 6); you'll see railroad tracks just beyond the trailhead. The trail climbs up from the parking area, crosses the tracks, and follows a bit of a jeep road and a small wash to an ancient gravel bar. Pinto (or Gold Bar) Arch stands to the left, although there's no trail to it. Follow cairns to Corona and Bowtie. Handrails and a ladder help in the few steep spots.
Despite being only a few hundred yards apart, each arch has a completely different character and history. Bowtie formed when a pothole in the cliffs above met a cave underneath. (It was called Paul Bunyan's Potty until that name was appropriated for an arch in Canyonlands National Park.) The hole is about 30 feet in diameter. Corona Arch, reminiscent of the larger Rainbow Bridge, eroded out of a sandstone fin. The graceful span is 140 feet long and 105 feet high. Both arches are composed of Navajo sandstone. If you have time for only one hike in the Moab area, this one is especially recommended.
Negro Bill Canyon is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the Moab area. The route follows a lively stream pooled by beavers and surrounded by abundant greenery and sheer canyon cliffs. The high point of the hike is Morning Glory Natural Bridge, the sixth-longest natural rock span in the country (243 feet). The trailhead is on the right just after crossing a concrete bridge three miles from U.S. 191. A trail leads upcanyon, along the creek in some places, high on the banks in others.
To see Morning Glory Natural Bridge, head two miles up the main canyon to the second side canyon on the right, then follow a good side trail one-half mile up to the long, slender bridge. The spring and small pool underneath keep the air cool even in summer; ferns, columbines, and poison ivy grow here. The elevation gain is 330 feet.
Experienced hikers can continue up the main canyon about eight miles and rock-scramble (no trail) up the right side, then drop into Rill Creek, which leads to the North Fork of Mill Creek and into Moab. The total distance is about 16 miles one-way; you'll have to find your own way between canyons. The upper Negro Bill and Rill Canyons can also be reached from Sand Flats Road. The Moab and Castle Valley 15-minute and Moab 1:100,000 topographic maps cover the route. This would be a good overnight trip, although fast hikers have done it in a day. Expect to do some wading and rock-scrambling. Water from the creeks and springs is available in both canyon systems, but be sure to purify it first.
A car shuttle is necessary between the Negro Bill and Mill Creek trailheads. You can reach Mill Creek from the end of Powerhouse Lane on the east edge of Moab, but don't park here. Vehicle break-ins are a serious problem. Either have someone meet or drop you off here or park closer to town near houses. A hike up the North Fork offers very pretty scenery. A deep pool and waterfall lie three-quarters of a mile upstream; follow Mill Creek upstream and take the left (north) fork. Negro Bill and Mill Creek Canyons are BLM wilderness study areas.
You can't miss the Fisher Towers as you drive Highway 128. These spires of dark red sandstone rise 900 feet above Professor Valley. You can hike around the base of these needle rocks on a trail accessed from the BLM picnic area. Titan, the third and highest rock tower, stands one mile from the picnic area; a viewpoint overlooks Onion Creek 1.1 miles farther along. Carry water for this moderately difficult hike.
North of Moab
The short Mill Creek Dinosaur Trail, with numbered stops, identifies the bones of dinosaurs who lived here 150 million years ago. You'll see fossilized wood, too. Pick up the brochure from the Moab Information Center or at the trailhead. From Moab, go 14 miles north on U.S. 191 (or four miles north of the Dead Horse Point turnoff), and turn left and go two miles on a dirt road, keeping right at a fork 1.1 miles in.
You'll find many other points of interest nearby. A copper mill and tailings dating from the late 1800s lie across the canyon. Halfway Stage Station ruins, where travelers once stopped on the Thompson-Moab run, are a short distance down the other road fork. Jeeps and mountain bikers can do a 13- to 14-mile loop to Monitor and Merrimac Buttes (an information sign just in from U.S. 191 has a map and details).
© W.C. McRae and Judy Jewell from Moon Utah, 9th Edition