Family Tested: The Inside Scoop on the Best Time in Moab, Utah

Wanderlust

November 5, 2018

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Moab, You are Astoundingly Beautiful

Ever since I was driving through the Utah heat in the middle of July, I started to get an itch to head back to Moab with my family. Hiking at Arches National Park, taking photographs, soaking in the desert sun…it sounded heavenly. So when fall break rolled around and the Moab, Utah weather looked decent, we loaded up the car and headed west across Colorado. I am imagining it will be our last camping trip of 2018, and I’m so glad did it.

Keep reading for the inside scoop on camping and playing in Moab, Utah with kiddos.

1. Where to Camp

I’ve been to Moab several times…I’ve camped along the river and at an RV park somewhat close to Arches National Park. I’ve stayed in a vacation rental. But this time I was blown away by the Sand Flats Recreation Area.

As we drove the hill up to the entrance of the Sand Flats, I wasn’t convinced. By noon on a Friday in mid-October, there was a long line of cars/RVs/trucks/off-road vehicles waiting to pass through the ranger’s entrance stand. Reservations aren’t accepted, and it looked crowded. The ranger lady said we could drive around a look for a camping spot, and to come back and pay if we found something.

We headed in. After getting more and more concerned, we found an available campsite tucked up against a huge rock wall. Perfect! It had a fence, which gave our boys some sense of boundaries. They could scramble around at the bottom of the rock wall and play in the dirt while my husband and I set up camp.

Camping cost $15/night and included a picnic table. There was also a pit toilet nearby, although toilet paper wasn’t refilled during the 3 nights we stayed there.

2. Things to Do

After hanging out at our campsite for a bit, we needed to head into town for provisions like wood, ice, alcohol, and more food/snacks. (We weren’t 100% prepared on our scramble to head out of town.) My husband headed to grocery store after dropping us off at a park we had passed on our way to the Sand Flats.

It turned out to be the Rotary Park located on Mill Creek Drive, and it is amazing. In addition to having a playground and green lawn, it houses many large musical instruments that kids of all ages can play. Think huge drums and xylophones and chimes that make beautiful and interesting sounds. I may have loved these more than my sons, but they made music for at least 20 minutes.

We finished up at the park before my husband, and strolled along a bike path the borders the park. With the help of my iPhone, we ended up walking along sidewalks to the grocery store. (I do not recommend making that trek with young kids, but I would explore the bike path, especially if you have newer biker riders in your crew.)

There were more things I was hoping to do as a family, but we ran out of time:

**The Moab Backyard Theater hosts a magic show for kids on Friday nights. Cost is $10 for adults and $5 for kids.

**Check out Moab Giants. Mainly for the photo ops.

**Swim at the Moab Recreation and Aquatic Center.

**Check out various swimming holes.

3. Outdoor Adventures

Now let’s get to the real meat behind Moab! Playing in the amazing landscape!

Biking

We brought our bikes along. The boys and I rode around the campground (and we hoped to do an easy ride elsewhere, but ran out of time) and my husband did the strenuous Slickrock trail. While he did this, we hiked along the route, giving mountain bikes and dirt bikes plenty of space.  When we head back to Moab, we will try to check out part of the Bar-M Loop as a family.

Hiking

We also hiked. We hiked along the Slickrock loop and on other sand bluffs. We hiked in both Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park. In Canyonlands…

In Arches, we went to Sand Dune Arch on two different days. It was a wind tunnel, but there were rocks to scramble on and sand to dig in, so the boys loved it. We also hiked to the Windows (about a mile, except we zigged and zagged and ran all over while pretending to be lizards).

In Canyonlands, we hiked the 1 mile round-trip journey on the Whale Rock Trail.

Running

I love trail running, but don’t enjoy running alone in the west because of my mountain lion fear. But I felt totally comfortable running on the dirt road between Slickrock and our campsite, which ended up being about 4 miles RT.

Taking in the Sunset

Dusk was my favorite time of day in Moab. The colors of the sky, the colors of the rock, the colors of the snow on the La Sal Mountains. We headed to the Sand Flats every dusk we were in Moab to watch nature’s display.

4. The Junior Ranger Program

I didn’t know this existed until some new friends mentioned how their sons completed the program at Rocky Mountain National Park. Since it was on my radar, we decided to learn more after we pulled into Canyonlands.

At the main visitor center, each child was given an activity book. We were told if we brought it back completed by 4:30, the boys could earn their badges that day. (And if we missed the cut-off, we could go to Arches and maybe the Moab Visitor Center…) I think it was 2 or 2:30, so we scrambled to get our son’s sworn in.

They had to do a variety of activities like hiking, picking up trash, sitting quietly and reflecting, watching a ranger-led talk, and sharing something they learned about the park with others. They also had to fill out several pages of the activity book.

Our trip through Canyonlands was definitely rushed, but it was also pretty perfect. We watched a movie, did a mile hike, sat in nature, and enjoyed the views. The boys wouldn’t have been up for much more here, and it seems to me that to really take in Canyonlands, you need to do off-the-beaten-path activities. You know, activities you don’t want to do without a bit of planning when they involve a 3 year-old and a 5 year-old. So, completing the Junior Ranger program was the perfect activity.

We also did the program at Arches. Again, we were a little rushed, but this time because we were having so much fun hiking and playing in the park, despite cool, windy temps. This time we picked up the activity books the day before we turned them in. The boys worked on them while out at breakfast, and it kept them busy and satisfied.

5. Where to Eat

So, Boulder has a Pasta Jay’s, and it is an old favorite staple for us. Since we don’t go out all that much in Boulder anymore, we had to go to the Pasta Jay’s in Moab. It wasn’t quite as crowded as the Boulder location, which had me worried. But the food was decent, and since the kids love spaghetti and garlic bread, it was an easy sell.

We also grabbed lunch one day. It was cold out, my husband had just done a huge bike ride, and we needed a quick, warm bite. We headed to Milt’s Stop and Eat for burgers. Okay, let me start by saying the burgers were tasty. But, it was so crowded…there was only space on their outdoor patio area (which has a little toddler structure to entertain kids)…and it was cold and windy and cloudy…and it took FOREVER to get our meal. I would probably skip eating here on my next visit to Moab, unless I had a lot of time and the weather is nicer.

On our final morning in town, we wanted to break down camp as quickly as possible so we could return to Arches before heading home. As such, we went out to breakfast at the Love Muffin Cafe. Breakfast is my husband’s favorite meal to eat out, and he likes greasy spoons. Love Muffin Cafe is not such a place–it is way better and all four of us gobbled down our breakfast and enjoyed spending time here.

6. Where to Shop

We don’t usually go shopping when we go camping, but because the second half of the trip was chillier than we expected, we needed to buy gloves for our kids. This lead us to Moab Gear Trader. And I cannot say enough kind words about this business. They just got in a shipment of gloves, and spent a fair amount of time sorting through the unopened boxes to find gloves for my kids. The staff was also super friendly to my tired/grumpy kids.

Walker Drug is very close to Moab Gear Trader and it has general supplies including wood, water, gloves for bigger kids, and more. (I believe they sell food too.)

7. Moab, Utah Pro Tips

Layers
We were there in the middle of October. Two days were warm (hot in the sun) and two days were quite chilly. So layers are definitely in order. From tanks and swimsuits to sweaters and winter coats, we had it all (except gloves, which I actually did pack, but that got lost among all our gear).

Sunscreen
It’s the desert. Bring it year round. And lots of water.

Lights
Make your campsite cozy. I love these fairy lights from Amazon. And we should have brought our solar-powered camp lantern, but my husband packed. (Ha!)

Toilet Paper
Bring it–even though our campsite had a pit toilet, they never once restocked toilet paper while we were there.

More Weather Thoughts
If your weather is cold, rainy or unpleasant, you could still kill a lot of time driving around the National Parks and checking out Dead Horse State Park (I’ve been on past visits, but opted to check out Canyonlands this time). That’s what we did.

Have you traveled to Moab with your family? Or are you planning to? Please share any tips or questions below!

And, be sure to check out my ideas for camping and hanging out in Crested Butte, Colorado with kiddos.

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