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4 Day Moab Travel Itinerary with Kids – 2024 Guide

    With two national parks in one town, Moab, Utah is a popular destination for anyone who loves the outdoors and a great choice for a 4 day Utah road trip. Arches National Park is one of the most famous US National Parks with a very iconic landscape. Canyonlands, Arches’ lesser known sister park, is located just a short drive away and is the biggest national park of Utah’s Mighty Five. And if visiting these two gorgeous national parks at the same time wasn’t motivation enough to visit Moab, this town has tons more to offer visitors!

    Where to Stay in Moab, Utah

    Hotels in Moab, Utah

    While you will find quite a spread of hotels in Moab, there is no lodging available inside either Arches or Canyonlands. If you’re staying in a Moab hotel and visiting Arches during your 4 day Utah road trip, you’ll want to get up nice and early to beat the crowds entering the park. Most of the Moab hotels are located on the long main road, so you might want to consider proximity to the national parks before booking your hotel in Moab. You might also take walkability to restaurants into account, since there is limited street parking in town.

    Camping in Moab

    If you like to camp, there is no shortage of Moab RV parks available. You can also rent a cabin in Moab or even a tiny house. You can even glamp in Moab! If you plan ahead and book your site early, you can also camp in Arches or Canyonlands National Parks. Devils Garden Campground in Arches has beautiful RV sites and tent spots surrounded by red rock. It’s also located just across the road from a very popular hiking area, making it a very convenient Moab camping spot. Canyonlands has 2 campgrounds. Islands in the Sky is in the Moab area, while the Needles Campground is a 90 minute drive from Moab. There are also two campgrounds at Dead Horse Point State Park.

    Best Time to Visit Moab

    Is there a bad time to visit Moab? This beautiful place is stunning in the winter when the red rocks are dusted with snow. You will also have much lower crowds to deal with, but some activities and restaurants might be closed for the winter. Summertime in Moab can be very hot, with highs in the 90s and even 100s while the nights are still cold enough for a jacket. Spring and fall can offer milder temperatures during the day while usually staying above freezing at night. We were able to visit during the fall and would highly recommend that for your 4 day Utah road trip.

    Arches is a very popular park, especially for its smaller size and visitation is high from March to October. The park currently has a Timed Entry Pilot Program where visitors will need to reserve a time in order to enter the park during peak hours each day. Visiting on the fringes of this popular season, in March or in October will give you cooler weather and crowds won’t be at their full peak.

    Top 10 Things To Do in Moab

    1. Visit Arches National Park
    2. Visit Canyonlands National Park
    3. Take a scenic drive
    4. Hike some red rocks
    5. See some petroglyphs
    6. Do some off-road driving
    7. Find some dinosaur tracks
    8. Ride your bike
    9. Take a tour – adventure jeep tour, side by side rental, etc
    10. Visit Dead Horse Point State Park

    What To Do in Arches

    Arches Scenic Drive

    Arches National Park is actually quite small as national parks go, so most visitors will drive all the park roads and enjoy the beautiful scenery they pass on their Utah road trip itinerary. Several arches can be seen from the road, including Skyline Arch, Double Arch, and Turret Arch.

    Hiking in Arches

    While you can see a few arches from the road, those arches are best viewed close up. And of course, many arches can only be seen from the hiking trails. We highly recommend that you hike to as many arches as you have time for during your visit.

    I grouped most of the Arches hikes into four sets:

    Balanced Rock, Windows Trail, and Double Arch – If you have time, make Windows Trail a full loop, taking the primitive trail past the South Window to see the back of the arches and enjoy a peaceful and secluded trail. You’ll also want to do the off-shoot to Turret Arch before crossing the parking lot to Double Arch. Total hiking will be about 2 miles. You could minimize hiking by turning around after the Windows.

    Delicate Arch – The most iconic arch in Arches National Park, this trail is 3 miles round trip with difficult terrain, more elevation gain than the other arches, and no shade. This is a highly popular trail, so if you want that iconic photo under the arch at the end of the hike, prepare for a long queue.

    Sand Dune Arch, Broken Arch, and Skyline Arch – Hiking all three of these will total 2 miles.

    Devil’s Garden Trails – If you do the whole loop it’s nearly 8 miles, but the hike to the famous Landscape arch is only 2 miles total and you can take short off-shoots to see Pine Tree and Tunnel arches on the way. If you want to keep going, add on Partition, Navajo, or Wall Arch. This ‘choose your own adventure’ hiking area has a pretty good sized parking loop, so head here if you’re trying to hike mid-day.

    What To Do in Canyonlands

    Canyonlands Scenic Drive

    Naturally with a gigantic canyon as the centerpiece of Canyonlands National Park, scenic driving routes are somewhat limited. The drive from Island in the Sky Visitor Center to Grand View Point Overlook is 19 miles, with many scenic turnouts along the way. You’ll also want to drive Upheaval Dome Road, adding another few miles to your scenic drive.

    Backcountry Driving

    Shafer Trail – Take Shafer Basin Road just before the Island in the Sky Visitor Center and enjoy a breathtaking scenic drive around the rim of the canyon and then down switchbacks to the very bottom. Many guests drive down and make the return trip back up. We recommend driving down to see the Colorado River at Gooseneck Overlook before turning around. Total one way: 8 miles.

    This road can also be done as a one way route from Canyonlands, continuing across the basin to Potash Road back to Moab. If you’re driving one way, I recommend descending the canyon, because I think the view is best this way and if you have a nervous passenger, they would be against the canyon wall for the rim drive and the beginning of the descent.

    This route is rated 2/10 for technical driving and is accessible for most drivers that are comfortable with the heights of driving a shelf road and descending switchbacks. Road conditions are posted on the NPS site.

    If you love scenic drives and have a high clearance four wheel drive vehicle, consider taking a day trip to the Needles area of Canyonlands, where you can drive unpaved scenic roads to your heart’s content.

    Hiking in Canyonlands

    Canyonlands offers a wide range of hikes. Park rangers identify a handful of easy and moderate trails where visitors can enjoy canyon views from the rim or descend only partway into the canyon. All the long trails involve strenuous canyon hikes and steep descents.

    Mesa Arch – There’s an arch inside of Canyonlands too! Less than a mile round trip to a beautiful arch on the edge of a cliff. This is a popular trail, but we noticed that all the hikers seemed to head to the right at the trail entrance and return from the arch along the same path. We took the entire loop and had the return path all to ourselves.

    White Rim Overlook – Under 2 miles round trip but with very limited parking space.

    Grand View Overlook – Under 2 miles round trip, this trail has panoramic views of the canyon and is the end point of the scenic drive, so it’s a great spot to stop.

    Murphy Point – The longest of the three overlook trails at 3.4 miles round trip.

    Upheaval Dome – The hike to the first overlook is .6 miles round trip with an optional second overlook.

    Whale Rock – .8 mil total distance to a sandstone dome.

    Aztec Butte – This 1.4 mile trail splits to offer views of two ancestral Puebloan structures to the left and views from the top of the butte to the right.

    What To Do in Moab Outside of the National Parks

    Biking in Moab

    Moab is an excellent vacation destination for bike lovers. Both mountain bikers and road bikers will find multiple opportunities for a beautiful ride here. A paved bike path follows much of Highway 191 and even connects to Arches National Park. Bike along the Colorado River on Potash Road. Bike the beautiful scenic road from Moab to Canyonlands or Dead Horse State Park.

    Moab is a mountain biker’s paradise. There are dozens of trails here. Two spots we just had to mention are the Gemini Bridges area and Sand Flats Recreation Area. We enjoyed the 4×4 routes in both of these areas and the bike paths that looped through here looked fantastic.

    Moab Offroading or Backcountry Driving

    Gemini Bridges is a great option for backcountry driving, no matter your skill level. Although technically not inside Canyonlands National Park, it’s easy to add a drive to this (very short) trailhead onto your Canyonlands day. The drive to Gemini Bridges from the Canyonlands side (Highway 313) is a flat gravel road. This route is shorter and accessible for most drivers. The portion of road between Gemini Bridges and Highway 191 is a much different story. This is a gorgeous drive, ascending via shelf road in the first couple miles and then covering a lot of rocky and uneven terrain so you’d need a high clearance 4 wheel drive vehicle for this portion. Ranked 2/10. We started in Moab and drove the entire length of the road, using it to enter Canyonlands after seeing Gemini Bridges. This area also has some great mountain biking trails.

    Long Canyon Road is a great alternative route for exiting Canyonlands. It is a bit longer than the main paved route back to Moab, but it is stunning! The road descends into a gorgeous narrow canyon and has a few technical elements but is mostly a leisurely drive. You could also take this road when returning from Dead Horse Point State Park. This route is ranked 3/10 and 4X4 is recommended but not required unless you’re planning to ascend from Moab.

    If you really love offroading and technical driving, consider visiting Sand Flats Recreation Area to drive Fins and Things (ranked 4) or Hell’s Revenge (ranked 6). We’ve done a good amount of backcountry driving and offroading over the last few years, but these trails are a whole new level! And keep in mind that these rankings are for technical driving, and that metric doesn’t consider the thrill level of driving up a huge fin with a dropoff on both sides or driving off camber on the side of a rock formation. Depending on your comfort level, this might feel like a fun 4×4 playground or your worst driving nightmare. Proceed with caution, because the first element on Hell’s Revenge is one of the most intense and there’s no opportunity for a warm-up. Porcupine Rim is ranked as a 3 and doesn’t have the same kind of steep elements that the more adventurous trails have, so that might make a good practice run. You can rent jeeps or side-by-sides or even book a tour with different companies in Moab.

    Trails are on public lands are subject to closure so make sure to check for closures at the time of your trip. Additionally, it is crucial to check weather conditions before driving any of these roads. Canyon roads are prone to flooding and shelf roads are not safe to drive in bad weather.

    Moab Petroglyphs

    Even if you’re just spending a weekend in Moab, you can’t miss seeing petroglyphs while you’re here. These ancient rock carvings were made by the Pueblo people and can be found around Moab. If you follow this Moab travel itinerary, you’ll drive by the Potash Road petroglyphs. After driving Shafer Road to Potash Road or Long Canyon Road, you’ll return to Moab down by the Colorado River where you’ll find petroglyphs on the side of the road.

    You can also see petroglyphs on a cliff wall beside Moonflower Canyon campground, at Birthing Rock on Kane Springs Road, and at Courthouse Wash Rock Art Trail, among others.

    When visiting these sites and any other petroglyphs or pictographs, please don’t touch the rocks in any way or attempt to trace or clean them.

    Moab Dinosaur Tracks

    Moab is also a great place to see dinosaur tracks preserved in the rocks. You can find these amazing imprints near Poison Spider Trailhead, Bull Canyon Overlook, and at Willow Springs Dinosaur Tracksite. Mill Canyon is a great first stop with interpretive signs and both a dinosaur track site and dinosaur bone trail.

    If you are excited to see dinosaur tracks in Moab, you might also enjoy visiting the Museum of Moab or the Moab Giants Museum and Dinosaur Park.

    Moab Tours

    If you want an adventure, you can certainly find it in Moab! Book a canyoneering tour and rappel slot canyons. Hire a rock climbing guide to help you climb the face of a sheer cliff. Rent mountain bikes and hit the trails at Gemini Bridges or book a multi-day guided bike trip. Book a scenic Jeep tour to enjoy the national park with a knowledgeable guide. Spend a day rafting the Colorado River. Rent a 4×4 to conquer Hell’s Revenge and spend a day on the trails at Sand Flats Recreation Area. No matter what adventure you have in mind, Moab has a tour that will give you the trip of a lifetime!

    Dead Horse Point State Park

    Located next to Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park has similarly breathtaking views of canyons, pinnacles, and buttes. This park is a great place for hiking, mountain biking, and just enjoying the views.

    Longbow Arch

    Did you know you can hike to a stone arch outside of Arches National Park? Longbow Arch is located off the Poison Spider Trailhead, where you can also see petroglyphs and dinosaur tracks. This moderate hike is 2.2 miles in total and includes some rock scrambling and iron rung climbing.

    Tips for Visiting Arches and Canyonlands

    If you don’t have an annual pass, consider purchasing the Southeast Utah parks pass when you first enter Arches or Canyonlands. It will save you $5 when you visit both. Or if you think you’ll visit a 3rd national park sometime in the next 12 months, go ahead and get the National Parks pass.

    During peak months (April to October in 2024), a timed vehicle entry reservation will be required at Arches. This spreads out the park’s visitation which will minimize wait times at the park entrance and also hopefully free up more parking at viewpoints and trailheads. While a timed entry is not required at Canyonlands, we tried to enter around 11 am one morning and found ourselves in a 30 minute line at the entrance. We recommend avoiding this by arriving before 9 or sometime in the afternoon. We had no trouble entering at 3 pm another day.

    The scenic drives at both Arches and Canyonlands are relatively short, so parking areas will get crowded by late morning. Like with just about every national park, arriving early will benefit you. This is especially true with Arches. In fact, we recommend that you visit Arches as early in the morning as you can. We booked our timed entry for 8 am, and when we finished with our hike at 10:30, it was very difficult to find parking anywhere else in the park. Our Moab travel itinerary recommendations below will help you dodge the crowds.

    Cell service in the town of Moab is fine, but plan to be out of service during most of your time inside the national parks.

    As I mentioned, Canyonlands is a very large national park, and its three sections are separated by the canyon itself. For a Moab itinerary, you’re likely only visiting Island in the Sky, but if you don’t mind a little extra driving, you can spend a day visiting the Needles section of the park while still staying in Moab.

    What to Bring to Arches and Canyonlands

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    Water – Moab has a desert climate, so the most important thing you can bring with you when visiting the national parks is plenty of drinking water.

    Sunscreen, Hat, and Layers – A desert climate also means lots of sunny days with little shade, so you’ll want to pack sunscreen, a hat, and layers so you can stay warm in the morning and evening without overheating in the middle of the day.

    Food – Groceries in town are limited, so if you’re planning to picnic or make other meals, you might want to do your shopping before arriving in town.

    Ankle-High Hiking Shoes – There’s nothing worse than getting sand or tiny rocks in your shoes during a hike, so I’m always going to choose my hiking boots and tall wool socks in this sort of environment. Good ankle support is also really helpful when hiking on rocky terrain. Here are our favorites: men’s hiking boots and trail runners, women’s hiking boots, and sturdy but affordable kids’ hiking sandals.

    Camera – While we use our phone cameras plenty in national parks, it’s nice to have a camera with a good lens to zoom in on some of the beautiful rock formations and other natural elements in this area.

    Moab with Kids

    Arches and Canyonlands Books

    Utah’s Big Five National Parks – Adventuring with Kids by Harley McAllister
    Good Night Utah by Adam Gamble
    A Grande Guide to Arches National Park by Sarah Del Grande
    Dreaming of Arches National Park by Grant Collier
    Good Night Arches National Park by Adam Gamble
    Arches National Park Activity Book by Little Bison Press
    Canyonlands National Park Activity Book by Little Bison Press
    Know Your State Activity Book – Utah by Megan Hansen Moench
    Buzzy and the Red Rock Canyons: Utah’s National Parks by Melissa C. Marsted
    National Parks of the U.S.A. by Kate Siber

    Junior Ranger Program

    A vacation in Moab with two national parks means double the Junior Ranger book fun! Be sure to pick up these books on your first visit to each park and plan to return to each visitor center when the books are complete to receive your badges.

    Ranger Talks

    If your kids are like mine, they’re not actually all that impressed by beautiful scenery. Attending a ranger talk gives them some context for the beauty around them and helps them appreciate it a bit more.

    Moab Activities Kids Will Love

    The Island in the Sky Visitor Center is not large, but it has some great displays on the rock layers you’ll find in the park and how a canyon forms. And kids will love seeing the indoor replicas of formations at the Arches Visitor Center.

    Rock Scrambling – Rocks are just about everywhere in Moab, so kids will find something to climb on or scramble over on trails and even at some overlooks.

    Multi-Arch Hikes – In Arches National Park, there are a few spots to see multiple arches on one trail, which keeps kids engaged with the hike.

    Dinosaur Tracks – This one goes without saying. Dinosaurs are nearly always a win for kids.

    Petroglyphs – Finding petroglyphs is a little like a treasure hunt and a great family activity as long as everyone keeps their hands to themselves.

    Biking – If your kids are strong bikers, they will have a field day in Moab. But if they’re not, the biking path along Highway 191 is a great option.

    Booking a Tour – Your kids will have a great story to tell their friends back home if you book a Moab tour adventure for the family.

    4 Day Moab Travel Itinerary

    As you can see, Moab is a great choice for a 4 day Utah road trip. Since Moab is a popular destination for so many people, I’m building my travel itinerary options to minimize crowds instead of focusing on each national park separately. This might seem weird initially, but trying to spend a single Moab vacation day hiking all the best arch trails in Arches will be both exhausting to your legs and frustrating in the parking lots.

    1 Day in Arches & Canyonlands

    Spending just one day in Moab, Utah means saving a lot for a future visit, because you’ll just be getting a taste of this incredible place and you’ll undoubtedly want to return as soon as possible! But if 1 day in Moab is all you have, we’ll make the most of it by starting early in the morning at Arches National Park. I recommend a 7 or 8 am vehicle reservation time. Choose your favorite of the 4 hiking groups I highlighted above. Delicate Arch is an obvious choice since it’s the park (and state license plate) icon, but if you’re looking for a smaller hiking commitment, the Windows area trails are excellent. If you enter the park early enough, stop at a few viewpoints on your way to the trailhead, but try to secure your parking spot before 9 am. After your hike, drive as much of Arches as you can, before heading out of the park to find lunch in Moab. Or you could bring a picnic lunch and enjoy one of the park’s beautiful red rock picnic areas. The Devil’s Garden picnic area is particularly beautiful.

    Plan to enter Canyonlands National Park around 2 pm. This will give you plenty of time to drive the scenic road and stop at overlooks. Candlestick Tower Overlook and Shafer Canyon Overlook were our favorite viewpoints. The short Mesa Arch trailhead is very popular, so you might want to save that for late afternoon.

    4 Days in Moab Utah

    For a 4 day Moab vacation, we’ll spend the morning of each day in Arches National Park, heading out when it gets crowded, and enjoying another amazing local activity. You can take a picnic lunch to enjoy at one of Arches’ many picnic areas or stop in Moab at one of the many restaurants. Mid-day is the perfect time to enjoy a leisurely meal while everyone is out at the national parks and you’ll be able to maximize your time in the evening when crowds are lower.

    On Day 1, hike Delicate Arch or choose the Arches hike that you’re most excited for. In the afternoon, head to Canyonlands National Park to do the scenic drive and viewpoints and Mesa Arch trail if time allows.

    For Moab travel itinerary Day 2, drive to the Devil’s Garden area to hike Sand Dune Arch, Broken Arch, and Skyline Arch. In the afternoon, drive Shafer Trail. If you decide to start at the top and drive down instead of entering from Potash Road in Moab, you’ll want to time your entrance into Canyonlands for the afternoon after the biggest rush of the day is done or you’ll find yourself in a 30 minute entrance line like we did.

    On Day 3 of your Moab vacation, hike the Windows area of Arches National Park. In the afternoon, drive to Gemini Bridges and take the short walk to the bridge formations. If you’d like to include some biking in your Canyonlands travel itinerary, Gemini Bridges is a great spot for mountain biking.

    To finish your Moab travel itinerary, spend Day 4 hiking as much of Devil’s Garden trailhead as you’d like. We recommend Landscape Arch and then adding on as you feel capable. For the afternoon, I have a few different ideas. If you’ve enjoyed the previous offroad trails and want to level up to more technical driving, visit Sand Flats Recreation Area to do Fins and Things or Hell’s Revenge. If that seems a bit too extreme for you, we also did a beautiful canyon drive on Long Canyon Road. Or you can book a Moab adventure tour for the afternoon.

    2 or 3 Days in Moab Utah

    If you only have 2 or 3 days in Moab, choose from the 4 mornings in Arches and the 4 afternoon activities. Mix and match until you have paired up your perfect Moab family vacation. You can’t go wrong in this magical place!

    4 Day Moab Travel Itinerary with Kids

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