With the natural beauty of Moab and its surrounding national parks less than a four-hour drive from Salt Lake City, the region is naturally a popular summer destination—but it’s also a year-round destination. Those same stunning Arches and Canyonlands views are there in winter as well. Perhaps the best time to visit is November through March, when it’s less crowded; there are great deals on hotels, restaurants don’t have wait lists and outdoor outfitters have more time for tours.
Winter in Moab may mean colder temperatures than in summer, but there’s also plenty of haze-free sunshine as a break from the Wasatch Front. Best of all, you’re not sharing the park or town with tour buses and crowds. On a recent afternoon at Canyonlands, we saw fewer than 10 people—two of them park rangers. We had Mesa Arch, one of the most photographed spots in the world, completely to ourselves. It was like walking into the Louvre and having a private showing of the Mona Lisa.
Arches and Canyonlands stay open for the winter, with a dusting of glittery snow making for a nice contrast with the brightness of the red rocks in the sunshine. Both parks have hikes for all ability levels, and those to the most popular spots—Delicate Arch, Park Avenue, etc.—are a mile or less. Beyond the parks, many of the world-famous mountain-bike trails are still open; we overheard bikers at breakfast talking about adventures they had planned for the day.
The softer light of winter is also the best time to take photos. If you’re a photo buff or someone who wants to learn, book a tour with Moab Photo Tours (435-259-4700, MoabPhotoTours.com), which will set you up in the best spots and light, or check out one of their workshops.
You may not think of Moab as a ski destination, but you can have a snow adventure in the La Sal mountains, just east of Moab, with a hut-to-hut ski tour through Tag-A-Long Expeditions (452 N. Main, 435-259-8946, TagALong.com). They’ll haul your gear and food on a groomer that clears the way for cross-country skiing up to your heated hut. Once there, you can spend a couple of days telemark skiing or Nordic skiing to another hut before completing your adventure.
Just like the parks, Moab restaurants are less crowded in winter, while still offering the same highlights that make them popular in the summer. Start the day at Moab Diner (189 S. Main, 435-259-4006, MoabDiner.com) with a Sweetwater skillet: fried potatoes with bacon, green onions, bell peppers and cheese, with a couple of eggs on top, all smothered in green chile sauce. For a quick morning stop, try Red Rock Bakery (74 S. Main, 435-259-5941) for the breakfast bagel with veggie cream cheese that has chunks of cucumbers and other garden goodies mixed in.
Lunch is a good time to hit Milt’s Stop & Eat (356 Millcreek Drive, 435-259-7424, MiltsStopAndEat.com), where people have been stopping since 1954 for fresh, handmade/mixed/cut buffalo burgers, shakes and fries. Get something with chili and savor the slices of barbecue beef in it that give it a unique, smoky flavor. Another good lunch stop is Pasta Jay’s (4 S. Main, 435-259-2900, PastaJays.com), where the combinations of pasta and sauces—our favorite was gnocchi with pesto cream—make you feel like you’re in Italy rather than rural Utah.
You can find nightlife in Moab in mid-winter at the Blu Pig (811 S. Main, 435-259-3333, BluPigBBQ.com), which has a bar and live music to enjoy while munching on barbecue. Try the hashbrown casserole, which combines the crispy potatoes you enjoy for breakfast with toppings you love on a baked potato. Zax (96 S. Main, 435-259-6555, ZaxMoab.com) features a bar area where you can relax with friends and order from a full menu that includes burgers, pasta, steaks and pizza.
When you’re done outdoors, you can still enjoy views of nature from your hotel room. Big Horn Lodge (550 S. Main, 435-259-6171, MoabBigHorn.com) has wood-paneled rooms that give the feeling of being in the Old West; its location on Main Street makes it a great option for enjoying shops and restaurants while also serving as a base for getting out to the parks.
We’re not sure how much of an inspiration Hunter S. Thompson was for the Gonzo Inn (100 W. 200 South, 435-259-2515, GonzoInn.com), but it has a fun, modern vibe and suites with decks and great views of the surrounding mesas. For beautiful river vistas, many rooms at Red Cliffs Lodge (Mile Post 14, Highway 128, 435-259-2002, RedCliffsLodge.com), located 14 miles out of town, sit right on the Colorado River. Wherever you lay your head, this is your chance to enjoy some nice hotels with less crowds and great winter rates.
Moab in winter may not be the first place you think of as a travel destination, but it can provide beauty and adventures in a town that knows how to treat its guests. Just think of the drifts of snow on the red rocks as the icing on a red velvet cake, and add Moab to your list.
The Travel Tramps blog about their adventures on CityWeekly.net and host the weekly Travel Brigade Radio Show.