Off Roading in Moab Utah: A Comprehensive Guide
As soon as we settled on visiting Moab in November for a 30th birthday trip (not mine!), I began planning our itinerary. We agreed almost immediately that off roading in Moab was a priority — in addition, of course, to hiking and exploring two of the country’s most iconic national parks, Arches and Canyonlands.
For the uninitiated, off roading in Moab is legendary. The enchanting red “slickrock” is a mecca for off-road enthusiasts (and mountain biking enthusiasts, and hiking enthusiasts, and camping enthusiasts, and horseback riding enthusiasts…), drawing over three million visitors annually.
There are dozens of options for Moab UTV rentals and tours, and countless ATVs, UTVs, Jeeps, and lifted pickups towing trailers line Main Street, even in the “off-season.” Note the quotation marks — there isn’t much of an off-season in Moab. Without a doubt, off-roading should be at the top of any Moab itinerary.
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What makes Moab so unique?
The desert meets high alpine mountains in Moab, making it a place unlike anywhere else in the world. I’ve often heard it compared to Zion National Park and Sedona, Arizona. While both are spectacular in their own rights, they’re nothing like Moab. Sure, they each have awe-inspiring natural red sandstone rock formations and they’re both in the Southwest, but beyond that, it’s comparing apples to oranges.
Moab’s iconic red terrain is old — about 500 million years old. It’s the result of hundreds of millions of years of flooding, drought, wind, and other radical acts of Mother Nature. The slickrock itself, so-named because early settlers noted their horses couldn’t easily grip the surface, is petrified sand and salt mixed with various types of sandstone.
About 20 miles south of town, the La Sal Mountains serve as a majestic backdrop to the vibrant red-orange slickrock. The Colorado River also runs right through here, and you’ll crawl alongside it while off roading in Moab UTV tours. Don’t be surprised to feel your breath catch as you look out at the river valley, expansive canyons, towering rock formations, and the 13,000-plus-feet La Sals — it is quite literally breathtaking. The views in western Montana are some of my favorite in the world, but Moab is truly something else.
Options for off roading in Moab
One thing you should know about off roading in Moab is that you’ll be literally, well, off roading. Instead of driving on well-maintained, manmade trails like almost anywhere else, you drive directly on the slickrock. Be sure to pack your proverbial big boy or big girl pants.
Assuming you don’t have a UTV of your own (but if you do, can we be friends?!), there are a number of options for off roading in Moab. Several dozen outfitters offer Moab UTV tours or rentals, and a couple Moab tour companies offer “U-drive” excursions. Before researching off road trails in Moab, I recommend deciding on the type of experience you’re looking for.
- Moab UTV tours – Tours mean you have a driver, who’s essentially also a built-in tour guide. Depending on the Moab tour company you choose, there will be options ranging from short and family-friendly to a few hours of white-knuckle excitement. Price: Starting around $99 per person.
- Moab UTV rentals – You’ll pick up a vehicle and have it for anywhere from two hours of your Moab itinerary to an entire weekend. The rental company will give you a map of off road trails in Moab and you’re free to explore on your own. Price: Starting at $250-400 for a half-day in a two-seater UTV. Be prepared to put down a minimum $1,500 credit card deposit.
- U-drive tours – This is a rental/tour hybrid, and very few companies offer it for off roading in Moab. You drive your own vehicle, but you follow a professional tour guide in a “lead car.” Price: Approximately $100 per hour, per vehicle (not per person).
After tons of research, we opted for a U-drive tour and chose Epic 4×4 Adventures as our Moab UTV company. The fact that we could drive our own vehicle while off roading in Moab appealed to us, but we especially liked that we’d be following an experienced professional.
We wouldn’t have to worry about getting lost and we could drive on obstacles that we would otherwise avoid. Near-vertical ledges look even more daunting when you’re navigating unfamiliar terrain in an unfamiliar off-road vehicle. Following your guide’s tire tracks changes everything, though.
Epic, our Moab tour company, operates in small groups, so there were five UTVs total including the guide’s. He communicated with us constantly via two-way radio, preparing us for what was coming up and giving specific instructions. Car One, follow a little closer and ride the brake the entire way down. This ledge is STEEP. Okay, on this one, hug the far right and whatever you do, do not let off the gas pedal until you’re at the top. Great job, Car One, WOOHOO! We were Car One, obvi.
Going into it, we weren’t sure what to expect off roading in Moab UTV rentals on a U-drive tour, but we were thoroughly impressed. In fact, we wanted to go on another UTV tour, but our jam-packed Moab itinerary didn’t have any wiggle room. There were times we were certain we couldn’t possibly make it through an obstacle. We were terrified as we actually crawled over it, then felt exhilarated that we made it — which is exactly what you want out of off roading in Moab.
Looking for things to do besides Moab UTV tours? Check out these other awesome Moab activities!
Most popular off road trails in Moab
There are dozens and dozens of trails for off roading in Moab, and they are certainly not all created equal. Some are beginner-friendly, while some are so challenging that you wonder how even the most experienced Moab UTV drivers survive. Most are moderate, fortunately, and many overlap so you can experience sections of multiple trails in one excursion.
It’s important to heed the advice of your Moab tour company about trails. The companies that run Moab UTV tours are locals and professionals. They know how weather affects off road trails in Moab, if you should avoid an area, and certain precautions to take on particular trails.
Off roading in Moab is serious business and it’s not at all unusual to see totaled vehicles. We encountered multiple groups who were lost, stuck, or both. Listen to your guide!
This is easily one of the most scenic off road trails in Moab. Chicken Corners follows the Colorado River most of the way and passes through famous landmarks including Birthing Rock, Kane Springs Canyon, and various petroglyph sites. It ends at the aptly-named Chicken Corners, which is a 450-foot-high pointed rock ledge above the river, directly across from Dead Horse Point State Park. Leave your vehicle at the overlook and see if you’re brave enough to walk out along the extremely narrow trail and turn the corner. Most people aren’t.
Difficulty: Easy to moderate — a stock Jeep would be fine
Length: 41.6 miles roundtrip
Fins and Things Moab
Located in the Sand Flats Recreation Area just northeast of Moab, Fins and Things is often compared to a giant natural roller coaster. It’s not necessarily fast, but the countless perfectly-rounded slickrock “fin” formations really do resemble a rock roller coaster. In between the fins, there are several flat stretches of loose sand where you get to drive pretty fast.
We chose two trails, one of them being Fins and Things Moab. I was in the passenger seat in our Moab UTV rental, but at one point I looked over and saw that we were going about 40 mph. Yeehaw! Fins and Things Moab took us about an hour and when we finished, our guide said, “Okay, now let’s go do the real trail.” Gulp.
Difficulty: Moderate — not particularly technical, but there are extremely steep sections
Length: 13 miles
Hells Revenge Moab
Our “real” trail was Hells Revenge, which is an absolute must when off roading in Moab. Seriously, if you only have time for a single trail, make it Hells Revenge Moab. It’s challenging and nerve-wracking in all the best ways, and some of Moab’s most famous off-road obstacles are here, including the Escalator, the Hot Tubs, and Hell’s Gate. Hells Revenge Moab is also incredibly scenic, with full-on views of the La Sals on much of the trail, plus it’s short and very close to town.
We loved how our Moab tour company organized Hell’s Revenge. Epic 4×4 included several stops along the route, so we were able to get out and take photos at various canyons and the Colorado River overlook. The company also provided snacks and bottled water, which was a nice touch. We got extremely lucky timing-wise and witnessed a series of Jeeps attempting the world-famous Mickey’s Hot Tub obstacle. They all made it through, but one in particular had a few scary moments!
It was quite rainy the week before we were visiting Moab in November and some parts of Hells Revenge were washed out. We stopped at Hell’s Gate, the most technically difficult obstacle for Moab UTV drivers, and our guide talked a group out of attempting it. He told us that someone totaled a brand new Moab UTV there just two days before. Rain and wind sweep sand over the slickrock, then more rain and wind create mud, which is slippery — a very, very bad combination.
Difficulty: Challenging — some ascents and descents are extremely steep, and you frequently drive right on the edge of rock formations
Length: 7.8 miles
Poison Spider Mesa
This is another one of the off road trails in Moab on everyone’s list, one that even people across the world know by name. Poison Spider Mesa is both challenging and highly technical, comprised of mostly slickrock but with some sand stretches, switchbacks, and several stepped bare rock ledges.
There is also a massive sandy hill which requires you to air down your tires in order to cross. If you’re out with a Moab tour company, they’ll help you with this, but if you have a Moab UTV rental, you’re on your own. Dixie 4-Wheel Drive has an excellent guide on changing tire pressure for off-roading in Moab.
Poison Spider Mesa interconnects with several other popular trails, so you can do as little or as much of it as you want. The expansive views at the end are incredible, though, so it’s well worth doing the whole thing.
Difficulty: Challenging — several steep, narrow ledges where a Moab UTV could easily tip over, plus the trail is difficult to follow in some areas.
Length: 37 miles
Top of the World
Top of the World is a short but extremely challenging trail, and local experts say each year it gets increasingly more difficult thanks to erosion.
The road up to the Top of the World viewpoint itself, which is a precariously-balanced cliff perched above Fisher Valley, is incredibly steep. However, those adventurous souls who complete the trail are rewarded with some of the best views in all of Moab. On a clear day, you get a fantastic view of the La Sals, Arches National Park, the Priest and Nuns rock formation in nearby Castle Valley, and even western Colorado.
Difficulty: Difficult — The trail gets progressively steeper and more difficult as you climb. A vehicle with locking differentials is an absolute must.
Length: 19 miles
What to wear for off roading in Moab
There’s a local saying in Moab: “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” It’s true — in the 48 hours that we were visiting Moab in November, we experienced cloudless skies and 70 degrees, biting wind and sub-40-degree temperatures, thick fog, and rain so cold we were certain it was going to snow (it didn’t).
Layering and wearing sunscreen are the best ways to prepare for Moab’s unpredictable weather. Wear light pants, even in the summer. Going 40 MPH on off road trails in Moab gets windy, and you’ll appreciate the coverage on your legs. You’ll also want to wear closed-toed shoes because no matter where you’re off roading in Moab, there are tons of places to stop and get out, and you may find yourself doing some light hiking. Trust me, you don’t want to be navigating Moab slickrock in sandals.
Depending on what time of day you’re going off roading in Moab, I highly suggest wearing a light jacket. It’s cool in the early mornings and when the sun goes down pretty much all year. Plus, a jacket offers a little extra protection from flying debris and sand. I took my jacket off and put it back on at least three times during our UTV tour when we were visiting Moab in November!
What to wear on a Moab UTV excursion
If you have long hair, pull it up, but I actually recommend against wearing a hat. Although it seems counterintuitive, off roading in Moab gets so windy that you’ll likely lose it. Yes, I’m (unfortunately!) speaking from personal experience. RIP to the hat lost on Fins and Things Moab.
Finally, don’t worry about bringing your own goggles or helmet. Those will be provided if you want them, regardless of whether you choose a Moab off road rentals company or one of the Moab UTV tours. Helmets are optional for adults, as the law in Moab only requires that minors wear them.
For what it’s worth, we opted to not wear helmets and felt perfectly safe. We did, however, opt-in to the goggles and they were invaluable on the sandy straightaways — holy red dust! On that note, I do wish we had neck gaiters like these. It would have been great to just pull them up over our noses and mouths in the sandy areas. Now we know for next time, and there will be a next time. We have lots more off road trails in Moab UTVs to explore!
Thanks for reading my guide on off roading in Moab Utah, I hope you find it helpful! Be sure to save it on Pinterest to reference when you’re building your Moab itinerary!