A winter weekend in Moab is a lovely time of year to experience the gorgeous national parks, moments of quiet solitude, and stunning landscapes – all with fewer crowds.
After years pinning photos of Arches National Park to my vision board, I finally visited Moab at the end of January to run a 9k with Mad Moose Events.
Even though a majority of the restaurants, cafes, and shops were closed for the winter, it ended up being an unexpectedly ideal time to visit the area. I was delighted with how calm, quiet, and peaceful the town and parks were.
In some moments, I felt like I practically had Canyonlands to myself!
If you’re planning a winter weekend in Moab, here is a sample itinerary featuring my favorite hikes, parks, and local shops (as well as the shops I’d love to visit when they re-open in the spring).
How to Spend a Winter Weekend in Moab, Utah
Make the trek to Moab. If you live close enough to drive, I highly recommend taking a road trip into town. It’s a beautiful journey, and there’s nothing like knowing you’re getting closer to Moab than the visual contrast of red rocks against blue skies and white pockets of snow.
Ideally, leave early enough that you can get to Moab by mid-afternoon.
When you arrive in town, you’ll quickly find that many restaurants and shops are closed for the winter, set to re-open in March. At first, I was personally bummed out about this, but then realized how excited my introverted heart truly was because it meant that the town was calm and not overwhelmed by crowds of tourists.
(Not to mention this gave me yet another reason to go back to Moab to check out the cafes and restaurants when they open up, again).
In lieu of trying to find an open restaurant for dinner, pop into the local Moonflower Co-op to get ingredients to cook for the evening, as well as sandwich fixin’s and snacks for your weekend.
I went to the Co-Op several times over the course of my stay in Moab, and while the prices are definitely higher than other grocery stores in the area, they do have a solid selection of foods, a deli with pre-made meals, kind staff, and it supports the local economy. Win-win-win.
To kick off your winter weekend in Moab, wake up early to catch the sun as it hits the orange rocks and illuminates the town. (You *might* want to catch this view inside, though, as night temperatures can get down into the teens or colder which is why I opted for an Airbnb this trip instead of my Subaru camper).
After watching the sun come up, head over to Snake Oil Coffee Company to get some warm caffeine – and a chocolate covered espresso bean! – to fuel your day at Arches National Park.
I stopped by Snake Oil every morning of my trip because they were one of the only coffee spots open in January – plus they had strong coffee and friendly staff, to boot.
Arches National Park
Once you get your java, hit the road from town to explore Arches National Park, about an 8 minute drive, depending on where you’re staying.
(Pro-tip: If you plan on visiting three or more major National Parks in a year, consider purchasing the America the Beautiful annual parks pass. I purchased this pass at Joshua Tree on an earlier road trip in January, and it has already paid for itself).
Once you get into the park, stop at the Visitor’s Center to look at your map and pick the main hikes and sights you want to prioritize in your day. The last thing I ever want to do (though it’s a tricky task) is jam so much stuff into my day that I feel pressured and exhausted, rather than energized and inspired.
To accomplish this, I always aim to pick 1-3 experiences, and deeply enjoy what I do get to do, rather than focusing on what I don’t get to explore (because there is always always more to explore).
For me, I knew that Delicate Arch was the main focus for my day. I’d saved photos of Delicate for years to my annual vision board, and knew that it was a must while I was there.
There are two options to experience Delicate Arch:
- The first option is hiking directly to the arch, which I highly recommend if you are physically able.
2. If not, there is a lookout point that you can drive to, instead.
I hiked the trail and didn’t explore the lookout. But it does like a great alternative if you need more accessibility or are running low on time.
The hike itself is a steady incline on the way to the arch, but it’s totally worth it. The hike is 3 miles (4.8 km) roundtrip. It took me about two and a half hours to complete which did include ample time at the arch to draw, take photos, and journal.
It was a beautiful January day without too much ice on the trail when I did this hike. But be sure to check the conditions before you head out. If there is ice or snow, you would want to consider getting spikes for your shoes. You can rent spikes from local shops in town.
After Delicate, I felt pretty beat from the 9k I ran that morning. I knew I didn’t want to over-do it so I opted to drive through the rest of the park. I recommend this option if you are short of time or not interested in a hefty-hiking day.
My second priority in the park was a visit to Devil’s Garden. I’d had my eye on the Devil’s Garden Campground for my trip.
This campground is first-come first-served during the winter. While it was entirely dreamy, I wasn’t set up with gear to stay warm at night. (It was dipping into the teens while I was there). So, I didn’t stick around. But if you have the right gear this would be a stellar spot to camp. I’ll definitely be back to do so at some point.
On your drive back out of the park, stop at Park Avenue to walk the short distance to the viewpoint. There is an optional trail that I opted out of, but the overlook point is tremendously beautiful, as well.
The colors just before sunset were practically glowing. The bright blue sky contrasted against the orange rocks was nature’s color wheel and some major design inspiration.
After you finish exploring Arches, make your way back into town for a refreshing pint at Moab Brewery. This is your typical brewery – no frills, chill, and to the point. But it was a great spot for me to grab a stout and journal after the chilly day exploring Arches.
Be aware that the brewery doesn’t serve flights or draft pints of beer that are over 5% (Utah). They do have a small gift shop where you can get six-packs of beer to-go. I got a pack of their IPA and took it home to cook up some dinner before falling asleep early.
Maximize the cozy factor of your winter weekend in Moab on Sunday. Take a slow morning in town before heading to Canyonlands.
Grab some coffee at Moab Coffee Roasters before popping into Back of Beyond Books. This small, cozy bookstore has a delightful selection of books including rare finds and a small section of art supplies.
I could’ve easily spent all day in the bookstore losing track of time browsing the van-life and gardening sections. But Canyonlands National Park tugged at my heart, and I knew I had to head out to connect with the land.
When I first arrived in Moab, I had no intention of visiting Canyonlands. Like many people, my brain was entirely centered on Arches National Park and the Delicate Arch hike. But then I ran into a runner at the Mad Moose event who suggested I check out Canyonlands, too.
I’m always one to follow the clues that arrive while traveling. So, I took her advice and decided to incorporate a visit into my weekend.
Island in the Sky
After your visit to Back of Beyond, pack up a sandwich and snacks from the co-op. Then, hit the road for the Island in the Sky entrance to Canyonlands which is about a 40 minute drive from Moab. This is one of the most popular sections of Canyonlands, but I would’ve never guessed it in January.
There were so many moments, trails, and overlooks where I was the only one around. Island in the Sky has stunning hikes, as well as many gorgeous overlooks that are accessible from your car.
For starters, if you cross the road from the Visitor’s Center, you’re immediately greeted with a vast view. As you drive a bit further up the road and into the park, be sure to stop at Schaefer Overlook. Walk down the very short path to the overlook point for a 180 degree, birds-eye perspective of the landscape.
If you can pull yourself away from the beauty of Schaefer overlook, drive until you reach Mesa Arch. This is a short hike to another – you guessed it – beautiful view. This .5 mile trail (.8 km) had the most people out of any of my explorations in Canyonlands, but the views are well worth it.
Grand View Point Overlook
After Mesa Arch, continue down the road to Grand View Point Overlook. This an overlook is just beyond the parking lot. There is also an easy, flat trail to the right of the overlook point that follows the rim of the canyon for 1.8 miles (out and back). I highly recommend taking this trail to get even more spectacular views of the park.
After your short hike, stop at any viewpoint or trail that tugs on your heart throughout the park. That’s the best way to explore and tune into your connection with the landscape.
After exploring Canyonlands all day, make your way back into Moab for a bite to eat. Or if you’re into cooking, make it a cozy evening and whip up a meal before drifting off to sleep.
My guess is you won’t want to conclude your winter weekend in Moab. (And don’t let me stop you)! If you do decide to head out, Monday is the day to hit the road back home. But not without a few more stops.
If you need to get work done before you hit the road like I did for my creative business, Prints & Plants, pop into the local library. This library has excellent wifi, is incredibly quiet, centrally located, and spacious with many spots to settle in for a solid work sesh.
If you’re looking for ideas for how to work from anywhere, visit my blog post all about starting passive income revenue streams here.
Once you finish working, grab another cup of Snake Oil Coffee for your drive.
Depending on the direction you’re driving, and how long your drive is for the day, try to hit Needles Overlook on your way out of town. This Overlook is about 44 miles south of Moab and 22 miles west off of Highway 191. It is well worth the detour.
The sign for the turnoff tugged on my heart. Even though I was planning to head home, I made a spontaneous stop here to get some work done on client brand projects and this blog post with my hotspot.
The overlook offers stunning views, as well as multiple picnic tables which would make it a great spot to stop for lunch on your road trip home.
But be careful here. If you pop over for a visit, you may never want to leave. Following my intuitive hit to stop and work at this overlook led me to stay another night in Moab.
If you do manage to pry yourself away from the beauty of Needles Overlook, hit the road home to start dreaming up your next weekend trip (or longer) in Moab.
Because trust me, you’ll want to come back.
A majority of the shops, cafes and restaurants were closed during my winter weekend in Moab. I’d especially love to come back to visit: Garage Coffee Co., Moab Food Truck Park, Ar.tee.sian, and Doughbird.