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Favorite/Secret Spots in Southern Utah and Moab?

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Maps for Canyonlands (White Rim Road is on the Island in the Sky Map): https://www.nps.gov/cany/planyourvisit/maps.htm

Map for Arches: https://npmaps.com/wp-content/uploads/arches-national-park-map.pdf

Maps for surrounding BLM land: https://www.blm.gov/sites/blm.gov/files/BLMUtahMoabCamping.pdf

Trip was 19 Apr 2021 - 11 May 2021

Day 1 (Monday 19 Apr 2021): BLM Canyon Rims Recreation Area
Needles Overlook
Anticline Overlook
Minor Overlook
Canyonlands Overlook (high clearance 4wd and some off-road driving skill required)
Visited Wilson Arch on the drive back to Moab to evaluate sunrise potential. Could be a decent less-crowded option, but I never made it back there.

Saw very few other people today — less than 15. Views as good or better than those from Island in the Sky.

Day 2 (Tuesday): Canyonlands Island in the Sky and Arches
Mesa Arch sunrise
Island in the Sky overlooks, including hike to Grand View
Drove back to Moab via the Shafer Trail and Potash Road
Afternoon: overlooks at Arches, including the hikes around Balanced Rock, The Windows, Double Arch, and the Delicate Arch viewpoints.

There were around a hundred other people at Mesa Arch for sunrise but 95% of them left within 15 minutes of the actual sunrise! Guess they didn’t know it just gets better after that.

I made it to the other I-Sky overlooks before 9am so I did not run into many people (less than 20 I’d say).

The Shafer Trail and Potash Road were also very sparsely traveled — I saw less than 10 other people the whole way back to Moab, which took about 4 hours. Shafer was exciting and Potash offers some great views, though I might not recommend driving the entire length of it — it is rough and not super interesting beyond the horseshoe bend. The only thing you miss by turning around is the potash evaporation ponds. Best to turn around and drive back up the Shafer after the bend, I think.

Arches was another story — hundreds if not thousands of people there, all parking lots and overlooks were completely full.

Day 3 (Wednesday): Manti-La Sal National Forest and Arches
In the morning I drove the La Sal Mountains loop road as recommended by WestTexas here: https://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/1623071/0#15067878. The objective was to see alpine lakes such as Warner Lake and Oowah Lake, but the roads to them were still snowed in. Did get to see some dino tracks though!
Visited the Fisher Towers on the way back to Moab then drove to the Eye of the Whale Arch in Arches NP (requires high clearance 4wd but was not particularly challenging).
In the afternoon I did the hike out to Delicate Arch.

I saw less than 5 other people in the La Sals, and only 2 other people at the Eye of the Whale (even though the rest of the park was packed that day). Eye of the Whale was one of the highlights of my week! Highly recommend. I’d probably elect to continue driving north to Tower Arch next time, but ran out of time today.

There were a decent number of people at Delicate Arch, but fewer than I was expecting given past experiences. Wasn’t a problem getting people-free photos, just had to wait a few minutes between shots and be quick on the shutter.

Day 4 (Thursday): Dead Horse Point SP, Island in the Sky, Corona Arch
Sunrise at Dead Horse Point SP. Unfortunately the clouds did not cooperate this morning but it was an awesome location for sure. This is the point on my trip where I remembered I had ND grads in my backpack….
Got a White Rim Trail day permit from the Island in the Sky visitor center at 8:00am when they start handing them out, then drove the Shafer Trail into the White Rim as far as Washer Woman Arch before turning back. Did not go down the Lathrop Canyon Road as I was short on time and did not want to get stuck, but in hindsight I am sure it would have been fine and a worthwhile spur! Drove back up to I-Sky via Shafer and returned to Moab.
In the afternoon we drove over to Corona/Bowtie Arch and were not disappointed. Corona easily rivals Delicate and the hike was much easier. And there were far fewer people.

There were two other people at Dead Horse that morning, both photographers.

Saw maybe ten other people all day on the Shafer and White Rim Trails. The overlooks on the White Rim are great! Largely similar to what you get from Potash Road (up to the bend and excluding Musselman Arch, of course — that is unique). Day use backcountry permits are available here for $6, or free at the visitor center starting at 8am (but then you can’t start with sunrise): https://www.recreation.gov/permits/4251904

Despite the packed parking lot for Corona Arch (we got the last parking space), there were only about ten other people at the arch itself. Not sure where everyone was.

Day 5 (Friday): Dead Horse Point SP, Island in the Sky, Arches
Back to Dead Horse for another sunrise. Was pretty good this time!
Got another White Rim permit at 8:00am. This time drove the opposite direction, starting on the Horsethief Trail/Mineral Canyon Road. Drove to Moses and Zeus, and then to near Candlestick Camp before turning around. Would not recommend the section past Hardscrabble Camp without a proper 4wd vehicle with low range. I had no problems in my Land Cruiser with 3-season old snow tires.
In the evening we went to Skyline Arch and then attempted to get to Tower Arch but the road was just too rough. We turned around about 200 feet from the end of the difficult section, just did not want to risk damage. Need a high clearance 4wd here for sure, with either a big lift or rock sliders or both. I’d still like to get out to Tower Arch one day but next time I will try to get there via the road to Eye of the Whale rather than via this perceived shortcut!

Day 6 (Saturday): Canyonlands Needles District and Island in the Sky
We hiked a few trails in the Needles and then drove out to the Colorado River (Confluence) Overlook. Surprisingly crowded at all trailheads, but only saw two other people at the overlook (high clearance 4wd required).
Finished the day at I-Sky, revisiting Mesa Arch (and noticing for the first time that Washer Woman was visible from there!), Candlestick Tower Overlook, and sunset at the Holeman Spring Canyon Overlook. These overlooks are marked on the park map but not at the pullouts so I had never been before!

Next time in Canyonlands I’d like to explore the Needles District off-road (the on-road portions are underwhelming compared to I-Sky), I’d like to complete the White Rim Road drive (ideally camping one night, but it should be doable in a single long day), and I would very much like to get out to the Maze district (but this requires approaching from the west from UT24 just north of Hanksville). While down there I’d check out the Horseshoe Canyon unit, which is approached from the north at Green River.

In terms of camping near Moab, your best bet is BLM land where you are pretty much allowed to plop wherever you want. Camping within the parks themselves is impossible unless you reserve 6 months in advance. I have slept at Canyon Rims Recreation Area (south of Moab on US191) and also off Island in the Sky Rd before entering the NP. There is also the Manti-La Sal National Forest not too far away.

Day 7 (Sunday): Drive from Moab to Escalante, Capitol Reef NP
Sunrise at Dead Horse Point
Drove through Capitol Reef NP and Dixie NF on the way to Escalante — very scenic drive. Capitol Reef was extremely busy.

Map of BLM Land: https://www.blm.gov/sites/default/files/documents/files/BLMUtahGrandStaircaseEscalanteNationalMonumentTravelMap.pdf

Day 1 (Monday): Devil’s Garden and Cosmic Eye
Devil’s Garden was interesting to walk around for about an hour and I saw zero other people. Kind of creepy.
Cosmic Eye was hands down one of the most interesting things I have ever seen — and also, zero other people there. Fun driving there in the sand. Reschedule if it is a windy day.

Day 2 (Tuesday): HWY12 and Calf Creek Falls
Rainy day. Plan was to take the loop from Highway 12 onto the USFS Hell’s Backbone dirt road, but it started blizzarding the second I left the pavement. Plus I was in a cloud so couldn’t see anything anyway. Bailed on that and just returned back to Escalante the way I came on hwy12.
Did the 7.5 mile round trip hike to Calf Creek Falls. Pretty good falls! Not many people. Smelled suspiciously like the Hudson River.

Day 3 (Wednesday): Bryce NP
This was my first time at Bryce and was absolutely blown away. Sunrise at Inspiration Point. Fairly crowded, probably about 20 other people there. Note there are 3 overlooks at Inspiration Pt— you want to be at the highest one! Very snowy this morning.
Checked out all the viewpoints on the park road. Got progressively busier until around 10-11am when there were no more parking spots left in any of the lots.
Hiked the “Figure-8” combination trail from Sunset Point to Sunrise Point. The Peekaboo Loop was pretty quiet but the other parts of the trail were busy.

Day 4: Phipps Arch, Cedar Wash Arch, Covered Wagon Bridge, and Peekaboo and Spooky slot canyons
Phipps was crawling with people but instead of physically going to the arch I went to an overlook across the canyon (no people on my trail at all). Next time I’d try to go to the arch itself, but the way I went had some super secret cave paintings that are in really good shape since no one ever goes down that way. Locals are very protective and told me not to tell anyone where they are.
Cedar Wash Arch and Covered Wagon Bridge were both deserted. You’ll want 4wd for Cedar Wash Arch — deep sand. Again I had no problems with my balding snow tires.
Peekaboo and Spooky were excellent! My first slot canyons and they did not disappoint. There were several people there but I would not say it was crowded. Recommend a wide lens, I could not fit everything I wanted at 27mm equivalent.

Day 5: Capitol Reef via Burr Trail
This was pretty cool but honestly my time probably would have been better spent going back to Bryce.

Day 6: Cosmic Eye and Bryce again
Really windy at the Eye this time. Very unpleasant!

Day 7: Bryce sunrise and drive to Kanab
No snow at Bryce this time.

There should be plenty of BLM land around here for camping. Next time I’d like to drive all the way out to Hole in the Rock. There are also tons of other slot canyons to explore.

Next time I am in the area I’d like to explore Bears Ears/Indian Creek/Dark Canyon/Natural Bridges/Valley of the Gods, Monument Valley, and the Grand Canyon North Rim (in addition to anything previously mentioned).

Sep 18, 2023 at 07:11 PM

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