Moab, Utah is considered by many to be the mecca of off-roading. Combine a staggering number of trails involving a range of mild to gnarly rock crawling, with outrageous scenery, and a town culture that supports and caters to off-roaders, what’s not to love. We’ve been off-roading a number of times in Moab, in both rental Jeeps and our own Jeep, from casual trails suitable for a minivan to trails that require a heavily modified Jeep. There are a ton of resources available, both on-line and in book form. I’ll mention the resources I’ve found the most usable in this post.
I’m listing the trails we’ve done in increasing order of difficulty. Our favorite book for off-road trails is the Guide to Moab, UT Backroads & 4-Weel Drive Trails by Charles A Wells.
The entire trail could be used as an advertisement for the beauties of Moab, from sandstone cliffs to the views of the La Sal Mountains, and of Gemini Bridge itself. Many people walk on the bridge, which admittedly makes for striking pictures, but I’m not sure we should from a geologic feature preservation standpoint. This is an easy trail which could be probably be done in some cars with good ground clearance, but Wells states that “one steep hill after Waypoint 02 still requires 4WD”. The trail is 7.8 miles to the bridges plus 5.6 to highway. Allow 2-3 hours.
A long bumpy road, suitable for a passenger car in most cases, that pays off big dividends at the end. The only potential problem is a river ford about half way that was 100% dry when we were there — any vehicle could have made it. But I hear the river can be deep to the point of being impassible certain times of the year.
The trail the rental Jeep companies send you on, perfect for first time off-roading. Rates a 10/10 on scenery. I would highly recommend even seasoned, hard core off-roaders drive this trail. I once spotted a rental Ford Taurus up here. You can take the switchbacks down from near the Canyonlands National Park’s Visitor Center or starting from Moab follow the trail for Potash Road to the bottom side of the switchbacks.
A fun, back way into Arches National Park if you start off paved road 191. Then spend the day hiking and exploring the arches.
This is typically run as an overnight trip, although it’s possible to finish in one really long day. The trail is over 90 miles of slow off-road driving plus 40 miles of pavement with no services along the way. If you do camp out I highly recommend staying at Murphy Hogback camp site A. This trail runs through the Canyonlands National Park’s Island- in-the-Sky District and is best driven in Spring and Fall. Camping out requires a permit and fee. This is a moderate trail, no problem for anything with high clearance and 4LO.
I can, however, recommend a specific vehicle which should not be on this trail: A Chevy Equinox. I know this because we starting finding nice, shiny and new auto trim pieces laying about the trail. After collecting a few, we ran into a Chevy Equinox with a flat tire, who was indeed missing these very pieces. The guy was from Switzerland, and to his credit asked the car rental company in Salt Lake City for a high-clearance 4WD vehicle. Sadly they gave him the Equinox. He stayed with us until everyone was back on pavement. He was so grateful he sent a box of Swiss chocolates!
Views from along the White Rim trail:
A trail with a little bit of everything: rocky, ledgy, tippy, slickrock and soft sand. This makes a great step up into the difficult trails. In a bone-stock Jeep Wrangler Rubicon it’s exciting, but still very doable. It’s a 12.5 mile loop that should take about 3-4 hours.
Fins and Things
My favorite trail in Moab. It’s like an amusement park of obstacles for Jeeps. This is where you learn exactly how steep an incline a Jeep can handle. There are places you see only sky when driving up. If you skip the optional sections, this is not a difficult trail once you learn to trust your Jeep (and air down your tires). The trail is 9.4 miles long and takes 3-4 hours.
The classic Moab trail, with a start that gets right down to business. This is the first truly difficult trail on this list, with a chance of body damage or equipment failure if you make a small mistake. For some reason we drove the optional Hell’s Gate obstacle. You can find plenty of videos on YouTube with Jeeps rolling backwards down this thing. Here is one to get you started. While I will gladly re-drive Hell’s Revenge, I will never ride up Hell’s Gate again. The trail is 6.9 miles/ 4-6 hours for the main loop with out any optional trips. Not for stock or novice drivers.
After following directions to the beginning of this trail, our entire group was looking around trying to find where it actually starts. Here is a hint: look down. After ogling the amazingly steep descent, do yourself a favor and walk down. With a little bit of looking you’ll find a non-crazy way down. Or, like the guys with 40″ tires we saw, just head straight down with zero finesse. This trail is 4.3 miles one way. Allow 3-4 hours.
Poison Spider Mesa
A fun trail with some obstacles so classic they have names, such as The Waterfall and The Wedgy. If you think this trail is at the edge of your ability, please don’t attempt Golden Spike. This is one of the most popular trails. If you’re doing the Spider-Spike-Goldbar Trifecta, it’s 5.1 miles to the start of Golden Spike- allow at least an hour.
Gold Bar Rim
You typically get here after driving both Poison Spider Mesa AND Golden Spike, at which point you’re mentally fatigued. But the fun is not over! When the guide book says you have to negotiate a “huge ledge”, they are not kidding. This trail is about 3.7 miles and about 1 hour.
I feel I was lucky to escape this trail with no damage. This is no joke. Don’t attempt this trail until Hell’s Revenge feels boring. I went on Golden Spike with my brother-in-law who has decades of experience trail riding, and has even competed in competitions. I would never have attempted this trail without him along. And he almost rolled his Jeep in one spot. It’s one challenging obstacle after another. This section of the Trifecta is 7 miles and you should allot plenty of time for obstacles. For the entire Trifecta you should plan an early start and a long day.
- Air down your tires! The increase in traction on the steep stuff is significant. I run the difficult trails at 16 psi. For easy and moderate trails you may not need to air down as much.
- Don’t go alone. Some of these trails are far from civilization (although on busy weekends it can be hard to tell). You’re likely not walking out on a blazing hot summer day.
- Bring lots of extra drinking water, expect to consume 1 gallon per person per day.
- Bring maps and/or a GPS. I guarantee you will lose the trail at some point.
There are two main books we use in the Moab area:
- Guide to Moab, UT Backroads & 4-Weel Drive Trails by Charles A Wells. The go-to guidebook, in handy spiral bound format.
- Utah Trails Moab Region by Peter Massey and Jeanne Wilson. This book includes precise, turn-by-turn directions with GPS waypoints for every trail.
There are tons of places to rent Jeeps in Moab. It all depends on your goals. We’ve rented from Moab Adventure Center.
- Moab Adventure Center – Good for a basic Jeep for easy or moderate trails. While they modify their Jeeps with a lift and big tires, they don’t start with the Rubicon, meaning no super-low range gearing and no front lockers. FYI, I used this Jeep on Fins and Things and it was fine, but a first timer would be happier with a lower crawl ratio.
- Twisted Jeep Rentals – This is what you want for serious trails.