Enjoy moderately strenuous hiking through some of the most spectacular desert landscapes on the planet.
Snap photos of natural sandstone arches, whimisical rock formations, dinosaur tracks, and more.
Raft on the San Juan River with side trips to view ancient cliff dwellings and historic rock art dating back 2,000 years.
Savor the aroma of pinion, juniper and desert sage as you explore some of our favorite walks in the Canyonlands.
There is no place on earth like the desert canyonlands of Southeast Utah. Petrified sand, sculpted by the forces of weather and time, provides the medium that gives life to whimsical rock formations, precipitous cliffs, natural stone arches and serpentine canyons. People from all over the world travel to this unique place to witness the play of light on naturally formed rock sculptures with names like Delicate Arch, Gooney Bird Rock, the Three Gossips and the Tower of Babel. Other locations evoke a sense of mystery as well— places with names like Poison Spider Mesa, Fiery Furnace and Moonflower Canyon.
Our eight day hotel-based hiking tour in the Canyonlands begins in an outdoor adventure mecca called Moab, Utah. Seated on the cottonwood-shaded banks of the Colorado River, Moab is a quintessential desert oasis with bright sunshine, good restaurants, and a vibrant downtown shopping district. There are tons of outdoor activities to do and millions of things to see including visits to Arches National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park and Canyonlands National Park, of which the Maze, Needles District, and Island in the Sky are a part.
You’ll spend three nights in Moab in a comfortable hotel hand-picked by our staff. During the day, you’ll follow our self-guided maps and hike descriptions to the best canyons, sandstone arches, and rock formations outside of town. You’ll see famous buttes like Monitor and Merrimac, named for their resemblance to the first ironclad ships (Monitor and Merrimac) that fought during the American Civil War, and you’ll see Fisher Towers, sandstone towers with a petrified stucco of caked red mud resembling Antoni Gaudi creations. You’ll also see dinosaur tracks, and you’ll gaze at pictographs and petroglyphs that grace the sandstone boulders and cliffs near town.
On day four you’ll transfer to the tiny desert outpost of Bluff, Utah. Tucked neatly against an 80 mile-long monocline called Comb Ridge, Bluff is the perfect jumping off point for a corner of Utah that is rich in archeological treasures. The Comb Ridge complex contains some of the best preserved cliff dwellings, rock art and artifacts produced by the Puebloan People (the Anasazi) living 650-2,000 years ago. One of the best places to view these ancient artifacts is along the banks of the San Juan River. Our trusted raft guides will regale you with stories on day five, as you float down the San Juan with side hikes to visit ancient cliff dwellings, ruins and rock art. We’ve also included two short half day hikes to rarely visited ruins and rock art panels just outside of Bluff. Both hikes are unmarked, so basic route finding, along with our detailed hike descriptions, will add a sense of adventure.
This trip finishes with a very special loop hike in Natural Bridges Natural Monument. You’ll savor the smell of sun-warmed pinion, juniper and sage as you walk to three of the most impressive natural bridges found anywhere in the U.S. Spend your last night of this self guided hiking tour in a well-appointed ranch/spa resort offering a true flavor of the American Southwest.
This trip differs from our standard self guided hiking tours. Our preferred hotels book up early, so very advanced registration is required. You’ll also need your own car for transport, or a rental car from your gateway airport. The airport at Grand Junction, CO is just an hour and forty-five minutes away.
Hiking in the desert is a wonderful experience, but it can be hot during certain times of the year. As such, we’ve proposed two, half-day hikes for most days. You can use this arrangement to keep your water topped up, and to add flexibility to the trip depending on weather and fatigue.
Arrive with your own car, or touch down at the Grand Junction airport in Colorado and transfer to Bluff. The drive from Grand Junction to Bluff is less 3.5 hours. Check into your hotel. Do some sightseeing if time permits.
You may also want to stop along the way to visit an archaeological site known as Newspaper Rock. Boasting more than 650 petroglyphs inscribed by Puebloan people living 650 to 2,000 years ago. Follow a slick rock loop trail, which offers a superb overview of Canyonlands National Park. Continue to the quiet village of Bluff and check into your hotel. This will add a half hour to your drive.
Distance: 2.5 miles.
Local raft guides will treat you to a raft journey on the San Juan River to the border town of Mexican Hat. Pausing along calm sections of the river, you’ll hike to ancient cliff dwellings and marvel at rock art leftover from ancient civilizations. Return to Bluff hotel.
Embark on two unique, but short hikes today, Monarch Cave and the Procession Panel. Monarch Cave has some of the more interesting ruins found in the Comb Ridge complex, and the Procession Panel is rarely visited and among the few petroglyph panels known that offer distance perspective. These are both “trail-less” hikes, although you will find cairns on the slick rock and a well-worn path in the dirt.
Distance: 5 miles.
Enter the Natural Bridges National Monument. This hike is a rarity in the desert, in that it is a loop hike of moderate length, but with driving, it will take the full day. The trail passes by and beneath three of canyon country’s most impressive natural bridges. You will have company as far as the first sipapu, but will likely be alone for the rest of the walk. Continue with a drive to Moab, and your wonderful bed and breakfast where you will stay for two nights.
Distance: 8 miles.
Start in a nearby canyon with vertical sandstone walls and a bubbling perennial stream. Follow the canyon to a natural sandstone arch with a placid pool below (depending on the time of year). A picnic lunch is an option, or there are two restaurants located between your proposed morning and afternoon hikes.
Distance: 4 miles.
Return toward Moab in the afternoon and follow the Colorado River to another famous trailhead. This trail is popular and fairly short, but you’ll hike to a very special sandstone arch. The route is mostly slick rock with some good trail sections, Moki steps, and a small ladder and cables. Return to Moab hotel.
Distance: 3 miles.
Our first proposal is perhaps a little longer than a half day, so bring a picnic or plan on a later lunch. You’ll spend the morning on a subloop of the famous Monitor and Merrimac trail. Lots of slick rock hiking, significant fossil beds, and historic structures add spice to this trail. Tonight you will be spending the night at a well-appointed ranch spa resort.
Distance: 7.5 miles.
Spend the day hiking beneath sandstone towers plucked straight from outer space. The deep red color of the rock, combined with lumpy formations of caked petrified mud, look like something from a Mars movie set. A film museum at one of your optional lunch spots offers the full story. Pack a lunch and enjoy the overlook into Onion Creek and Castle Valley. Enjoy your time at the towers before returning to the ranch for an afternoon of spa and relaxation.
Distance: 4.5 miles.