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 then transfer by private rental car to Moab. The drive from Grand Junction to Moab is less than two hours. Find your hotel in the center of town but pleasantly off the often bustling main street. Moab is an outdoor adventure mecca, and there are a million fun things to do should time permit. You can go for an afternoon hike, rent mountain bikes, walk along the Colorado River, attend a chuckwagon dinner, shop, visit a museum, rock climb and more.
We propose two half day hikes for most days. Start in a nearby canyon with vertical sandstone walls and a bubbling perennial stream. Follow the stream through a tranquil oasis of cottonwood, willow trees and desert cactus. Desert wildflowers may also be in bloom depending on the time of year. The hike reaches its end beneath a natural sandstone arch with a placid pool below (depending on the time of year). Rest in the shade, snap photos of the arch and listen to the quiet patter of dripping water echoing from the high cliffs above. Return via the same route. A picnic lunch is an option. There are also two restaurants located between your proposed morning and afternoon hikes.
Spend the afternoon hiking beneath sandstone towers plucked straight from outerspace. The deep red color of the rock, combined with lumpy formations of caked petrified mud, look like something from a Mars movie set. In fact, many movies have been filmed around these towers. A film museum at one of your optional lunch spots offers the full story. Enjoy the late afternoon light on the towers, then return to your Moab hotel.
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. Named for their resemblance to the first ironclad ships to do battle during the American Civil War, the Monitor and Merrimac buttes float on the desert heat waves like ships on a shimmering sea. Our variation avoids lots (almost all) of the sandy washes of the original Monitor and Merrimac trail while maintaining great views. Lots of slickrock hiking, significant fossil beds and historic structures also add spice to this trail.
Return toward Moab in the afternoon and follow the Colorado river to another famous trailhead. The trail is popular and fairly short, but you’ll hike to very special sandstone arch that has become something of a local spectacle due to its beauty and use by local climbers as a rope swing adventure (fatal in some cases). The route is mostly slickrock with some good trail sections, Moki steps and a small ladder and cables. Return to Moab hotel, stopping to view ancient cliff drawings and dinosaur tracks along the way.
Transfer to Bluff, Utah today, a remote outpost on the banks of the San Juan River. Pass by the southern entrance to the Canyonlands along the way. Drive in to visit an archeological site known as Newspaper Rock, or somewhat more accurately, “the rock that tells a story.” Boasting more than 650 petroglyphs inscribed by Puebloan people living 650-2,000 years ago, Newspaper Rock is one of the most interesting, and intriguing, petroglyph panels in the world. Continue past the entrance to the park and embark on a slick rock loop trail which offers a superb overview of the lower section of the park. The beauty of this hike is that it provides expansive views of the park unlike most trails which follow canyon floors. The hike is short and has negligible elevation gain and loss. Continue to the quiet village of Bluff and check into your hotel.
You’ll trade your hiking boots for paddles and bounce through exciting whitewater sections of the San Juan River. We chose paddling for this day because much of the best archaeology and sites of historical and human interest are to be found along the banks of the San Juan River. Local raft guides will treat you to a brilliant raft journey 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. Researchers estimate that some of the rock art found in this region goes back more than 2,000 years. Return to Bluff hotel.
Embark on two unique but short hikes today. The first hike visits some of the more interesting ruins to be found in the Comb Ridge complex. Comb Ridge is a roughly eighty-mile-long monocline filled with perfectly preserved ruins abandoned by ancient Puebloan inhabitants. The area is rich with history and artificats including centuries-old pottery, kivas, cliff houses, cliff art, ancient food and more. You’ll also hike to a rarely visited petroglyph panel. The panel is among the few known petroglyph panels that offers distance perspective (the distant figures are smaller than the near ones). Both hikes are “trailless” and unmarked, so you’ll be off the beaten path. Cairns on the slickrock and a well-worn path in the dirt will aid in your routefinding. Return to Bluff hotel.
This morning you’ll enter the Natural Bridges National Monument, where we’ve prepared a special loop hike of moderate length, although with driving, the event will take the full day. The trail passes by, and beneath, three of the canyon country’s most impressive natural bridges. You will have company as far as the first brige, (Sipapu), but will likely be alone for the rest of the walk. Enjoy rock art, ruins and the smell of Juniper, Pinon and sage during your hike. End the day with a drive to the mouth of Castle Valley, just north of Moab, and your well-appointed ranch/spa resort.
Return to Grand Junction, or move on to other destinations in the American Southwest.