Utah’s ultimate adventurer’s playground

Hiking in Arches National Park, I feel sparky with excitement. Knowing that the park’s namesake features hide somewhere in this desert gives each trek the happy anticipation of a scavenger hunt. But it’s the views that keep reeling me back. From Mesa Verde to Sedona, the Southwest is chockablock with pretty canyons and buttes, but nothing quite equals the scenic wallop of Arches near Moab, the small town that happens to be at the hub of all kinds of other GoPro-worthy terrain. At Dead Horse Point State Park, I’ve watched the rising sun ignite a sweeping panorama of intricate canyon cliffs carved by the Colorado River flowing 2,000 feet below. And then there’s the biking. At Island in the Sky, one of four scattered units that make up Canyonlands National Park, I’ve spent four glorious days mountain biking through chiseled red rock along the White Rim Trail. Just as blissful is one mere hour on the Slickrock Trail, where the grippy sandstone lets me swoop across steep bowls and ramps in ways that would be unthinkable on any other surface. At Arches, however, you barely need to leave your car to be immersed in a landscape of dazzling colors and formations. Framed in blue, it’s an awesome sight. When the breeze stills, I hear nothing at all: no distant traffic, no fluttering leaves, not even other visitors. For a moment it’s just me and the sandstone.

Where to stay:
Sorrel River Ranch ($489-$1,850) is a 25-minute drive from Moab, but the lodge, spa, and cabins sit beside the Colorado River and its snaggled red cliffs. The concierge can plan your adventure itinerary, the River Grill gives traditional American food an upscale twist, and the pool and cocktail deck both embrace idyllic canyon vistas. Eye-catching scenery continues after dark: On Fridays a telescope-wielding astronomer shows off the star-spangled sky.

Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park

Photo by Pete McBride/Getty Images

Where to eat:
Occupying a pink-stucco former courthouse and jail, the Jailhouse Café is Moab’s landmark breakfast spot, serving dishes like eggs Florentine with chile-spiked hollan-daise and hearty multigrain waffles. Breakfast panini and burritos are on the menu at Love Muffin Café, which is also a good place to grab muffuletta or bánh mì sandwiches on house-baked bread to take with you on the trail. The chandeliers are fashioned from bike rims at Spoke on Center, a stylish newcomer that offers such updated diner classics as quinoa salad, velvety mac and cheese, and locally sourced buffalo burgers in a historic brick storefront. At the Blu Pig, the 12-hour-smoked brisket will leave you stuffed for at least that long, but the smoked turkey breast is pretty good, too.

If you want to beat the crowds:
The best way to avoid the pack at icons like Delicate Arch? Head out before 7:30 a.m. Or go off-trail canyoneering with a guide and climbing equipment, which lets you plumb pristine slot canyons, grottoes, and (surprise) pools.