For people who have spent most of their lives living in or near a city, looking up to see the night sky in all its galactic glory is a truly awe-inspiring experience. The total absence of light pollution in designated dark-sky areas makes for an all-natural light show unlike anything you’ll see in any city, and a chance to observe the stars just like our ancestors did before the explosion of human civilization. Whether you’re a seasoned stargazer or a first-timer, here’s what you need to know to make the most out of Moab’s incredible dark-sky destinations.
Arches National Park
With its main entrance just a few minutes from downtown Moab, Arches National Park is one of the most accessible places near town to soak up the night sky in total darkness. Designated as an International Dark Sky Park in summer of 2019, Arches took careful measures to become dark-sky friendly, with shielded light fixtures that minimize glare, as well as bulbs that limit the amount of blue light generated—a major source of light pollution. On a clear night, you can get great views of the stars from just about anywhere in the park, though keep in mind that the further north (and away from town) you venture, the darker the skies will be.
Canyonlands National Park
Slightly more off the beaten path from Moab proper—which means further away from the ambient light that obscures the night sky—Canyonlands National Park was named a Gold-Tier Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association in 2015. Nighttime views here are so incredible that people visit from all over the world to explore on their own or participate in park-ranger-led stargazing activities. Similar to Arches National Park’s dark-sky conservation efforts, Canyonlands National Park also utilizes special night-sky friendly lighting fixtures and bulbs to preserve its unique magic of total darkness after sundown.
Dead Horse Point State Park
Another International Dark Sky Park (with the status awarded in 2016), Dead Horse Point State Park is approximately a 45-minute drive from downtown Moab, and one of the best places in the state for stargazing. Its location atop a high plateau gives great lines of sight that offer a nearly full view of the celestial sphere, and it’s far enough away from surrounding development to stay incredibly dark at night. In addition to plenty of places to enjoy the night sky on your own, the park also offers ranger-guided night activities from full-moon walks to telescope-gazing sessions.
When to Go & What to Bring
Once you’ve decided on a destination, there are a few things to keep in mind that can majorly enhance your experience. If possible, try to time your visit to coincide with a new moon, as the skies will be even darker. If you can’t, that’s OK—you’ll still have a window of dark-sky time before the moon comes over the horizon. If you’re interested in diving a little deeper than simply looking skyward, consider smartphone apps like Star Walk or Night Sky. And if you really want to get serious, you can look into star charts that correspond to individual dates and locations. Consider bringing a pair of binoculars, as they’re more affordable, portable, and user-friendly than a telescope. And while bringing a headlamp or flashlight is a good idea to safely make your way around the park, one with a red-light mode is preferred to preserve night vision, which can take nearly 20 minutes to adapt to the darkness.
For more information on stargazing in Moab, visit discovermoab.com.
Hike the National Parks
No matter the season, no three-day weekend trip to Moab is complete without visiting at least one of the two stunning nearby national parks, Arches and Canyonlands. The parks are open year-round, and while it is possible to take in the wonder of the wild attractions simply from your car window, you should opt to hike one of the many renowned trails, like to iconic Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, or through the winding paths of the Windows Area. You’ll enjoy cooler hiking weather, fewer crowds, and the feeling that you have a national park all to yourself (and, you really might).
Visit Dead Horse Point State Park
While Arches and Canyonlands deservedly stand out when it comes to must-see Moab destinations, Dead Horse Point State Park, located near Canyonlands, shouldn’t be overlooked. You should especially consider visiting the park if you are bringing your four-legged friend, as it is largely a dog-friendly destination. Dead Horse Point sits on a high plateau and features a vast canyon rim where you can sightsee for miles. At night, the state park transforms into a certified International Dark Sky Park, where you’ll more than likely lose track of counting shooting stars. It’s also worth taking advantage of park-staff-guided events like full moon hikes and star parties that happen on a semi-regular basis, pending weather and other restrictions (be sure to check at the visitor center.)
Family Hiking in Arches National Park
Enjoy a (Mostly) Leisurely River Trip
Rafting and Kayaking on the Colorado River Near Moab
The Colorado and Green rivers are responsible for helping carve the winding landscapes that define the Moab terrain, and there’s no better way to see the sculpted walls of the Colorado Plateau than up close and personal in a river raft. While rafting trips on the Green River typically close by the fall season, guided trips on the Colorado don’t end until water levels get too low in late October. Fall is the preferred time of year for many three-day weekend visitors to take a trip down the storied river, as the later months offer a mellower experience without the extreme thrills that often come with tumultuous summertime rapids. Enjoy a rafting trip at a (relatively) leisure pace, giving you more time to admire the red rock pinnacles, wildlife, and petroglyphs visible near the river’s edge. Rafting tours vary in length from a few hours long to multi-day trips.
Cover More Ground on a Mountain Bike
There’s a lot to see in Moab’s immense wilderness, and renting a mountain bike (at any number of outdoor retailers on Main Street) might be the solution to exploring as much backcountry as possible on your weekend getaway. Seasoned mountain bikers come from far and wide to enjoy Moab’s endless trail systems, but mountain biking is accessible for people of all experience levels, particularly when visiting with such pleasant temperatures. Are you traveling with a group with varying mountain biking experience? Check out the Bar-M Loop, a scenic, accessible beginner trail that’s open year-round and connects to several more advanced trails, should the experienced biker in the group wish to break off to conquer more technical terrain.
Mountain Biking on the Klondike Bluff Trail near Moab
Follow the Cowboys
Saddle up! Get off the beaten path and step back in time to experience the spiraling towers and river valleys of Moab’s sandstone vistas on a horseback riding tour – taking the same paths as some of history’s most (in)famous cowboys. Professional wranglers will guide you through these scenic, open-range trails, which meander through hallowed Western ground and take you everywhere from the vast Castle Rock and Castle Valley, to Fisher Towers, to the banks and creeks of the Colorado River. There are a range of tours available, from 90-minute rides to half-day adventures. It might be difficult to take your eyes off the infinite landscape as your guide points out historic desert hideouts, along with more contemporary Western movie sets. Most tours run through November—note that fall temperatures can fluctuate significantly, so be prepared with layering options (flannels and cowboy hats not provided.)
To find out more visit discovermoab.com.