Moab, Utah is known for its off-road adventures. With trail names like Steel Bender and Wipe Out Hill, Moab attracts skilled drivers with trail-ready vehicles hell-bent on finding the most challenging, rocky trails the Utah backcountry has to offer. So when I was invited to ride along with NAVTEC Expeditions, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Off-roading in Moab is not exactly like a Pink Jeep Tour in Sedona, where pink jeeps take tourists out into Red Rock country to see the sights. Off-roading in Moab can take you up rocky hills, through narrow canyons and across washes. Unless you are an expert driver with a specially modified high clearance 4 WD vehicle, you will want to stick to the less harrowing roads.

Approaching Canyonlands National Park Utah

Early morning drive to Canyonlands National Park. Photo by Elizabeth R. Rose

Checking out Canyonlands National Park with NAVTEC Expeditions

If you are a novice and still want a thrilling 4×4 adventure, it can be yours in Moab. Our Grand Circle tour included a day in Canyonlands National Park with NAVTEC Expeditions. Their offerings include canyoneering and white water rafting. But we were out for the off-road adventure of a lifetime. We were going to be climbing over rock hills in a Lexus 4×4 and seeing some of the most beautiful backcountry scenery I’ve ever experienced in the Southwest.

Our day started out with a stop at Newspaper Rock, an impressive collection of over 650 ancient petroglyphs on a huge sheltered rock. It was an ideal place for a group of travel writers, and of course, we posed for a photo.

Canyonlands National Park Utah Adventure

Our Lexus 4×4 was loaded down with gear for the trip. Photo by Elizabeth R. Rose

We then headed to Canyonlands National Park for our off-road adventure. In the southern part of the park are beautiful spires of Cedar Mesa sandstone named The Needles. We were promised breathtaking scenery and a close-up view of the formations. I thought, perhaps, we’d be driving down some sandy back roads. I should have realized we were in for more when I spied the shovels, first aid kits, and spare tires our vehicles were carrying! We traveled in two vehicles, three writers and a driver in each.

The Needles Canyonlands National Park Utah Adventure

Our destination… the Needles. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

We arrived at the Elephant Hill parking area. The lot was filled with vehicles. Hikers were out for the day exploring the Elephant Hill-Chesler trails. We didn’t park, though. We drove right toward the rocky hills in front of us. There were no roads that we could see. But our drivers kept heading toward the rocks. Soon we were climbing… rock climbing in a Lexus!

Canyonlands Off Roading

Before we knew it, we were climbing the rocks. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Where we thought there were no roads, there were narrow trails hardly wide enough for a car and pretty scary to even hike!

4x4 moving through a narrow canyon during our Canyonlands National Park Utah Adventure

We wondered if we could fit through this narrow canyon. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

With narrow switchbacks, harrowing driving maneuvers by our guide, and some scary boulder climbing, we finally made it to the top. It was a bumpy ride as the car engine strained up one rock and over the next. The views were well worth it.

View of the Needles - Vistas were breathtaking during our Canyonlands National Park Utah Adventure

The vistas were breathtaking. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

We stopped to survey the formations and catch our breath. And then it was off down a fairly simple dusty back road to the next obstacle… The Squeeze. We kept our arms inside the vehicle for this rocky drive through a canyon so narrow you had to fold in the side mirrors to get through.

There were obstacles throughout our adventure but we encountered easy dirt roads and even stops with pit toilets. Round about noon we were getting hungry. But our drivers/guides had that under control, too. We arrived at a trailhead with a picnic table and feasted on sandwiches, veggies, and cookies.

Lunch in Canyonlands National Park Utah

The NAVTEC drivers set up a spread of sandwich makings for lunch. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Most of the group then took a hike up to another obstacle… a narrow canyon accessed by climbing up a notched log. When the group returned to the vehicle, we backtracked and then stopped just before heading back down the “non-road” to the parking lot.

Canyonlands National Park

Stunning vistas were everywhere in Canyonlands National Park. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

The afternoon light on the sandstone formations was amazing and, just before we left, a rainbow appeared in the distance. It was a beautiful end to a very exciting day.

Rainbow in Canyonlands National Park. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Our exciting day was topped of by a beautiful rainbow. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

I highly recommend a 4WD adventure with NAVTEC. I appreciated their excellent driving skills and knowledge of the area. Unless you really know what you are doing and have a high clearance vehicle, a guided trip is the way to go!

When You Go to Canyonlands National Park

Detailed 4-wheel drive maps and trail guides are available at the Moab Information Center on the corner of Main and Center Streets. It’s also a good place to inquire about weather and road conditions.

Every year around Easter time, Moab hosts what is referred to as the Easter Jeep Safari with off-road enthusiasts coming from miles around to participate. For more ideas on travel in Utah, see these articles by Wander writers.

Our Grand Circle tour with NAVTEC Expeditions at Canyonlands National Park in Moab, Utah was the off-road adventure of a lifetime - even for a four-wheel novice.

This experience was part of a Grand Circle tour provided by Southwest Adventure Tours and hosted by the members of the Grand Circle Association. While this has not influenced this content, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.

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