Americans flock to Utah’s Big Five National Parks every year and unfortunately, the furrier members of the family are prohibited on many trails by the National Park Service. In my household, a dogless vacation doesn’t fly. “What fun would it be without him?” my husband asks, contemplating two weeks sans Rudy, our faithful Keeshond.
And so we approach our family vacations with the criteria of how much do we want to drive, and where can we hike? Because much as we adore Rudy, bringing a dog is a limiting factor. Unwelcome in most businesses and probably bored by museums anyway, hiking—i.e. walking the dog on various types of terrain—is our main canine-inclusive activity.
Here are six spots we found around Moab that made everybody happy.
Rabbit Valley, Colorado
I’ll admit it. I’m not the best navigator. Having failed to look at the map, I assumed Moab was right on Interstate 70, so it’s no wonder we missed the turnoff.
“It seems like we’ve been driving a long time,” Gideon said. A moment later, we both cried, “Colorado?!” as we whizzed past the welcome sign.
If this happens to you, don’t despair. Two excellent hiking trails await just across the border in an area called Rabbit Valley. Turn left for the evocatively named Trail through Time. This 1.6-mile loop is like an outdoor dinosaur museum, with interpretive stops along the trail where you can see a quarry where many dino skeletons have been exhumed, touch bone fossils stuck in rock, and gaze out over the Colorado plateau. In late April, visitors also enjoy flowering cacti.
We liked this area so much that we returned after our Moab stay and took the longer trail on the other side of the highway. The 6.6-mile Rabbit’s Ears Trail leads up to a mesa with panoramic Colorado River views. This was a perfect trail for a quiet hike that isn't crowded with other tourists. We saw absolutely nobody, even though the weather was perfect.
Grandstaff Trail, Moab
The Moab area has a long and varied history. First, it belonged to the Pueblo, Ute, and Navajo people. By the 1830s, adventurers crossed the Colorado River here along the Old Spanish Trail. Traders, Mormons, and railroad folks settled and passed through Moab in the later 1800s. The 1900s brought a uranium mining boom and Hollywood producers using the stunning red rock canyons as backdrops for westerns. But since the 1980s, mountain bikers have been taking over. Today, Moab is a famous adventure sports capital for people who bike, raft the Colorado River, and enjoy driving over large rocks in ATVs and jeeps.
For those of us who like a quieter trip into nature, the hiking there is great. Scenic Highway 128 veers off from Moab, and it is jammed full of impressive hiking spots. Our first venture out this way brought us to the area recently renamed Grandstaff Canyon. William Grandstaff was the first African American in the area. He ran cattle in this canyon in the late 1870s.
What a lovely canyon it is, whether you’re wrangling cattle or just one furry dog. The pleasant four-mile round trip hike includes many stream crossings, affording Rudy plenty of opportunities to drink, and saving us the hassle of carrying extra water for the dog. Two miles in, you come to a natural arch, which marks the end of the trail.
Also up Highway 128, Fisher Towers boasts awesome rock formations. This trail is only about 5 miles round trip, but my legs got pretty tired with all the elevation changes. However, the views of rocks like The Titan were worth it. This trail required carrying all our water, so we were glad the temperature was only around 60 degrees.
At one place, hikers climb down a metal ladder affixed to the cliff. If your dog is too big to fit in your backpack, walk about 30 feet up the hill and descend through the slot canyon.
Some rock climbers like to climb the Fisher Towers. We saw their ropes, but looking up at them made me so dizzy I thought I’d fall off the cliff! Me, I’m keeping my feet safely on the trail.
When it comes to dining on the road, I admit that as a vegan, vegetarian, and dog, we are a high-maintenance trio. So we went to Moab’s Eklectic Café twice.
With a beautiful dog-friendly patio and garden, a half dozen veg options, and an interesting international clientele, we give this place thumbs and paws up. The café also sells beads and jewelry. My husband bought me a calendar here featuring the abstract landscapes of Colorado Plateau painter Serena Supplee, so I’ll have Moab on my mind throughout 2018.
The veggie burger was pretty good, but the clear winner at Eklectic is the Indonesian satay with peanut sauce, salad, and curried rice. We chose tofu, but there’s also a chicken option.
Pioneer Cabin II
Rudy adores hotels and motels, and we visited many dog-friendly ones on our road trip. But our special splurge was four nights in a cabin in the La Sal Mountains, 18 miles from Moab.
Wind up and up the mountain and eventually, you come to the strangely-named Murray’s Last Resort, a meadow with a few cabins on it. Our log cabin was called Pioneer ll (Pioneer I was right next door) and had two bedrooms, living room, TV loft, kitchen, bath, balcony, and porch. Logs everywhere! The stairs, the interior walls, the supports for the balcony—all logs. With Native American and Western artwork on the walls, it was tasteful and cozy. And hard to leave when our time was up.
Bears Ears National Monument
A two-hour drive from Moab, Bears Ears is a natural area in southeastern Utah that’s sacred to multiple Indian tribes. It has a huge concentration of Native American ruins, petroglyphs, and pictographs. One of President Obama’s last accomplishments was using his executive authority under the Antiquities Act to deem Bears Ears a national monument and protect 1.35 million acres of federal land.
I was excited and curious to find out what we’d see on our day trip from Moab to Bears Ears. It was a little confusing because there’s not much signage, but it was well worth visiting. Uncrowded, with marvelous opportunities to see the ruins of native dwellings dating back more than a thousand years. And by uncrowded, I mean that at most of the areas we visited we encountered no other people. Take that, Big Five!
Bears Ears is a special place and was a highlight of our trip. We spent some time at a place called Ballroom Cave, a dwelling set right into a cave up the side of a cliff. Aside from a narrow trail, the valley below was untouched. I tried to imagine that I was a person living there circa 1250. Perhaps their view from the cave was the same as mine in 2017.
Before we went on our trip, I was a little skeptical. Two weeks of Utah with the dog? Would I get weary of hiking? Yearn to see more than big rocks? Instead, I found myself asking, “What part of Utah should we visit next year?”