If you haven’t been here since your dude days, you’re in for a pleasant, even refined, surprise
Hard-core. That’s been the rap on Moab, Utah, ever since the boom-to-bust mining town became a high-desert outpost for the slickrock set in the ’80s—a colossal outdoor playground for hikers, bikers, climbers, and paddlers who shred, tear, rip, roar, scale, summit, and conquer. With a landscape this dramatic, adrenaline seekers will always come here in search of the gnarly. But lately Moab has sprouted more mellow pursuits that you don’t have to catch air or defy gravity to enjoy. Don’t mistake mellow for monotonous, though. We’re talking wineries tucked among sandstone canyons, locally sourced eats, scenic bike trails that won’t chew up and spit out beginners, and suites along the Colorado River. It’s the same great outdoor playground, with a new sophisticated side.
Beyond the brewski
Six miles south of town, you can amble among the vines at tiny family-run Spanish Valley Vineyards & Winery (closed Sun; 4710 Zimmerman Lane; ), the stunning red rock backdrop your only clue you’re in the Utah desert. Head inside to sample the crisp, fruity Riesling—this is the first winery in Utah to grow and produce the varietal.
For more sips, head 15 miles northeast of Moab along the Colorado River to Castle Creek Winery (Milepost 14, State 128; ), the area’s viticulture heavyweight and Utah’s largest commercial winery. The standout here is the slightly sweet, floral Lily Rose White Muscat, a good example of this increasingly popular grape. And you can’t say no to a $9 bottle at the riverfront tasting room.
Biking—hold the aspirin
Moab’s undulating moonscape of slickrock put it on the mountain-biking map. But if trails like Cliff Hanger, High Dive, and Upchuck make you want to hide under the covers, head for the beginner-friendly Intrepid Trail System at Dead Horse Point State Park ($10/vehicle; ). Opened in 2009, three interconnecting loops from 1 to 9 miles have minimal climbing, but plenty of bang for your buck. Wheeling along this 2,000-foot-high mesa, you’ll see killer panoramas of the La Sal Mountains and the Colorado River below, while the longer Big Chief Loop has views of Canyonlands National Park. Stop by the visitor center for a free map.
Just a few pedal strokes west of Main Street, the laid-back Gonzo Inn (from $169; ) is the go-to for the hike ’n’ bike set. To bump up the creature comfort quotient, drive to Castle Creek Winery and the lush Red Cliffs Lodge (from $220; ), a desert oasis beneath towering cliffs on the banks of the Colorado River. The large, airy main lodge bustles with its Cowboy Grill, Wild Horse Bar, and scenic deck where you can watch the parade of river-runners while sipping a cocktail or wine. R&R in any of the cabins along the river comes with sweet views and private patios perfect for starlit evenings.
Grub goes upscale
Though Moab isn’t a fine-dining destination, those with high standards won’t go hungry. Get your a.m. perk and spicy huevos rancheros or whole-wheat buttermilk pancakes at old favorite EklectiCafé ($; 352 N. Main St.; 435/259-6896), where the best seat in the house is on the cafe’s garden patio.
After a day outdoors, you’ll find townies at the Moab Brewery ($$; 686 S. Main; ) for good reason. The Dead Horse Amber Ale and a Brewer’s Reuben taste even better after a romp in red rock country.
The finest dining is downtown at the newly relocated Desert Bistro ($$$$; 36 South 100 West; 423/259-0756), where local, organic ingredients turn into creative dishes like bacon-wrapped smoked elk tenderloin and handmade agnolotti pasta with mushrooms.
Hit the classics
Hike in Arches National Park. This geologic fantasyland has webs of trails with mind-blowing views. But don’t miss the easy 3-mile round-tripper to the park’s most iconic landmark, Delicate Arch. From the trailhead at Wolfe’s Ranch, follow the route past Ute petroglyphs onto waves of swelling sandstone where the freestanding arch rears up to defy gravity. Time your trek during the magical twilight hour—you won’t be alone, but you will see a spectacle some 70,000 years in the making ignited in the crimson colors of sunset. $10/vehicle;
Ride the Colorado River. April usually marks the onset of 80° temps along the Colorado River, the perfect kickoff to rafting season. Hop aboard with the granddaddy of outfitters, Adrift Adventures. Rolling through immense canyons, the broad cappuccino-colored river never exceeds much more than grin-inducing Class III riffles in April. Depending on conditions, an overboard river dip may be in order. Tours from $35/person half-day; 378 N. Main;