50 Hikes 50 States–Utah

You-Taaaahhhh. That’s actually how I feel when I drive across the eastern border into Utah from Colorado. My hearts beats gleefully thinking about the fabulous hiking and amazing parks that invite outdoor enthusiasts. With the Big Five beckoning every good American roadster, anyone could hike for years and never cover all the unbelievable beauty of Utah.

Where to Hike in Moab

I’ve been to Utah countless times. The Southwest is my favorite region of the US; Utah, of course, grabs top ranking for the best parks overall. But I won’t kid you. My favorite place in the Southwest is Monument Valley (read 5 Unusual Things to Do in Monument Valley), which is not a National Park, and my favorite Southwest state is Arizona. But Utah is a close second in every category.

Picking a hike in Utah for this 50 Hikes 50 States Project might just be the most ridiculous challenge yet. Just off the top of my head, I can recommend five hikes to get started (Corona Arch, Newspaper Rock, Delicate Arch, Double O, Slick Rock) and I’ve even written a blog post about the three best moderate hikes to do in a weekend at Moab.

Criteria Are Important

But I always have to go back to my criteria for this project (within 2 hours of a major airport, a 3-5 mile loop, and quintessential to that state.) With Utah, I ignored the first requirement unless you count Grand Junction as a major airport. Many people fly into Salt Lake or Denver and drive to Moab, which will take about 4-5 hours. Lucky for me, I drive.

Looking for a good skort to hike in? Look no further than Skirt Sport.

If I were to fly, I’d actually fly into Vegas, do the Big 5 and try to hit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The roadtripping you can do through the Southwest is blind blowing. Here are two trips that I’ve done that you’re welcome to steal. One takes you west to California, the other takes you north to Yellowstone.

As for the 3-5 mile loop, that’s actually hard to find in Moab. Most of the trails take you on out-n-back hikes to major view points of geological features.

For the third criterion, how the heck could I delimit one arch, one geological feature, or one ruin from another?

And finally, I have an unwritten fourth criterion that I strive for earnestly, and in Utah, it’s certainly a challenge: whenever possible avoid access fees. In Utah, that’s tough. Unless you have an America the Beautiful Pass which gets you into most public lands, you’ll be shelling out $30 and $40 per entry.

Where to Hike for Free in Moab

I had a challenge on my hands for sure. Lucky for me, I have a friend I met through US Servas who lives in Moab. Whenever I drive through, she invites me to stay at her house. And she knows the trails. Intimately. She’s lived in Moab for a long time, and her hiking group and she hike weekly. Their goal is to avoid the crowds, find unique places, and enjoy each other’s company while outside in Moab’s beauty.

She recommended Fisher Towers, which is northeast of town on BLM land, and exactly on my way between my home and my daughter’s school in Arizona. I travel this route a few times a year, so I was thrilled when the geography worked out to my favor.

Hello Fisher Towers, Finally

The first time I attempted Fisher Towers, I got lost. At the trailhead, a RV had blocked the trailhead sign. I didn’t see it, and I went off in the exact wrong direction. I had an interesting hike, but after about a mile, it ended in a crevice. Hanging down the crevice was a rope. Hand etched into the side of the canyon was a “Do Not Use.” I heeded this advice and turned around.

When I got back to the trailhead, I saw the sign I originally missed. So I headed off down the trail in the right direction, only to pass the subtle left-hand turn into the canyon. I walked out on the butte for a good two miles before I realized there never was going to be a left-hand turn. I turned around and finally find my, now, right-hand turn to the Fisher Towers Trail. By then, though, the sun was soon to set and I was due for dinner at my friend’s. So I never even started the Fisher Towers Trail on my first attempt despite hiking almost five miles to find it!

Thus, when I returned this time, I knew what to look for. And bam, there it was!

Trailhead to the Right

I arrived to the trailhead at 3:30. Sun set at 6, so I scurried down the trail to the left turn that I had originally missed, and descended into the canyon. If you’ve read my previous 50 Hikes posts, you know I’m not a fan of hiking by myself (see my monkey brain in Missouri.) Here I was again, hiking alone, but there’s a certain calmness I feel when I’m in Utah. Whether it’s the glorious red dirt, the geometric buttes, or the native vibe that calms my soul, I’m not sure. But whatever it is, I melt right into the hike and don’t fret like I do when in the woods.

No one was on the trail. I knew, though, that a hiker I had met at the trailhead was in front of me, and this gave me reassurance in case something happened. The trail went from bone dry to slushy to icy to muddy. I wished I had my cleats (stupidly, they were in the car because the trail was dry at the trailhead, ugh!!!), and my waterproof boots were tested in the muddy slush. But despite the trail conditions, the views sparked my soul. By the way, I recommend Korkers for cleats on ice; read my review after wearing them for one year.

Giant, rising towers of red stone and mud reached the sky. Climbers stretched Spider-man style across the Tower faces. Officially the towers are a series of towers made of Cutler sandstone capped with Moenkopi sandstone and caked with a stucco of red mud and named after a local miner from the 1880s. The Towers shoot up 1000-3000 feet, with great hiking canyons between them. If you’re an Austin Powers fan, you’ve seen them in the opening scene in Austin Powers in Goldmember.

Don’t Fear the Ladder

Me, I just wanted to hike. About halfway to the viewpoint is a ladder shooting you down the canyon about ten feet. You must climb back up the other side, getting back on the trail to take you out to the point. Don’t freak out at the ladder. Just take your time and approach it with clean boot bottoms. I had to take a breath or two and wish I had someone with me. But then, I just counted to three and did it. No biggie.

I made it out to the point in about 1.5 hours, with just enough time to take a pic then hustle back to the car right as sun was setting. Next time, my third time!, I will start hiking by 3 so I can be sure to enjoy the entire experience. And I’ll bring my cleats. Unless, of course it’s summer, than I’ll just lug two gallons of water. 🙂

Great Eats in Moab

As for somewhere to eat in Moab, for this particular trip, I ate dinner with my friend at her house. But if you want some comfy Italian, grab it from the infamous Pasta Jay’s. Everyone goes there, especially in season. Try your best to get a reservation. Also, the smoothies at Peace Juice Cafe are worth a stop. Top them off with some good grab-n-go grub from the Moab Co-op, Moonflower.

What You Need to Know about This Hike (Click for interactive map)



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handsome hiking couple

Chris and Steve, the empty-nesting nomads, travel the world, one month at a time, housesitting and Airbnbing along the way. We uncover urban walks, great hikes, and vegan/vegetarian eats that other guide books miss. And we throw in a bit about Forex trading along the way.

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