It is doable to see Arches National Park and Canyonsland National Park two days with some planning. I’ve been to Moab multiple times, but never in winter until I recently took one of my besties’ sons for his first visit to Utah’s desert and canyon country. If you want no crowds, January and February are a great time to visit. The only drawbrack is some restaurants close for a few weeks in winter. We had iconic places like Delicate Arch, the Windows and Mesa Arch with very few, and in some cases no, people. During our two days, we spent time in both parks, both days.
Home base: We rented a bungalow at Moab Springs Ranch. They have bungalows and townhomes in a great location on the north side of town. These make it easy to social distance, plus sunrise and sunset views are wonderful from their hillside location.
We arrived at sunset and quickly got settled then headed to one of my favorites for Mexican comfort food. Fiesta Mexicana is consistently good and it’s one of my favorites in Moab.
Day 1: Delicate Arch to Grand View Point
We headed to Arches National Park for the morning. It’s just a couple of miles from downtown Moab. Because first on Carson’s list was to hike to Delicate Arch. It’s about a 20-25 minute drive from the entrance to the parking area. Normally you need to be to the trailhead by 7am to secure a parking spot, but in January you can roll in about 8:30/8:40am like we did. It’s a 3-mile round trip hike. In winter, you need to be prepared for icy spots. In summer, you need to be done by 9am to beat the heat and crowds. We had no more than 15 people with us at the iconic arch.
We drove to Devils Garden area to hike to Landscape and Double O Arches, but it was cold and windy so we headed back into Moab and grabbed some burritos and tacos from Giliberto’s Mexican Taco Shop. These are a locals’ favorite for grab-and-go. After brunch, we headed to Canyonsland for the afternoon, making a stop first at Dead Horse Point State Park to the see bend in the Colorado River. It’s worth a stop and if you have time, I highly recommend doing the rim hike.
At Canyonsland we headed to Grand Point View. It’s a 2-mile round trip hike that’s fairly easy along the rim. It was late afternoon and the sun was quickly setting. On our hike back we were treated to a wonderful alpenglow on the La Sal Mountains. It’s about a 50 minute drive from Grand Point parking lot back to Moab, where we grabbed take-out pizza from Zax Restaurant.
Day 2: Mesa Arch to The Windows
We left our bungalow at 6:15am in order to get to the parking area for Mesa Arch in Canyonsland and have 10-15 minutes to hike to arch. We had about 20 other people with us on a Monday morning. In summer, you need to get there way early if you want a prime spot. Sunrise at Mesa Arch is worth the effort to see the orange glow appear.
After grabbing Giliberto’s again back in Moab, we headed over to Arches. I had permitted us for the next day to hike in Fiery Furnace. They only give out 52 permits a day for this remote part of Arches. You can get one online, but you need to do it at least 2 days before you want to go. We stopped at the visitor center and the ranger on duty was able to move us to that day because it was January and only a few other people were in there. You have to watch a video before you get a permit. Fiery Furnace is not for novice hikers. It’s a maze of canyons, slick rock and narrow passageways. It had been on my hiking bucket list for a long time. If that hike is too challenging for you, I highly recommend hiking to Landscape and Double O Arches. It’s wonderful too.
After a few hours exploring in Fiery Furnace, we made a stop at Sand Dune Arch then drove over to watch sunset at The Windows and Turret Arch. After a long but very fun day, we picked up spaghetti at Pasta Jay’s and called a day.