Yes, Arches National Park in Moab, Utah is absolutely amazing. We will never argue on that point. But you want to know a secret? The national park is not the only place to find natural arches, bridges, and weird desert structures. In fact, if you head a bit to the west you will also find some pretty crazy geologic formations - and practically no people.
We absolutely LOVE the Moab area. It is one of the few places we could actually see ourselves living (and thriving) in the United States. With its mix of culture, community, and outdoor adventures, it seems like one of the best places to settle down and still have incredible access to all the things we love (mountain biking, hiking, canyoneering, etc.).
But the town’s stellar location has not gone unnoticed - Moab is very much a tourist town, something you realize after a quick drive down the main street. Guiding services after guiding services, with a couple of T-shirt shops thrown in for good measure. And for two people who grew up in and around Estes Park, Colorado, we can spot a tourist town a mile away.
Not that we can blame people for wanting to explore Moab. But just because there are two national parks and one awesome state park right next door to town (all three of which are usually packed), does not mean you can’t escape the crowds. In fact, it is relatively easy to find a quiet corner of the desert - as long as you are willing to get a bit off-the-beaten-path.
Enter canyoneering. The underground, very niche desert sport that is at its absolute best near Moab.
\\ What is Canyoneering?
Somehow this adventurous sport has managed to stay under the radar. Very few people know about it, and those that have heard about it still have some very specific questions. And we get it. At first we had no idea what canyoneering was all about. But after 5 years of doing it, and about 50+ canyons later we are happy to answer some of the most asked questions.
| How do you get back out of the canyon? Usually a canyon ends with one last rappel and then you simply hike out (sometimes with a bit of scrambling). The hikes can measure anywhere from a couple hundred yards to the car, to a couple of miles (one canyon required an 8 mile hike out).
| Do you have to climb up the canyon first? No you never have to do any technical climbing (like with ropes or anything). Usually it is either a hike up to the top of a mountain or a pretty easy (gradual) hike to the mouth of the canyon.
| Is it really dangerous? You could say all sports have some risk involved. But canyoneering - if you know what you are doing - is not any more dangerous than a lot of other outdoor sports. The main things to remember have to do with wearing a proper harness, never going alone and making sure all anchors look secure.
| Aren’t you afraid of heights? The first couple of rappels are a bit nerve-wracking, no one feels comfortable walking off a 90-foot cliff at first. But you get used to it.
We understand that canyoneering isn’t for everyone. In fact, there are many people in our lives who we would never consider taking out into a canyon (we enjoy it too much to want to spoil it with fear-tears). But if you can get past the thought of rappelling down a cliff with just a harness and a rope between you and falling to your death, then canyoneering might just be the best adventure-sport around - especially in a place like Moab (sorry mountain biking).
And while Moab is close to two national parks, in truth, some of the best places to go canyoneering near Moab are actually on the west side of town, close to the Behind the Rocks and Potash Road areas.
Disclaimer: this article is not going to give you full beta on specific canyons - for that information we suggest heading over to trusty Road Trip Ryan, our website of choice when it comes to planning canyoneering trips. What it is going to do is discuss some of the best canyons to check out if you are looking to get off the beaten path, have a grand adventure, and have some slice of the Moab desert landscape all to yourself. So without further ado, here are four canyons we absolutely love near Moab.
Canyon #1: Bow and Arrow
This is one of those canyons that you go into with pretty low expectations, only to be blown away not just by the rappels and the canyon itself - but the overall beauty of the area. Bow and Arrow Canyon is a great way to explore the Potash Road area, check out a big natural arch (that was completely quiet when we were there), and do some desert exploring. Not to mention the views from the top of the Behind the Rocks area, and the La Sal mountains behind that, are absolutely world-class (and worth the short hike in alone).
Plus, it is short - meaning it is a good one to do either in the morning and evening and still have time for another activity (or another canyon). But don’t think that what it lacks in length it also lacks in technicality. In fact, this canyon has one of the longest rappels in the area (plus it is almost completely free-hanging). Bow and Arrow Canyon also gives you the chance to explore some unique desert terrain, including heading out on some somewhat “sketchy” narrow canyon rims (like Angel’s Landing minus the chains), hike around on some bluffs, and look for petroglyphs. The canyon has 3-4 rappels, depending on how confident you are on steep rocky downclimbs, and how you want to descend into the actual narrow canyon.
Canyon #2: Pool Arch
According to Road Trip Ryan, many consider this more of a “technical” hike. While there are two rappels, both 30 meters (99 feet), there is an option for a third 40-meter or 132 feet. But what makes this canyon special, besides the rather tall rappels, is the hike up to the raps themselves.
Pool Arch Canyon has a long approach, BUT along the way you get to see not one but two natural arches and do some serious butte and fin exploring. And because it is located in the Behind the Rocks area (a quiet, less-visited spot right outside of town), you will likely have the place to yourself.
This was actually the first canyon we ever did, way back 5 years ago when we just started dating (crazy!). And nothing makes you question the reliability and trustworthy-ness of your partner than going off your first rappel - and at 30-meters no less. But everything worked out and it is still one of our favorite canyons today - honestly, the last rappel is amazing.