NOTE BEFORE READING THIS POST: With COVID-19 cases still rising dramatically in several states, I urge y’all to consider what is best for you and your family. While we felt comfortable taking this social distancing vacation, you may not. Moab will always be there for you when you are ready, and I hope that when you do venture out, that you drop me a line and tell me how it went. Have a wonderful and safe Fourth of July! xoM
With the various travel challenges and restrictions amid the COVID-19 era, it stands to reason that tourism in the summer of 2020 will focus on social distancing vacations in areas easily accessible to one’s home base. While Phoenix and Tucson start to heat up, many desert dwellers have fled to the higher altitudes in the northern part of the state. In venturing a couple of hours north of the Arizona/Utah border, my family found that the quaint Utah town of Moab offered a healthy mix of outdoor fun in a socially distanced environment.
Moab, a former uranium mining town, sits at 4,000 feet on the Colorado plateau, a location known for spectacular scenery with the Colorado River cutting a verdant green swath among dramatic red buttes. It’s the stuff movies are made of. In fact, Moab has been a popular film location for many years, from John Ford and John Wayne Westerns to action movies like Mission Impossible. Moab is also the gateway to 2 of Utah’s 5 national parks, Arches and Canyonlands. It is truly an outdoor enthusiasts dream with mountain biking, rock climbing, kayaking, canyoneering, white water rafting, hiking, and horseback riding, which makes it a great candidate for a social distancing vacation.
As our “home” base, we chose to stay at the Sorrel River Ranch, a 4-star resort and spa 17 miles northeast of Moab on Highway 128 to Grand Junction. Situated on a picturesque bend along the Colorado River, Sorrel River Ranch has 55 air-conditioned rooms featuring a microwave, mini fridge, coffeemaker and flat screen tv. There is a full service spa, swimming pool, hot tub, tennis court, and a small fitness center. Although I cannot imagine why you would use the fitness center when you have the great outdoors. There is a hiking trail on property and several amazing trails within a short drive. I have compiled a short list of hiking trails below.
What can you expect from a socially distanced vacation? At the time of writing, masks were encouraged, but not required. Check-in was contact-less, and we were given buffs to wear as masks and complementary hand sanitizer. Meal times were spaced out so as to avoid overcrowding, but we also ordered room service several times. There were 9 of us in our group so when we went on excursions, they were private. Employees wore gloves, and when not social distancing, masks or the aforementioned buffs. Occupancy was low, so we rarely had interaction with other guests. It was almost like having the place to ourselves.
We booked a river-side cottage that was two stories and slept four people. These cottages start at $750 a night, excluding meals. After factoring in the cost of the excursions, you almost wonder if you have bought part of the ranch. Since we had driven from our home in Arizona, we brought several snacks and breakfast items. Oh, and we brought a lot of wine, which is key for a social distancing vacation. We ate a few meals in town, like breakfast burritos at Love Muffin Cafe, pizza at Antica Forma and BBQ from the Broken Oar.
However, there is no more spectacular place to eat than at al fresco riverside at the resort. Service was spotty as it was clear they were understaffed. I realize everyone blames just about everything on COVID, but we confirmed with the hotel manager that the resort was having difficulty hiring back some employees who had been furloughed due to the virus. Nonetheless, we were just so happy to have escaped our quarantine that we didn’t mind to have to wait a bit.
Outdoor Activities for Families
While our kids don’t necessarily approach hiking with the enthusiasm Hubby and I do, I think there is a little place in their hearts for our family hikes. In Moab, we took a variety, from easy to challenging. At the Sorrel River Ranch, there is a short 2 mile out and back hike, the Sorrel Ridge Trail, to the top of a butte overlooking the ranch and the Colorado River. This type of hike was perfect for an early morning calorie burner or a leisurely sunset stroll. Just down the road from the ranch is the Fisher Towers Trail, a moderate 5.2 mile out and back trail with views of a sandstone monolith, the Titan, which is the largest freestanding sandstone spire in the world.
We also went on an arch-viewing bender, starting with the Corona Arch Trail, a moderate 3 mile out and back trail to see one of the largest and most spectacular arches near Moab, along with the nearby Bowtie Arch. Next, we took a moderate 4.2 out and back hike criss crossing a creek to the Morning Glory Arch to see the 6th longest natural bridge in the US. And lastly, we ended the trip with a drive into Arches National Park on the day it reopened to hike the easy 3 mile hike to Delicate Arch, arguably Utah’s most famous arch that you see on the iconic blue and orange license plates.
In addition to hiking, kayaking, horseback riding and an Ultimate Terrain Vehicle excursion were the highlights. The resort booked through Wild West Voyages for our kayaking and river rafting adventure, and through Jeeper Jeff for the UTV tour. The ranch has onsite stable stocked with beautiful horses and offer a wide range of horseback riding options, from trail riding to private lessons. If you have your own horse, you can even board at their stable.
Good To Know
- Admission to Arches was free the day we went. However, normally it is suggested to purchase an annual “America the Beautiful National Parks Pass” for $80. This gets you into Arches and Canyonlands as well as more than 2,000 other federal recreation areas, including all US national parks. Another option is to purchase a Southeast Utah Parks Pass for $55. Be sure to have plenty of snacks and water when visiting a park as there are no concessions within the parks.
- If you plan on camping, book ahead as camp sites fill up quickly. And in areas near water, watch out for poison ivy.
- Moab is considered high desert, and temps in the summer can heat up to over 100. Best time to visit is in May and September.
The drive from Phoenix took close to 8 hours, driving through Flagstaff and then taking a right through Tuba City, Kayenta and north into Monument Valley. You can also reach Moab by flying into Grand Junction, Colorado, which is an hour and a half drive.
Want to cut your road trip time down while still getting out of the heat this summer? Check out my latest Sedona Guide for another great social distancing vacation option.
All photos by Marci Symington for TEXAZTASTE.com.