Any serious mountain biker who hasn’t been yet probably has Moab on their wish list. However, most don’t realize how affordable it can be to get there and they never end up going. Right now is the perfect time to plan your trip, and this is the year to use that tax refund and stimulate the Utah economy a little!
I’ve been mountain biking in Moab 2 or 3 times a year since moving here to Colorado and over the years I’ve learned a few things about planning great trip.
When to Go
Moab has two riding seasons: April-May and Sept-Oct. As a destination for other things besides mountain biking, lodging tends to fill up quickly. NOW is the time to book your trip for this spring! If you can’t squeeze a whole week of vacation into your schedule, a Wednesday through Sunday trip allows for 2 travel days and three solid days of riding.
Moab has a small airport and there are two flights in and out per day (from Denver). If you plan ahead, you can score a pretty good deal, especially if you book your own connecting flight to Denver, rather than using code share from another airline.
The next most convenient flight option is Grand Junction, CO which is about a 2 hour drive from Moab. As a bonus you can also bag a few mountain bike trails in Fruita on the way. American, United, US Airways and Delta all have flights into Grand Junction.
Most travelers grab a cheap flight to Denver, rent a car and drive from there. It’s a 6 hour drive on I-70 and there are towns all along the way for pit stops.
It can be tempting to fly into Salt Lake City and drive, which is about a 4 hour trip, however there aren’t as many flights into there and I have done the drive: it is 235 miles of NOTHING.
Where to Stay
Moab has lodging options ranging from 5-star resorts to wilderness camping. For me, the trip is more about the activity than the lodging, but I don’t want to stay in a dump either.
All of the major hotel chains are there, but they cost more per night than they would in a major city. If you have reward points to use up or just want to stay in a known place, these are for you. I have stayed at the River Canyon Lodge, where the prices are reasonable. The suites are roomy and have a stove and full size fridge. The regular rooms are pretty small, but they have a desk, microwave and mini-fridge. All of the rooms are clean and functional, and as an added bonus, they have free WiFi, locked mountain bike storage, a huge hot tub, and a heated pool.
Another option is to rent a house or condo through vrbo.com or similar. If you have a large group, this can greatly reduce the per person cost, as well as provide all the amenities and privacy you would have at home.
Camping or renting a cabin at an established campground is a great bargain and is what I usually do. KOA is a couple of miles south of town and they have cabins for about $68 per night for 4 people. All the cabins have electricity, a heater and a swamp cooler. Canyonlands Campground is in the middle of town, but once you enter their gate you’d never know it. Their cabins sleep 6 for $58 per night, and they have heat, AC and a TV! Both campgrounds are clean with friendly staff and access to free WiFi. They also both have tent sites in the $25 to $30 per night range, if you’re into that.
If you like to rough it, there is backcountry camping all over the place. The most convenient backcountry camping is in Sand Flats Recreation Area, along Highway 128 next to the Colorado River, or here. These will run you $10, $7 or $0 per night, respectively. Also check out this list of Moab area campgrounds for more options.
Bring My Bike or Rent
Most local bike shops will pack a bike for shipping for $75 or less. Then you need to either pay to ship it, or pay the airline a baggage fee to bring it, and either way, pay a shop on the other end to pack it for the return trip. You can pack it yourself, and ship it to where you are staying, but it’s still one more thing to have to deal with.
There are a handful of bike shops in Moab, all with decent rentals. A ‘regular’ rental will cost you $40 for the first day and $35 per day after, and a high end demo rental will run $65-$70 per day. I live in Colorado and drive to Moab, so I always take my own bike, but if I was flying, I would rent. It’s just easier and offers a chance to ride something new.
Speaking of Bike Shops
All of the bike shops in town are competent, friendly and knowledgeable about the local riding scene. Here are some specific observations:
Poison Spider: Great shop, excellent service, lots of merch, BUT they are the first shop you see when you come into town. This is reflected in their prices and how busy they are.
Uranium Cycles: Hole-in-the-wall shop, hardly any merch. Marshall, the owner, is friendly, extremely knowledgeable about the local trails, does fast and competent service and rents out Ibis Mojo’s and Niner RIP 9′s. They also have the best priced shuttle service in town.
Rim Cyclery: I’ve not had an opportunity to deal with them, but I hear they’re ok. They finally redid their website. Until recently it said “2006 season”
Moab Cyclery: Center of town, good service, fair amount of merch. Their rentals are reasonably priced and they offer a shuttle and guided tours.
Chili Pepper: This is my personal fave. Lots of merch, great service, supercool atmosphere in the shop, and next door to Moab Brewery so you can grab a pint while they tune up your ride. They have reasonably priced rentals and are actively involved in the Moab scene.
What About Food?
If your accommodations allow you to cook, there are two grocery stores in town: a City Market (King Soopers) and a smaller, independent store. Both are well stocked and the prices are about what you’d pay at home.
All of the fast food places are represented, if that’s your thing. For the more adventurous, here are some local restaurant recommendations.
ZAX pizza is good, but the buffet is a rip-off. Order a whole pie…it’s cheaper and tastes better.
Paradox Pizza has decent prices and awesome pizza; almost as good as back east! Next door to Chili Pepper Bike Shop, and they deliver.
Pasta Jays has great Italian food, and is reasonably priced.
Moab Brewery has excellent food, micro brews on tap and home-made root beer, all at surprisingly affordable prices. (This is a favorite of mine, my wife and kids, and the guys I ride with)
Eddie McStiff’s, in my opinion, is overrated. I found the prices high, the service mediocre and the food so-so. Make a second trip to Moab Brewery instead.
Miguel’s Baja Grill is highly recommended by the locals, but I haven’t eaten there yet to confirm it.
There are a number of other restaurants around town, so if anyone has any personal favorites, please share them in the comments.
Can We Ride Yet?
For your first trip to Moab, Slickrock Trail and Porcupine Rim should both be on your list. Both are located in the Sand Flats Recreation Area and are subject to a $5 per vehicle day use fee, which is good for three days. Slickrock is a loop, so no shuttle is required. Porcupine requires at least a drop-off, but riding from the end of the trail back into town is not a big deal.
If you arrive early enough, it’s a great idea to hit something like Monitor/Merrimac or the Slickrock Practice loop to get a feel for Moab riding.
Three full days of riding could go something like this:
Travel Day: Slickrock Practice Loop or Monitor/Merrimac
Day 3: Porcupine Rim (upper and/or lower, shuttle required) If you still have legs left, mess around at Bartlett Wash
Travel Day: Arches National Park sightseeing in the morning, time permitting. ($10 entry fee)
Of course there are many more trails than this in and around Moab, but the above hits the highlights and is realistic for any average rider capable of moderate physical exertion. You can make it as expensive or as frugal as you like, but even a modest tax return should be enough to cover everything you need for a great trip.
I’ll be there April 27 – May 1, and I’ll be looking for other Singletracks jerseys out on the trails!