Moab is a city in eastern Utah most famous for being the gateway to world-renowned Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. The picturesque mesas and buttes are famous for hikers, mountain bikers, rock climbers, and of course, off-roaders.
We got to spend a week in Moab riding some backcountry 4x4 trails and BLM trails. Here are our takeaways.
Trail: Cliff Hanger
Difficulty Rating: 7 - best for experienced wheelers
- Broken Axle
- Broken Rear-End (including driveshaft and housing)
- Broken Brake Line
- Lockers in front and rear
- Minimum 35-inch tires
This trail was very convenient. Located only a few miles outside of town, it was quick to get to but still featured beautiful views throughout the entire trail that made you feel like you were in the middle of nowhere. Steep walls rose above you and sheer cliffs dropped on each side which made for a majestic setting.
The Cliff Hanger trail is a shared-use trail with mountain bikers. We saw a few but they do have their own trail. Some parts crossed paths or were shared but everyone was very friendly and didn’t seem to mind motor vehicles along the way sharing the trail.
There were some difficult rock sections and steep climbs. This is a great trail for experienced riders. Finesse and a good spotter are always a plus and definitely necessary at some points. Never forget the cardinal rule of off-roading which is never wheel alone!
This trail requires vehicles with lockers in the front and rear with a minimum of 35-inch tires. A winch is a plus as it may be needed in some sections.
The trail traverses up the cliffside to the top of the ridge. When dropping off the other side there is about a 600-foot sheer cliff. A nice rock section drops you down with a challenging off-camber drop of about two feet toward the cliff. This is what provides a fear factor rating of 7. A spotter is recommended for mental and driver support.
Once over this section, you move along the plateau which features some minor difficult sections, subtle yet bumpy. When you get to the top there is a beautiful view high above the Colorado River. You can walk right up to a 100-foot cliff that feels like a 1,000-foot cliff and literally sit on the edge if you choose to do so.
When you get to the viewpoint, grab a good-sized stick and throw it off the cliff. The updraft is so strong it will pull the stick up in the air and over your head returning it back onto the top of the mountain!
This is an out-and-back trail and going back was equally as challenging. Some of the more fearful cliff sections now had the driver against the cliff which doesn’t help with nerves. We personally find that going up is easier than down so we didn't have much trouble with some of the tougher sections, but what a great trail!
Trail: Flat Iron Mesa
Difficulty Rating: 3
Overall Score: 5
Day two was a relaxing day. We went about seven miles outside of town to reach the Flat Iron Mesa trailhead. Most of the trail is on a plateau with a few challenging sections which had bypasses for those who didn’t want to do them.
Beautiful vistas flanked us on both sides with the snow-capped Colorado Rockies looming in the distance. This trail features nice solid slick rock climbs which look intimidating but add for amazing traction. The most intimidating section is exciting but has a bypass so is not mandatory.
There is a challenging off-camber trail to lead you up to a narrow corner section where fear factor is high. This section is called the Intimidator but with a good spotter there is plenty of space on both sides to maneuver safely around, which we did even in the full-width axle of our TJ Wrangler.
Next there’s about a 200-foot cliff on the passenger side with about 12 to 18 inches between the tires and edge which can get your blood pumping.
The dirt road brings you the full loop and drops you out on a maintained gravel road.
This is a pretty trail; good for beginners but not very challenging.
Trail: Hells Revenge
Overall Score: 9 (rain adds an extra factor)
This was a trail most of us were most looking forward to and we got to do it in the rain. It would have been good to test the waters in wet conditions but this trail allows no such luck.
We started to climb immediately and ride a spine for about a quarter mile in wet and raining conditions. The elements added to the excitement and brought an average of 10-15 in the fear factor range. Anyone riding in the passenger seat will get some nerve-wracking views.
In fact, both riders will be tense as there are steep cliffs on each side with only about 12 inches on each side. Small dots are visible to keep the vehicle centered but they don’t do much to keep this from being a white-knuckle ride.
Once down and breathing again we traversed up and around different solid rock sections. Even in wet conditions traction didn’t seem to be an issue for any of us. My 41.5” Pit Bull tires were aired-down to about 10 PSI and handled great.
From there we worked our way down tip over challenge and up and around the giant rock faces we were riding along. This trail is very beautiful and keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time. The dots alongside the trail help guide on the very steep sections.
Once we realized traction wasn’t an issue we were able to relax a bit more but the inclines were breathtaking. Tops were always fun, not being able to see where you are going and just peeking for that next marker. It is a roller coaster of a trail!
The river overlook is a tight section that perches you above the Colorado River with a great view up and down for a mile. This trail does offer fun double black diamond sections that have
bypasses. Hells Gate is an off-camber rock crevasse that allows you to climb about 100 feet up at a pretty substantial angle. This section is not recommended for carbureted vehicles as we had a vehicle in our group stall out and almost have a fun full-speed ride down backwards.
As long as you pick the right line and have a good spotter, the climb out is easy. If mishaps do occur, however, it usually means winching and it is a good 100 feet down from the top to nearest sections to get a line down safely.
Once everyone was up safely, we continued on our journey. The trail moves up and down along the giant rock with very little actual rock crawling but steep rock faces and sometimes drops that
make for an exciting trail. We stopped for lunch at The Escalator. A tour rocking a stretched-to-the-gills suburban chassis helped give us a false sense of security as we went up and down with ease.
Always up for a challenge, three of us with super-capable rigs gave it a shot. The first, a one-of-a-kind Land Cruiser rocking a LS (and too many goodies to list) made it into the middle section with ease but was not able to position enough to pull out of the hot tub bowl; which was, of course, full of water. To our amazement, he actually backed down and made it out.
The second rig was a very stout Bronco, which made it up to the same bowl section with ease, but tire placement seemed to be a huge issue as it kept wanting to roll over backwards. After some Austin Power turns (to get the right tire position), he was able to climb right up and out.
The ATC TJ made it up the first section with ease, which is when we learned the true meaning of
“The Escalator”, basically when you get in a situation which escalates really quick. We slammed into the wall sacrificing yet another mirror to the off-roading gods. After some tire movement we were able to crawl right out and on up to the top.
“Mickey's Hot Tub” is a sight to see. The hot tub-like rock formation is about 20 feet deep with a pretty good rock face. It had about two feet of water in it at the time, so we had to pass on it this trip.
From there we continued our journey up and around the rock faces. “Tip Over” challenge is a nice uphill climb with an off-camber turn about halfway up. Pretty sure the name wasn’t there for just intimidation factor, but we all seemed to make it up without any issues. The rest of the trail was fun and went without incident.
Trail: Moab Rim Trail
Overall Score: 7
This is another close-to-town trail only a few minutes from downtown Moab. Everyone was a little on edge with this trail as two drivers had recently died due to equipment failure. We made sure everything was working properly before we hit the road.
The trail immediately starts traversing up the side of the mountain. Off-camber ledges and very little room for error adds to the excitement starting the Moab Rim. The Devil’s Crack obstacle was first on our list.
Going up we were able to make this without any issues as well as all of our group. We moved
smoothly along the side of the mountain to the Z Turn. The Z turn has a sharp right rock section followed by a sharp left section. Room for error adds to the excitement because the vehicles are always at an off-camber angle and if something should go wrong there is no place to go but down. Far down. With a smooth throttle foot and a trusty spotter all the vehicles made it without incident.
Once you reach the top you have an amazing view of the entire town of Moab. Indian rock art and sand dune petroglyphs also make this a special ride. This is an out-and-back trail, so we headed back down. Now facing downhill at all times added to the fear factor. Every little lean felt like you were going over. We made it through the Z Turn and Devil’s Crack slow and steady with good vehicle positioning and a good spotter.
This trail was a great ride; a 7 overall. We recommend 35-inch (or bigger) tires, and lockers. Not because the terrain was anything too crazy but to make sure capable rigs and drivers are on it so mistakes are not made.
Moab is on the list for many off-road enthusiasts. The sandstone around Moab is perfect for great and challenging trails. The views are spectacular and as long as you aren’t going in the dead of summer, the weather is great. While we all brought our own vehicles, there are plenty of places for Jeep rentals, ATV and UTV rentals, and even off-road tours.
We can’t wait to return, next time we plan to check out some of the other famous trails; of which there are many (like Pritchett Canyon, Poison Spider Mesa, Golden Spike, Shafer Trail, Chicken Corners to name a few).