Introduction Climbing Information Guide Books Access and Regulations Getting There Weather Camping and Accomodations
Located in southeastern Utah, the small town of Moab is a desert sandstone paradise. While Moab might be better known as a mountain biking mecca, or a touristy destination with the Canyonlands and Arches National Parks, it also offers unmatched climbing opportunities.
The desert land surrounding Moab is characterized by mile after mile of sandstone cliffs, canyons, towers, walls, mesas, buttes and spires. This is a unique destination, and the climbing potential is endless. All that sculptured sandstone lined with perfect cracks makes Moab a very special place for a memorable climbing road-trip.
While Moab has a little bit of everything to offer, from bouldering to aid climbing to cragging, many climbers come to the desert to polish their crack climbing skills, and to climb the famous sandstone towers. These unique sandstone spires will reward you with airy summits and amazing views of the desert landscape. Standing on top of a desert tower is an unforgettable experience that should be on every serious climber's resume.
Climbers from all over the world come to the Moab area to test their crack climbing skills on the long, vertical and slick sandstone cracks of the desert. But climbing here is not for everyone. Crack climbing in the desert is serious business, and it's an art that takes time to master. Most routes are 5.9 or harder, steep, long, and committing in nature. Sandy sections are very common, as well as loose blocks and flakes. The climbing is physically demanding, with few rests, and sometimes long runouts up unprotectable mandatory chimneys.
Most routes are all trad, and fixed anchors can be old, and sometimes scary on less popular routes. However, many of the more popular classic routes have bolted belay stations, which speeds up the climbing significantly. In recent years many of the anchors and bolts have been replaced by the American Safe Climbing Association, and other good samaritans. To keep up the good work, the ASCA needs your donation! Still, don't trust any old fixed protection, and always back-up the anchors if possible.
Speaking of protection, this is not the place to learn how to place your first cam, or how to build an anchor. Experience is mandatory. Placing protection in soft sandstone is not like plugging a cam in granite. Cracks are usually very parallel and slick, and cams will sometimes move or slide easily inside the cracks. To minimize the risks when climbing desert cracks, place protection frequently. To climb most routes, you'll need at least 2, sometimes 3 sets of cams if not more. Some routes (especially in Indian Creek) might require 5-6 or more of the same size cam. No matter how you look at it, you'll need a huge rack! So borrow cams from friends, or go visit the local climbing store and start shopping! (More info in Gear section)
Desert Tower routes tend to be committing in nature, and every climbing technique (even aid sometimes) will come in handy. Experience often makes the difference between success and failure on a desert route. Climbers should come to the desert prepared, and proper crack and chimney climbing techniques are a must before jumping on a tower route. If you need to polish your crack climbing skills before attempting a tower route, head out for some single pitch climbs in Indian Creek or Potash road for a few days.
With the exception of the limestone found in Millcreek, most of the climbing around Moab is done on sanstone. Several types of sandstone exist, and depending on where you climb, the quality can range from excellent to crumbly to muddy. Of all the types of sandstone, Windgate is usually the most solid and the most pleasant to climb on. Windgate usually forms the long vertical splitter cracks, and this is the stuff that made Indian Creek famous.
Even though most of the climbing is done on sandstone, the climbing around Moab is nonetheless very diverse. For example, climbing around here can vary between bouldering at Big Bend, single pitch cragging on Potash Road, sport climbing on bolted routes in Millcreek, long aid climbs in the Fisher Towers, splitter crack climbing at Indian Creek or trad climbing up a 500' classic desert tower. Here is a list of the main climbing areas found around Moab, and what they have to offer:
Since you will mostly be climbing parallel sided cracks, cams are usually your best option as far as protection. Your basic desert rack should consist of at least 2-3 sets of cams (more for certain routes), from .5" to 4". A set of nuts/stoppers, and a few big pieces (Camalots #5-6 or Big Bros) for the chimneys will complete your rack for most routes. Some like to use the small tri-cams, and nuts can work well in some places too. A gear sling is also a good idea to rack your gear, allowing you to free-up space on your harness. Because some tower routes meander a bit, it is helpful to bring many slings to help minimize rope drag. Some routes have a few bolts, so a few quickdraws are also useful. Be aware that every single route is different, and you'll want to modify your rack from route to route. Try to get the best information possible before getting on a route and select each piece of your rack carefully. A detailed and route specific gear advice is found on each individual GearLoopTopo.
One of the first things you'll notice while climbing in the desert is that sand gets everywhere. Because sand is very abrasive, desert climbing takes a toll on your equipment very quickly. Bringing ropes that can take a bit of abuse is not a bad idea. Two 60 meter ropes are sometimes required for rappel descents, especially on towers, and will work best for most routes. Certain routes can also be done with a single 70 meter rope.
Helmets should be worn on every desert route. Since a bit of loose rock will be encountered (especially on towers), always climb and belay with a helmet. It is also a good idea to bring some rap slings and rap rings, either to replace old and worn out belay slings, or to use around large blocks. And don't forget the tape. While some climbers don't use tape gloves, it's a good idea if you plan to crack climb here for several days in a row, and are not used to jamming. Note that some approaches might require a high clearance vehicule, and a 4WD can make the access even easier. Other useful equipment that you might need includes sunblock, good approach shoes, pants and longsleeve shirts for chimneys, and LOTS of water.
Great Recommended Multi-Pitch Climbs
5.7: South Face (South Six Shooter).
Alternative Climbing Areas
If the weather turns bad, or if you are simply looking for something else, you are in luck! Many great climbing areas can easily be accessed from Moab. If it's too hot in Moab, simply drive up North towards Salt Lake City, where the Wasatch Range awaits. You'll find many great multi-pitch routes on granite and quartzite, bouldering, sport climbing, etc. On your way there, it's also worth it to stop in Maple Canyon if you want to get on some steep sport routes. The weather is surprisingly cool up there, even in the heat of the summer. Joe's Valley has awesome bouldering, and American Fork is also a good sport climbing area. Another option for cooler temps is to drive East to Colorado, and go to Rifle, Unaweep Canyon, or even the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
If you're looking for more desert adventures, but it's raining (or snowing) in Moab, you might have to drive south to Red Rocks, where the weather might be better. On your way there, stopping in Zion is also a good option, as well as Capitol Reef or the San Rafael Swell.
Pagan Mountaineering is your source for gear, clothing, and beta. They have everything to get you out there. They are located at 59 South Main Street #2, in the Eddie McStiff Plaza. Phone: 435-259-1117.
Gearheads is another great shop. They have climbing gear as well as a lot of camping/outdoor supplies. 471 South Main Street, #1. 435-259-4327.
Moab Desert Adventures has a wide range of climbing trips and canyoneering trips available. For rock climbing, Moab Desert Adventures is the professional climbing guide service of Moab and they will lead you on a desert adventure that you will never forget! Call them at 1-877-ROK-MOAB
Jackson Hole Mountain Guides of Moab offers a full range of guiding services, from easy and enjoyable half-day and one day climbs to the most challenging multi-day big wall ascents, and everything in between. 877-270-MOAB, 435-260-0990
Moab Cliffs and Canyons offers a variety of trips to accommodate different levels of fitness and mental challenge. Almost all of their trips are geared for families and the first-timers.
No indoor climbing gym in Moab. Go play outside.
If you need a quick resole while in Moab, your only option is to hook up with Alf, who lives in Indian Creek. Otherwise, visit the local shops and get a fresh pair!
Over the years, a variety of climbing guidebooks have been published for the area. Some are focusing on specific areas, while others offer a selection of only the best, and most popular routes. Here's a list of popular guidebooks for the area:
Classic Desert Climbs, by Fred Knapp, 2006. A collection of the most classic routes and areas around Moab. Covers the most classic routes, and a bit of bouldering too.
Indian Creek, a climbing guide, by David Bloom, 2004. The ultimate book if you plan to visit Indian Creek. Detailed information for over 500 routes, full-color and a must have.
Supertopo Desert Towers Select by Dougald McDonald and Chris McNamara, 2002. This Supertopo guide covers most of the popular desert towers, but does not include any cragging areas.
Desert Rock Series, by Eric Bjornstad, 1999. This series of 5 books offers in-depth information on several specific areas: The National Parks, Wall Street to San Rafael Swell, Moab to Colorado National Monument, Indian Creek, and the remote areas of the Colorado Plateau.
Selected Climbs in the Desert Southwest, Colorado and Utah, by Cameron Burns, 1999. This guide covers the classic routes of most areas found around Moab, as well as the Valley of the Gods, The San Rafael Swell and Zion.
Rock Climbing Utah, by Stewart Green. This Falcon guide covers all the major climbing areas in Utah. Each area is covered in a very general way, so you won't find everything that the desert has to offer. Good if you're on a road-trip, or just passing by.
How to Get There
The small town of Moab is located in the southeastern corner of Utah, between Green River and Monticello, along US 191. From the north, east, or west, it is best approached by driving to the intersection of Interstate 70 and US 191. From there, drive south for 30 miles on US 191 to Moab. Moab at Google Maps
Even if coming from Red Rocks, Las Vegas, the fastest way is to take I-15 north up to I-70. Alternatively, you can take the scenic road and pass through Zion National Park and Capitol Reef National Park, but in this case expect to add a few hours to the drive (not counting any sightseeing time). If you are coming from the southwest, approach by driving north on US 191.
Some routes, campgrounds, and climbing areas (especially towers) can be difficult to access, and the conditions of many dirt roads can vary from season to season. These dirt roads are sometimes passable with a regular car, but sometimes they require a high clearance or even a 4X4 vehicule. Be aware that some roads might be impassable after a recent rainstorm.
Moab has recently expanded its small airport, located just 15 miles north of town. But flying into Moab might prove more expensive than simply driving in from another, bigger airport.
The next closest airport is the Walker Field Airport located in Grand Junction, Colorado. It is about a 2 hour drive from there to reach Moab.
The most popular (and often cheaper) airport to fly into is Salt Lake City, Utah, where a car can easily be rented. It takes about 4 hours to drive from Salt Lake City to Moab. Another option is to fly to Denver, and drive the 7 or so hours it will take to reach Moab.
Finally, another possible option is to fly to Las Vegas, allowing you to also climb in Red Rocks, and then make the 7 hour drive to Moab.
Because most of the climbing areas and towers are spread over a large geographic area, you will need to rent a car. You won't have any trouble finding a car at the major airports mentioned above.
Moab sits at an elevation of over 4000', and although it is a year-round destination, the weather varies greatly from season to season. Temperature fluctuations can be extreme, going from very cold at night to untolerably hot during the day. On any day, the temperature difference will also vary greatly when moving from sun to shade. Whatever the season, make sure to carry lots of water as well as warm clothes.
Winters (Dec to Feb) are usually mild, and snow doesn't stay on the ground for too long, but cold temps are frequent, especially at night (sub zero). While it can be too cold to climb in winter, it can still be done on sunny routes on a mild, sunny day.
Summers (June to August) are very hot, and very dry, with temps regularly reaching over 100 degrees. In general, it is usually too hot to climb in the heat of the summer even in the shade. But higher elevations and cooler evenings offer some climbing possibilities.
Fall and Spring offer the best conditions by far. Temperatures are ideal for climbing, varying between 60 and 80 degrees. Spring (March to May) offers longer days, and you will see the desert coming alive with all the flowers coming out. Fall (September to November) is characterized by trees changing color, and the Indian Summer can sometimes bring a warm spell well into November.
Watch out for quick moving lightning storms, especially if you'll be climbing a tower. These spires are virtual lightning rods! Rain can also be a problem, and water can rapidly come gushing down canyons and washes after a quick, heavy pour. Beware of flash floods, watch where you park your car, and where you camp. Be extremely careful if you climb following any significant precipitations. Climbing on sandstone after a rainstorm is strongly discouraged, because the stone is very porous, and this weakens the structure of the rock. After heavy rain, it can take more than 24 hours for the rock to dry, so be patient. Our advice: simply don't climb on wet sandstone. High winds can also cause problems when rappelling down a tower, so watch your ropes!
Access and Regulations
Climbing on BLM land is free, and most climbing areas around Moab don't require a fee. However, routes located within National Parks Service limits require a day use fee/pass.
Many restrictions exist for dog access, climbing on certain formations, route closures, camping, hiking, etc. Make sure to respect and avoid touching any ancient rock art, petroglyphs, pictographs, or other archeological sites. Do not climb routes that start near the base of any Native American artifact. Backcountry permits are also required for certain activities, and restrictions are also in place for lenght of stay. If you're in doubt, it is important for climbers to check-in with the park's visitor center before going climbing:
The desert is an extremely fragile ecosystem and environmental considerations are very important. Make a big effort to minimize your impact on the soil, the rock, and the plants. Cryptobiotic soil is a very delicate topsoil that can be destroyed by a single footstep. This crusty brown living soil keeps moisture, prevents erosion, and allows plants to grow in this arid evironment. Once destroyed, it can take up to 100 years before it grows back, so please stay on existing trails, and never drive your car where there are no roads.
Human waste is also becoming a growing problem. Make sure to use waste bags such as Restop, or bury all excrements. As always, carry all waste and garbage out with you.
Concerning the visual impact of climbers on the rock, use clean climbing techniques in order to not permanently scar or brake the rock. Sandstone is very fragile. Also try to use colored (brown or red) chalk if possible, as well as color blending slings when replacing fixed anchors.
Camping and other Accomodations
With so many visitors coming every year, Moab has a wide variety of camping and accomodation options. Simply choose between bivying in the open for free, cheap BLM campgrounds, big RV parks, organized National Park campsites, cheap motels, luxurious hotel/resorts, bed and breakfast, home/condo rentals, etc. Note that it can be difficult to to find a campsite or a hotel room on very busy weekends. Reservations are not a bad idea, or get there on a weekday if you can.
The most popular campsites are found at BLM campgrounds. These sites are first come first serve, cheap, self-pay type (usually $5 to $10), and it's generally easy to find a spot (except on busy weekends). Most of them have pit toilets, and some have fire pits and/or picnic tables. No BLM campings have water, so bring your own. Here's a list of some of the BLM campgrounds, and where they're located:
It is also possible to camp in the National Parks. Campsites are 15$ per night, are very popular and fill-up quickly. Reserving in advance is strongly advised. If you're planning to camp in the National Park backcountry, you'll need a special permit. Inquire at the Park entrance, or call them in advance. Arches National Park: 435-719-2299, Canyonlands National Park: 435-719-2313, Colorado National Monument: 970-858-3617.
The desert is a fragile environment. Practice low-impact camping: don't drive off-road, camp in designated areas only, don't destroy the fragile cryptobitotic soil, and bring your own fire wood. Carry-out all trash and waste.
Food and Restaurants
City Market is your best bet for all your grocery needs in Moab. They have a deli and produce section, a cheap salad bar, bakery, ATM, and pharmacy. You can also get beer, and bundled campfire wood, as well as gas at this store. It's open everyday from 7 am to 10 pm, and located at 425 South, Main St. Another option is Boomers Market, located at 702 South Main St.
If you want to purchase full strength beer, wine, or spirits you'll need to go to the State Liquor store right off main street (55 West, 200 South).
If you don't feel like cooking, Moab has a wide range of restaurant options, from the usual fast food chains to gourmet fine dining. After a long day of climbing in the desert, it's nice to go out for a treat! Here are several of our favorite restaurants:
Lunch and dinner
Water and Shower Info
Water is a matter of life and death in the desert. Always bring your own water wherever you go because drinking water is usually not available. In the summer months, or if you'll be climbing in the sun, plan on one gallon of water per person per day. Most BLM campgrounds don't have water, and the desert is a hot place. Bring big water containers with you, keep them full, and stay hydrated.
A popular place to get water is the continuously flowing Matrimony Springs located at the intersection of US 191 and US 128 (start of River Road). It is a natural spring with water that comes right out of the Mesa, and you'll probably see other people filling-up too.
You can also fill your water containers for free at the Gearheads climbing/outdoor shop, at 471 South Main Street. They provide free filtered water, and are friendly and knowleagable. Arches National Park visitor center allows you to fill-up your water bottles.
If you're camping at one of the BLM camping areas, you won't have shower facilities. However, there are many places in Moab where you can get cleaned up and remove all the sand for a few dollars (prices range from $3 to $5):
Most R.V. parks, organized campgrounds and resorts (Slickrock Campground, KOA, Campark, etc.) offer showers. Some hotels also offer showers: try the Lazy Lizard Hostel (1251 South Hwy 191), or the Off Center Hotel on Center Street.
Another option is to go to a bike shop. Try Moab Cyclery (391 South Main): $4.00, or Poison Spider Bike Shop (497 North Main): $3.00.
The Moab Swim Center is another good option, with $3.00 showers/swimming (181 West, 400 North).
There are many places in Moab where you can check your email or surf the web. The locations below offer free wireless internet to their customers:
Another option is to go to the Moab Library (also called The Grand County Public Library). They're located at 257 East Center Street. The entire building has an available wireless signal that does not require a password. Three terminals in the lobby are for quick "email checks" for tourists. Fifteen minute codes are available at the checkout desk. There is no fee but donations are welcomed. During peak tourist seasons, a queue may form.
More terminals are available in the research area, and may be used for up to two hours. These machines are restricted in that email, chat, and games are not allowed. The media computers, also available to non-residents for up to two hours, are handy for visitors who need to download cameras, edit video, burn cds, and more.
In case of an emergency, or search and rescue situation, always call 911. The sheriff's office phone number is 435-259-8115.
The Allen Memorial Hospital is the closest hospital, with a 24 hour emergency room (719 West, 400 North, 435-259-7191).
If you need pharmacy supplies, Walker Drug, City Market Food, and Family drug pharmacies are all located along Main Street.
Dogs are allowed everywhere on BLM land, making Moab a great place to bring your dog along on a climbing trip. However, dog access is restricted in both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks: Pets are NOT allowed on any hiking trails. Pets may accompany visitors in the campground, and at overlooks and pullouts along the paved scenic drives only. Pets may be walked on roads or in parking lots, but must be leashed at all times when outside a vehicle.
Remember that the desert is a very dry and hot environment for dogs too. Make sure to carry a lot of water (a gallon for them too), and keep dogs properly hydrated. Make them drink. If it's too hot outside and they'll be exposed to full sun all-day, put them in doggy daycare. Don't leave dogs in the car from May till October for more than 5 minutes or they may die. It may be 68 degrees farenheit outside but it could be 120+ in the car very quickly if it's a sunny day. Dogs do die in Moab in vehicles of heat exhaustion in relatively mild outside temps. If you have to leave them in a car, open the windows as much as possible, keep them under shade, and make sure they have plenty of water to drink.
Hiking and climbing in the desert is fun for you but it wears your dog's paws out in a very short time. It is like sandpaper to their paws, so consider booties for them. Also, if you bring your dog with you, take a few minutes to plan for him/her. Make sure they have plenty of water, food, shade, rest and the trip is within their ability. Check the weather forecast and the high or low temperatures. If it is too hot (85+ degrees F), make sure they can stay in the shade, plan on putting them in a kennel, daycare or leaving them at the campground with friends. They rely on you completely to make the right decisions for their safety. As always, keep them under control, don't let them chase wildlife, and pick-up all dog waste. Don't leave them at your camping spot tied up and alone all day.
Moab embraces the outdoor lifestyle, and many dog-friendly hotels can be found. These hotels are known to be pet friendly: La Quinta Inn Moab (815 South Main), Super 8 Motel Moab (889 North Main), and Comfort Suites (800 South Main).
Wildlife around Moab includes mule deers and elks, bighorn sheeps, and mountain lions. Black Bears can also be found in the LaSal Mountains. More common animals you might come accross include coyotes, fox, skunks, rabbit, roddents and squirrels. Watch out for the potentially dangerous black widow spiders, and occasional scorpions. A variety of snakes can also be seen from time to time, the most commonly dangerous being rattlesnakes.
You'll come accross many varieties of cacti in the desert, and they are most beautiful when blooming in the Spring. If you'll be hiking through vegetated canyons, or simply cragging near bushes, it's also nice to be able to identify poison ivy...
With so many tourists flocking to Moab every year, many options exist for a day off. The hard thing is deciding which activity to choose from. There are so many options. Of course, if it's your first trip to Moab, you should go on a mountain bike ride. Riding on the slickrock is a blast, and renting a bike in Moab couldn't be easier.
Visiting Arches and Canyonlands National Park is also highly recommended, even in doubtful or bad weather. You can simply drive around in your car, or be more active and hike to various arches and magnificent viewpoints.
If you're looking for a cooling alternative on a hot day, then go rafting, kayaking or canoeing on the Colorado river. Canyoneering is another popular activity, and the area around Moab has fabulous slot canyons with lots of shade.
More relaxing or bad weather options include wine tasting at the winery, catching a movie at the local movie theather or simply shopping in town.
Other popular activities include horseback riding, fishing, helicopter/plane tours, and 4X4 jeep/motorcycle/ATV off-roading.
Get the GearLoopTopos for Desert Towers at: