No matter how short your hike is, always carry water! Also have a good backpack with, food, a rain jacket, sunscreen, a whistle, headlamp, a map (the old-fashioned paper kind!), and a first-aid kit. Maps are available at the Moab Information Center or state and national parks.
Hydration and Nutrition
Take water, at least a gallon a day per person. Yes, a gallon. The air is incredibly dry so it will dehydrate you quickly. A pack with a built-in hydration bladder is the optimal choice. Take plenty of snacks and food. Sports bars, dried fruit and nuts, or the trusty peanut butter and jelly sandwich, are popular choices.
don’t go it alone
Do not hike or climb alone. Stay away from cliffs and watch your footing. Handholds on sandstone can be brittle.Springtime brings out the rattlesnakes, so stay alert and give them plenty of space. When scrambling over rough terrain watch out for rattlers sunning on the warm rocks.
Make It Known
Always tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return. When you do get back, let them know. The Moab area has the highest rate of search-and-rescue operations in Utah. If you get lost, the cost of a rescue is your responsibility.
Don’t rely on your cell
Cell service is spotty, at best, so don’t rely on your phone to work. Popular topo and map apps will really drain your phone’s battery. If you are using an app as your only map, don’t. When your phone dies, then you will not know how to find your way back. Carry a printed map and know how to use it.
Choose your hike, not only according to your fitness level, but also your comfort level. You will have more fun if you’re within your limits. Many desert hikes require scrambling skills and can be terrifying if you have a fear of heights. Also, it’s much easier to climb up something steep than to come down it, so don’t put yourself in a bad position.
Weather in the Desert
Rainstorms appear quickly in the desert and could ruin your day if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. Flash floods happen in a heartbeat and are dangerous. Check the weather forecast, and don’t attempt a slot canyon if rain is on its way. If you get caught in the rain in a slot canyon, climb to higher ground.
The proper clothing in the desert is very important. Temperatures often reach more than 100°F (38°C) during the summer months, so wear clothing that wicks moisture away from your skin. If it’s a bit chilly, this material will also keep you warmer. Common these days are UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) fabrics. They come in short-sleeve and long-sleeve shirts, pants, and hats that incorporate up to UPF 50 factor protection. Wearing these fabrics drastically reduces the need to pile on sunscreen. Stay away from cotton as it retains moisture.A brimmed hat and extra sunscreen are essential, and depending on the time of year, a rain jacket.
If your feet are happy, the rest of your body will be happy. Sturdy footwear with traction is essential: hiking boots, beefy running shoes, or river shoes if your hike requires water crossings.Wear a good pair of wicking socks, made of wool or a synthetic, not cotton.
Pets are allowed on most trails (not in any national park). All dogs must be kept under verbal restraint and not be a public nuisance nor chase or harass wildlife. A leash is required on all BLM trails. Always be smart on exposed ledges.
Stay on the trail
Cryptobiotic soil looks unremarkably like dirt, but it’s actually a self-sustaining biological unit that is essential to the health of the desert ecosystem. Always stay on the trail to avoid damaging this vital part of the desert.
The trail often disappears or becomes hard to see, so trail markers are built.A cairn (Gaelic for rock mound) acts as your trail marker. Cairns are placed by those who built or maintain the trails. Follow the cairns and stay on the trail.Don’t add to any cairns or create your own. They can cause confusion and can even be dangerous.
The call of nature
If nature calls while you are hiking or camping in a primitive area, you must have a “wag bag.” This is now the law! The desert is way too fragile to handle leaving or burying human waste. And, no one wants to find it! Human waste takes about a year to biodegrade. With more and more people visiting the area, the use of these bags is crucial.Really, they are not that bad to use. Bags are small and lightweight so they are the perfect addition to your pack, or even for your car. Once used, close the bag tightly and put it in the bottom of your pack. The wag bags include a solidifying agent which breaks down and deodorizes waste; you can simply toss your wag bag in a normal trash can once you’ve returned from your trip.GearHeads and Moab Gear Trader both sell wag bags.
Have a basic first-aid kit in your backpack. Visit any local outfitter store to find a kit that will suit your needs. Band aids, athletic tape, and a bandana are good basics. Make sure to include a wag bag or two.
A nice Option
Dead Horse PointState Park has about eight miles of hiking trails along the rim overlooking the Colorado River. The trails connect eight overlooks. Since the trail is along the mesa top, there is not much elevation gain. Dogs are allowed on the hiking trails, but must always be on a leash.
Go with the Pros
If this is the first time hiking in the desert, or you want to explore a new place, hire a guide for your group. Not only will you be safe, but a local guide knows all the cool places to explore. Canyon Voyages has a rafting and hiking trip that will be certain to show you some hidden gems you might not find on your own. 435-259-6007, canyonvoyages.com. NAVTEC Expeditions offers 4×4/hiking tours, including Lavender and Davis Canyons in The Needles district of Canyonlands. 435-259-7983, navtec.com. Wild West Voyages offers half- and full-day guided hikes over varied terrain, including open trail, narrow canyons, soaring arch vistas, desert landscapes, fascinating geology, dinosaur tracks, and ancient rock imagery. 435-238-4257, wildwestvoyages.com. Wild Expeditions, in Bluff, offers guided hikes in the Bears Ears National Monument. They can take you to some little-known sites with respect and education. 435-222-5708, or riversandruins.com.
Need hiking or camping Gear?
Buy or rent (March-October) a wide variety of outdoor gear at Canyon Voyages 435-259-6007, canyonvoyages.com. GearHeads has all sorts of backpacks, water bottles, socks, clothing, and shoes. Fill up all your water containers for free. 435-259-4327, moabgear.com. Moab Gear Trader sells hiking and camping gear, both new and used. They have two floors filled with clothing, packs, hydration packs and water bottles, trekking poles, and shoes. 435-355-0333, moabgeartrader.com. Moab Watersports and Gear Rentals rents backpacks for both kids and adults. They also rent child carriers, perfect for day hikes. 435-355-0343, moabwatersports.com. Walker Drug has all sorts of great hiking gear. 435-259-5959.