Less than an hour’s drive east from downtown Moab, the La Sals sit on the Utah/Colorado border and rise nearly 8,000ft above the Colorado Plateau. The second highest mountain range in Utah, they are part of the Manti-La Sal National Forest. From a distance, the mountains appear to be one long-range; they are actually three clusters of peaks separated by mountain passes. The highest peak, Mount Peale, is 12,721ft.
A stark contrast to the surrounding desert, the mountains offer countless opportunities for hiking, fishing, and camping among alpine groves of aspen and pine. Snow is usually visible on the higher summits into spring.
Legend has it that the La Sal Mountains were named by Silvestre Vélez de Escalante, Spanish missionary and explorer, who saw them during his 1776 summer expedition through Utah. Following the Old Spanish Trail, a trade route between Santa Fe and Los Angeles, he deemed it preposterous that they could be capped with snow in the summer, so he dubbed them Sierra La Sal, or “Salt Mountains.”
Hit the Trail
The Manti-La Sal National Forest Recreation Area provides scenic drives, camping, backcountry skiing, hunting, and snowmobiling. Numerous trails offer good hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding from late spring to mid-autumn.
The Forest Service has developed a new, non-motorized trail system that added 24 trails to 60 miles of existing trails and closed 3.5 miles of Deep Creek Trail for restoration. The improvements allow for large numbers of users while reducing the impact on forest resources.
The popular Whole Enchilada mountain bike ride starts high up in the La Sals on the Burro Pass trail.
For more information on any of trails call the Moab Ranger District, 435-259-7155.
La Sal Mountain Loop Road
One of the most-loved roads through the forest and a Scenic Byway, The Loop Road leaves US Hwy 191 six miles southeast of Moab and climbs the west side of the La Sals. The views are pretty spectacular as this road works its way to the summit where you can look down on Moab and the Spanish Valley.
The road then descends through Castle Valley meeting Utah Hwy 128, which you can take back to Moab. The loop is 62 miles topping out above 10,000ft. The road is steep with narrow switchbacks and winds through thick aspen, fir forests, and scrub oak. The trip requires approximately three hours to complete. No large RVs or trailers.
Summer in the La Sals
The La Sals brings cooler temps and offer a refreshing respite from the desert heat. Narrow forest roads lead to high mountain passes and down into canyons, like Dark Canyon with its unique crystalline rock structures. Explore Mill Creek where Oowah Lake sits as a small jewel amid spruce trees. The diversity of the forest provides a wonderful place to see the changing fall colors.
Winter in the La Sals
Winter turns the La Sals into a playground that offers sledding, snowshoeing, backcountry skiing, yurt camping, and a limited amount of snowmobiling. The Lower Utah Nordic Alliance and U.S. Forest Service grooms seven miles of trails for classic and skate cross country skiing on the Gold Basin Trail.
the abajo mountains
Only 70 miles south of Moab, and out the backdoor of Monticello, the Abajo Mountains offer many summer recreational opportunities. The range is located in the Manti-La Sal National Forest with the highest point being Abajo Peak at 11,360ft.
Hart’s Draw Road gives access to a spectacular overlook and several small fishing lakes. The Abajo Loop Scenic Backway follows the same route as Hart’s Draw Road but then turns south ending in Blanding. The drive is beautiful, but best for high-clearance vehicles. There are miles of trails great for exploring whether on horse, 4×4, hiking, or mountain biking.
There are several established campgrounds on both the Monticello and Blanding sides.
In Case of Emergency
If you have an emergency in the national forest, call 911 and they will dispatch the nearest help. Cell service is not always available. You may need to travel to a higher point to get service.
Always check for fire bans in the mountains, which can change frequently depending on weather and drought conditions.
To report a fire, call the Moab Fire Dispatch Center, 435-259-1850.
Need more info?
Moab Ranger District:
- Manti-La Sal National Forest: fs.fed.us/r4/mantilasal, 435-259-7155
- US Forest Service (Monticello area): 435-587-2041