Visiting some of Utah’s national parks with kids has been on my travel wish list for a while. I love the outdoors and hiking, but find the heat of the summer makes these kinds of active pursuits unbearable, so a trip to Moab in the winter seemed a perfect time.
Another advantage of visiting Moab in the winter in that the famous Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park are teeming with visitors in the warmer months making roads, parking, and trails congested. The winter months bring fewer clouds, and the desert climate makes for mild, mostly dry winters.
3 Day Moab itinerary with kids
This 3 day Moab itinerary can be customised to suit your family.
Visit Moab with kids for a great family vacation.
The winter months do bring the occasional snowfall, but for the most part, days will be clear and dry.
Basing yourself in Moab allows easy access to Arches National Park, Canyonlands, Dead Horse State Park, and many other hikes and attractions in the area such as the fantastic Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trail.
Want to visit more US National Parks? Check out these two posts:
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How to get to Moab, Utah:
We flew into Salt Lake City and spent an afternoon exploring Temple Square, the next morning we headed off to Moab by road, the drive is on smooth straight roads and takes about 4 hours. A perfect halfway point is Price, a small town with a fantastic Dinosaur Museum. Spend one to two hours exploring the museum and grab some lunch in Price before getting back on the road.
If you have time, stop at the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trail, you will need at least an hour here (alternatively come back and do this on day 2).
The closest airport to Moab is Canyonlands Field Airport, with daily flights from Denver operated by United. Salt Lake City airport 238 miles from downtown Moab (3 hour 46-minute drive) and Grand Junction Regional airport 114 miles from downtown Moab (1 hour 40-minute drive) offer many more flight options.
Where to Stay:
Since we were trying to save money (to balance out the expense of skiing in Colorado later in our trip), we stayed in a VRBO about 10 minutes drive south of Moab. The condo was fantastic with a FULLY equipped kitchen, three bedrooms, great internet, comfy beds, and a communal playground, tennis court and hot tub (pool closed for the winter).
I recommend staying somewhere with a kitchen. You’ll want to make a picnic lunch to take to the parks (since there are no services within the parks), and after a long day exploring, you probably won’t want to venture out to a restaurant every night. There are a couple of well-stocked supermarkets in Moab where you can pick up some wholesome ready-made fresh and frozen foods.
Airbnb vs VRBO what is the difference and which is best?
Moab in 3 days suggested itinerary:
Day 1 visiting Moab in Winter
Pack your lunch and drink bottles and some extra water and head to Arches National Park. Since you will be visiting Arches and Canyonlands purchase the South East Utah Park pass for $55 this will save you $5 or more if you return within the year. If you are planning on visiting other US National Parks in the next 12 months, consider purchasing an Annual National Park Pass.
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Visiting Arches National Park with kids
Arches National Park near Moab in Utah has impressive landscapes that have been created over millions of years through the movement of the earth’s crust and sculpted by ice and rain. Found throughout the park are dramatic orange arches, towers, and fins, with many easily accessible via paved family-friendly paths.
Learning about how the landforms were created will give kids interest and understanding of the geology that can’t be accomplished in a classroom.
Imaginations can run wild, just squint and the rocks become sleeping giants, elephants and dinosaurs.
Well marked paths make it easy to keep safe without the worry of getting lost.
Climbing Delicate Arch with kids
First head to Delicate Arch, this will be the most challenging hike that you will do in the park, so it is best to head up while the kid’s legs are still fresh.
The 3-mile round trip walk is as not as challenging as it seems. We saw families with kids of all ages doing this walk, and our 5 year old managed it no problem.
The first section has a gentle climb with some stairs, the second section requires some walking over rocks, but it is not particularly challenging except for those that have mobility issues. The third section has you walking along a cliff edge. This was the section I was anxious about. In the winter as this section does not get sun, and if there is a lot of ice it could become slippery and dangerous.
Unless you hiking at the crack of dawn you will meet others returning and can ask the condition of the track. We found some iced over puddles and cracks but had no problem avoiding them. The track is quite wide and also sloped into the cliff, which made me feel much safer. Walk on the cliff side of the path, don’t let kids be silly, and this short section is easy to pass.
Straight after the cliff track, you will see Delicate Arch.
It is possible to walk around the bowl and take photos under the arch. I decided not to take the kids to do this, I felt the view we had was good enough, and I am nervous at heights. Make your own decision whether or not you will walk this last part.
We took our lunch with us and ate at the top before we headed back down.
Alternatives to Delicate Arch Hike with kids: Take the walk to the Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint or the short hike to the Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint.
Devils Garden Trailhead, Arches National Park:
Drive back to the main road and continue on to the end where you will find the start of the Devils Garden Trailhead. The first part of this hike is relatively flat with a paved path that is suitable for a stroller or pushchair.
Landscape arch is the widest arch in the park. It is not possible to walk under this arch due to historical rockfall, but it is well worth seeing, and the walk between spires of rock and formations that look like sleeping giants also makes it worthwhile.
The trail beyond Landscape Arch is more difficult and not recommended with children, instead, head back along the same path and take the side paths to Tunnel Arch (view the arch in the cliffside from below) and Pine Tree Arch, named after the trees at the base. Pine Tree Arch is easy to access with no challenging climbs to stand within the arch.
Sand Dune Arch:
This trail is great for sand loving kids. It started raining before we had time to complete this trail, the kids were quite disappointed.
A tip from another family was to take some sand toys for kids to play with. The trail is very short and easy for kids.
Park Avenue trail. We didn’t have time to complete this trail. The walk down into a canyon is meant to be spectacular. The trail joins 2 car parks, and the return is back along the same path, if you are traveling with another group you could each leave a car at one end to turn this 60-minute return trip into a 30 minute one way.
Day 2 Moab Winter Itinerary:
Visiting Canyonlands National Park with kids
Canyonlands is split into three areas Island in the Sky, Needles, and The Maze. Island in the Sky is closest to Moab. The other two sections of the park are accessed via separate entrances making it challenging to explore more than one part in a day.
The views from Island in the Sky have been compared to those of the Grand Canyon. The elevated plateau has several short hikes with minimal elevation change as well as roadside viewpoints making this area of Canyonlands National Park the most accessible and suitable for children.
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We didn’t visit The Needles or Maze sections of the park. The Needles has many short walks with more primitive trails suitable for active families. The Maze area is the least accessible area of the park, Park Rangers recommend multi-day visits for experienced, fully self-sufficient hikers as there are no services in this part of the park.
Visiting Island in the Sky with kids.
Bring plenty of water and a picnic with you as there are no services in the park. In the winter, the water fountains are also turned off. Bathrooms with long drop toilets, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer can be found at various points throughout the park. The roads are paved and well maintained, but the higher elevation may bring more snow in the winter.
Stop first at the visitor centre at Island in the Sky Canyonlands National Park entrance. Here kids can pick up a junior ranger booklet and tick off the first activity by watching the short film describing the canyonlands landscape.
Next, head out to the furthest point south to the Grand View Point overlook.
Grand Viewpoint Overlook Trail in Canyonlands with kids
Just off the car park, you will reach a stunning view over the canyon carved out by the Colorado and Green rivers. Plaques give some history of the region as well as describing some of the natural land formations.
A trail runs along the canyon edge out 1 mile (return along the same track). The track is easy and safe, with no need to go close to the edge unless you are a thrill-seeker.
I do have a (what I consider healthy) fear of heights. The walk felt very safe to me, and I had no fear of falling as it was effortless to stay far away from the edge, any trip or fall would have only resulted in a grazed knee or some mild embarrassment.
This isn’t, however, the place for monkey business. If you have a fearless child who likes to wind you up or a wandering toddler, then having them hold your hand might be best.
It is not necessary to walk the full 1 mile out. After a certain point, the view doesn’t change much.
I highly recommend this walk. Even if you do suffer some vertigo, the views are absolutely stunning (the same river carved the Grand Canyon after all).
We sat and had a picnic and looked out over the canyon, breathtaking.
Green River Overlook
Our next stop is the Green River Overlook. The previous views of the canyon don’t give a view of the river they are sitting deep within the base of the canyon, from this overlook you can see the Green River at the bottom of the Canyon, another spectacular viewpoint to appreciate the scale of the canyon.
There is easy access to the outlook from the carpark.
After a break from walking, it is time for another short hike this time to Mesa Arch.
Hiking to Mesa Arch Canyonlands National Park with kids.
Wait, didn’t we just spend a day looking at arches? Yes, and this hike is still very worthwhile, the loop track is very picturesque with the return path having magnificent views across Island in the Sky, and the small arch is perched on the edge of the canyon framing the view beyond.
The track was quite snowy when we walked it with some ice but still very manageable; I didn’t feel unsafe. For the best views, take the path anticlockwise. Once you get to the Mesa Arch, take care around the cliff edge and supervise children. To get to the cliff edge requires climbing up through the arch so you can easily keep your distance and still enjoy the views if you are uneasy at heights.
The walk back has a great view of the Aztec Butte (a flattened hill formation), being in the shade this side had more snow, the path was in good condition, and the snow made the view even more beautiful.
We also saw Yucca and Prickly Pear Cacti on this part of the track, which your junior rangers will want to spot for their activity books.
Once the kids have completed the necessary number of activities in their junior ranger books, head back to the visitor centre. The kids can take their junior ranger exit interview, pledge, and get their badges.
Day 3 Moab Itinerary:
Visiting Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trail near Moab
This morning head to Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trail.
This park is well worth a visit. Whether or not you are a dinosaur fan, this site is unique. There are very few places you can see and touch! Dinosaur fossils still within their archaeological site as well as see some of the best-preserved dinosaur tracks.
The park is entirely free and with information, plaques to guide your experience.
The road is unpaved, don’t let this put you off visiting. Read on for more information. A short distance down the road is a floodwater drain that passes across the road, if there has been heavy rain you may not be able to pass here, check the depth and consider the type of vehicle you are driving before attempting to cross (usually it is dry and you won’t need to worry). Continue and keep left at the fork, soon you will come to the Dinosaur Trail Track parking, this is well signposted. Stop here and venture further on foot.
A word of warning if there has been any rain or snow and you do not have a 4WD (with 4WD driving experience) do not drive further than the dinosaur trails carpark.
The sign to recommend only 4WD is at the bottom of a muddy hill, tough to get back up if you are not in a 4WD (speaking from experience).
From the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracks carpark continue down the road by foot to the Dinosaur Trail. At the Dinosaur Trail you can touch dinosaur fossils sticking out of the Sandstone. Allow about an hour return for this track, expect to walk through some muddy terrain, the road has deep sand in places. Take water and a snack.
The Dinosaur Tracks Trail, where you parked, is a paved track that leads onto a boardwalk, the flat track is suitable for strollers and those with reduced mobility. Stick to the path and don’t allow children to climb down to touch the well-preserved tracks.
Here you can see tracks from different dinosaurs that waded through the mud bottom pond. The right conditions have fossilised the tracks and held them frozen in time. A remnant of a moment in time captured millions of years ago.
Read more about Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trail, complete with a map and driving directions.
An afternoon in Arches National Park:
On your way back to Moab, stop back into Arches National Park to complete some more of the child-friendly hikes. You won’t need to drive as far into the park this time. Be sure to leave time to head to the Visitor Centre before closing so the kids can finish the Junior Ranger Program, pledge, and collect a badge.
Visit Balanced Rock
You would have seen Balanced Rock as you were driving through the park on Day 1 of your Moab itinerary. Take the time now to stop and take the easy mostly paved walk around the rock, the views over the valley on the other of the side make completing the full loop worthwhile, it can be finished in around 15 minutes.
More to see at Arches National Park with kids
Next, take the next right further along the road where you can hike to 4 arches. Park on either side of the loop road to access the trails to Double Arch and the Windows.
Turret Arch, North Window and South Window can all be accessed from the same track. The hikes are easy with some fun rock scrambling if you want to climb up into each arch. You can take the slightly longer primitive trail back to the car park or head back on the same path.
The short hike to Double Arch is well worthwhile, this Arch is vast, very impressive, and was probably our favourite arch in the park (though it is hard to pick just one). To get right up into the arch requires climbing up some rocks, if you aren’t up to this the views from the base are just as spectacular. The last 20 metres is quite steep my 5-year-old found the climb up to the arch quite easy but finding her footing on the way back down was more challenging. There is a drop off on the other side of the arch, so supervise children.
What to wear visiting Moab in the Winter
While it is usually quite dry in Moab in the winter, rain and snow are possibilities. Morning and overnight temperatures can be cold with temperatures increasing during the day. Daytime temperatures vary from -2 to 12 degrees Celsius (28-54 F) during our visit, and it felt warmer that this in the sun at times.
With such variable temperatures and the natural warmth that comes with hiking, it is judicious to dress in layers.
We didn’t need to wear a thermal layer when we were visiting but instead wore a long-sleeved t-shirt, a mid-layer of a light fleece, sweater or merino and a lined windproof jacket, by midday we were able to remove our jackets. Sturdy waterproof hiking boots are recommended, but on dry snow-free days, sneakers and running shoes are adequate.
I wore fleece-lined leggings, and the kids wore sweatpants.
A hat and gloves kept us warm in the mornings.
We were heading skiing so we had snow gear that we could wear if needed. On our final day in Moab, it did snow heavily. If you don’t own snow gear at a minimum, take some waterproof clothing (a jacket, pants, and shoes) and then add some extra layers underneath to stay warm.
Take a change of clothing with you in the car in case of a slip in the mud, spilled drink, or toileting accident.
Where to eat in Moab with kids:
We only ate 2 meals out in Moab but there are plenty of family-friendly options.
The 2 places we ate came highly recommended to us and I would pass on that recommendation.
We love traditional diners and Moab Diner didn’t disappoint. The diner had a fascinating history starting out as a burger joint. Our waitress had been working at the diner for 30 years! the kids were really impressed by this. The food was standard diner fare, served hot and with a smile with a great price point.
Moab Brewery was our only stop for dinner. We love to check out the local brews and Moab Brewery serves high-quality pints. The kid’s menu is also great with huge portions to satisfy the hungriest kids. There were plenty of options for adults from light meals including wraps, soups, and salads to more indulgent pub fare like ribs and burgers. The prices were excellent. The restaurant was quite busy when we arrived and we had to wait about 30 minutes for a table so keep this in mind if visiting during peak time, once we were seated service was prompt and food arrived quickly.
We love National Parks. I hope this itinerary helps you plan your trip. Drop a comment if you have any questions and if you have enjoyed this article please share with a friend.
Very helpful. Thanks!!!
Hello, loved reading all of your information !
We are planning our visit to the area and wanted to know your recommendation for the VRBO in Moab, thank you!