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Summer in Moab: How to Beat the Heat

The Southern Utah desert heats up to triple digits in the summer, but you can camp, hike, ride, and swim among cooler temps and flowing water if you know where to go.

This is a shorter version of a story shared by Southwest Jeep Adventures. View the original post: Summer Camping in Moab: How to Beat the Heat

The deserts of Southern Utah experience some serious temperature extremes throughout the year, with freezing cold in winter and broiling hot in summer. Moab is no exception, so the best seasons for playing outside are generally spring and fall. If summer offers your best chance to travel, though, should you avoid Moab––absolutely not! There are still ways to beat the heat, even when daytime temperatures can exceed 100 degrees. 

What makes Moab unique from a lot of Southern Utah is its proximity to both a river and to mountains, with a huge range of elevation and environments in between. Among all the hot desert, you can still find shady canyons, flowing water, and lush forests. And you can camp among them! You just have to know where to go. Here are my tips for finding those spots and making the most of Moab in the summer.

Lay Low

The Colorado River flows through Moab, in an impressive canyon off red-rock cliffs. The water provides ample opportunities for having fun and staying cool, even in triple-digit weather. You can even camp next to the river, at one of the many campgrounds along Highway 128, and enjoy swimming in the river and relaxing in the shade on shore. Plus, once the sun goes down, a breeze blows off the river, and you’ll find pleasantly cooler temperatures at night. Big Bend Campground is a personal favorite, with sweet sites right on the water and lots of shade. Another good one is Goose Island Campground. It’s the closest to Moab and gets early shade from the western canyon wall. All the sites are first-come-first-served, so get there early in the day to choose the best spot.

Get High

Hiking in the La Sal Mountains

The town of Moab is at about 4000 feet elevation, but with a pretty quick drive you can get to more than 10,000 feet in the La Sal Mountains, where it’s much cooler and greener. The La Sals offer numerous camping opportunities, sweeping vistas, lakes for fishing and swimming, trails for hiking and biking, and beautiful scenic drives. The national forest offers a convenient mix of developed campgrounds with amenities like picnic tables, fire rings, and toilets, but also dispersed camping––essentially camping anywhere along a forest road with all your own supplies (be sure to Leave No Trace!). Two of my favorite campgrounds are Warner Lake Campground and Oowah Lake Campground. Each one has a small lake for fishing and good access to trails. Some sites are reservable and others are first-come-first served.

Rise Early

4x4 camping near the Fisher Towers

Luckily the desert does cool down at night (we often see 30-40 degree temperature swings in a day!), and the summer monsoon rains can bring the temperatures down too. This can mean beautiful mornings, and if you’re willing to get up before the sun, you can get out in the national parks and onto the trails for a ride or hike before the heat hits. The bonus here is that you can often find yourself on a trail with few other people, making your adventure feel much more special. For example, if you camp along the river on Highway 128, you can get up early and easily make it into Arches National Park well before the crowds!

Find Water

Swimming in Mill Creek Canyon

As I mentioned before, there are plenty of hidden spots where water flows near Moab, and that’s in addition to the Colorado River. After your early morning adventures, you can spend the hot afternoons in the water. Go whitewater rafting or flat-water paddle boarding on the river with a local outfitter, or rent your own tube and float lazily while soaking in the scenery. There’s also beaches along Highway 128 where you can park and play in the water. For a hike with an excellent swimming hole and waterfalls, go to Mill Creek Canyon. Another hike with water along the way, and which also reaches an impressive natural bridge, check out Grandstaff Canyon Trail.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Emily Thompson

Hiker, camper, and river person based in Moab, Utah. Owner of Southwest Jeep Adventures, camper jeep rental and trip planning services for Moab and beyond.