Road on Fire
This is the Wide Open Ride Road to Moab in reverse – with a different hike. I call this version Road on Fire because if you drive the route on a sunny day, the canyon walls blaze fiery red for miles as you leave Moab. And in the summer, it’s got the heat to match. Officially, it’s the Colorado River Scenic Byway and branches off US 191 three miles north of town. Heading east, UT 128 runs next to the river for about 35 miles before leaving the canyon and connecting with I-70 another 10 miles north. The drive is memorable either direction but on particularly spectacular scenic byways, I love the change in perspective. The same curve reveals a different view. During busy times, Moab bustles and that same energy carries up the Colorado for the first few miles. Walkers and bikers are on the trails while tour boats, rafters, kayakers, stand up paddle boarders and even rubber ducky floaters navigate the river. Sounds hectic but it’s really very pleasant and invigorating. Everyone seems to be having fun. There are some great hikes along the way, too. Just three miles up the byway, a parking lot on the right leads to Grandstaff Canyon. A moderate hike follows a creek and then ends at Morning Glory Arch, the sixth longest natural rock span in the U.S. It’s a little over four miles roundtrip but definitely a trek worth taking. Arches are prevalent in this part of the world. In fact, for the first part of this ride, UT 128 and Colorado River form the southern boundary of Arches National Park, home to more than 2,000 arches. But you won’t see any rock spans from the scenic byway, another motivation for the hike. Back on the highway, the road meanders beneath canyon walls the Colorado River has been creating for millions of years. Then, a couple of significant landmarks lie ahead. A little more than 12 miles is Castle Rock and the turnoff for Castle Valley, the star of another Wide Open Ride. Continuing on the byway five miles farther is the righthand turn to Fisher Towers, the hike featured in Road to Moab. The castle and towers are striking contrasts to the canyon. Back along the Colorado River, the byway continues hugging the canyon walls before rising to the high desert and heading onto I-70.
Route & Map
From Moab, the Colorado River Scenic Byway heads north and east to I-70. Grandstaff Canyon, Castle Valley and Fisher Towers are three of the most notable stops along the way.
Length & Time
At 47 miles, the scenic byway takes an hour to drive. Hiking the moderate Grandstaff Canyon trail to Morning Glory Arch is 3-4 hours, roundtrip.
Best Time to Visit
The Moab area enjoys fairly pleasant weather year-round, particularly spring and fall. Summers are hot and winter brings cold temps and some snowy days.
Moab has become one of Utah’s top destinations with numerous art galleries, restaurants and lodging options.
Keep in Mind
A drive on the Colorado River Scenic Byway is completely free – well, except for the gas, of course. But unlike the nearby national and state parks, there are no entrance or parking fees at any of the overlooks or hiking trailheads.