Desert Safety Tips

By Redtail Air Adventures

The Moab area is an adventurer’s paradise! With all the opportunities for biking, hiking, rafting, canyoneering, and so many other outdoor activities to enjoy, it’s essential to know how to stay safe while having fun. The desert is a unique landscape, and the climate can sometimes be harsh. We care about the safety and wellbeing of our visitors and guests, so we created this comprehensive guide on how to stay safe in the desert.

Check out these desert safety tips before you embark on your Moab adventures. Happy (and safe) exploring!

Desert Safety Tips Every Moab Visitor Needs to Know

Staying Hydrated in the Desert

1.   Drink plenty of water BEFORE you go into the desert. Staying hydrated will help you remain fresh and energized as you burn calories in the heat.

2.   Understand how much water to bring on each adventure. For example, if you spend an entire day in the desert, you should bring at least one gallon per person daily.

3.   Keep your water in multiple receptacles. Mistakes happen, like forgetting a bottle in the car before a hike or spilling it while on the trail. It’s a much bigger problem when all of your water is in a single bottle or hydration bladder.

4.   Do not ration your water. If you get stuck in the desert longer than initially planned, don’t abstain from drinking the water you have. It’s only helpful when you drink it! Not staying hydrated will lead to quicker symptoms of heat exhaustion and dehydration.

5.   Don’t leave your water source for even a quick day hike. Always be prepared with water on your person.

6.   Don’t rely on natural water sources—even if you have a proper water filtration system. It’s safest to assume that the water you carry will be the only water you can access!

Seasonal Desert Safety & Moab Travel Tips

7.   If you are visiting Moab during the summer, plan daytime activities in and around the Colorado River so you can jump in and cool off!

8.   When visiting Moab in the fall, prepare for extreme temperatures on both ends of the spectrum. The middle of the day can be hot, but evenings can cool off dramatically. Prepare by wearing many layers. 

9.   When visiting Moab in the winter, prepare for slippery trails! We can get some ice that sticks around in shadier areas, and the last thing you want on a hike is a twisted ankle. Traction spikes are helpful to have during snowier days as well.

10.  When hiking in Arches National Park in the spring, you’ll likely be greeted by crowds hoping to do the same! Get to hiking spots early to beat the lines, snap a tourist-free photo, and stick to your schedule. Remember that a reservation is needed from April 3rd to October 3rd to get into the park between 6:00 AM–5:00 PM. Outside of those dates and times, a timed entry reservation is not needed.

moab winter hiking trails

Tips for Driving in the Desert

11.   After a day of exploring Utah’s national parks, the last thing you want to worry about is whether your car will make it back to town. Always have a full tank before heading out on desert adventures. 

12.   Make sure you come to the desert prepared! Put that car space to good use by keeping a stash of water, food, blankets, and external batteries for unforeseen circumstances.

13.   If you plan on parking the car for a while in the desert, use windshield covers to keep it as cool as possible for your return.

14.   Ensure you understand car maintenance basics, such as putting on a spare tire, in case a rogue nail or piece of glass throws a wrench in your desert commute. 

15.   Don’t head out on dirt roads, fire trails, or areas not explicitly marked for public driving. Breaking these rules can lead to costly tickets and dangerous driving conditions.

roadtrip through bryce canyon

Desert Hiking Tips

16.   Want to take on some longer hikes in the summer without worrying about heat exhaustion? Play it safe by starting more strenuous hikes before sunrise. Bonus advantages: You’ll beat the crowds and enjoy a gorgeous desert sunrise!

17.   Use the buddy system when possible. It’s always safer to head out with a partner than it is to explore solo.

18.   Whether you’re exploring with a group or alone, let someone who isn’t joining you know the details of your hike and when you should be back.

19.   If the hiking trail has a sign-in sheet, always fill it out. 

20.   Cell service isn’t dependable, so download any information and GPS tools you need to complete your hike ahead of time. Some hiking apps allow for automated signals to be sent to people you chose to be notified of your location and/or if you get off track. Consider purchasing one of those programs.

21.   Consider bringing a GPS device for the most accurate and dependable navigation. 

22.   There are several interesting rock formations in the surrounding national parks, but don’t climb on or repel off of anything for which you don’t have specific permits. 

23.   On some trails there are hiking cairns, which are small piles of stones or rocks stacked together. Typically, they’re used to show hikers the correct way to proceed along a path when it’s not clear. They’re a way to say to hikers, “Hey, guys! Go this way!” Take note of these, but do not create new ones.

24.   Make sure you pick a desert hike that matches your physical ability. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, especially on hot days!

25.   Understand hiking etiquette if on a multi-use trail, as some trails allow hikers, bikers, horses, and motorized vehicles (or various combinations of those). And remember, leave no trace!

man hiking with young child in backpack

Desert Biking Tips

26.   Always wear a helmet, whether mountain biking or road biking in the desert. 

27.   Let someone not joining the cycle know what route you’re planning on taking and when you should return from your ride.

28.   When mountain biking, only use trails marked explicitly for mountain biking to avoid fines or unsafe courses. Also, be aware of proper trail etiquette on multi-use trails, including specific directions in some cases of clockwise & counter clockwise.

adventurous couple mountain biking on slickrock near moab on romantic couples getaway to utah

Safety Tips on the River

29.   Practice caution when crossing streams and rivers during a hike. The water could be flowing stronger than it looks. 

30.   If you’re enjoying a float or a paddle down the Colorado River, always wear a Personal Floatation Device (aka life jacket) to stay safe. 

31.   Only swim in zones of the river recommended for wading, paddling, etc., to avoid any surprise rapids or strong water.

32.   When in doubt, go on a guided tour to see the best of the Colorado River securely and safely!

group rowing a raft down a canyon river

What to Wear in the Desert

33.   The Desert is known for extreme conditions in either direction. Wear multiple thin layers to ensure you’re prepared for anything.

34.   Choose layers with mesh, vents, and breathable fabric to help avoid overheating or dehydration. 

35.   On hot days, light-colored clothing will help you stay cooler. 

36.   Not all materials will offer the same sun protection. When possible, use layers with ‘UPF 40.’

37.   Make sure you wear proper footwear to avoid injury or blisters.

Moab scenic hiking trails

Desert Sun Safety Tips

38.   Apply sunscreen to any exposed skin every two hours while running around the desert. The average body needs about a shot glass-amount of sunscreen for proper coverage.

39.   Protect your head with a hat or scarf when in direct sunlight. 

40.   Wearing a thin long-sleeved shirt protects your skin and keeps you cool.

41.   Protect your eyes from the sun with polarized sunglasses.

canyons and rock formations of arches national park

How to Fuel in the Desert

42.   Don’t venture into the desert hungry! One of our most crucial desert safety tips is to start every activity full and hydrated. 

43.   Bring some sodium-rich snacks to enjoy when burning calories in the desert. When you sweat, your body loses sodium. Salted fruits or nuts can help replenish that.

44.   Juicy snacks like cherry tomatoes, grapes, or citrus are great for added hydration. 

45.   Opting for carbs and protein will help you stay energized and finish your adventure on a high note. Opt for bagels, crackers, salted meats, nuts, and other calorie-rich foods that are light and easy to store. 

46.   Pack it in, pack it out: Remember to pack all of the food and drink you brought with you back out. Leave no trace in all outdoor areas.

desert sunset over red canyon

What to Bring With You When Hiking in the Desert

47.   Be prepared with a comfortable pack that has ample room to carry your resources.

48.   An external battery ensures you always have a charged phone or GPS device.

49.   Comfortable hiking shoes or boots that are broken in will keep your feet happy.

50.   Carry a puffy jacket to make sure you are ready for all weather.

51.   A first aid kit will help with minor injuries like headaches, small cuts, or blisters.

52.   Even if you’re not planning on staying out until dark, we recommend carrying a small flashlight or headlamp. 

53.   Have multiple navigation tools to keep you oriented.

54.   We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Bring a proper amount of snacks and water!

55.   Signaling tools like whistles and mirrors can grab the attention of help if you’re injured or in danger. 

56.   A multi-tool can help with everything from removing cactus barbs to cutting up an apple.

Moab scenic hikes

Tips for Respecting Desert Plants & Animals

57.   While you’re much more likely to encounter a chipmunk than you are a bobcat or mountain lion, these predators are present in some of the national parks around Moab. Practice caution and don’t crawl into any caves or dens. 

58.   As with any protected area, don’t feed any wild animals.

59.   Arches National Park does not allow pets on hiking trails, so leave the pup at home.

60.   Be aware if the trail you are on allows dogs and if there are leash restrictions.

black and white puppy on the runway

Staying Oriented in the Desert

61.   Research a hiking, driving, or biking route before embarking on an adventure to ensure you understand the trip’s basic steps.

62.   Want to have an introduction to the desert before heading out on the trails? Join us for an aerial overview of the parks on our Arches National Park air tour or Canyonlands National Park air tour, or explore other gorgeous landscapes on a scenic helicopter tour!

63.   Make sure you allot enough time to finish an adventure well-before sundown, as it’s much harder to navigate in the dark. You will also want more time for all of the picture breaks!

64.   If you’re traveling in a group, make sure each person has a basic understanding of the route in case the group gets separated.

Canyonlands National Park scenic tour with airplane wing in photo view

Whether you’re heading into Arches National Park for some short trail hikes or embarking on a long journey in the desert, keeping these safety tips in mind can keep you healthy, safe, comfortable, and happy as you witness the majestic natural beauty of the Moab area. If you want help planning an unforgettable desert adventure, reach out to our team!

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