20 miles south of Moab is a splendor to behold, as it is home to the La Sal Mountains located within the Manti-La Sal National Forest. With mountain peaks reaching as high as 13,000 feet, the La Sal Mountains are the second highest mountain range in Utah. These alpine beauties offer an abundance of opportunity ranging from hiking to mountain biking, camping, birdwatching, fishing, and breathtaking leaves changing in the fall. The La Sal Mountain Loop Road Scenic Byway is a paved loop that extends 60 miles from start to finish. It is a perfect way to experience the ranging beauty of the area, from the gigantic mountain peaks to the red rock canyons below. Plan for the drive to take about three hours from start to finish, which allows for a slow pace and stops at the viewpoints.
La Sal Mountain Loop Logistics
From Moab, head north on US Highway 191 before turning right on Scenic Byway 128, just before the bridge. About three miles in, you’ll enter Grandstaff Canyon, renowned for its hiking. However, if you’re just passing through, you’ll appreciate the view of the creek tying into the Colorado River. Another three miles ahead, you’ll encounter Big Bend Recreation Site. Unfortunately, swimming in the river is not recommended, but there’s still plenty do with river access, a nice beach, a picnic area, and disabled access facilities.
Next, you’ll want to turn right at Castle Valley Road. Continue the drive four miles up and keep your eyes peeled for Priest and Nuns rock formations, as well as Castle Rock – all of which are well known for their cameos in various John Wayne movies. Continue the drive another seven miles before turning right again, and as you enter the National Forest, notice the change in elevation as you cruise. High desert trees such as pinion and juniper start to give way to oak, larger pine, and eventually aspens (which are truly a sight to see when their leaves change in fall).
Your steady climb will eventually bring you to an array of spruce and fir which naturally has us recommending you drive with the windows down so the crisp alpine air can kiss your cheeks and you can breathe in the delicious scent of the thriving forest. There are plenty of outlook points to stop at along the way as you make your way through Mill Creek Canyon, and then one more ascent in elevation before you descend back into the red rock valley, tying back into US Highway 191 and heading north to get back to Moab.