Nestled amidst the breathtaking landscapes of Utah lies a running event that stands out for its extraordinary setting and challenging terrain: The Moab Trail Marathon. This event promises an unforgettable journey through some of the world’s most unique and scenic lands. As a trail running enthusiast, the Moab Trail Marathon beckons with its unparalleled blend of natural beauty, rugged trails, and the spirit of adventure. The team at Moab Trail Marathon offers Marathon, Half, and Adventure 10k, and Kids K distances, it checks the boxes of everything you want in a race: challenging terrain, epic views, fabulous event organization, and race variety. It also serves as host to the 2023 USATF Trail Half Marathon National Championship. The event spans a full weekend, with the Marathon, Half, and Adventure 5k taking place Saturday and the option of a second Half that Sunday. The event’s setting speaks for itself; set in Moab, racers will be taken through gorgeous canyons, single-track trails, slick rock, and Rugged Jeep Trails. It should come as no surprise that our team at Strambecco considers it to be one of the Best Trail Running Event in the Southwest.
Event & Course Info
One of the event’s distinctive features is the inclusion of multiple race options, catering to runners of various levels. Participants can choose to take on the Marathon, 10K, or Kids K on Saturday, while the Half Marathon is available on both Saturday and Sunday – providing flexibility and a chance for more runners to experience the magic of Moab. The added Sunday Half Marathon ensures that even more participants can join, especially since the Saturday races tend to fill up by early June.
The The Moab Trail Marathon unfolds in the spectacular Kane Creek Canyon area near Moab, Utah, offering runners a unique blend of terrains and stunning vistas.
Marathon: The course is unique and wild. The canyons around Moab are unlike anywhere in the world, and this course conquers some of the most spectacular! You will travel through narrow canyons with spectacular vertical walls on both sides and along the rim-tops of deep canyons with spectacular vistas in every direction. The terrain changes frequently to keep the miles clicking and includes narrow single-track, rugged jeep trails, sandy washes, ‘Moab-style slickrock’, a short section of dirt road, a few sections of no-track, a very old mining trail, and a couple of sections of fixed line traverse. Views will take your breath away and include the spectacular red rocks of “Behind the Rocks Wilderness” and “Amasa Back” area; also, view the sheer vertical walls of Pritchett, Hunter, and Kane Creek Canyons and views into Canyonlands National Park. In the distance are the beautiful 12,000-foot La Sal Mountains. You’ll pass by several arches, lots of lizards, cool and funny-looking rocks, possible eagles and hawks, some neat ancient pictographs, a couple of small creeks and springs, and our friendly aid station volunteers. They will be there to hydrate and fuel you in some of the craziest spots! The elevation gain and loss is about 3500 ft. There are two major climbs, one at the beginning, which is nice and gradual, and one just after the ½ way point, which is shorter and steeper. There are several other short climbs and descents throughout the course. The top runners will run all but the fixed rope section and are expected to finish in less than 4 hours. Average runners will do a combo of running with a bit of walking and are expected to finish in the 5 to 6 hr range.
However, due to changes in land ownership, there are important updates for the 2023 event. Runners must take a shuttle or be dropped off at the start, and a new section has been added to the Marathon course, replacing a section that crosses private property. This new route promises excitement but also necessitates updated cutoff times for safety reasons.
Half Marathon: This course follows the first 9 miles of the Marathon Course. Then you’ll get a break, technically but not physically, as you’ll climb up the switchbacks of Kane Creek Road, then back down, where you’ll enter the depths of Kane Creek Drainage. This unique canyon is rarely traveled but beautiful. Most of the canyon is runnable along hard-packed sand with a bit of water. Some sections are on single-track along the shore, and others through deeper water. You’ll travel about a mile through the canyon and then along the dirt road for a ½ mile and a final 1/2 mile of fun single track to the finish.
Both the Marathon and Half Marathon are well-supported with aid stations stocked with hydration and fuel, strategically placed to assist runners through the challenging terrain. From finishers’ medals and mugs to sponsor “swag,” top age group finishers prizes, and a significant cash purse shared between top Half Marathon finishers, the event promises glory and gratification for all.
For those interested in the Collegiate Trail Championships, the Half Marathon on November 4th provides a platform for college runners to compete for the Team Trophy and individual titles. This addition adds a competitive edge to the event, making it even more appealing for young runners looking to make their mark.
Area Accommodations & Things to Do
If you have not visited Moab, you are in for a treat. It’s an absolute outdoor paradise offering iconic Southwest scenery and a wide array of sports options in addition to trail running. From hiking to kayaking, rafting, rock climbing, off road adventuring, and exploring national parks, there is something for everyone.
When it comes to lodging for The Moab Trail Marathon, the town has a variety of options to suit different preferences and needs. For those looking to stay close to the action of the Moab Trail Marathon, there are several hotels situated right in town and just outside of town along Hwy 191/Main Street, all within a 15-minute drive to the race start/finish. Three highly recommended options are the Big Horn Lodge, Gonzo Inn, and Field Station Moab (also offers spots for van lifers), all known for their friendly accommodations and convenient locations. However, if you don’t mind a bit of a drive and are looking for something more secluded, the Red Cliff Lodge and Sorrell River Ranch are two beautiful lodges located about a 40-minute drive from town.
For those planning a longer stay in Moab or traveling with a group, a vacation rental might be the way to go. There are several options available, many of which are located in Spanish Valley, just south of Moab. Though they are outside of town, these accommodations only add about 10 minutes of extra driving time, providing a nice balance between tranquility and convenience.
Camping in Moab during November is an option for the more hardy visitors, as the nights can get quite cold. Although the campground near the start has closed down, there are other BLM camping options nearby along Kane Creek Road, such as Kings Bottom, which is very close to the race start/finish. Another option is Hunter Canyon, located about 2.5 miles beyond the race start/finish area. Additionally, there are several other BLM campgrounds near Moab along the River Road (128), Potash Road, and Sandflats (near the slickrock trail). These sites are affordable and typically available in November. For those seeking a more rugged experience, there are also a few free/dispersed camping locations along Willow Springs road, north of town as well as one of a kind locations for camping.
The culinary scene in Moab, Utah, is surprisingly diverse, offering a range of dining options from casual cafes and food trucks to upscale eateries, with menus featuring everything from traditional American and Southwestern dishes to international cuisine. Many establishments also focus on locally sourced ingredients, ensuring a fresh and unique dining experience in this scenic desert town. Some favorites include Milt’s Stop N Eat, Moab’s oldest restaurant (try their burgers and shakes!), Jailhouse Cafe, and the Moab Food Truck Park.
Moab, Utah is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise, offering a plethora of activities for adventurers looking to explore the stunning natural landscapes surrounding the town. Just 5 miles from Moab, you can find Arches National Park, a must-visit destination known for its breathtaking arch formations, with popular trails like Delicate Arch and Devils Garden Primitive Loop providing challenging runs or hikes amidst the park’s unique scenery.
Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse State Park are both about a 40-minute drive from town, offering vast, panoramic views and a variety of trails. The Syncline Loop in Canyonlands is a great 8-mile run or hike option, while the Intrepid Trail in Dead Horse Park provides a 9+ mile loop suitable for mountain bikers, hikers, and runners alike.
Beyond these parks, Moab boasts a variety of trails for running, hiking, and mountain biking. The Slickrock Trail, Bar M area trails, Magnificent 7 area trails, Grandstaff Canyon, Corona Arch trail, and Porcupine Rim trail all offer unique and challenging terrains with stunning views. For those interested in history and culture, there are several sites featuring fascinating petroglyphs to explore.
If you’re looking to give your feet a break, the Colorado River offers kayaking, paddleboarding, and rafting opportunities, with several rental outlets available in town. Jeep and ATV rentals are also popular, providing a different way to explore the rugged terrain. For a bit of exercise and relaxation, the Moab Aquatic Center on 400 West features a swimming pool and workout equipment.
For the more daring adventurers, Moab has unique canyoneering tours, rock climbing locations, and even skydiving opportunities. The recently opened zip line course, which includes a thrilling via ferrata option, adds to the adrenaline-pumping activities available. Beginners interested in climbing can get their start at the Moab Adventure Park on Kane Creek Road.
After all the excitement and adventure, you might find yourself in need of some rest. Consider a nap on a smooth, sunny red rock or in Moonflower Canyon. Alternatively, a cool soak in Grandstaff Canyon Creek or Mill Creek offers a refreshing way to unwind and rejuvenate before your next Moab adventure.
Aside from The Moab Trail Marathon, trail running enthusiasts have their pick at a slew of top shelf events in the state of Utah including the Tushars Mountain Runs from Aravaipa Running, the Wasatch Front 100 which is part of the Grand Slam of Ultra Running and a Rocky Mountain Slam Series event. Vacation Races is a premier operator with multiple in-state events from the Antelope Canyon Ultras, Bryce Canyon Ultras, Zion Ultras, many of which are UTMB and Western States Qualifiers.
For the multi-sport athletes out there, there are many bucket list worthy events to add to your calendar that take place in Utah like the True Grit Epic and 25 Hours of Frog Hollow from GRO Races and part of the National Ultra Endurance Race Series (NUE) and the N24 Series respectively, Moab Rocks from TransRockies and part of their Race Series. All of these are considered by the team at Strambecco to be some of the Best Mountain Bike Events in the Southwest and Utah.
Gravel cyclists will appreciate some of the Best Gravel Cycling Events in the Southwest held in-state including the Crusher in the Tushar from Life Time Events and part of its Grand Prix Series, the Belgian Waffle Ride (BWR) Utah from Monuments of Cycling which is part of their Quadrupel Crown of Gravel Series, and the True Grit Gravel Epic from GRO Races.
Finally, those who prefer pedaling on the pavement are not left out, with some of the Best Road Cycling Events in the Southwest happening throughout the year here, such as the Utah-Cache Gran Fondo which is a GFNS Partner Event and a UCI Worlds Qualifier, the Lotoja, and the Gran Fondo Moab from TransRockies and part of their Race Series.