Located right in Moab’s backyard, the Sand Flats Recreation Area (SFRA) is known as Utah’s premier mountain biking and off roading destination, attracting thousands of enthusiasts from around the world each year. The Slickrock and Porcupine Rim bike trails offer almost 30 miles of track to challenge riders. Hell’s Revenge and Fins and Things 4×4 trails contribute an additional 16 miles of double track for both bikers and jeepers to enjoy.
Hikers tend to stay away during the busiest months of the season but when the weather cools down and the tourists thin out, Sand Flats morphs into a hiker’s paradise offering quiet solitude and a feeling of remoteness on the edge of town. The recreation area covers a total of 7200 acres and is immediately adjacent to Negro Bill Canyon and Mill Creek Canyon Wilderness Study Areas and both canyons are accessible by hikers from the flats.
Hiking the SFRA does not necessarily involve following designated routes with specific trailheads and distances but if you are unfamiliar with the landscape, the marked bike and jeep routes are a good way to learn landmarks that can be used as visual reference points for navigation. Once you learn your way around feel free to take off cross country and do some “wild walking”.
The vast expanses of polished Navajo Sandstone allow hikers to explore mile after mile of slickrock wilderness without treading on fragile cryptobiotic soils, but on occasion you might find your route completely blocked by areas of crust. Please backtrack and find a way around it.
There are so many interesting sights to seek out and enjoy at Sand Flats that I can’t possibly mention them all. To get you started here are a few of my favorites.
Start at campgrounds C, D or E and hike south to the rim of North Fork Mill Creek then explore east or west along the rim. The views down into North Fork are fantastic.
Start at the Slickrock Bike trailhead and follow the Practice Loop to Echo Point. There you will find a “diving board rock” viewpoint that is sure to provoke a good case of vertigo in even the heartiest of souls. Continue on the loop back to the main bike trail then north down “The Swirl” and across the pour-off at the head of Abyss Canyon. From there find a route east along the north rim of Abyss. Explore for rock art in this area.
Start at the Slickrock Bike trailhead and find your way northeast and up on the giant fins above and to the west of Morning Glory Bridge. Or head due east and connect to the Fins and Things trail system to a point directly above Morning Glory. This route can be frustrating due to areas of crust, but there is a way through on bedrock.
Explore Sandfork Canyon from Sand Flats Road south down to the pour off then west up on the fins.
For experienced hikers, take off southeast across the flat just east of Sandfork and find your way down into Rill Canyon. Follow Rill southwest to its confluence with North Fork Mill Creek. Follow Mill Creek downstream to Otho Bridge.
Keep in mind that all of these hikes are exceptionally beautiful under a sunny sky and a few inches of fresh snow. And take your camera – SFRA is one of the best places to photograph the La Sal Mountains, especially at sunset.
Please remember to stay on slickrock at all times, be safe and have fun!