Moab is the primary gateway to both Arches and Canyonlands national parks. Don’t let its outsize image and status as Grand County seat fool you: only about 5,200 people live here year-round—compared with the 1.5 million who visit annually. Near the Colorado River in a beautiful valley between red rock cliffs, Moab is an interesting, eclectic place to visit, and it's home to a mix of both super-casual and hip restaurants, plus Southwestern-inspired souvenirs, art galleries, tour operators, recreation outfitters, and a growing selection of lodging options.
The next-closest town to Arches, about 50 miles to the northwest, is Green River, a fairly sleepy little town with some less expensive—but also less noteworthy—dining and lodging options and the excellent John Wesley Powell River History Museum. Each September the fragrance of fresh cantaloupe, watermelon, and honeydew fills the air, especially during Melon Days, a family-fun harvest celebration on the third weekend of September. As Moab hotels have become more expensive and crowded spring through fall, many park visitors have taken to staying farther south in the small southeastern Utah towns of Monticello, Blanding, and Bluff (see the Canyonlands National Park chapter for more on these three towns), and even 110 miles away up in Grand Junction, Colorado, a lively and attractive small city of about 62,000 with a bustling historic downtown and some great, reasonably priced dining and lodging options and close proximity to gorgeous Colorado National Monument.