Manti-La Sal Mountain Loop

The mountains are calling and I must go.
— John Muir
Warner Lake, 9400 ft, Haystack Mountain at 11,641’ is in the background.

Warner Lake, 9400 ft, Haystack Mountain at 11,641’ is in the background.


The mountains are always calling, but especially when they are filled with fall color. This is our third extended stay in Moab, but it was our first trip up into the Manti-La Sal mountain range that is southeast of town. In years past we had always filled our days with hikes in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, jeep cruises on some slightly scary -to me- back roads and exploring the slick-rock hills around us.

When I stopped in town the other day at the Post Office to pick up our mail (general delivery is a necessity when you are on the road for years at a time), I noticed the US Forest Service office was right next door. I wandered over to ask if they might have some maps or ideas where we might find some fall color. The ranger directed me to a grouping of maps about the Manti-La Sal mountain range, and our next day was now planned.


About seven miles south of town on HWY 191, we turned east onto the Manti-La Sal Loop road. A 60-mile loop that the ranger said would take maybe two to three hours, took us closer to six. But then we had a lot of stops along the way for photography and views. The vegetation changed as we gained elevation. Pinyon and juniper trees gave way to oak, then to larger pines and aspen - and of course - Fall COLOR! The loop began at about 4500 ft and we watched our dash-mounted GPS as we climbed up the steep windy road to over 9400’ by the time we made it to Warner Lake, the second of two lakes we hiked around on the loop. I talked with some campers and they told me both bear and deer had been sighted that day, but I didn’t see any as I made my way down the trails in search of color. Bob chilled out at the Jeep, smart man, he always brings a book with him.

We were almost to the end of the loop road when we encountered a semi car hauler - not sure why he thought it was a good idea to go up that road. He was seriously stuck on a hairpin turn, he wasn’t going any farther. We were lucky that the Jeep could skirt along the inside of the hill so we didn’t have to turn and go back the way we had come.

We made a slight detour on the way back to see the dinosaur tracks in Bull Canyon. A short gravel trail took us to see several therapod prints. According to the info sign at the trailhead the tracks dated to the Jurassic period about 200 million years ago when the area was a shallow sea. The overlock was dramatic as well.

The drive back took us through Castle Valley and the road skirted by Castle Rock and Castleton Tower, huge sandstone towers. We then followed the Colorado River as it snaked it’s way back to Moab. It was a beautiful day, and I would make the drive again just for the views and peaceful moments along the lakeside.