Arches National Park
Wow… what a fabulous place and a definite highlight of the National Parks in Utah. The world’s largest concentration of over 2000 natural arches, as well as fins, giant balanced rocks, pinnacles and spires, can be found in this phenomenal park! Do you want to explore 76,518 hectares? With so much to discover, you won’t be disappointed. From 10 minute strolls to 4-hour hikes there are plenty of trails to choose from. The 36-mile scenic drive is breathtaking. We gazed in awe at the “Three Sisters” and marvelled at “Delicate Arch.”
The park looks like something from a film set and has in fact been the backdrop to some top movies. Double Arch, which looks almost Jurassic, was used in the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Also filmed here, was Thelma and Louise. It is difficult to comprehend the sheer size and magnitude of the arches. To put things into perspective, Landscape Arch boasts the longest natural rock span, anywhere! The arch is 306 feet wide, more than that of a football field. Arches National Park is a paradise for photographers. The changing light, the vivid colours and diversity of landscape attracts visitors from around the globe. Lucky for us, hardly anyone visits in November! We relaxed within the arches and took our time to get “the shot.” We really enjoyed Arches National Park, it’s unique, diverse and special.
Arches National Park Trails
Pick up a guide map and drive from the visitor centre through the dramatic landscape, stopping to view the unique arches carved with nature. There are walks from most car parks ranging from 0.5 miles to 7 miles.
We visited in November so virtually had the park to ourselves. We spent the day stopping at the viewpoints, walking the trails and photographing the arches.
Arches National Park offers a comprehensive list of the trails.
Balanced Rock, the trail takes less than 15 minutes to see the precariously balanced boulder.
Landscape Arch is 1.6 miles from the car park. The trail takes you through stunning rock formations to emerge at the arch. The colours were beautiful, due to safety reasons you are unable to walk up to the arch but the view from the trail is spectacular.
The Windows, a 1-mile trail leads you gently up to a ‘window’ that looks out for miles. It almost feels like you are walking up to heaven if that’s what you believe.
Double Arch trail allows you to see up close this unique rock formation. (0.5 miles)
Delicate Arch, a more difficult trail, especially in the heat as there is no shade. The path climbs 146m and then continues along a ledge until you reach the arch. (3 miles)
Where to stay
Just a few minutes from Arches National Park and a short drive to Canyonlands, Moab is a great base to explore these two parks. From the mighty Colorado River and the immense red rock landscape, it is one of the best outdoor adventure areas around. If hiking, mountain biking, 4×4 driving or rafting is your thing, plan on staying a while!
The town of Moab is friendly, easy to navigate, packed with restaurants, cafes, shops, supermarkets and rental outlets. It is also extremely popular in peak season so book ahead. There is a great visitor centre on the corner of Centre and Main Street which has guides and maps of the area.
Where to eat
There are a number of good food options available in town, we ate at Zak’s, a relaxed busy restaurant serving delicious pizza. (The all you can eat pizza buffet, salad and soup for $13.99, is a great option if you’re hungry). They also serve burgers, salads, sandwiches etc and great local beer.
The spoke on Centre offers handcrafted burgers, salads and ice creams. The restaurant is on two levels with a subtle bike-themed style decor. The burgers are fantastic and a great option after a full day of adventure. I had the 2 pigs and a cow burger…delicious beef topped with pulled pork and bacon! They also serve great local brews on tap, my favourites are cutthroat and full suspension pale ale.
For a delicious coffee head to Moab Coffee Roasters on Main Street.
We stayed at the Super 8 Motel which was much cleaner, had more facilities and more modern rooms than some of the more expensive places we have stayed. The only negative was that although in Moab, it was slightly out of town along the main highway. This meant that you had to drive into town, not great if everyone wants to try the local beer.
There are many choices in the centre of Moab and just outside to suit all budgets. Check out www.discovermoab.com for more detailed information. The accommodation books up months in advance and the campgrounds have no reservations and fill up early.
The area around Moab has miles of old mining tracks, these make fantastic 4X4 trails. Use your own vehicle, rent one or take a tour, the choice is yours. There are trails for all levels and you can pick up a guide at the visitor information centre. There are lots of rental companies in town that hire vehicles and trailers. Some companies will even deliver your vehicle to a trailhead within reason!
Horse riding, mountain biking, rafting and hiking are all on the doorstep. You can find family-friendly rafting and class 4 rapids on the Colorado River. The area is mountain bike heaven, with trails for everyone, rent a bike and see more of this stunning landscape. If you want the ultimate challenge, the Slickrock Bike Trail is considered to be the must-do biking experience. For more information on bike trails see www.discovermoab.com/biking
Canyonlands is the largest of the National Parks in Utah. At 337 598 hectares, this expansive, diverse desert landscape cannot be traversed in a day! Water and gravity have sculpted this spectacular landscape. The Colorado River and its tributaries are the artists. You can discover countless arches, mesas, fins and buttes. Take your time in this “high desert” and head to “The Maze” if you are feeling courageous. This part of the park is definitely wild! Backpackers usually plan to spend several days here, a well-planned expedition is advisable.
Different areas divide the park, roads do not link the districts. Although they look close on a map, getting from one part to another could take up to 6 hours! Island in the Sky, is the most easily accessible area to visit and affords panoramic, unrivalled views from a breathtaking vantage point. Also noteworthy are the Native American paintings at Horseshoe Canyon. In addition, take a look at “Upheaval Dome.” Is this the work of a meteor?
Will you choose to walk or cycle part of the 100 mile White Rim Trail at Island in the Sky? Do you want to camp in the backcountry? If so get a permit up to a year in advance! All in all, visiting Canyonlands, the largest National Park in Utah, is a truly unforgettable experience.
We only had time to visit one area of the vast Canyonlands. We chose Islands in the sky because of its close proximity to Moab. (Around a 30-40 minute drive) Stop at the visitor centre located at the entrance and pick up the visitor guide which has all of the viewpoints and trails clearly marked. There is a 34 mile scenic round trip drive that stops off at the viewpoints and trails. There are a variety of walks ranging from a 0.5-mile easy stroll to a 21-mile strenuous overnight hike.
We had only one day in Canyonlands so completed the scenic drive stopping off at the major overlooks and walking some of the trails.
We walked to Mesa Arch, an easy trail leading to a cliff edge and Mesa Arch. The view beyond the arch across to the snow capped La Sal mountains was stunning. As it was November there were around 10 other people sharing this experience, I’m not sure it would be quite the same in August! This is a great place to watch the sun come up too!
The Grand Viewpoint at sunset is beautiful, the overlook allows you to look down into the canyon and see the unique geological layers that makeup Canyonlands. The sun sets across the whole vista and the crevices glisten as the sun is setting. There is a 2-mile trail that follows the canyon’s edge.
Upheaval Dome is a short but steep trail that leads to a view into the dome. If you want to see the view from a different angle the trail extends to a further viewpoint on the left.
If you want to experience Canyonlands from the bottom up, follow the Gooseberry Trail as it descends over 400 metres into the canyon to the white rim bench. Remember to stop and look up…It’s a whole different experience.
For more details on the hiking and back road trails see www.nps.gov
If you enjoyed reading about Arches and Canyonlands take a look at our extended National Parks Road Trip around Utah and Arizona.