The power of nature is evident in the amazing rock formations of Arches National Park
We stationed ourselves in the small town of Moab for a few days. Moab has become a tourist town based on it’s proximity to the Colorado River and several National Parks. People come here for activity holidays like white water rafting, mountain biking, climbing, hiking and off-road motoring – hence it is quite a young person place with plenty of outdoor clothing, cycle and jeep hire stores and of course bars. It also has a brewery – which does some pretty good beers – that has a restaurant and bar attached so you can conveniently sample their wares. We decided to try a bar come restaurant in town called Eddie McStiffs, which you could imagine gets lively at certain times of the year. We called in between lunch and dinner so it was quiet which suited us as we just wanted to try the local micro-beers.
Our main reason for coming here, of course, was not to drink beer, although this was very pleasurable, was to visit the National Parks: Canyonlands and Arches National Parks both of which are just a few short miles from Moab.
About Arches National Park
Arches story started around 65 million years ago when the area was a dry seabed stretching as far as the eye could see. Geologic forces shaped the landscape tearing it apart and forcing the region to rise in elevation. The fractures in the relatively soft sandstone rock formations allowed water to force its way in and carve the formations we see today.
Rain erodes the rock and carries sediment down washes and canyons to the Colorado River. In winter, snowmelt pools in fractures and other cavities then freezes and expands, breaking off chunks of sandstone.
Over time, the same forces that created these arches will continue to widen them until they collapse.
What to see in Arches National Park?
1. DRIVE THE ARCHES SCENIC ROAD
There is one main road through the Park with a few small spurs to take you to some of the formations throughout Arches. It is only 19 miles long so you could get from one end to the other in about 30 to 45 minutes but of course, you’ll be stopping a lot on the way3
2. PARK AVENUE VIEWPOINT & TRAILHEAD
After navigating the switchbacks from the Visitor Centre the first major pull-off along the scenic road is known as Park Avenue. There are no arches to see here but there is a spectacular canyon with some massive rock formations to admire.
The trail descends steeply into the impressive canyon from this viewpoint and continues one mile (1.6 km) to Courthouse Towers. For a roundtrip hike, retrace your steps along the trail rather than walking along the road
3. LA SAL MOUNTAINS VIEWPOINT
Just a short distance from Park Avenue is another view across to the La Sal Mountains, where you get a 360-degree view across to the La Sal Mountains to the east and distinctive formations like Three Gossips, Sheep Rock, and The Organ in the Courthouse Towers area. Look to the horizon for a view of Balanced Rock and The Windows Section.
4. THE COURTHOUSE TOWERS VIEWPOINT
Just a short distance from Park Avenue is another viewpoint across to the La Sal Mountains, where you get a 360-degree view across to the La Sal Mountains to the east and distinctive formations like Three Gossips, Sheep Rock, and The Organ in the Courthouse Towers area. Look to the horizon for a view of Balanced Rock and The Windows Section.
5. PETRIFIED SAND DUNES VIEWPOINT
Looking out from this viewpoint you are staring across an area once covered by vast sand dunes. Some 200 million years ago winds from the northwest carried tons of fine-grained sand into this area, creating an immense desert.
Over time the sand drifts were covered by other layers of sediment, compressed and cemented by quartz and calcite into Navajo Sandstone. Erosion has since washed away overlying layers, exposing the original dune-scape.
There is no trail leading into the dunes; simply set off east on the most obvious path.
6. BALANCED ROCK
Balanced Rock, is one of the most iconic features in the park. It stands at 128 feet (39m) tall. While this formation may appear to be an epic balancing act, it’s actually not balanced at all. The slick rock boulder of Entrada Sandstone sits attached to its eroding pedestal of Dewey Bridge mudstone. The exposure of these two rock strata layers is ideal for the formation of arches and balanced rocks.
Balanced Rock defies gravity but this won’t always be the case. Eventually, the 3,600-tonne boulder will come tumbling down as the erosional process continues to shape the landscape.
There is a trail that leads from the parking lot to the rock and from here there is a small easy loop trail so you get to see Balanced Rock from every angle.
7. THE WINDOWS
From Balanced Rock there is a spur road that goes out the Windows Section of the Park, which has the highest density of arches and is one of the most scenice parts of Arches National Park. During the busy season parking here can be challenging so be prepared to park a distance away and walk in.
The are three arches that form the Windows – North & South Window and Turret Arch. From the parking lot the first hundred yards is an easy hike on a paved trail. After that the path gets uneven and rocky but is an easy walk. The whole trail is only a 1 mile round trip
8. DOUBLE ARCH
Also accessible from the Windows Section parking lot is one of the most famous arches in the Park, Double Arch. The Double Arch trail is a relatively flat, gravel-surfaced path half-mile which leads to the impressive double arches.
Double Arch is the tallest (112 ft/34 m) and second-longest (144 ft/44 m) arch in the Park. You can climb right up inside the arches if you are feeling a bit more adventurous.
9. DELICATE ARCH
Delicate Arch is one of the most famous geologic structures in the world. You undoubtedly will have seen it in numerous pictures and license plates.
It may not look like it in photos, but Delicate Arch is huge with the opening below the arch measuring 46 feet. This is the largest free-standing arch in the Park.
The only way to get close to Delicate Arch is to hike in. The hike is a 3-mile round trip with nearly a 500-foot elevation gain. The Park Service describes this as a ‘difficult’ hike primarily due to some steep climbs over slick rock formations in the middle section. For most people this is a 2 to 3 hour hike.
The best time to photograph the arch is at sunset. At the end of the day, the warm light from the setting sun illuminates Delicate Arch, casting it in a warm glow. This makes the arch look fiery red during sunset.
Sunset is a popular time to visit Delicate Arch so it can be crowded, especially during the summer months.
10. DEVILS GARDEN TRAIL & LANDSCAPE ARCH
One arch you will not want to miss is Landscape Arch, one of the world’s longest stone spans, stretches 306 feet (93.3 m), yet is only about 11 feet (3.4 m) thick at its center. You may wonder how such a narrow span of rock can stay in place. In fact, arches are constantly changing. In 1991 a 60-foot-long (18 m) slab of rock fell from the bottom of the arch. You can see remnants of this rock fall beneath the arch today.
Devil’s Garden is right at the end of the road that runs through the Park. The trailhead starts from the parking lot. hike. The trail is hard-packed to Landscape Arch. The total distance to the arch and back is 1.9 miles (3.1 km). The trail is relatively flat with hard-packed surfaces to walk on. There is no significant elevation gain, only moderate hills, up and down. The trail meanders through tall fins to a spectacular view of Landscape Arch. Along the way, you’ll see side trails to Pine Tree and Tunnel Arches.
In summary …
- Arches National Park is one of the premier National Parks and for good reason. You can see most of the main features in a day but it would be worth staying for more time if you can
- Moab is a good place to stay during your visit. It is a little pricey to stay here but it is a great place to explore Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and the impressive Dead Horse Point State Park
- It can get very busy in Arches National Park and the parking lots fill up quickly – consider starting early in the morning or later in the day
- This is a desert location so plan accordingly if you intend to hike and explore the more remote parts of the Park. Take plenty of water, sunscreen and hats.
Planning your trip
Most people will travel to Arches National Park by car. There is no public transport inside the Park so a car or motorcycle is the best way to get around. You can also get around easily on a bicycle.
Arches National Park is located in southeast Utah, 5 miles north of Moab, Utah. All large cities are some distance away.
- 110 miles southwest of Grand Junction, Colorado
- 236 miles southeast of Salt Lake City, Utah
- 360 miles southwest of Denver, Colorado
Best time to visit Arches National Park
Arches National Park gets very busy during the peak season from March to October. You may find long lines just to get into the Park and the spaces for parking is limited. So, if you do visit during these times it is best to get there before 9am or after 2pm.Be
The area where Arches is located is designated “high desert” which means it experiences wide temperature fluctuations, sometimes over 40 degrees in a single day. The temperate (and most popular) seasons are spring (April through May) and fall (mid-September through October), when daytime highs average 60º to 80º F and lows average 30º to 50º F.
Summer temperatures often exceed 100ºF. The late summer monsoon season brings violent storm cells which often cause flash floods.
Winters are cold, with highs averaging 30º to 50º F, and lows averaging 0º to 20º F. Though large snowfalls are uncommon (except in nearby mountains), even small amounts of snow or ice can make local trails and roads impassable.
Other places close by worth visiting
1. CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK (25 MILES)
Canyonlands National Park covers a colossal 330,000 acres are filled with arches, buttes, mesas, canyons, hiking trails, dirt roads, campgrounds, and overlook. To cover the whole Park would take an eternity.
The best way to explore Canyonlands is by hiking the many trails that run throughout the area or taking a 4×4 off-road vehicle out in the back-country. Beware that you’ll need plenty of clearance to make it past the rocks along the way. If you are feeling brave you can take the switchbacks up the Shafer Trail to the top of the mesas
2. CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK (130 MILES)
Even considering Utah’s many impressive national parks and monuments, it is difficult to rival Capitol Reef National Park’s sense of expansiveness, of broad, sweeping vistas, of a tortured, twisted, seemingly endless landscape, or of limitless sky and desert rock. While Bryce and Zion are like encapsulated little fantasy lands of coloured stone and soaring cliffs, the less-visited Capitol Reef is almost like a planet unto itself. Here you get a real feel for what the earth might have been like before life appeared when nothing existed but earth and sky.
Find out more from my blog post on the Capitol Reef National Park.
3. BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK (230 MILES)
Bryce Canyon is one of the ‘Big 5’ National Parks in Utah. The main draw of the park is the Bryce Amphitheatre that has the highest density of hoodoos (spire-like rock formations) in the World. These hoodoos have been carved from the red sandstone over the millennia by the weather.
Find out more from my blog post on the Bryce Canyon National Park
4. ZION NATIONAL PARK (290 MILES)
There are not too many places that we have gone out of our way to visit multiple times, but Zion National Park is one of those exceptions! We have had the good fortune to visit Zion National Park three times, twice during the summer months and the third over the Christmas break. Each time we have really enjoyed exploring the varied trails that run throughout the Park, which range from very easy to the most challenging (which we declined to do – more on that later!) I am sure we’ll be going back again before too long.
Find out more from my blog post on the Zion National Park.
Where to stay?
1. DEVILS GARDEN CAMPGROUND
There is only one campground in Arches National Park at Devils Garden. There are 51 sites – which are basic sites. You can take an RV but there are no hook-ups and the sites are only 20-foot to 40-foot long.
Sites can be reserved in advance from March to October. In the winter months, it’s first-come-first-served. The campground gets busy in the summer so don’t expect to turn up and find a site.
2. UNDER CANVAS MOAB
If you are looking for something more unusual then Under Canvas Moab might be a good option. This is a chain of resorts focussing on luxury glamping. You will be staying under canvas but this is not your regular tent experience. Here the tents have electricity, water and a full washroom! The resort is only open from March to October and gets booked out. Also, be aware that most accommodation in Moab is pricey – a tent here will set you back $250 per night.
For our last trip to Moab, we decided to stay at MainStay Suites Moab. This was a good choice for us as each room has a kitchenette, with stovetops and microwaves. We’re vegan and there is not a lot of dining options in Moab so we decided to self-cater most of our meals.
The hotel is well equipped with a spacious breakfast room and washing facilities. There is also an outside pool to cool off on those hot summer days. We would recommend this as a good base to explore the amazing Parks in the area!
Check out the listing on Booking.com for more information.