Arches National Park review: The world’s largest concentration of natural sandstone arches and a truly magical place…

 

Arches National Park, Utah

Wallace Stegner:  “National parks are the best idea we ever had.  Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”

When my wife and I were planning our cross country road trip going from North Carolina to California, visiting various national parks was our absolute number one priority.  Thanks to so many great national parks in the United States though, we really had a difficult time figuring out which ones to visit.

Our trip would be in the winter months (November 28-February 9), so we eliminated national parks that are on the northern half of the country.  Those would include places like Yellowstone, Glacial, Yosemite National Parks.

The reasons for skipping those parks on the northern half of the country were two:  1) we did not want to hit inclement weather like snow and freezing rain and 2) we did not want to hike/sightsee in really cold weather.  We planned on visiting those parks in our near future, preferably during the Spring or the Fall.

Thanks to that decision, it made sense to include national parks that are located on the South/Southwest and the West.  From North Carolina, I-40 crosses the states of North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.  We wanted to use that highway on our way out west, and also on our way back home.

Adding the national parks located in the state of Utah, made perfect sense, as Utah is the state bordering Arizona, to the north.  Utah is also home to some of the most beautiful places on Planet Earth, home to likes of Zion, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce, and Arches National Park.  

Arches National Park, located on the southwestern parts of the state of Utah, is a special place.  It has the highest concentration of sandstone arches at over 2,000, and features otherworldly red rock landscape full of spires, arches, towers, pinnacles, and balanced rocks.  It’s the kind of place where people get inspired to write poems, paint, or just revel in incredible scenery.

During our planning phase, Arches National Park was one of our top destinations we looked forward to visiting during our trip.  On December 29, 2022, we finally got to explore the park on a beautiful, sunny morning with temperatures due to reach 50 degrees in the afternoon.

We left the warm confines of our hotel room for Arches National Park on the morning of December 29th.  We enjoyed an impressive morning scenery unfolding outside while waiting for the elevator.  The view of the mountains was spectacular with the morning sun.  It was a great day to visit the park!

View outside while waiting for the elevator!

We got inside our car, then headed to the park, which would take about 15 minutes via US-191 going north.  We arrived in no time, and pulled into the entrance station to show our America the Beautiful Pass. We loved the idea of not having to pay the $35 entrance fee thanks to this pass!

We grabbed a map from the ranger at the entrance station, then drove inside the park.  We climbed immediately, which meant the views were getting better every second.  We looked around, immediately loving the wide open spaces with snow capped La Sal Mountains in the distance.

We decided to do a bit of hiking to acclimate ourselves to the park.  We chose as our first stop, Park Avenue Viewpoint and Trailhead.  Park Avenue Viewpoint is typically the first scenic locale for visitors to the park, as it’s located 3.6 miles from the visitor center.  

We did what most visitors typically do, and pulled into the parking lot.  We saw why the viewpoint got its name as soon as we saw it.  The carved spires and towering rock walls reminded us of tall buildings on New York City’s Park Avenue.  

Park Avenue Viewpoint, Arches National Park, Utah



We descended to the desert floor using the staircase near the observation deck to get a better feel for the trail.  From the bottom, the rock walls were imposing, and really tall.  We felt like New Yorkers walking around Manhattan surrounded by impossibly tall skyscrapers.

The red colored sand trail was fascinating to look at, as we normally see normal colors of sand (beige/off white) on the East Coast.  Set against a backdrop of clearest blue skies and red colored rock walls, it was as if we were walking on another planet like Mars, if Mars had an atmosphere.




Park Avenue Trail, Arches National Park 

We walked along the trail for about half a mile when we decided to head back, as we had plenty of other things to look at.  Walking back took a bit longer as we had to ascend back up the trail.  It didn’t look like much when we descended, but the walk up proved we had come down a good 5-6 stories to the bottom of the desert floor.  

We got a good sweat going after making it to the observation deck and eventually to our car.  It was an excellent first hike at Arches National Park, and we were ready to see more.

For our next destination, we stopped over at the popular Balanced Rock.  Even at the end of December, there were plenty of visitors to the park, and by 10:30 a.m., the parking lot was filling up fast.  We managed to find a parking spot on our first try, then walked over to check out the Balanced Rock.

There were icy patches along the short walkway leading up to the rock, so we took our time walking, very gingerly at times.  We understood why it was called the Balanced Rock.  A huge boulder was precariously perched on top of another rock.  It almost looked like we can kick it over.

Balanced Rock, Arches National Park 

We walked around the rock taking in the scenery.  It was indeed beautiful, looking at strange looking rock formations surrounding us.  Shortly afterward, we found a slightly elevated set of rocks to our right, and we started to climb them.

The views opened up quite nicely from that vantage point.  We saw the majestic, snow-capped mountains in the distance, shrouded by clouds.  The scenery was breathtaking…


View of La Sal Mountains in the distance, Balanced Rock

After spending few minutes viewing the scenery, we headed to our next destination, the Windows.  The Windows is considered by many to be the true center of Arches National Park.  The area contains a high concentration of arches and offers some of the most spectacular scenery at the park.

We realized how busy the attraction was when we saw there were cars in front of us trying to find parking spots. We were secretly hoping the cars in front of us all found spots, so we could get one as well.  Our prayers to the parking gods were answered, when a car pulled out just in the nick of time for us to squeeze in there!

We parked, then walked over to our right, first to check out the North/South Window and the Turret Arch.  The walkway was wet with melting snow and was slippery at times.  Regardless, the views more than made up for the slight inconvenience.

We had never seen arches quite like the ones at Arches National Park.  Each arch was easily 3-4 stories tall, with well defined structures. The views through those arches were fantastic.  We got as close as we can to see them up close, and to look directly up at the arch.  Wow…

Arch, viewed from the bottom

The Windows, Arches National Park 
Turret Arch, Arches National Park 

After checking out the North/South Window and the Turret Arch, we walked across the parking lot to see the Double Arch.  Double Arch is the tallest arch at the park at 112 feet above ground level, and as we got near it, we saw how immense it really was.

View of Double Arch from the trail
Double Arch, when looking up!
Double Arch, Arches National Park 

We walked along the Double Arch Trail alongside hundreds of people, then decided to walk all the way up to the top, as high as we could go directly underneath the arch itself.  We were rewarded with an amazing view of the Windows section where we had just explored.

View from the top of Double Arch, looking out

The top of the arch gave us an amazing view, but it also gave us a much needed relief from the hot sun, even though it was the end of December!  We again thought we made the right decision to visit here in the winter months, and not during the sizzling hot summer months.

We stayed up there for good 10 minutes before deciding to head out of the Windows Section to continue our exploration.  Our next destination:  Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint.

The Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint is just a viewpoint (and a trail) to see the famous Delicate Arch.  In order to view the Delicate Arch up close, you’d have to hike 3 miles round trip.  We had another hike planned, so we skipped this hike, and rather, decided to see it from a distance.

We walked about a quarter mile to get to the Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint, with steep climbs near the top of the trail.  We made it to the top, then caught our breaths, as we looked across the canyon at the Delicate Arch.

Even from a distance, it looked magnificent.  It was indeed the iconic arch we see all the time in media and in photos.

At the top of the Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint
Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint trail

After several minutes, we walked down the trail, then headed out to our last two destinations: Sand Dune Arch and Broken Arch.  We arrived at Sand Dune Arch parking lot, and saw every parking spot was already taken.  

We saw some cars were parked alongside the road in front of the parking lot, so we followed suit, and did what others have done.  After parking on the side of the road, we walked a short .3 mile to arrive at the Sand Dune Arch.

The narrow passageway through the canyon reminded us of Antelope Canyon in Arizona.  It was absolutely delightful to walk through the passageway to get to the other side.  We waited our turn to pass, as there were visitors coming out or going in using the only entrance to the Sand Dune Arch.

Once we got in, the whole place reminded us of a movie set from the Indians Jones movies.  The place was absolutely amazing with red colored, tall rock walls surrounding us on all sides.  We felt like characters from that movie franchise, exploring ancient ruins inside a forgotten canyon…

Passageway to Sand Dune Arch

Tall rock walls inside 
Another look at the narrow passageway!
Inside the Sand Dune Arch trail

We walked around, exploring the many little nook & crannies.  Some spots were not passable as rock walls closed in on itself.  Many visitors tried, but gave up.  We did the same.  

We got to Sand Dune Arch on our right, and it was rather small.  Sand Dune Arch is special not because of the arch itself, but because of the hike and the incredible rock walled narrow canyon, in my humble opinion.  


Sand Dune Arch, Arches National Park 
The incredible Sand Dune Arch trail

I personally found Sand Dune Trail to be my favorite place out of all the places we explored at the park.  It was that beautiful, unique, and amazing…The few minutes we spent looking around the vibrant red/brown colored rocks and the same colored sand, enclosed by rock walls cocooning us, will remain with us forever.  Just incredible…

Before leaving Sand Dune, we wanted to take our time looking around the place for one last time.  We took one long look at the area to memorialize the place, then we made our way outside the narrow passageway.  Our last destination:  Broken Arch.

Broken Arch is located about a mile from Sand Dune, and we headed north, taking the sand covered trail.  The views were expansive with desert landscape laid out in front of us for miles.  Views of the mountains and strange rock formations added to the ambiance.

Views along Broken Arch Trail, Arches National Park 
Broken Arch Trail, Arches National Park


The 1 mile trip took longer for us than usual, as the sand covered trail made traversing difficult.  We watched many beautiful and at times strange looking rocks standing guard near the Broken Arch.  By the time we arrived at the Broken Arch, it was late afternoon, and the shadows the sun was creating made for a perfect time of the day to be outdoors.

The landscape was surreal, incredibly beautiful, and somewhat alien, at least alien to someone who grew up on the East Coast of the United States.  We decided to climb to the top of the Broken Arch, where we met a friendly retired couple who had visited the park many times previously.

We chatted briefly about the various national parks and about our cross country trip until they headed out, continuing their hike further past the trail.  We decided to remain exactly where we were, to enjoy the few remaining moments of the slowly but surely setting sun…


Broken Arch, Arches National Park 

We looked around from that vantage point, enjoying the beautiful panoramic views with mountains, the deserts, and of course the arch directly on top of us.  Wow, we never could get enough of this scenery…

View from the Broken Arch, Arches National Park 
Heading back on the Broken Arch Trail 

We took our time up there on Broken Arch, knowing this was our last stop, before heading back to our hotel.  It had been a great day, full of new stimuli and marvelous scenery….It’s what we live for…

In conclusion:

Arches National Park is a place like no other on Planet Earth.  The varied terrain full of magical arches, spires, balanced rocks, and canyons will inspire mere mortals to write poems, to paint, or to write songs.  It is that beautiful of a place…

Arches National Park is a popular national park for so many great reasons.  For us, the largest concentration of arches in the world certainly helps, but the surreal and diverse scenery we personally witnessed will remain with us forever.

We highly recommend any lovers of nature and incredible scenery to visit Arches National Park.  Thank you for reading and happy trails!  Don’t forget to keep up with us on our continuing journey across the American West.


Jake

Wandering Money Pig 


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