On to Eastern Utah: Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. I had visited both as a teenager and was looking forward to experiencing them again. We arrived at Arches around 9am after a two-plus hour drive from Capitol Reef. Our first stop was Delicate Arch, one of the most iconic symbols of the national park system. The arch is about a one and a half mile hike (three miles round trip) across both dirt path and rock. If you don’t like crowds, get there early. It wasn’t too mobbed when we were there, around 10am, but we did have to wait for a parade of people to take photos with the arch before we got a clear shot. No issue for me – I liked having the time to take in the surroundings.
Our afternoon in the park was spent hiking around Devil’s Garden. We didn’t do the entire 7.2 mile loop, but we did see Landscape Arch, Partition Arch and Double O Arch – all very cool. The Devil’s Garden hike is a great one. It takes you out over ridges of rocks that provide gorgeous 360-degree views of the wilderness and its fabulous formations. I’d highly recommend it. We found out too late that you can also reserve a guided hike through a region of the park called Fiery Furnace. There are two tours a day and they book up well in advance. That will have to be something for our return trip!
After exploring Arches, we spent the night in Moab, which is just down the road – a good base for exploring both parks. Our hotel, River Canyon Lodge, was pleasant enough and located a quick walk from both the main drag of town and a 24-hour laundromat – very useful! My husband and I both appreciated a hot shower, bed and dinner that didn’t involve setting up a campfire and washing dishes in a communal sink. If you like Mexican food, I’d recommend Miguel’s Baja Grill.
Day two in the area was another early one. We hightailed it out of Moab into Canyonlands at 6:30am in the hopes of securing one of the 12 walk-up camping sites at Willow Flat Campground. Our efforts were rewarded as we managed to claim a site, take in the views at Green River Overlook (very close to the site) and walk to Mesa Arch, all before 9am. Mesa Arch is an easy .5 mile loop from the road and is truly something to see. We caught it in the early morning light, which created layers of sun and blue shadows on the rock formations as far as the eye can see. Quite a sight! Unfortunately a novice like me has no hope of really capturing its beauty with a camera, but of course I tried.
After Mesa Arch, we headed out of Canyonlands to Dead Horse Point State Park, a short drive up the road. This was another location I had visited as a teenager, and I wholeheartedly recommend it – the views of the canyon and the Colorado River are spectacular!
Our afternoon was spent back in Canyonlands, exploring the trails at Grand View Point and Upheaval Dome, but not before enjoying a gorgeous picnic at the Grand View Point trailhead. We have been having such spectacular picnic spots lately – Glacier Point in Yosemite, The Narrows in Zion, overlooking Bryce Amphitheater… how am I ever going to go back to eating lunch at my desk at work? Oh well! I’ll enjoy it while I can. The views at Grand View Point are, well, grand. There’s a one-mile rim walk that we took our time with, enjoying the views at every turn. It was a really great way to spend a few hours. We were less enthusiastic about Upheaval Dome. Once you see Grand View Point, it doesn’t really compare.
Throughout our day here I was trying to decide which park I preferred, Arches or Canyonlands. It’s a tough call – they are both incredible. I might give the slight edge to Canyonlands, but truthfully both parks deserve more attention than we gave them. The vistas are so amazing that it’s easy to linger and gaze out at them for ages. The trouble is that they’re impossible to truly capture in words, pictures and really, even memory. They are simply amazing and something you must experience in person.
To really see Canyonlands in its entirety, you need at least a few days. The park is divided into a few different units: Island in the Sky, Needles and Horseshoe Canyon. We only got the chance to visit Island in the Sky, the most popular unit. Really, one could easily spend a week or two in the Moab area exploring both Canyonlands and Arches. There is so much to see and so many outdoor activities to take part in. We only scratched the surface, but this is yet another place I hope to return to one day, perhaps with the next generation in tow.