Our first visit to Moab and Arches National Park in the US took place in 2009. By then, the red rocks had stolen our hearts and around Moab you definitely are in red rock country. It’s not so hard to guess what this particular National Park is famous for… Arches!
Take a map and plan ahead
Make sure to have a good map of the Arches National Park hikes so you can make the best of your time there and see many of those magnificent bows crafted by nature. If you’re into photography it helps to buy a topographic map that also has information on what time of day the light is best for a particular part of the park. The Visitor Center right next to the entrance has an excellent selection. Entry to the park is free if you have an “America the Beautiful” pass.
Plan ahead as some of the very popular spots will attract a lot of people and parking lots may fill up quickly. The Windows section can be particularly crowded as there is a lot to see without going too far away from your car.
Delicate Arch, the symbol of the State of Utah and figuring on its car license plates is another very popular place, especially towards sunset, even if the hike up can be strenuous for some people.
For our first visit, we decided to drive down to the far end of the park and start from there making our way back throughout the day. So our first hike was along Devils Garden Trail, where several arches can be admired, the most famous being Landscape Arch.
Landscape Arch is the longest natural bridge in the world, slightly longer than Kolob Arch in Zion National Park. At some point in time, there was a trail that passed beneath the Arch but this has been closed since already several times huge pieces of the Arch have broken off, the longest measuring more than 21 meters!
If you want to admire this wonderful piece of natural architecture maybe it is better not to wait too long as sooner or later it is bound to collapse. We still managed to photograph it although we should have paid better attention to the time of day (I was shooting against the hard sunlight around noon).
The Windows section is one of the most visited areas of Arches National Park, understandably as there are some gorgeous arches to admire.
Close to the turn-off to Windows, there is another iconic monument of nature: Balanced Rock. I have come across quite a few balanced rocks in the Southwest, but the one in Arches is one of the most impressive. Once again I was wondering how long it will take before this enormous rock comes down.
You can walk a short paved trail around Balanced Rock that makes you feel really tiny next to this giant.
From Balanced Rock, you can already see the strangely shaped rocks of the Windows section, with the red rock contrasting nicely against the distant snow-capped Manti-La Sal Mountains.
The Windows section has quite a few arches and gets its name from the “twin” arches called the North and the South Window. Usually, people walk a short trail to these bows but don’t venture further. There is a nice trail worth a short hike that brings you behind the “Windows” called the “Windows Primitive loop trail”.
From the Windows, another famous Arch can be seen: Turret Arch. There is a trail from the Windows to Turret Arch and back to the parking lot. A classic picture is from Turret Arch taken through the North Window.
Another spectacular sight is Double Arch. Seeing this arch may trigger a “déjà vu” as it featured prominently in one of the Indiana Jones movies.
The symbol of Utah and of the Arches National Park is Delicate Arch. During our first visit, we only saw it from Delicate Arch viewpoint, where you’re still quite a bit away from the arch. On our 2nd trip, we had planned to be at the parking lot well in time to make sure we had space and start the climb towards the arch.
I was a bit worried as I am afraid of heights. It went very well at first, but then, when we were almost there, there was a narrow passage. Could I? Yes, I made it! I was so proud I wanted to make some photographs of the passage but looking through the viewfinder vertigo hit me and I only have images of my feet, the sky, rock, but not the passage.
It was worth the climb. The arch was much larger than we’d expected – check the person under it on the image. All around was a kind of natural amphitheater so we got comfortable and watched the last rays of sunlight enhance the colors of Utah’s symbol. Then we realized the climb down had to happen in the dark, so we were really happy we had brought some headlights. The narrow passage went well!
Not only the natural bows provide attraction, but other beautiful rock formations can also be found throughout the park. Not so far from the entrance, there is Park Avenue, as this marvel of red rock architecture is called. Especially towards the end of the day, this is a very photogenic location.
We unexpectedly got to see a very little known part of Arches NP when we went for a hot air balloon ride at dawn. The wind was right and our very skillful balloonist managed to maneuver over a section of Arches that normally is very difficult to get to. I could even make an image of Tower Arch from the air!
If you're traveling to Utah from Europe, you'll need to get your ESTA in order before leaving. The ESTA can be applied for fully online, and filling out the ESTA form takes about five minutes at most. Do it as soon as you know your travel dates.