“Wow.” That’s all Josh and I can say as we stand on the smooth red rock looking out over the most famous red arch of Utah. We are exhausted from the one and a half mile hike, which doesn’t seem like much, but when you are climbing up hill during the hottest part of the day in August, it is brutal. There is desert all around and the sun is beating down on us. There is no shade here. Just rock. And beautiful rock it is. Growing up in Idaho, I can’t believe I never came here as a kid. But as Josh and I make our way across the country to begin our around the world trip, we spontaneously decided to make a stop here at Arches National Park in Utah.
Where Is Arches National Park?
Arches National Park is located near Moab, Utah and just south of I-70 west of the Colorado border. We were driving to Boise from Denver and as we crossed into Utah on I-70 from Colorado we realized how close we were to Arches. We hadn’t thought about visiting Arches, or any of the other National Parks nearby because of our tight timeline. But at the last minute we decided, “hey we are so close…when will we ever be back, let’s go!” So spontaneously we decided to pull off I-70 and headed south toward Moab, Utah. It was a bit of a detour, but really not by much. And looking back, we are so glad we took that detour!
Almost immediately off the exit we started to see the red rock formations. Both of us were quite excited to see this new part of the country. Finally, we arrived at the entrance to Arches National Park. After a quick stop at the Visitors Center to grab a map and get a quick overview of the park and the history behind the formations, we headed out to explore.
What to Do in Arches National Park?
There are a variety of things to do at Arches National Park. From hiking, to camping, learning and exploring. But if you are short on time, simply driving through Arches National Park is an adventure because the sights around you are just breathtaking! Everywhere we turned there were amazing rock formations that seemed to dominate the barren desert landscape.
Every corner brought a new view, and even the angles at which we looked at the formations made them look different as we drove around on the winding roads around the rocks. We couldn’t stop taking pictures. We found ourselves snapping away with the camera and pulling over on the road every few minutes to get a great shot.
Since visiting Arches National Park was a totally unplanned stop on our route from Denver, we didn’t have all day to explore. So finally, we had to resist the urge to take a million photos and we decided to drive out toward the most popular site, “The Delicate Arch.”
Arches National Park Hikes
There are a number of different hikes that you can take in Arches National Park. But if you are short on time and want to see the most iconic images of the park, then we recommend doing the hike to the Delicate Arch. For us, hiking to see the Delicate Arch was the best hike at Arches. I’m sure you are all familiar with this famous arch, it is even on Utah’s the license plates for the state.
This beautiful and naturally formed red arch is located about halfway into the park. There is a parking lot that is close to a viewing point; however due to recent rains and flooding when we visited, the road to the nearest viewpoint was closed.
So the only way to see the Delicate Arch on this particular day was to take the long hike up to the Arch.
I was concerned that we didn’t have enough time for this, but we both really wanted to see the arch. So we put on our hiking shoes, grabbed our water bottles and hiking sticks, and set out on the trail. The sign at the trail head advised us to bring a couple liters of water per person, and they were right. This desert is deceiving. With no shade and rocks all around, it was very hot. The trail made it’s way uphill, and the first part was pretty steep, and up slippery rock ground. Be sure to allot enough time, because we had to take many rest stops along the way.
Luckily, the first half of the journey on this trail is the toughest part uphill. It levels out slightly after that point, but it is not a flat or easy hike. There are some obstacles and a bit more climbing to get to the top. At the very top of the trail, it can be scary for those who do not like heights or are not sure footed. The trail narrows along side a mountain, and it is nothing but solid rock. But once you get to the top and round the corner, you are greeted with an amazing, up close view of this incredible natural monument!
How Was Arches National Park Formed?
The formations at Arches National Park were made over millions of years from the natural elements, such as wind and rain. The area sits on top of a salt basin, but there are many different layers of rock. These different types of rock have different levels of strength and erode at different speeds. For example, you could have a stronger layer of rock on top of weaker layers of rock. Because of this, wind and rain may erode the lower layers faster than the stronger layers of rock on top. This is what causes all the interesting formations here, including the arches! In fact, there are more than 2,000 naturally occurring arch formations all around the park. These natural wonders continue to change with each passing day.
An Up Close Encounter With The Delicate Arch – Well Worth the Hike!
Standing at the top of this mountain gazing out at the most famous arch in all the park was breathtaking. It is amazing how big it is, and how close we could get. We could literally walk right up to it, and stand underneath it for photos. There were other people up there, but few of the park visitors make this trek, so we felt special to see the arch up close.
Even though it was a grueling hike uphill, in the brutal August sun, the hike was absolutely worth it. The view was priceless, and it gave us time to reflect on the experience and enjoy the natural beauty of the area.
We were able to examine the smooth rock formations more closely, and visualize the erosion patterns on the different types of rock that we walked across. We stepped over pools of water from recent rains, and even crossed a river of water that looked like mud because of all the eroded materials from the soft rock. It was amazing to see the erosion process taking place right before us.
Arches National Park is a beautiful place to visit, and we highly recommend that you make a stop if you are in the area. Driving through this park gives you perspective on the natural wonders of this Earth, and makes you appreciate the delicate formations. Whether you camp in the area for a few days, or just visit for a day drive and hike, this is a place you should not miss.