Our short few days in Arches National Park near Moab, UT felt like wandering through a desert of our dreams where neither time nor gravity applied. This landscape of stone and sand is unparalleled anywhere else on Earth, marked by wild fins of rock jutting out of the ground hundreds of feet tall and thousands long, but only a few wide. It’s among these fins that the park’s namesake collection of natural sandstone arches are worn down by millions of years of weather.
I honestly cannot recommend this park enough. It’s a natural spectacle on the grandest scale. We had barely two full days in the park, and it rained much of the time, but we refused to let that slow us down. We saw most of the best known arches, did many hikes, and truly enjoyed ourselves.
Devil’s Garden is maybe my favorite hike so far on our trip. It takes you to several of the best known arches, including Landscape Arch and Double-O Arch, as well as lesser known ones like Navajo Arch (maybe my personal favorite) Partition Arch, and others. If you do the hike including the primitive loop, with all the side spurs to the arches, it’s a manageable 7.2 miles. Plan on taking at least half a day for it. And the primitive loop takes you away from the majority of the crowds, and involves some really fun scrambling, climbing, and just the right amount of danger, but it's not for the infirm or acrophobic. TIP: do the primitive loop counter clockwise.
The hike to Delicate Arch is probably the most popular hike in the park. It’s easy to see why - we heard people call it one of the best designed hikes in the National Park system, and I might have to agree. The trail is about 3 miles overall, and a fit person can hike it roundtrip in an hour but plan on taking 2-3 to enjoy yourself a bit at the top.
After leaving the crowded parking lot and climbing over a few hills, the trail then leaves the soft sand to ascend right up a rock face. When we were there, it was easy to follow the crowd up, but if it's quieter, you can still follow the rock cairns. At the top, the trail then winds around another mountain, through a trail cut into the side of the rock. When you reach the top and crest a final ledge, you’re presented with the reward for your hard work: Delicate Arch sitting in an amphitheatre of stone, framing the distant mountains and skyline. TIP: Do this hike early in the morning to avoid crowds and see the Arch in the best light. Seeing it at sunset is also beautiful, but you’ll be among lots of other viewers.
We also saw Double Arch, the Windows, Turret Arch, Broken Arch, Sandstone Arch and many more. The arches are all beautiful and dreamlike in their own way. This park is so lovely, strange and inspiring - I strongly encourage everyone to visit! Be sure to make reservations well in advance if you intend to camp, and definitely go mid-week to avoid the worst of the crowds.