My husband graduated college with his bachelors degree this past December (Yay him!), so to celebrate we headed to Utah over the New Year with his mom for a well deserved congratulation trip. I wanted to share a bit of our experience, and offer up some travel advice and tips for anyone interested in checking out some of Utah's amazing National Parks! The three national parks we hit up were Arches, Bryce Canyon, and Zion. I'll be breaking this blog post into a 3 park series simply because there's so much to say about each park! I'd never been to Utah before, and OH MY WORD. This rocky state blew me away completely. Everything in Utah is gorgeous, and we're definitely looking forward to going back.
For our first stop on our Utah adventure: Arches National Park! We drove 15 hours from Kansas to Moab, and spent 2.5 days exploring Arches. This park is a bit smaller so we easily covered just about everything in that amount of time. Since we went in the middle of winter some of the areas were closed, but we were able to conquer just about everything with the help of snow chains for our shoes. Andrew got us some from an outdoor store in Moab but here's a link on Amazon for the same ones we got, for a great price too!
Here's what we did, and some tips for each!
- Balanced Rock - Easy - 0.3 miles roundtrip - This rock is really more of a quick stop than a hike in my opinion. You can walk around the rock for different views (which is what we did). Stop and check it out on your way to another hike.
- Park Avenue - Moderate - 2 miles roundtrip - We didn't actually hike this. We just stopped at the lookout (where this photo was taken.) The hike goes down into the valley 1 mile, and you should know that it ends in a different location. So either you have someone pick you up at the other end or you hike back the way you came, making it a 2 mile roundtrip hike. We chose not to do that simply because there were other things we wanted to do. Completely personal preference.
- Delicate Arch - Moderate - 3 miles roundtrip - This is easily the most popular hike in the park. One reason is because it's incredibly beautiful and a relatively easy hike. If you aren't afraid of elevation and some drop offs near the end. Another reason it's so popular is that this Arch is basically the symbol of Arches as well as Utah as a whole. No seriously, guess what's on the Utah license plate? You guessed it. Delicate Arch. If you're only in Arches for 1 day or less this is the one hike you cannot skip out on.
- Double Arch - Easy - 0.5 miles roundtrip - This hike is super short and easy. It's in the same area as the Windows and Turret Arch so we checked them all out at once. I almost don't even consider this one a hike. It's more a short walk to two arches that are connected, hence the name Double Arch. The photo above was taken from right below them, though you can really only see one of the arches there.
- The Windows - 1 mile roundtrip - Easy - This hike lets you see 3 different Arches, the North and South Windows and Turret Arch. All 3 are pretty cool, but I loved Turret Arch the best which is why I have two photos showing it and none of the Windows. Oops. And yes both of those photos were taken at the same time of day. Editing is a wonderful thing. ;)
To put these hikes in perspective, every hike I've shared with you thus far we did in 1 day. We got to the park around 9am and left around 4ish. On to day 2!
- Sand Dune Arch - Easy - 0.3 miles roundtrip - This is another one I wouldn't consider a hike, just a quick stop. It's really cool and different from any other arch because it feels like you walk inside a little cove to get to it and there's a bunch of sand (duh ha). If you have time stop and check it out! If not, don't sweat it.
This photo was obviously taken before we got smart and bought snow chains, hence my face. So besides the Sand Dune Arch, we spent all of Day 2 in the Devils Garden Area. This area has one main long hike that has a bunch of arches along the way. It is a flat, relatively easy hike all the way up until Landscape Arch. After that the primitive and much more difficult hike continues on. Since we went in the winter, the whole Devils Garden area looked exactly like this photo, covered in ice. So I'd highly recommend snow chains if you're going in the winter. It will make your life a lot easier. To describe the hikes I'm going to put them into two categories, Landscape Arch and Double O Arch.
- Landscape Arch - Easy (Moderate if icy) - 1.6 miles roundtrip - This is another pretty famous arch, and really different than anything else in the park. I think it's a must see and the hike to get to it is really easy, and only a bit challenging if there's ice. There's not much elevation so if you do fall on your booty from the ice, it's not bad. (I only fell twice haha). If you only have 1 day in the park I would say do this and Delicate Arch.
The next hike in my opinion was the hardest and most adventurous one we did in Arches. It's called Double O Arch and continues on after Landscape Arch. (You can go even farther than Double O, but due to ice and snow we didn't want to risk it.) There's a couple arches you hit on the way before you reach Double O, particularly Partition Arch which was one of my favorites in the entire park. Partition is this huge arch with a small baby arch right beside it. (Pictured below.)
My other favorite part about the hike to Double O Arch was a huge finn rock that you climb on for a portion of the hike. It's not too narrow but it does drop down on both sides which was scary and breathtaking at the same time. Here's a few photos.
And finally, we got to Double O Arch.
- Double O Arch - Difficult - 4.5 miles roundtrip (from trailhead/parking lot, not from Landscape Arch) - This was a really cool arch, but honestly I loved the journey and sights on this hike more than the destination. This hike and Delicate Arch both tied in the category for my favorite hike in Arches. The views are unreal and the arches along the way are really fun to see (like Partition Arch I mentioned above). If you continue on 0.5 more miles you can see Dark Angel (though we did not because of the terrain + the ice/snow situtation.)
And that concludes Day 2. For Day 3 we did a hike in the morning and then drove on to Bryce Canyon. Day 3 was only a half day, but it was by far the most eventful day in Arches... I'll explain why below.
Tower Arch - Moderate - 3.4 miles roundtrip - To get to the trailhead for this hike you take an unpaved road (it's really just a dirt road). It's out in an less frequented area known as the Klondike Bluffs. It's a really fun and rewarding hike and I definitely recommend it if you have time.
If your read this blog post for the travel and hiking tips, feel free to stop right here. However, if you want to read a real good (and by good I mean terrifying) story of how we got back to the trailhead from this arch, keep reading.... ;)
To the Tower Arch, this hike is a little over 1.5 miles one way. And the beginning of the hike includes mountain-goat-esque climbing up a cliff (remember this is December so it's ice packed. Fun right!?) That's really the only hard park of the hike, and Alice (Andrew's mom) was a rockstar and conquered it, even though she was a bit nervous. So having hiked to the arch, the main way to finish the hike was to backtrack the way we came, making a roundtrip journey. Alice was not fond at all of the thought of scaling down that steep, icy cliff to get back to the parking lot, so we thought of another (brilliant) option! (Hint: It wasn't so brilliant.)
There was a parking lot near by the Tower Arch only about 0.2 miles away, kind of like an easy backdoor exit for those not wanting to hike all the way back. So our brilliant plan? Andrew would run back to the parking lot the way we came, and get the car. Then he'd come drive to that backdoor parking lot and get us. So easy. Yeah? No. The catch? The road to that backdoor parking lot is a primitive road. And we're not talking primitive like a dirt road.. We're talking pot holes the size of mars primitive road. We're talking a primitive road that is a disgrace to even be called a road because it's more like a legit cliff hike for cars. This "road" (HA) would be hard to hike even on foot.
But Alice, Andrew, and I, we don't know this. So off Andrew goes back to the car. And off we go to this backroad parking lot to wait for him, where thank the Lord in Heaven we see people who are there as a part of their off-roading jeep tour. (Key word: off-roading.) The tour guide, who is Kid Rock's doppelgänger, who looks so rugged, so "I-live-and-breathe-Moab-outdoor-adventure-air" takes one look at Alice and I, and knows we know not a freaking clue what we're doing. He asks us where we came from and how we're getting back to where we're going. We tell him Andrew is coming to get us in the car. He asks what car we're driving. We tell him. (Sidenote: I apologize, but I don't know a lick about cars so I don't know what car we drove to Utah, but I'll just tell you it can't make it up that primitive road of death. That's all you need to know.) He laughs in our face and says, "He's not getting that car up here. If he tries he's going to bust your car." Oh no. Alice pulls out her phone to call him. Did I mention there's no service? Haha. We decide to start walking the looonnngg primitive road and meet Andrew wherever he is with the car. We get about 100 feet when the tour guide pulls up beside us in his jam packed off roading, bad ass vehicular device that CAN actually conquer the primitive road of death. He talks to the guests as if we can't hear him but we can, "If we give them a ride, ya'll are going to have to squeeze, and it's going to be even worse of a bumpy ride back. Do you really want that?" In my head I go, "Are you kidding me?" He sounds like he's trying to dissuade them from helping us out. I mean we are clearly in a pickle here.
The guests are much kinder than Mr. Granola and they let us in. Both Alice and I squeeze into the front passenger seat, and begin the scariest car ride I've ever been in. But I have to have faith, because this tour guide, for as mean as he is, he knows his stuff. He's driven this primitive road of death many times in this exact vehicle he says. But LORD, let me tell you, there were times during that drive where I felt like the vehicle was at a 90 DEGREE ANGLE to the ground and we were going to tip over. Of course we didn't. Kid Rock's got this. But GOSH it felt like it. Eventually, near the end, we find Andrew walking along the road. He had abandoned the car once he realized the death road would not allow it, and had begun to walk to come get us. Good man. Kid Rock drops us off at our car, not before going all park ranger on us and giving us a hefty lecture on National Park maintenance and how we shouldn't do this ever again. Yeah, you don't have to tell me twice.
All in all, I'm so thankful God was watching over us. I'm thankful he put Kid Rock and his tour guided rockstar vehicle in our path, and I'm so glad our car didn't break trying to drive up that road* (*see cliff.) It was a wild end to our Arches visit. And I must advise anyone going to Arches, or any National Park for that matter, to learn from our mistake, and be sure to note the difference between unpaved/dirt road and primitive road. Because those two things are VERY different, and unless you drive something with 1000 feet suspension your vehicle won't make it. Heads up. :P This story has probably gone on long enough, but hopefully I made it entertaining for you. And I hope if you're planning your own trip to Arches National Park the tips and hike descriptions were helpful!
Look out for Part 2 of this blog series coming soon where I'll talk about our experience at Bryce Canyon National Park!
Lindsey Roman is an adventurous, destination wedding and elopement photographer based out of Oahu, Hawaii and available worldwide. She lives for outdoor adventures, intimate moments, and candid images. Her style is raw, passionate, and authentic. She believes in chasing sunsets, laughing too hard, and most importantly: capturing genuine moments that evoke feeling over perfectly posed photographs.