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Nestled next to Moab, Utah, and only a few hours Southeast of Salt Lake City, Arches National Park is worth the trip even if only for a day stop-over. We drove into Moab in the early evening, dropping our things at one of many economy hotels in the town, and continued into the park for a sunset hike up to the infamous Delicate Arch. Racing the sun, we practically ran the 1.5-mile climb to the arch, laughing at our ragged breath and tired legs. The exertion was welcome after a full day’s drive from Texas. The views were impeccable, shifting with the light and shadows. If possible, prepare to stay in the park after sundown to see the night sky. We packed lunches and spent the entire following day in the park exploring and hiking. Below is a list of some favorite spots and tips from our day and a half here.


TRAILS WE ENJOYED

Delicate Arch | About three miles round trip, this iconic arch is a popular one. It often represents the park and even the state of Utah (on license plates). There are some steep sections during the ascent, so allow more time if you’re traveling with children. At the base of the trail, near the parking lot, there is a cave of petroglyphs, too. This spot is a favorite for photographers at sunrise and sunset, so be prepared for crowds, especially in the summertime. Also, consider bringing a flashlight and fleece jacket to stay and enjoy the night sky.

Landscape Arch | This arch is nestled along the Devil’s Garden trailhead and is the world’s largest arch. Spanning 290 feet, the scale is incredible and worth seeing. The trail is easy and manicured, which also means it’s heavily trafficked. Unlike some of the other arches in the park, visitors are required to view it from behind a fenced area after a large chunk of the formation broke off and fell a few years ago. Hiking enthusiasts and climbers should continue past Landscape Arch toward a primitive trail that climbs up onto a couple of towering rock formations. This was our favorite part, but would be more difficult (and dangerous) for young children. A longer, more difficult primitive loop trail also diverts from the main trail just before Delicate Arch.

Park Avenue | This trail is an easy out-and-back and perfect for geology lovers! You could see the rock textures and formations really well and the way erosion and time have created patterns in the rock. You can also park at the trailhead for a sweeping view or walk down a few steps into the canyon to get a feel of the space. Unless someone in your group is interested to study the rocks, there’s little need to walk the full mile where it connects to a different part of the main the road again. Also, because the path is in a canyon of formations, it was really hot, even early in the summer day.

Balanced Rock | This anomaly is just off the main road, so it’s possible to drive by and enjoy it from afar without stopping. For those who want a closer look, the trail is an easy quarter-mile walk from the parking lot.


GENERAL TIPS

Prepare for the Weather | This is the high desert, so temps can fluctuate with the hour. In the summertime, the day temperatures climb into the 90s and in certain spots tucked away from wind gusts, it feels like an oven. Be prepared with plenty of water, sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses. Pack a fleece jacket to have on hand when temps drop at night, even in summer.

Plan for Stargazing | Pack headlamps or flashlights to enjoy the night sky at Delicate Arch or an easier trailhead. We missed doing this, but I hear the views are phenomenal. Also, if you have one, pack a large lens for your camera to catch the night sky.

Arrive Early in Summer |Like every national park, Arches is more crowded in the summertime. Lines begin to form at the entrance around 9 or 10am, so arrive early if you’re staying outside of the park.

Drive Instead of Hike | Not everyone enjoys or is able to hike trails, but Arches offers sweeping views to enjoy from the car windows, too. Even if you’re passing through Moab, it’s worth the time to drive through and view the arches and formations near the road. Balanced Rock, Park Avenue, the Petroglyph caves are easy spots to enjoy just off the road. Landscape Arch is a short, easy walk in.

There are over 400 national parks in the United States and a variety of ways to enjoy them. Whether you plan to visit all of them or simply select a few bucket-list spots, a national park annual pass might be a valuable resource. We used an America the Beautiful pass for our travel this summer, and here are some things I learned that might be helpful when deciding whether it’s right for you.

  1. Check if you qualify for free entrance without a pass. There are several opportunities to visit national parks for free during the year and skip the pass altogether. More than half of the national parks and lands do not charge admission, so do your research before you plan your trip. Also, thanks to the Every Kid in the Park initiative, families with fourth-grade students will automatically have admittance to all national parks and government lands during their fourth-grade school year. For families with multiple children, that means multiple years of passes (or opportunities anyhow). Plus, the National Park Services offers free entrance days a few times each year. One is coming up next month on the National Park Services Day.
  2. Share the national park pass with a friend. The America the Beautiful pass can be shared by two separate people or households. As long as you are not planning to travel together in more than one car, you can split the cost and enjoy any park for almost the same cost as one of the more popular parks.
  3. Read the fine print. National Park passes cover entrance into the park for one vehicle carrying up to four adults and unlimited children. It does not cover amenities like camping, parking, permits, or special tours. If you’re planning to stay in the park, plan for extra uncovered expenses.
  4. Upgrade on the road. If you visit one park and decide to upgrade to an annual pass later, show your entrance receipt at an NPS fee site and they should credit it toward your annual pass.
  5. Purchase your pass online, but don’t lose it! If you know the parks you plan to visit, order your pass online ahead of time to save time in line at the visitor’s centers. This is particularly helpful if you are traveling in the summertime when national parks tend to be more crowded and lines can be longer. Keep in mind, online purchases through NPS may take upwards of 20 business days to arrive so allow plenty of time for it to arrive. You can also purchase passes online at LL Bean or REI locations around the country which may ship more quickly. Once you receive your pass, don’t lose it! They are not replaceable.