Arches National Park Is Nature's Best Sandbox

The 58 parks in the National Parks Services are the jewels of the American landscape. Natural beauty, ranging from glaciers and mountain ranges to deserts, canyons, swampland, and forests represent just some of the diversity in this spacious nation. Give your kids a vacation worth remembering by exploring one of these national treasures.

Budding geologists in your home will find themselves entranced by eastern Utah’s rock playground, Arches National Park. It’s a deceptively simple concept: the densest concentration of natural stone arches in the world, formed by a mixture of eroding sandstone and salts. This high desert playground is perfect for camping, backpacking, biking, and rock climbing. 

The Michelangelo of Sandstone

Looking at more than 2,000 stone bridges standing high above the desert floor might inspire a lot of whys. The answer lies in the ground beneath your feet. The sandstone on this desert floor is extremely porous. Cracked apart by deep-seated salt below, the cracked rock eroded due to annual rainfall until arches formed, creating masterpieces out of piles of rock, chiseled away by nature until reaching perfection.

The network of individual arches and incredible balancing rocks make for stunning discoveries all over the park. Landscape Arch, the longest arch in North America, spans 306 feet, while Double Arch is the tallest at 112 feet from the ground. Delicate Arch, a curving hook resting on a rocky podium, is the most famous in the park and probably the world.

Time and precipitation are constantly carving new arches and destroying older ones (43 in the park are known to have collapsed), so now is always the perfect time to visit. Keep your eyes out for the tafoni formations, too. Tap lightly on the honeycomb of tiny, natural caves and you just might hear the hollow sound of eroded pockets within the rock, too.

Wildflowers, fuzzy red foxes, and kangaroo rats are the desert creatures that call Arches home, but pictographs and paintings tell the story of human visitors who have wandered these arches through the ages, too. Nomadic Native American hunters, Spanish explorers, and conservationists have all been drawn to the mesmerizing red rocks here.

Wolfe Ranch Rock Art

Adventures in Archland

Families can find plenty of activities and itineraries to chock inside a week at the park. A driving tour gives an overview of all the “rock star” arches; hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, or biking will provide the slow ride needed to really take it all in, although you’ll cover less ground.

Got a family of avid climbers? You’ve got two options at Arches: up and down. Canyoneering, the process of using climbing gear to rappel into the canyons, is a great way to go down. Get a free permit for this at one of the visitor centers before you go. Fiery Canyon, one of the most popular routes, takes visitors into a deep cave where you can scramble through tight spaces and complete a labyrinth of about two miles on a ranger-led hike.

If you choose to climb up instead, stick to easier scrambling routes, as most of the climbing in the park has to be done without the use of anchors and ropes.

Stop by Wolfe Ranch to see how an early wild west pioneer from Ohio and his son made a farm life on this rugged land. Their cabin, which passed hands several times before the park was formed, still lives in the park and is fun to explore.

Spending the night in the park is another great adventure. Look past the soaring arches to the vast, open sky. Absent of all the city light pollution, you’ll be able to spot a whole universe of stars and galaxies in some of the darkest skies in the United States. Ranger programs and telescope viewings throughout the year make the Night Sky Program at Arches one of the highlights.

Whether inside or out of the park, there are lots of places to see Native American rock art, and even make some of your own. The Courthouse Wash Rock within Arches is one of the classic sites; ask a park ranger for more suggestions of where to spot ancient cultural symbols. 

Camping and Practical Matters

Arches is located just four miles from Moab, Utah, with the park entrance and visitor center just off Highway 191. Although the park is open year-round, the busiest season is from April until September, with shrinking visitor center hours in the winter, and the peak being Memorial Day.

If you want to camp on-site, there are 50 slots at the park’s only campground, Devils Garden, which is 18 miles from the entrance. Reserve well in advance for space during the busy season; during the off-season of November - February, spaces are first-come, first-served and usually are not booked out. Water, picnic tables, grills, and toilets are available at the campsite, but no showers.

Backpackers can ask about places to set up minimal tent camping at some designated areas around the park, too.

The town of Moab also offers camping, guesthouses, hotels, and bed and breakfasts. For a little more family comfort, you may want to make the short journey out of the park and eat, sleep, and spend the evenings indoors. Canyonlands National Park and the Colorado River are some other nearby outdoor adventure destinations your family might want to check out while you’re in the area.

Planning on visiting Arches National Park with the family? What are some national parks you’ve been to, and what did you do there? Share with us!

Tags : travel   national parks   utah