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I only spent seven hours at Arches National Park but even in that short period of time I could tell it was an amazing place. While I’m sad I didn’t have more time there, seven hours was about all I could physically handle for one day (truthfully, six hours is probably a more realistic number but I pressed on). I’m sure that once I had drunk multiple glasses of ice cold water (the water in our bottles was obviously tepid by the end), eaten something more nourishing than stale croissants and a granola bar, and most importantly, had a chance to take off my (new) hiking boots and rest my blister ridden feet, I know I would have been up for more. But in terms of making the most of your visit to Arches, especially if you’re short on time, be sure to follow my do’s and don’ts.
Do go with a plan of attack
While Arches isn’t Utah’s largest national park (that distinction goes to nearby Canyonlands), it’s still quite massive. Once you’re “on top of things” (you drive up an incredibly steep and windy road after first entering the park from off of Route 191), you will see just how large and incredibly desolate a place it is. The fact of the matter is there is tons to do at Arches-all different levels of hikes, horseback riding, terrific photography opportunities-so the key is planning your time wisely. I knew before going that I definitely wanted to do the Delicate Arch hike along with the Windows and both of those things took up a hefty portion of the day. Not to mention with Delicate Arch being the most famous and photographed of all the arches meant that the parking lot often is crowded and completely full by mid-day, so it’s imperative to try to head to a place like that early on. Sure, you can wing your time while there (and there’s nothing wrong with that) but the time you spend conferring where to go next, what looks most appealing, is time you could be spending on the trails. So which arches do you definitely want to see? Which ones are you okay with missing?
Arches is a massive place as this open road can attest.
Don’t come unprepared
It’s Utah, it’s the desert. Even in early March, the sun is incredibly bright and intense (I sustained a pretty nasty burn on the top of my hands thanks to how my camera strap, leaves them exposed while D got a lobster red neck burn). While I had brought sunblock with me to Utah, I had unfortunately forgotten to bring it with us to the park. Needless to say if you go in spring and especially summer, you will want to reapply multiple times a day. Snacks are also key (it’s a national park, obviously there are no vending machines/concession stands inside the grounds) especially if you plan on doing a lot of hiking; this will eat into your physical stamina a bit. There are also picnic tables in some areas so you could certainly bring more substantial dining options with you, just be sure to always properly dispose of all of your refuse. And most importantly, bring water. The National Park Service recommends that each visitor carry at least one gallon (four liters) of water per day with them. Water stations to refill your bottles are available at the Visitor’s Center and the Devil’s Campground (seasonally), so it’s vital you pack accordingly. Believe me when I say that the littlest bit of hiking will leave you downing your water so do not come unprepared, especially since in the summer, temperatures at Arches can reach 110 degrees F (43 degrees Celsius!).
Shade is not a “thing” at Arches National Park.
Do take plenty of moments to “take it all in”
As I said above, I definitely would love to have had more time to see more of the arches, go on more hikes. However, I still made sure that at each place, I simply “took it all in.” I gazed unhurriedly at the breathtaking scenery around me; I breathed in the crisp mountain desert air (once my heart stopped racing from all the uphill, arduous climbing); I reveled in the fact of how gorgeous the blue sky was (considering the horrific winter we’d had in Pittsburgh, it was amazing to be somewhere with such perfect skies). And sure, while I was snapping away like crazy with both my camera and on occasion my iPhone, I still sat on rocks for just me, no one or nothing else. Unless you’re lucky enough to live full-time in a such spectacular location, be sure to truly enjoy it.
Take a deep breath and just stare at the majestic beauty before you.
Don’t overdo it
While the altitude was nothing compared to what I had experienced in Peru (it’s about 5600 feet compared to the more than 10,000 feet I was up against in Peru), it’s still a lot for someone coming from sea level, especially when you’re doing hardcore physical activity. The first hiking trail we did was Delicate Arch which the National Park Service has labeled as a “difficult trail.” In hindsight, maybe it wasn’t the best idea to do that one first but it was the arch I wanted to see the most (along with everyone else). It also featured an elevation gain of 480 feet (I’m an amateur hiker at best) so at various points, both D and I were truly feeling the burn. But we rested when we needed to, even though college age people were just bounding along. Go at your speed, not what others are doing around you.
Know when you’ve reached YOUR limit
Do wear hiking boots
I’m not really an outdoors person. I like doing “outdoorsy” stuff in moderation (i.e. a day). When I traveled to Peru, I did some hiking (well, it was really more like hardcore climbing) at places like Machu Picchu and Moray in only my sneakers. I had asked someone if they thought hiking boots were needed and they said no, that sneakers would suffice (for the record I didn’t do the Inca Trail). As I’d spent a lot of money on “preparation articles” for Peru I didn’t bother getting hiking boots and for the most part, my sneakers were fine. (Had I gone in the rainy season that would be another story.) However, with Arches I knew that I would be doing legitimate hiking this time around and started shopping for some boots. Luckily, I found a great pair on sale at DSW (a discount shoe store) and ordered them. I’m so glad I had them since between the sometimes slightly slippery stone terrain I crossed over or the sand patches my feet just sunk into, they really provided me with a lot of resistance. I saw some women wearing totally inappropriate footwear (akin to little Keds or even sandals) and I just had to shake my head. With the little amount of hiking that I actually do, I’ll be able to have my boots for quite some time, so they were definitely worth the investment.
While heavy hiking boots made it difficult to achieve a stellar jump, they were a big asset while traversing the park.
Do actually WATCH and BE with your kids
Obviously, families are out in full force at Arches (just like any national park). I saw kids of all ages there including one father who was carrying two small kids under the age of five on the Delicate Arch trail. This is one I would NOT do with kids; it is too arduous. However, when we finally made it to Delicate Arch, I had never seen such bad parenting. Many people end up admiring Delicate Arch in an area right after they first see it (it’s still a little bit of a steep walk from where the trail ends). There was one group in which two boys (who looked around eight and ten) were just racing around all over, never mind the fact that the terrain was extremely steep. Well, at one point the adults of the group moved back to the origination area while these two young boys decided to climb down into the crater. The fact that no adults went with them I found incredibly appalling. It’s a national park, not the local playground. The parents were just watching from afar and if something had happened to either one of the boys, they wouldn’t have been able to be there in a second). When they were nearing the top, one boy’s foot slipped off of the rock and no joke, a huuuuuge gasp was uttered from just about everyone in the area because in that second, this young boy could have fallen and broken his neck, his back, or even worse, simply plummeted to his death. I’m not saying had an adult been right there with him he still couldn’t have slipped yet it certainly would have been different from the parents sitting hundreds of feet away so they could rest.
Inviting but potentially dangerous when not exercising common sense.
Don’t think the arches are everywhere
When I first heard about Arches National Park and how there were thousands of them, I naively assumed you could just see them. There is an 18 mile paved road that goes through the park and during our initial time on it we didn’t see one arch. I’m not going to lie, I was having major moments of wtf-as in “the place is called Arches National Park so where are said arches?” As we would discover, most of the arches (at least the famous ones/those listed on National Park Service literature), you have to hike to. Some of the hikes will be long, some will be rather short. But the majority of the landscape at Arches National Park that you will see while driving around won’t be of arches. Instead you will see the breathtaking Rocky Mountains at times, incredible stone formations, and desert landscapes that I find just as pretty as a bed of tulips.
What a lot of the scenery looks like throughout Arches. No arches in the thousands though!
Do have a good time!
Side note: Arches is open 24/7 so if you want to beat the crowds, either come early or late which means you may snag some awesome sunrise/sunset photos too!