Arches National Park offers unique sights to families. It is the largest collection of natural arches in the world. Almost all of the arches are viewable taking just a few steps from the car at parking areas and overlooks. Some require short, easy hikes. Others, like world-famous Delicate Arch can be seen from a parking area (an “underlook”) or stood beneath following a moderate hike.
At the top of the trail
At the end of a 90 minute climb across the orange slickrock of Southeast Utah, the rock wall on the right gives way and steps into the sunshine, Utah’s symbol, Delicate Arch, welcomes hikers.
The freestanding 65-foot (20m) arch is both a beacon at the end of a trail. Standing on a point surrounding a wind and rain carved amphitheater, the beautiful red-orange arch beckons families to its base for photos.
Dozens of hikers sit on outcrops of the smooth slickrock and rest in the sunshine following the 1-1/2 mile (2.4km) hike that climbs nearly 500 feet (146m) from the parking area to an icon of the American Southwest.
If America is not on the family bucket list, it should be.
A perfect spring or fall trip
Spring and fall are perfect times to visit Arches National Park, on U.S. 191 about two miles north of Moab, Utah. Another 30 minutes to the west is Canyonlands National Park – a grand canyon without the crowds. In between the two, Dead Horse Point State Park overlooks a bend in the Colorado River.
While many focus on Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks in southwestern Utah, the pair of national parks, a couple of state parks and a trio of national monuments in the Four Corners region are extraordinary attractions.
The beauty of hiking to Delicate Arch is that the trail is accessible for families. On a partly cloudy November day in 60 degree temperatures, the hikers ranged in age from toddlers on their first trek to an octogenarian sharing a rocky perch for a rest. The Park Service rates this as a long trail, but it’s not hard for someone in reasonably good shape.
Once reaching the point on a butte where Delicate Arch is the last remnant of a sandstone fin, families lined up to have pictures taken – some at the base of the arch’s south pillar, and the more brave underneath its six story height.
Arches National Park has more natural arches within its bounds than any other location in the world. They range from the unique character of universally-recognized Delicate Arch, to the three football field span of Landscape Arch, the longest sandstone arch in the world. Nature has not finished its work in the park.
Across its landscape remnants of collapsed arches are seen with the massive fins of Park Avenue where new arches are in formation. Wind-carved hoodoos, like the Three Gossips, stand across the road from the massive Courthouse Towers butte. In the backdrop across the red and cream petrified sand dunes are the flowing wave-shaped La Sal Mountains as a green and brown backdrop.
Unique opportunities for visits
Arches National Park offers unique opportunities for visitors. It is a park that can be driven with many of the arches and overlooks visible from the road or short walks from parking areas. It also offers some challenging hikes, such as Fiery Furnace, which is an unmarked trail requiring scrambling, some bouldering and extraordinary orienteering skills. There are two ranger-led hikes through the Furnace every day during the peak seasons.
This is the desert, and even when the weather is cool, carry a liter of water for each hour of hiking; more in the summer. Because of the sheer cliffs in places, GPS receivers may not be accurate or even obtain the needed three-satellite signals. Use a compass, topo map, and reliable hiking guide.
Delicate Arch trail is listed as a “long trail,” by the park service. It’s well marked, beautifully groomed and family-friendly. Take time, take water, snacks and enjoy the views along the way. Allow at least three hours for the round trip. With the view at the top, add an extra hour to really enjoy the experience.
World’s longest arch
Not far from Delicate Arch, the short drive and short, flat hike to Landscape Arch brings the family to the longest natural arch in the world. Stretching longer than a football field, Landscape Arch is more than 300 feet wide (91.4 meters). The hike is about one mile (1.2 km), and although it has a slight climb, it’s an easy hike for all ages.
Landscape Arch can only be approached with a ranger-led tour, because about a decade ago just as a group of hikers left the base of the arch, a slab more than 60 feet long fell from the edge of the arch, increasing its length.
Landscape Arch trail is a good one in the afternoon because it’s not long or strenuous, but it is mostly in shade. Even though it’s a short hike, remember to carry at least 1 liter of water per person on the hike.
When heading back out from the arch hikes, take a moment to stop at the Park Avenue overlook and see the arches-in-progress. Although nature takes thousands of years to carve an arch, it is born from a sandstone fin. Park Avenue has a narrow perch of fins easily seen from the parking lot and overlook.