Arches & Canyonlands; deep canyons, rushing rivers, sheer sandstone cliffs and spectacular red rock arches glowing in the warm light of the sunset: these National Parks have a hypnotic, otherworldly beauty.
Utahs National Parks are huge and you could spend days exploring them – venturing down the many dusty winding hiking trails through ancient landscapes. Or, if you are just sightseeing by car, they are both easy parks to see a lot quickly, taking at least one day for each park.
These are the top 5 most spectacular sights you should not miss, if you have limited time to explore:
1. The Mesa Arch
The Mesa Arch is perched high on a cliff in Canyonlands National Park – a thin band of rock elegantly sweeping across like a solidified rainbow, with views of the surrounding valleys and canyons below. (If you use Windows, you’ll probably recognize it as one of the standard desktop backgrounds.)
It’s a relatively easy trail to hike, at just half a mile long. Learn about how the local foliage around you was used as traditional medicine, along the way.
The best time to visit Mesa Arch is at dawn, so you can watch the sun come up behind the arch and the golden fingers of light stretching through underneath it. (However, even if you miss the sunrise the light will still illuminate the underside of the arch for several hours afterwards, so you can still get some excellent shots.)
2. Devil’s Garden
This surreal landscape features a series of striking rock fins and arches that were formed by erosion over many centuries. The fins are particularly interesting – as they formed after rain water eroded parallel fractures, that were caused by salt deposits below the surface.
Devil’s Garden is located at the end of the park road, 18 miles north or about a 45 minute drive from the Visitor Center – and there’s also a great picnic area located just south.
3. Delicate Arch
Delicate Arch is the most spectacular landmark in Arches National Park – and one of the most famous geological features in the world. It’s been depicted on Utah license plates and a postage stamp – and the Olympic torch relay for the 2002 Winter Olympics even passed through it.
4. Landscape Arch
Located within Devil’s Garden, Landscape Arch is a truly awe-inspiring sight. It’s hard to believe that this incredibly wide stone arch can be held in place by such a slender, delicate centre.
The shape of this arch indicates that it is very old and close to the end of its natural lifecycle. It might collapse at any moment – so be sure to see it before it’s too late. (And don’t walk on the closed trail directly underneath it!)
5. Aztec Butte Trail
The ancient Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) people inhabited in this barren, rocky landscape for many centuries and their rock structures can still be seen to this day. For example, you can see an ancient granary where the Anasazi would have stored their food.
Once you climb to the top of the Butte, you’ll have a sweeping view of the dusty red rocks, scrubby vegetation and deeply carved canyons that stretch towards the horizon.
Best Time to Visit
Most national parks are incredibly busy in the peak of summer, so plan your trip for the spring or fall if you can. You’ll still enjoy pleasant weather, but there will be fewer crowds.
The best time of day to explore the park is in the early morning or evening. Not only will you beat the (sometimes) sweltering heat of the afternoon, you’ll also get to take stunning photos of the landscape during the sunrise and sunset.
The park’s website offers a guide to the best photo sites by time of day. Some of the best spots for sunrise shots include the Spectacles, the Double Arch, Moab Fault, Sheep Rock and the Three Gossips. Also, make sure you get to the Landscape Arch to get a sunrise shot before the high sun drains it of it’s spectacular colour.
The best places to capture during sunset are the Courthouse Towers, the Petrified Dunes, Balanced Rock and the Garden of Eden.
When the light hits the rock formations at a lower angle, it deepens the redness of the rock into amazing hues – a sight that is impossible to forget.
Ready to Hit the Road?
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