Somewhere at the end of the first week, David said: “Every time I think that nothing can surprise me, we enter the next National Park and my jaw drops again…”. That one sentence perfectly describes our impressions on National Parks – each park is different and cannot be compared to any other. Today we invite you to explore the following exceptional National Parks: Arches, Canyonlands and Grand Canyon.
Arches National Park
Arches National Park is the world’s largest concentration of natural stone arches – there’s more than 2000 of them here. Without a doubt this place could be called the perfect art gallery created by nature.
The park is located in the eastern part of Utah, near the city of Moab. The region is characterized by a very dry climate, land almost completely unfit for cultivation and lack of valuable mineral resources. As a result, during the XIX century expansion of European settlers in search of minerals and metals, Arches area was spared from intense development.
Looking at the map of the park, you can say that itinerary puts itself together. Just drive along the main road, stopping at the car parks located close to viewpoints or subsequent arcs. This is exactly how we were visiting Arches.
Among the many amazing places that we have seen in Arches, specially worth mentioning are:
Courthouse Towers – a group of high stone towers located at the beginning of the park road, with Three Gossips among them.
The so-called Windows Section, where you can admire the Double Arch – two arcs sharing the same rock base, North Window and South Window, Turret Arch and Balanced Rock (a rock with the size of three large buses balancing on a pile) or Garden of Eden.
The most famous arch in Arches National Park, i.e. Delicate Arch – has become a symbol of the state of Utah and can be seen on license plates of cars from this state. To see it up close one has to walk about 2,5 km route from the parking lot to the arch or stop at one of the two viewpoints and see it from afar.
Sand Dune Arch, Broken Arch and Skyline Arch – located on the last stretch of road leading to the Devil’s Garden.
Devil’s Garden in the farthest part of the Park. The thinnest arch in Arches is located here – Landscape Arch and others, which we didn’t manage to see – Private Arch, Double-O Arch, Navajo and Partition Arch, and located at the very end of the Devil’s Garden rock called Dark Angel.
Arches National Park is unique and definitely worth a visit.
Canyonlands National Park
About half an hour drive from Arches National Park, there’s another incredibly interesting National Park – Canyonlands. It’s often called the International Dark-Sky Park. Why? It’s because the entire region around Canyonlands and Arches is one of the few places in the US where you can admire the night sky without any lights coming from nearby towns. It’s the perfect place to make a perfect picture of the Milky Way.
Because of the terrain, Green River and Colorado River divide Canyonlands National Park into three parts. These are: Island in the Sky in the northern part of the park, The Needles in the south-eastern part of the park and The Maze in the western part. However, there’s not a single road in the park, that connects all three parts.
To get from one part to another usually takes between two to six hours drive, so most of the tourists choose to visit only one part of Canyonlands. About 60% of them stops at the Island in the Sky, which is closest to Arches National Park. We also added to this group, as we didn’t plan a trip to the Maze and Needles.
One of the most popular attractions of the park is an unpaved White Rim Road. It leads around Island in the Sky – we had a thought to drive it, but we gave it up after we found out that it has 160 kilometers and usually takes 3 weeks to complete.
The Island in the Sky isn’t only about the White Rim Road. One of the most beautiful places is the only natural stone arch in Canyonlands – Mesa Arch, beyond which stretches an incredible view of Buck Canyon. There are other viewpoints, such as Shafer Canyon Overlook, Green River Overlook, White Rim Overlook or Grand View Point Overlook, that show the diversity of the landscape in Canyonlands National Park from different perspectives. Each of the many canyons is different, but each unique and beautiful.
Grand Canyon National Park
The last National Park (although it wasn’t the end of our roadtrip in US) we visited is one of the most famous in the world. And although the weather was really bad (it rained all afternoon and the sky went clear after 17:00), Grand Canyon made a great impression on us.
It’s on the UNESCO World Heritage List as the most spectacular gorge in the world. On the stretch of around 446 km of Grand Canyon, you can enjoy the whole spectrum of geological layers creating the Colorado River valley, each of which with different color. The edges of the canyon at its widest point are 29 km apart, and its depth reaches 1,600 meters. Although you could say much more, words can’t describe how beautiful and majestic the Grand Canyon looks like.
Grand Canyon National Park can be admired both from the north (North Rim), as well as the southern edge (South Rim). The vast majority of tourists choose the South Rim. It’s characterized by a more developed tourist infrastructure – a well-equipped tourist information centers, easier access to several viewpoints and historic Navajo buildings adapted to commercial needs. On South Rim you can travel both in the car as well as on free shuttle bus for tourists.
In contrast to the South Rim, which can be visited throughout the year, North RIm isn’t available for tourists in the winter. However, for people who appreciate peace and close contact with nature, northern edge of Grand Canyon will be a much better choice. It lives far slower pace. There will be much less tourists and souvenir shops here, but by far much easier to find more peaceful places, wildlife and isolated viewpoints than on South Rim.
You can find many beautiful trekking routes in Grand Canyon. And if you dream of rafting/kayaking the Colorado River, it’s good to know that there are travel agencies that organize such trips. The only thing that should be mentioned is that very often you have to wait for your turn around 2 years 😉
- Once more again, if anyone forgotten – if you are planning a tour around National Parks in the US and want to visit more than three of them, definitely buy Annual Pass. It’s a ticket to more than 2,000 state-owned “places of recreation” such as National Parks, forests, dunes, craters and many others. Annual Pass costs 80 USD, it’s valid for one year from the date of issue and can be bought in almost every National Park and in places of tourist information. The card is signed by name, but provides access for all people traveling in a car with the owner of the card.
- Admission tickets to Arches National Park vary depending on the type of transport, you’re using 7-day ticket is 10 USD (on foot or by bicycle), 15 USD (motorcycle) and 25 USD (by car). Detailed information on fees can be found here.
- As in Arches 7-day ticket for Canyonlands National Park costs 10 USD (on foot or by bicycle), 15 USD (motorcycle) and 25 USD (by car). Detailed information on fees can be found here.
- 7-day ticket to the Grand Canyon National Park, covering admission to both South and North Rim costs 15 USD (for walking, cycling, free shuttle bus or rafting the Colorado river with tour agency trip), 25 USD (motorcycle) and 30 USD (by car). Detailed information on fees can be found here.
- Official maps Arches National Park can be found on park website.
- Official maps Canyonlands National Park can be found on park website.
- The official map of Grand Canyon National Park can be found on park website.
- If you have some time and a decent camera with tripod, it’s definitely worth it to stay in the Arches after sunset and take a picture of one of the arches in the night sky. But keep in mind that accommodation in a nearby Moab can be expensive.