To set your eyes on some seriously unique and breathtaking landscapes, then you need to make your way over to America’s Arches and Canyonlands national parks.
Located in the south east of Utah near the town of Moab, the two national parks feature unparalleled landscapes carved by millions of years of extreme weather.
Arches National Park is unsurprisingly full of rock arches carved into the red sandstone as a result of water, ice, extreme temperatures and underground salt movement over the past 100 million years. The weaker parts of the rock have fallen away over time to reveal the arches scattered across the park.
There are more than 2000 known arches in the park. Landscape Arch is the largest at 93 metres wide.
The start of my explorations in Arches National Park was on the most popular trail called Devil’s Garden. The full Devil’s Garden Trail is 11.6km return but after three full on weeks of hiking throughout the US, my travel buddies and I decided to do a shortened version to check out the highlights.
The start of the trail passes the arches of Landscape, Partition and Navajo – and there’s a short trail off Devil’s Garden to Pine Tree and Tunnel Arch.
Hiking up to Navajo Arch is about an hour each way with some rock scrambling. If you continue further on, you’ll come across Double O Arch.
The most popular arch in the park is Delicate Arch and you can reach it via a 4.6km hike or see it from the Upper or Lower Viewpoint, which are both short walks from the carpark. Once again feeling a little lazy on the day we visited, we opted for the Upper Viewpoint look at Delicate Arch.
The trail I enjoyed the most at Arches was to the Windows and Turret arches. They were really like windows to the sky. The Windows Trail is a 1.6km loop past the North and South Windows and Turret Arch.
You can climb up to both Turret Arch and the North Window.
There’s also a number of pullouts throughout the park to capture more views of the park – including the Courthouse Towers and Fiery Furnace viewpoints.
My visit to Canyonlands was prompted by the movie 127 Hours – you know the one where the guy cuts off his own arm after getting trapped by a boulder in a canyon. The movie was based on events that occurred in Canyonlands and part of the movie was filmed here. While my road trip buddy and I definitely weren’t out to recreate our own 127 Hours, we were keen to check out the park.
Canyonlands has three distinct sections – Island in the Sky, The Needles and The Maze. The Island in the Sky section is the most accessible and popular section of the park. The Needles is on the eastern side and is about a 45 minute drive from Moab. Maze is located on the west side of the park and is only accessible by 4WD vehicles or experienced hikers on multi-day back country hikes.
My road trip buddy and I visited the Island in the Sky section, which featured a number of short trails and viewpoints.
It didn’t take long to drive to the end of this section from the Visitor Centre – allow about 20 minutes if you’re going straight through - and from there you can head out on the Grand View Point Trail.
The Grand View Point Trail is an impressive but easy 3.5km hike along the Canyonlands mesa. The trail offers stunning views of the white rimmed canyons below carved by the Colorado and Green River. You will also see Monument Basin, Junction Butte and the La Sal Mountains.
This was one of our favourite trails during 23 days of hiking adventures through seven states across the US. We thought Canyonlands was even more impressive than the Grand Canyon as we looked down from the mesa onto the canyon network, mountains and plains below.
Canyonlands National Park’s most popular trail is a short hike to the Mesa Arch – a window view out to the canyons and mountains beyond. The loop trail is only 1.1km – and you can also opt to follow a trail up to another vista point atop a boulder to the right of the arch.
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Lisa Owen is a pint-sized Australian following her dreams to travel to as many places as she can, and loves to share her photography, travel hacks, hiking adventures, and food discoveries along the way. At last count, she has travelled to more than 40 countries in between working in public relations and discovering hidden gems in Australia's great outdoors. Instagram: @_thelittleadventurer Facebook: The Little Adventurer Australia
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