Utah is one of my favorite places to visit. It has so much natural beauty and is paradise for nature lovers. This trip included visit to Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Deadhorse Point State Park and Goblin Valley State Park
I flew into Grand Junction, CO from Chicago and drove to Moab, UT. It was an easy 90 minute drive.
Arches National Park
- Arches NP gets pretty crowded during long weekends but has relatively low traffic the week before & after. I flew in the week before Memorial Day and did not have any issues with long lines / parking. I recommend visiting Canyonlands or Goblin Valley during long weekends to avoid long entry lines at Arches.
- The parks do not have any provision for food. Make sure you carry enough food and water. You could exit and reenter the park but the entry line during the long weekend is very long. Many local stores offer packed lunches. My favorite eatery was Sweet Cravings Bakery & Bistro. They are open for breakfast & lunch and have a huge selection of paninis, wraps and sandwiches. My favorite eat-in item was the "Hummer" panini and favorite packed lunch was the "Chicken Strawberry Salad". For dinner my recommendation would be Bangkok House Too. They currently do not have a liquor license but the food is amazing, very fresh and flavorful. My top pics were the Tom Yum soup, Green Curry and Udon Noodles.
- Parks are open 24X7 and are a good place for shooting the star studded skies.
- Trails are open / no-shade and have lot of bugs. Carry plenty of sunblock, water, food and a trash bag. I chose to wear a light full sleeve hoodie to avoid the bugs.
- Trails are unmarked. Look for / follow these rock piles (cairns) and you'll stay on the right path
Early Morning : Moab Fault, Three Gossips, Sheep Rock, Great Wall, Turret Arch, The Spectacles, Double Arch, Cache Valley, Wolfe Ranch, Landscape Arch, Double O Arch
Late Afternoon : Park Ave, Courthouse Towers, Petrified Dunes, Balanced Rock, Garden of Eden, North & South Windows, Delicate Arch, Fiery Furnace, Skyline Arch, Tower Arch
Overview of my trip :
I started my trip with Arches NP. I recommend allocating 2-3 full days for this park if you intend going on all the hikes. "Must see" are
♥ Delicate Arch (watch the sunset here)
♥ Tower Arch (allocate 4 hrs; start early morning)
♥ Devils Garden Area (allocate 4 hrs; start early morning)
As you enter the park, stop by the visitor center to watch a 15-min movie on how the arches were formed. Fill up on water before proceeding further. The road after the visitor center climbs steeply through two switchbacks. A little before the "Moab Fault" stopping point is a pull out from where you get a great view looking down at the visitor center and US191.
Next stop is Park Ave. There is a 2 mile moderate trail which leads to Courthouse Towers Viewpoint. Tourists who come in tour buses start the trail at Park Ave and their tour bus picks them up from Courthouse Towers. Along the trail you see various rock formations : Three Gossips, Sheep Rock, Tower of Babel, The Organ and distant views of Balanced Rock and Elephant Butte.
As you drive further from Park Ave, stop to see snow covered peaks at La Sal Mountains viewpoint and Petrified Dunes viewpoint. Next stop is one of the most popular features of the park, Balanced Rock. The total height is 128 ft with the balanced rock rising 55 ft above base. I was lucky to get the sun just slightly touching the rock for some nice star burst effect.
Shortly after Balanced Rock you will see a spur road to the "Windows area". From here on you get to see the park's famous arches. Be sure to visit the North and South Windows and Turret arch. The Turret Arch offers a nice view of the North and South Windows and is a great place for sunrise photography.
The highlight of the park is UT's symbolic Delicate Arch (seen on many UT license plates). The rock gets a golden glow with the setting sun and is a must watch during sunset. The hike to Delicate Arch is moderately difficult but is totally worth it.
Another great feature of the park is the Tower Arch located in the remote Klondike Bluffs section. A dirt road just south of Skyline Arch leads to the Klondike Bluffs area where the trailhead to Tower Arch starts. This is a road less travelled but is totally worth the effort. The hike starts with a steep climb from the base to the Klondike bluffs. The trail then turns into a desert hike, walking through sand dunes. When you reach the Tower Arch you will be in awe. Don't be afraid to go through the arch and climb on the tower. It is easier than it looks and offers rewarding views of the area.
The Devil's Garden Area is a must-do in the park. Its a 7.2 mi round trip hike (no shade). Start early morning and give yourself a good 4 hrs to finish the hike. You start with a grand view of the Landscape Arch followed by a steep rock climb to Black Arch overlook. Along the hike you will see Double O Arch, Navajo and Partition Arch, Dark Angel. From the Dark Angel you will see the dirt road that leads to Kondike Bluffs / Tower Arch.
Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands has 2 popular sites 1) Island in the Sky 2) The Needles.
Island in the Sky is the most accessible area offering expansive views of the canyon and several easy to moderate hikes whereas The Needles area offers backcountry hiking experience. Most of the view points in the Needles area require long, strenuous hikes and are not accessible by road unless you have a "self-rescue 4WD" i.e if you get stuck, the park will not come to your rescue. The area is vast and it is easy for hikers to get lost. The park recommends watching the trail map often to make sure you are on the right path. The ranger will also advise you to carry lots of water as the sun gets pretty intense in the area.
Island in the Sky
Island in the Sky is located in the northern part of Canyonlands and rests on top of 1000 feet stone cliffs. Several overlook points and short trails offer stunning views of the landscape and area's topography. Some viewpoints show the Colorado river carving through the canyons. Most popular view points along the scenic drive are:
♥ Grand View Point (It is the last view point. I recommend starting from here and then driving back to avoid traffic)
♥ Mesa Arch
♥ Green River Overlook
♥ Upheaval Dome
♥ Orange Cliff Overlook
The Needles area is located in the southern part of Canyonlands. This area ddin't speak to me as much as Island in the Sky. The slickrock trail was worthwhile and I got to see some good views of the area from a different perspective.
Deadhorse Point State Park
The Deadhorse Point State Park is another great camping location in the area. Stop by the visitor center and walk along the nature trail to enjoy great vistas of the area. You can clearly see the different geological layers of sand and stone that formed the cliffs & canyons. From one point you will see a bright blue "oasis" in the basis. These are man made solar evaporation ponds.
Goblin Valley State Park
Goblin Valley is famous for its mushroom shaped "hoodoo" rocks called "goblins". Almost feels like you've landed on Mars. This is one of the best parks for night sky photography. It is secluded and you can get a great dark sky with no city light pollution.
There are 3 hike valleys which can be explored on foot. its like walking through a goblin maze. As you go deeper in the valley the goblins tend to get taller. The "three sisters" is the iconic goblin formation and looks stunning at sunset.
The movie Galaxy Quest was shot here
I would highly highly recommend UT tourism. I feel like i've done my "Mars Expedition" of this lifetime !!!. Hope you enjoyed reading the post and helpful in planning your trip. Feel free to email me any questions you have.