Dreaming of Travel: Arches and Canyonlands National Parks
Red rocks and bright blue skies, accented by whatever show Mother Nature is putting on. This is what you will find when visiting Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, both right near the city of Moab, Utah, and only a few minutes from each other. If you’re looking to maximize your time visiting parks, while also getting some breathtaking experiences, these parks are the place to find this!
Where to Stay
Arches National Park is within the city of Moab and we chose to stay at the Hyatt Place when visiting, just a very short drive to the entrance. The hotel has Arches backdropping you on one side while facing the outskirts of Canyonlands on the other. And this hotel is a great family-friendly find, with breakfast included in the rate, a pool to cool off after long days, accessibility to much of Moab, and a different way to stay – in your own casita if you prefer!
The park is open 24/7 but the visitor centers may be limited in hours. The main visitor center is Islands in the Sky typically open from 8 am - 5 pm, but check the National Park site for updated operating hours due to holidays and seasonal conditions.
The entry fee is $30 per car, $25 for motorcycles, or $15 per person without a car. If you’re looking to do backcountry hiking, camping, or access otherwise restricted areas, permitting may be required. If you’re going to be visiting both parks, it is best to look into a National Park Annual Pass, which gets you into all parks in the United States for a year at a flat cost (currently at $80 per family in one vehicle). There are discount options including Military, Senior, and the Every Kid Outdoors 4th Grade Pass (which gets your current 4th grader and family in free).
What to Do
Canyonlands has a vast selection of areas to hike, with the main area being the Islands of Sky District. Here we found the vast majority of the hikes we took as a family, as we found them to be more kid-friendly and manageable! But this is just the beginning of all you can explore here! We opted to visit early in the day to experience fewer crowds and also be able to maximize our time visiting the park.
Mesa Arch is a short hike that will take you to the iconic red backdrop, only intensified by nature’s beauty. This spot is particularly coveted at sunrise for some beautiful shots. For us, it was a short prep for hiking in the desert and an introduction to the stunning views we were going to have while here!
Grand View Point is a breathtaking hike that will allow you to enjoy the sheer enormity of this park. If you have yet to see the Grand Canyon, this is just as impressive as it truly takes you to see what you weren’t expecting! The hike is as short or long as you’d like to make it, and easy in that the terrain doesn’t change for roughly 1.5 miles round trip. We used it to hike the edge until we got to a point of wanting to venture off to explore more!
Whale Rock is exactly as it sounds – a massive rock resembling a whale, so climbing it was sure to be fun! And though it was pegged as kid-friendly, we found some of the uphill climb (and then back down) to be a little harder for the young kids (and the faint-of-heart parents). It was absolutely worth the view from above, just come prepared – lots of water and lots of patience! It’s about a mile round trip, and since you’re climbing closer to the sun, make sure to have sunscreen and hats to avoid the intensity of heat!
Entry fee is $30 per car, $25 for motorcycles, or $15 per person without a car, and a reservation may be required to visit! But this is where you can take advantage of the National Park Annual Pass and have it pay itself off! The park does get busy, so plan accordingly – and if you’re unable to access it, you may be able to get in after hours. And just like Canyonlands, for any camping, backpacking, or use of restricted areas, permitting will be required.
The national parks also become a bigger hit with kids when you participate in the Junior Ranger program on arrival. At the main visitor center, pick up an activity guide and upon completion, come back to be sworn in and badged as a Junior Ranger! This program is available at most (if not all) National Parks and does require visiting the Visitor Center during operating hours to participate!
What to Do
Arches is a very drivable park, and much exploring can be done by car. With various sections, including Balanced Rock, the Windows Section, Delicate Arch, and Devils Garden, you can take this park as fast or slow as you’d like! We had the opportunity to go later in the day, when the crowds had dispersed, along with the heat, so were able to take our time on the roads and stop to explore where we found easy hikes! We also packed a picnic dinner before a hike and found a pavilion to enjoy the meal in the park itself!
Balanced Rock is a 0.3-mile trail and very easy to hike, with one of the most unique views – that of Balanced Rock! And with its proximity to entering the park, this is a great starting point to get a feel for the park and allow the kids to gawk at how cool the sights they will see are going to be!
Devils Garden Trailhead had a collection of hikes to take, and we decided to go explore Pine Tree Arch and Tunnel Arch. This location also had picnic tables and restrooms so it is a great place to take a pause while exploring and regroup!
Sand Dunes Arch is the hike you will want to take your time at because in it you will find a sand playground. It is right under half a mile hike and upon arrival, you’re surrounded by rock structures to escape from the heat. And there is plenty of sand for the kids to play in! Once you’re done taking a break, if you want to continue to explore, head to Broken Arch Loop – the grassland trail Is 2.3 miles round trip, but just take it part way out and back to get some more steps in!
Delicate Arch is an iconic hike you can take in many different forms. We opted to hike Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint which, at half a mile, proved to be just long enough with kids after a full day of hikes! Most people come out here to get all the way to Delicate Arch itself -- The hike is 3 miles roundtrip from Wolfe Ranch Trailhead.
Though the parks are right near each other, you can choose to do them at whatever pace you prefer. The parks have coveted areas to visit for sunrise, places to stargaze at night, and so much to discover. You can try to combine both in a very long day, taking a break in-between, or take your time over a few days’ time to enjoy the beauty and peace of the red rocks!
But whatever you do, if you’re in Utah, don’t miss it!
Have you been to Arches or Canyonlands National Parks? We are obsessed with the beauty here and would love to see more photos! Tag us on Instagram @gethappyly for a chance to be featured!
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