Arches vs Canyonlands National Park

DSC01903
Canyonlands National Park

If you ever find yourself near Moab, Utah you have not only the Colorado river and the Green river, but Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park only a few miles away. Arches, being one of the most visited National Parks in the United States is a tourist trap.  The park is very strict about where you can park and if parking lots are full, you have to drive to another arch and hope that there will be an empty spot later.  Even getting to the park at dawn does not guarantee that you will not get behind a tourist bus filled with people ready to hike the few feet to the arch that you also would like to get to.  And snapping off a photo of the arch without strangers appearing in it is nearly impossible.  Delicate Arch, the arch featured in everything Utah is a hot spot for tourist busses and every other kind of motor vehicle.  And if you stick around the park until nightfall, when the stars come out you have to be careful not to block the path of people with expensive cameras setting up tripods to acquire photos of the stars and moon hanging inside an arch.  It doesn’t matter when you go to the park, which is open to the public 24 hours a day, you will always run into other people.  Don’t get me wrong, it is definitely worth it to pay the ten dollar per vehicle admission fee to drive around and see some of the arches from the road and some after a short hike to the arch.  If you wish to camp in the few campsites within Arches National Park you better be willing to book them months in advance.  Also, as a heads up, if you want to explore Fiery Furnace you must purchase a hiking permit.

Sand Dune Arch
Sand Dune Arch

Canyonlands is broken into three districts: Island in the Sky, Needles, and Maze.  Maze is where you need to be if you want to avoid everybody.  The one downfall, there are only three roads leading into that part of the National Park and two of those roads are high clearance four wheel drive roads while the other is an unpaved two wheel drive road.  Island in the Sky is the more popular and more visited district because a paved road curving right by a visitors center leads to many different attractions that are only a short hike away.  (Sights I recommend: Grand View Point Overlook, Mesa Arch, and Aztec Butte.)

Overlook
Overlook
Mesa Arch
Mesa Arch
Aztec Butte
Aztec Butte

If you feel a little more adventurous venture along White Rim road, another high clearance four wheel drive road.  It circles around the entire Island in the Sky district, but takes a few days if you want to meander around the entire loop.  Needles is a great district for backpacking, and it’s not as crowded as Island in the Sky because the really great day hikes take more than twenty minutes.  Camping in Chesler Park is nice, and you’ll be close enough to an Old Cowboy camp to check it out after supper, just keep an eye out for snakes.

Chesler Park
Chesler Park

Elephant Canyon offers some really neat camping spots where you can watch the sun rise over the Needles.  Big Spring loop and Squaw Canyon offer great day hikes, but the camping is a little different because you’ll be near creeks with sitting water and trees, and the scenery is green instead of golden brown.  If you do decide to camp in either Chesler Park or Elephant Canyon you are required to pack out your waste.  If you need bags to literally carry your crap out, stop at the Visitors Center and purchase some.  But, no matter what, you have to hike Joint Trail.  It is awesome!  It’s like being enveloped in rock.  You even hike through a cave of rock cairns.  Wear comfortable shoes with good traction, because you will spend the majority of your trip scrambling over rock.  And as the park rangers would say, “Don’t walk on the biological soil crust!”DSC01893DSC01892

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