Arch-Obsessed Utah Road Trip
We love Utah and its incredible and colorful rock formations, but when it comes to natural arches, it doesn't get any better! They balance the landscape, filter the light, create a special place to picnic, and make an endpoint for a hike in the desert. Arches are the best.
Although there are many arches scattered across the U.S.-- and it can be fun to find them, Arches National Park, near Moab, Utah, is the best-known place to view the greatest number of arches, with over 2,000 to drive and hike to. Here you will find the iconic Delicate Arch, which is stamped on Utah license plates. If you are not afraid of ledges, and climbs, this is a great place to hike to and commune with other arch viewers. Take a hike and see it before it comes to its anticipated collapse.
But, outside this National Park, and still nearby, are many more arches you may have never heard of. So, here's how we satisfied our arch obsession on our RV trip to Utah, and how you can too.
Where to Camp Near Arches NP
Arches National Park offers Devils Garden Campground which is deep in the park. Recently remodeled, this campground offers 51 sites with limited amenities. Although there are no hookups, there are incredible views including phenomenal sunrises and sunsets. Being 18 miles from the park entrance, the crowds are lighter, and there are several trails originating from the campground. Unfortunately, if you haven't made a campsite reservation six month in advance, there probably won't be a spot for you.
The good news is that there are over ten campgrounds scattered along the Colorado River on Route 128, just outside the park. These are managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and don't take reservations; all are first come first served.
Plan to arrive by 9 a.m., and your chances of landing a campsite are good. If you're really fortunate, you will be camping right along the Colorado River! Campgrounds offer small campsites for under 25-foot RVs, but also have a number of larger sites which will accommodate 36 ft big rigs. We stayed at Goose Island and had a campsite large enough to accommodate our 31-foot Winnebago Sunstar, plus lots of space to park our rental car.
Being at Goose Island also afforded us the ability to jump on the paved cycle trail that travels four miles into Moab, and all the way to the Visitor Center at Arches NP. But, you won't want to cycle beyond it into the National Park. Roads are steep and winding there. However, the paved cycle path does continue past the Visitor Center and offers some good cycling and access to hikes and more views.
Exploring the Park
Stop first at Arches National Park Visitor Center just past the entrance to the park. Check out the excellent video, learn some geological information, grab a map and start the drive. This park is very well organized for touring the arches with parking lots at the viewing stops and hiking trailheads constructed to accommodate RVs. If you were able to secure a campsite in the park, this will be your endpoint on the drive. Depending on how much you plan to hike into the "backcountry," a minimum of two days is required to get your "fix" of arches here at the park.
Venturing Outside the Park
Don't miss the other spectacular arches in the area during your visit! Start with a drive on Route 279 heading west along the Colorado River. Heading 15 miles off the main highway US-191, there are great viewpoints as you head to the Corona Arch trailhead. The surrounding cliffs are dedicated to bouldering, both novice and experienced. You might want to check out one of the local expedition companies for equipment and lessons.
Corona Arch & Bowtie Arch
At the Corona Arch trailhead, park at the large easily accessible lot, and follow the trail signs. In our opinion, Corona Arch is one of the most beautiful. And on this three-mile, round-trip hike you'll also pass Bowtie Arch, another "looker." It is important to note that there is some rock scrambling and chain supports to get up into these arches. Just don't look down!
Morning Glory Arch
For additional days and additional arches, head east along the Colorado River on Route 248. A recommended stop is at the Grandstaff trailhead. From here, hike the four miles to Morning Glory Arch. This hike takes you through a sandstone canyon and ends at this very impressive and unique double arch.
Bonus: Fisher Towers
Another day, head to Fisher Towers and the BLM trailhead for a new kind of landscape. Be warned that the last couple of miles, after the turnoff from Route 248 is on an RV-unfriendly gravel road. There is a campground near the trailhead, but as the sign says, "No RVs over 18 feet."
Since this was an iconic area to hike, we rented a car from Enterprise in Moab. Arriving at the trailhead, we were glad we hadn't attempted the drive with our motorhome, since in addition to a very rough road, parking was limited to a small lot, plus parking along the road's edge.
But, our efforts to take this 4.4-mile round trip hike paid off. The trail winds around the rock formations, up and down chained canyon traverses, and climbs to the top of the canyon. The view of the surrounding Fisher Towers, the Colorado River flowing along the canyon wall, and the nearby ranches in the valley, all made for a great lunch stop. No wonder, this area has been the set for many western movies and television commercials.
Moving on to Natural Bridges
As we climbed back down to our rental car, we realized we hadn't filled our "Arch Obsession" quite yet, next stop Natural Bridges National Monument, with five natural bridges. What's the difference between a natural bridge and an arch, we wondered! Turns out, seeing for ourselves was the best way to find out!
For more tips on what to see and do in Utah, read this article from a fellow contributor about visiting all five of the National Parks!