Arches National Park wasn’t a priority on this trip itinerary. I knew it wouldn’t be possible to visit all of Utah’s Mighty 5 during our timeframe and Arches wasn’t at the top of the list. However, it’s location and timing along our route fit perfectly so it was added to the itinerary. This was undoubtedly the smartest decision we made for this trip as our hike at Arches is now one of my favorite hikes we have ever completed as a family and day 17 is one of the most memorable days of our entire 20-day wild west road trip!
We would have just one morning to explore the park and after researching the various arches and trails at the park, I selected the Delicate Arch Trail. At three miles for the round trip, it is the perfect length, has the perfect moderate-strenuous terrain, and a perfect destination – the most famous arch of all and Utah’s state symbol, Delicate Arch.
Trail tips suggest starting early as this trail offers little shade and is quite popular. Always eager for an early start, we were at the park’s visitor center for its 7:30 opening time to pick up Junior Ranger booklets before driving over ten miles into the park to the trailhead at Wolfe Ranch.
When we arrived, there were only six other cars parked in the large lot and we were on the trail by 8:10. Temperatures would reach the mid-80s by noon, but the air was still relatively cool this morning and what little vegetation was beside trail cast long morning shadows, creating more shade than expected.
The 1.5-mile trail to the arch brought us through three distinct terrains as it rose 590 feet to its destination. The trail begins rather flat and easy with a gradual elevation increase and pebbles at our feet. Then, we reach the large, open slickrock and follow the rock cairns to remain on the trail. At the top of the slickrock is a sandy path through scrubby vegetation and rocks before reaching the final rock ledge. We kept a tight grip on the boys’ hands during this part of the trail!
Not only is the varying terrain interesting and the open views from the trail spectacular, but this trail is suspenseful as the arch itself cannot be seen until the very end, as the rock wall beside the ledge disappears and suddenly Delicate Arch is right there!
This trail took us about 70 minutes to complete, 1.5 miles almost all uphill, with a few stops to rest along the way for our slowest, 6-year-old hiker. Even so, the trail was interesting enough to keep the boys’ attention and there were very few complaints. Any trail that includes rock climbing will rank favorably by them!
The arch itself stands tall along one edge of a large bowl, creating a natural amphitheatre for hikers to sit and enjoy the view. After taking a few requisite shots with the arch, we found a rock table off to the side, shaded by a high edge of this bowl and the boys worked on their Junior Ranger booklets while we gazed at the view. This location with its spectacular view, convenient table, and cool shade ranks as one of the best “trail school” locations we have ever encountered!
The perfect “trail school” location (above) and it’s amazing, shaded view (below)
On the hike back down, we passed many more hikers than on the way up and by the time we reached the parking lot at 10:30, it was now full. Temperatures were quickly rising and the long shadows were disappearing so we completely agree with the early start recommendations.
Heading down the slickrock, the arrow below is pointing to our parking lot destination.
And a look back to the slickrock and where we had just hiked.
Knowing we had to make it to central Colorado by evening, we didn’t have much more time to explore the park. Our main goal was to finish the Delicate Arch trail and visit Double Arch, the filming location for the opening scenes of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where young boy scout Indy finds grave robbers taking the Cross of Coronado. Jasper was a huge Indiana Jones fan at this time so we were prepared with a shot of River Phoenix as young Indy in the movie so that we could recreate the scene. Adding his new snake, Hissy, was all Jasper’s idea. Why does it have to be snakes?!
Junior Ranger booklets complete, we returned to the visitor center to watch the movie, finally learning how the arches we’d been seeing all morning were formed, and decided that this was the most geologically interesting park of the trip. The boys took their oath and earned their fifth and final NPS Junior Ranger badges of the trip.
With no food options nearby without backtracking into Moab, we ate our packed lunch in the car before setting out for Colorado. Jeff started this leg in the driver’s seat and, ironically, was behind the wheel when we merged onto I-70 and encountered the highest speed limit of the trip – 80 miles per hour! Of course, Jeff hates interstate driving so I’m almost always behind the wheel during these driving days and he ended up driving the worst of it!
For over four hours, we followed I-70 east, leaving behind the desolate desert landscape of Utah, rejoining the Colorado River that we’d seen earlier at the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam, and through what is generally considered the most beautiful stretch of highway on the U.S. Interstate system: Glenwood Canyon.
I-70 snaked beside the river, hugging the canyon walls, so close in many places that the two sections of road overlapped each other. We agreed that this was some of the most beautiful scenery we had seen from our car windows on an interstate highway. Simply breathtaking!
State #11. They’re running out of fingers!
We passed by Aspen and up through the snowy mountains of Vail, saying “goodbye” to the rocky canyon and finally returning to green fields and evergreens that we had not seen for days while in red rock country. Near our destination of Dillon, we stopped at a Whole Foods to stock up on food for the remainder of the trip and to eat dinner.
The snow-covered slopes of Vail.
After checking into our hotel, we visited the playground across the street. Even the playgrounds in Colorado are amazing! We’ve never been to a playground with a more spectacular view, right on still-frozen (in May!) Lake Dillon with snow-capped peaks in distance. Of course, we’ve never been to another playground at an elevation of over 9,000 feet, either! The boys played until the sun went down in 48-degree temperatures, a stark difference from the 80+ noon time temperatures we left back in Utah!