Looking for things to do in Arches National Park, Utah? Here are the best hikes and photo opps in Utah Arches and Monument Valley, Utah.
I’ll be the first to admit that Utah was not #1 on my bucket list. But Alex and my recent trip there has us convinced it is one of the more beautiful places on Earth! Monumental red rock sculptures jut out of the landscape like Renaissance sculptures. These landscapes are some of the most epic in the entire country. Here are a few of the highlights of our 24-hour trip through Utah Arches National Park and Monument Valley, including all of our things to in Arches National Park and our Monument Valley pictures.
To get to Utah Arches and Monument Valley, Alex and I drove north from Flagstaff (here’s our post on Things to Do in Flagstaff). Across the border, the desert sand turns red and oddly-shaped formations jut out on the horizon: cathedrals, medieval castles, and massive statues. I forced Alex stop the car several times to take badly photos of the rocks with my smartphone. My sneaking suspicion I was wasting my time on small potatoes was confirmed when we came upon this place: Monument Valley Utah, stunning and otherworldly.
Monument Valley Utah
Monument Valley Utah is one of the most otherworldly places on Earth. Though truly, it feels like you’re on Mars! This view is mysterious and iconic all at once. To get to Monument Valley, you take a long road into the desert that feels like you’re on the road to no where. Don’t worry, keep going! You get to a booth that charges a $20 entry fee, but it is absolutely, absolutely worth it. Keep going and you’ll find an unassuming looking parking lot and building. But when you go to the other side, you see THIS. Here are a few of our Monument Valley pictures.
The beautiful rock formations rise out of the ground like monuments that took hundreds of years to chisel out of the rocks. What an incredible place! We wanted to stay in Monument Valley Utah forever. Next time, we’ll budget for more time here. When my parents visited to Monument Valley, they stayed in The View Hotel where their room had a view right onto the iconic rocks. There are also Navajo led tours of Monument Valley.
Since we only had a short amount of time, we mainly took lots of Monument Valley pictures! While we could have stayed all day, we just made a quick stop. We were ready to get to Arches National Park! The road on the way out of Monument Valley was just as magical. It reminded us of the Wizard of Oz! Here are a few photos of the view from the road out of Monument Valley…
Arches National Park Utah
From Monument Valley, we traveled to Moab, Utah to Arches National Park. Arches is an national park with some of the most unique rock sculptures in the US. We drove directly to the park and hit it around 5:00 pm, the perfect time to see the rocks lit up bright red in the evening sun. What are the things to do in Arches National Park? Basically, hiking to and around the most spectacular rock formations you’ve ever seen. This one is called Park Avenue, a play on the towering skyscraper like structures.
What to eat
Side note: before entering the park, we stopped by a local grocery to grab a picnic dinner. Here’s a travel tip: we’ve found the best way to eat healthy on a budget while traveling is…the grocery store! We hit up the local Moab Utah grocery store (City Market) and headed to the salad bar and the deli counter for fresh, whole food salads. Our picnic above includes superfood salad with kale and blueberries, edamame salad, salad bar with bulgur and cauliflower, fresh bread, and goat cheese. It was so delicious and perfectly hit the spot! We found a hidden little picnic spot to eat it with the view of the super iconic Balanced Rock formation. Just wow!
We spent the entire evening in Utah arches hiking and photographing the formations, and the light was magical. Hitting Arches at golden hour is perfect for photography. If you’re not familiar, golden hour is that brief time period of the day where the sun is low enough to cast an indirect golden light over everything it touches. It makes for the best photos because instead of harsh overhead light and lots of shadows, the entire scene is bathed in a warm glow. If you’re in Arches National Park Utah and you’re into photography, make sure to hit your favorite formations at golden hour.
These formations are called the North and South Windows.
And even more fun than golden hour photography in Arches National Park is night photography in Arches! This was one of our most favorite memories from Arches. We watched as the sun set, and then hiked over to Balanced Rock for some stunning night photos.
Here’s Balanced Rock at twilight. Wowza!
The next morning, we arose early to see Arches National Park’s most famous site, Delicate Arch. Delicate Arch is truly stunning. We chose to view it at sunrise for logistical reasons; the parking lot is currently under construction so with limited spots, it’s nearly always full! We got one of the first spots at 5:00 am. Next time, we’d try in the evening to see it turn red with the evening light, but any time of day is worth the hike. The climb was pretty strenuous and there are some spots where you’re on a ledge, so make sure you’re up for it! It felt fabulous hitting 15,000 steps by 9:30 am (thank you, FitBit).
The final rock formation that we visited was a hike to Landscape Arch. This was an easy hike and Landscape Arch was beautiful. But after seeing Delicate Arch, it was obvious why Delicate Arch is the centerpiece of the park.
Overall, we spent only 24 hours in Arches National Park Utah. Next time we’ll take more time on our visit, but even 24 hours was absolutely spectacular.
And that’s it! What to do in Arches National Park Utah
What questions do you have about visiting Arches National Park, Utah? Let us know in the comments below! Here are a few more notes on our visit:
- Where to say? We stayed in the Comfort Suites in Moab and had a great experience.
- We recommend entering Arches National Park early in the morning or later in the evening if it’s during peak season (we were visiting during spring break).
- We did not get a chance to try any restaurants in Moab Utah. If you have any recommendations, please leave them in the comments below!
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About the Authors
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.