A Few Thoughts on Visiting Arches National Park
MOAB, UTAH- Moab is a small desert community in eastern Utah with an alternative feel. It doesn’t fit the image of what I’d imagined Utah to be—I thought covered wagons, black ties, salt flats, comb-overs, sagebrush, pressed slacks, dusty deserts, blond hair…that sort of thing.
Moab has tree-lined streets, ice-cream parlors, Photography galleries, adventure expeditions, mountain biking trails, rafters, motorcycles...It is clearly one of those towns that is out of place its state. There are many places to stay—you can spend as much or as little as you want on accommodation. Hotels, bookstores, and Mexican restaurants line an idyllic, all-American and aptly titled Main Street.
It’s right next to both Canyonlands and Arches National Parks—Arches is insanely easy to access from the town of Moab; it’s about five miles north of the town itself. Canyonlands is a bit more of a drive…I didn’t go there for this very reason; it’s much more difficult to take a day trip there like you can from Arches. Arches you can easily come into town, stay at a hotel, wake up nice and early and drive into the park, never really leaving your car—hiking maybe a mile or two at most, to really see the Arch that you wouldn’t be able to see from your vehicle. You can be wrapped up by five o’clock, and drive back into town for dinner at a nice restaurant and a good night’s sleep in your hotel bed. It’s one of the most accessible National Parks I’ve been to.
In terms of camping, there are numerous sites inside Arches itself. I’d recommend reserving one of those as soon as possible since they book up pretty quickly. Prices range from $20-$40/ night, but when it comes down to it, it's really not that big a deal if you don't get a campsite, because the land around Moab is all BLM, which means that you can freely camp wherever you please—albeit with limited amenities.
I camped in a state park about ten miles north of the town of Moab. There are sites worn down from years of us, which you’re strongly encouraged to reuse…there are no grills or facilities; there’s nothing at all other than a small, ash-lined ring from the previous night’s campfire, and a worn down patch of dirt where most pitch their tent. It was helpful to have a 4WD vehicle to reach a site; you’ll encounter some difficult if you don’t. I imagine it’s the same case if you camp out on BLM land.
Fires are permitted, but you should check conditions before you light one. While it gets chilly at night, it’s still a dry, arid, desert climate, and you want to avoid starting an uncontrollable blaze. As everyone will tell you, you should have water on you at all times, since you’ll get dehydrated quicker than you expect and many campsites don’t have facilities.
“Moab”, the colloquial term for Arches and Canyonlands, is easily done; I spent no money in the town itself aside from postcards and firewood. You can spend as much or as little as you want—from camping for free, cooking your own food, and satisfying yourself with day-hikes to hotel accommodations, eating at restaurants, and booking expensive adventure tours.
All in all I would say that two days of exploration would suffice for a visit to Arches—you certainly could get away with one, but as someone that really enjoys taking photos I found that the weather was a bit inclement, and there were certainly some shots that I really would have preferred to get with better lighting…some early-morning light or less muted light from cloud cover would have been nice. The La Sal Mountains serve as the backdrop to most sites in the park, which can make for some stunning photographs—as long as you can get the right light.
Moab is a rad place to visit. It’s accessible yet remote, cheap yet luxurious, and can offer as much or little of a physical challenge as you please. It’s well worth two days of your time.