Utah welcomed us in the dark and in the rain. Our American SIM card was letting us use data very sporadically and that evening it just decided not to. We already drove for five hours that day and had many amazing experiences (Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley and Goosenecks State Park can be all done in a day, we tested it out for you) and we were looking for a place to stay but without internet and in a city you’ve never been to it can be quite tricky.
We originally planned to sleep in the car somewhere at a parking lot but since I still wasn’t feeling good so we decided to look for a place to stay. But when you turn up at a hotel reception or an inn at 9 pm you don’t get exactly the best price.
So we drove around Blanding twice until we finally parked in front of a restaurant that had free WiFi only to find out that we can get the most reasonable price in Monticello, 20 miles away so we kept driving.
The advantage was that we got a lot closer to Canyonlands NP and the next day it took us just an hour to get to the first national park of Utah’s Mighty Five.
Canyonlands National Park
We will forever remember Canyonlands as the park where we enjoyed the most off-road experience and also a place where we had passengers for a moment - a lovely Asian couple who thought the FOUR-WHEEL DRIVE sign means it’s okay to go there if you have a car with four wheels, not a four-wheel drive, their car only managed to drive around the first few corners.
If you would also like to go to Colorado River Overlook, you only have a chance if you have a jeep which was also confirmed by an older couple who drove past us at one of the stops. They go there often so they told us the road gets worse so it’s good to understand the limitations of the car and turn around.
We had more luck at the second stop since most places can be reached by car and go on a walk or a hike from there. We decided to go to the Big Spring Overlook but it really doesn't matter which one you choose, Canyonlands is a national park with beautiful nature so you don't have to look for a specific trail or the end of a trail, just walk around, hike some rocks and enjoy the view.
Tips for the first visit to Canyonlands NP
- before you head out to dusty and rocky roads, think twice whether your car can make it
- enjoy that there are hardly any people in the park compared to other very popular national parks
- if you go on a hike here, be sure to pack water, a hat or something to cover your head, a phone and maybe a snack, since there is not much shadow to hide in, be ready
- there are two entries to the park, if you're driving from Moab, it's easier to reach the Island in the Sky part, if you're headed here from Bluff, Needles District is closer
- the most popular view is from Mesa Arch, which is in the Island in the Sky part
Arches National Park
The only disadvantage of Canyonlands is that it's approx. 40 miles away from the main road but we were determined to make it to Arches NP in the afternoon so we headed back and in two hours we were already at the doors of Arches NP.
Arches NP is very popular and you can explore a large part of it in the car very comfortably. The loop here is 18 miles long and it takes you around many arches and short trails.
After Canyonlands National Park, which was nearly empty, it was a slight shock when we had to circle around a parking lot three times before we saw a free parking spot but people luckily walk around and in nature, it doesn't feel that crowded.
There are over 2000 arches in the national park which have to meet specific requirements to be considered arches and to be accounted for. We headed on a short walk to the largest one, Double Arch, where we enjoyed a bit of hiking on the rocks to be closer to the arch and enjoy the views.
To get to the most famous one, Delicate Arch, it's a three-mile walk but because of the elevation, it can take 2 to 3 hours to get there and back. We only saw it from the other side, approx. a 20-minute walk from the parking lot takes you to the spot from where you can see the Delicate Arch in the distance.
To be honest, we probably didn't appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of the arches as much, so we decided to skip the 2-hour hike to Delicate Arch and checked out some smaller ones in the area.
Tips for the first visit to Arches National Park
- if you want to see the most famous arch, keep in mind you have to hike there and back which can take up to 3 hours
- it's best to come here off-season or early in the morning or later in the afternoon, the parking lots are not huge and they can get full
- again, as for all the national parks, get yourself the Annual Pass, it will save you a lot of money
- it is totally doable if you want to do Arches NP and Canyonlands NP in one day if you, like us, decide not to go on a long hike and spend about half a day in each park
We managed to visit both parks comfortably in one day and in the evening we braced ourselves for another few hours in the car. Bryce Canyon, another park from Utah's Mighty 5 was 400 kilometres away and we wanted to get there the next day in the morning.