Arches and Canyonlands are two national parks in Utah that are very well-known. Arches National Park found its way onto the Utah License Plate with its iconic Delicate Arch image and attracts photographers and hikers alike. Nearby Canyonlands National Park is famous for the Island in the Sky Visitor Center and Mesa Arch, as well as its Needles District and Grand View Point. But, when you think of Arches and Canyonlands, do you immediately think of an adventure fit for little kids?
Since I had never been to either of these iconic landmarks as a child, I thought it only right to bring my kids along for the experience. What we found were beautiful vistas, hikes, and history that suited my family of five (including an infant, 3, and 6 year old) just perfectly! These two parks are only 26 miles apart, so combining them for a family trip makes sense.
Scenic Drives in Arches and Canyonlands
There are so many wonderful things to see at both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. We recognized early that this short two and a half day trip would only barely scrape the surface. Knowing that we would be limited by our children’s stamina and endurance, we selected a few key attractions we wanted to see by foot; the rest we would have to see by car. This strategy came in handy especially when our little 1 year old needed a nap. We would all hop in the car to see several landmarks from the comfort of our vehicle, while the little one caught up on some Zzz’s.
From the car, we saw the following in Arches: The Organ, Tower of Babel, Petrified Dunes, Balanced Rock, Double Arch, North and South Windows, and several panoramic views. I also will include seeing Delicate Arch “from the car”, too (although technically we took turns getting out of the car to walk the .1 mile to the Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint while our baby boy was sleeping). In Canyonlands, the park is just so vast that you could drive for a good half hour from the Visitor’s Center to the Grand View Point Overlook with panoramic views out every direction; it made for the perfect afternoon drive to let baby sleep!
Come Prepared for the Desert
The Park Service does a good job of reminding you to bring water with you and stay out of the sun on extremely hot days. Luckily for us, we went at the beginning of March and enjoyed a light breeze and mild 70 degree weather while there. For our kids we made sure to bring backpacks to carry their own water and snacks in. Everyone lathered up on sunscreen before starting on a long hike, as well.
A Few Key Hikes: Arches
The first day, we set out to complete the longest hike of our trip: Landscape Arch, in Arches National Park. From Devil’s Garden trailhead, go straight to go directly to the Landscape Arch. Or, bear right for two additional arches along the way; we took the quick detours to see Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch. For all three arches, the hike was just under 2 miles, round trip.
Our kids loved walking along the trails, spotting the arches along the way. They also appreciated the very fine, red-tinted sand at the base of Pine Tree Arch, which they happily dug in for a good ten minutes. I’d almost wished we’d brought a pail and shovel for a little more sandy fun!
Canyonlands Sights to See
The second day, we visited Canyonlands in the morning. After strolling around the Grand View Point Overlook and Green River Overlook, we headed to the Mesa Arch trail. This 1 mile round trip hike had some more difficult inclines, but my kids loved going up and down the natural rock steps along the way. At the end of the 1/2 mile trail, we were rewarded with beautiful views through the Mesa Arch, overlooking the canyon cut out of the rock below. Of course, we also sat in the shade of a nearby tree and played with sand and rocks again. My three boys thoroughly enjoyed themselves!
Back to Arches
The final destination at the end of day 2 was another visit to Arches. We had our eye set on a trail called Park Ave. We decided to park at the top near the Park Ave Overlook, then descend the stairs to a very rugged trail. On either side of us loomed the great cliffs, casting shade onto the trail during the late afternoon. There was barely anyone else hiking, which made for an intimate experience between us and nature.
My husband (with baby in tow), hiked about 1/3 of a mile down with us, and then graciously ascended the hill and stairs to go get the car. Meanwhile, my two older boys and I continued the descent headed toward Courthouse Tower Viewpoint, about a mile away. The trail was not strenuous at this point, but it was sometimes a little difficult to locate. Thankfully, there were little rock towers along the way to guide and direct us. The kids especially enjoyed finding two huge boulders to climb on, pointing out wildflowers along the way, and racing through the gentle pathways carved into the rock, created by water erosion.
When we reached the base of the trail, my husband met us there with the car. I definitely recommend this hike, especially for kids! But I’m not sure our experience would have been as positive if we’d had to complete the full trek back up to our car – thank goodness for a willing husband to help with the car situation!
The neighboring city: Moab, UT
After a full day of hiking and exploring, we headed back to our lodging in Moab. There were many hotel options we could have selected, but we had been looking for a slightly different experience. We chose to stay in a cottage at the Moab Rim Campark, which included a full kitchen, two queen size beds, bathroom, and a fire pit just outside our cottage. It was the perfect place to roast marshmallows and look at the beautiful stars after a long day!
Moab also served as a great pit stop on the other days of our trip. We stopped in for huckleberry ice cream at the Moab Diner, authentic Italian pizza at Antica Forma, and a quick stroll along the Colorado River from Lions Park.
This quick road trip barely scratched the surface of all there is to explore in Moab and the neighboring National Parks, but we thoroughly enjoyed our experience! We look forward to seeing and hiking more the next time we visit.
Plan your visit and get excited!
Now that Arches and Canyonlands National Parks are on your radar, it’s time to start planning your visit! Remember that each National Park charges an entrance fee (typically $35), so if you plan to visit multiple National Parks in the span of a year, the annual “America the Beautiful” Pass for $80 is well worth the cost.
You can even get your kids hyped by printing out this free Junior Ranger Adventure Guide for Arches or Canyonlands – it has activities suited for kids of all ages and once completed can be turned in for a Junior Ranger badge and certificate.
If you’re interested in another Utah National Park that’s great to visit with your family, you’ll enjoy this post: Looking Up in Zion National Park.
Hope you enjoy exploring Arches and Canyonlands with family in tow. I know we did!
Written by guest blogger, Heather Young, whose photography is featured on her blog, Heather Hiding Photography. Heather is my daughter, and I am so grateful she too can find joy in traveling and exploring with family!