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Arches Can Open Kids’ Eyes to Hiking, Geology

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© Getty Images Sunrise at Partition Arch, in Arches National Park. (photo via tonda / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

By Paul Heney, TravelPulse

Few of our national parks have names that excite kids’ imaginations as much as Arches National Park does. When we began planning our Utah trip, Arches was a name that kept coming up time and time again in our planning conversations with the kids. Thus, we made it a priority and booked a room in nearby Moab for a few days.

Arches has a lot to offer, from simple scenic drives (the main 18-mile drive is well worth your time) to endless hiking, road cycling, and camping. Daytime temperatures here can be staggering, particularly in the summer months when we went, so you need to bring plenty of sunscreen (and ideally a hat), as well as lots of water for each member of the family. There are water bottle filling stations at the visitor center. Thunderstorms can also frequent the area later in summer.

The actual arches that are viewable in so many of this park’s most stunning vistas are almost unbelievably fragile looking, and often defy the imagination. “How did that happen?” our younger son kept asking.

We found answers at the excellent Visitors Center, which explains how, approximately 300 million years ago, a nearby ocean flooded the area. Sediments eventually formed rock over the eons. While that ocean is long gone, erosion from water and wind have scoured away much of the weaker materials (including the leftover salt), leaving behind peculiar formations such as the arches—some say as many as 2,000 in total.

If you make one hike in the park, it should be the 3-mile roundtrip hike to Delicate Arch. This is a fairly strenuous hike, and you’ll certainly need water along. But the picture postcard views of this iconic arch—arguably the most famous image in the state of Utah—are incredible. You can walk right up to the massive natural rock sculpture…if you’re not too nervous about the steep drop-off immediately behind it. Hold tight to your little ones!

There are shorter hikes, for sure, and we enjoyed several, including Double Arch Trail (0.5 miles roundtrip) and Landscape Arch Trail (1.6 miles roundtrip), where you can see the planet’s largest arch and view some very interesting terrain along the way. Sand Dune Arch Trail (0.3 miles roundtrip) is an easy jaunt for smaller kids. Our kids loved all the hikes we took, and inviting them to read the visitor guide and suggest the next hike helped too, so they could choose trails that sounded the most interesting to them.

Moab serves an excellent home base for Arches, and our hotel, the Fairfield Inn & Suites Moab, is located north of the city, and almost within sight of the park’s entrance. We were pleasantly surprised that this chain hotel felt unique and architecturally interesting—it truly felt designed for this location, overlooking the Colorado River and surrounded by red rock cliffs. Our room had a fantastic view of the Colorado, and the pool deck was more than we expected, and we enjoyed it on several different evenings.

Arches is also one of the best places to stargaze in the U.S., thanks to its remote location and lack of nearby cities (save for Moab) and their accompanying lights. We drove into the park one evening, selected an empty parking lot, and just laid on some blankets in the warm night air, taking in the glowing clouds of the Milky Way.

Give your eyes 15 minutes to adjust to the darkness, and you’ll see more details—and likely numerous meteors. Even when there isn’t a meteor shower on the calendar, you can expect to see 6-10 random or “sporadic” meteors per hour from a truly dark location such as this.

Even without a telescope or binoculars, sitting outside and taking in the magical night sky—perhaps with an arch silhouetted against the stars, will be a memory you and your children will keep close for many years.

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