Thursday, September 24, 2015

Arches National Park: What to do with Kids

Arches is definitely the most popular (and most crowded) of the three Eastern Utah National Parks. The scenic drive is a long, winding stretch of road so that helps it feel a little less stuffed full of human fluff, but there is no escaping tourists and liter and overflowing parking lots. Because the scenic drive is so long, you really only want to stop at the first and last viewpoints. Along the way you'll stop at other areas to complete the hikes of your choosing, but most overlook areas can be seen just fine from inside your car. There are many, many wonderful hikes, but in all my research (and in my experience both as a teen visitor and a parent visitor) I have concluded there are three must see geological features of the park. Below I'll give you an easy tour of the park you can complete with small children (the kids and I completed a much condensed version).

First stop, the visitor center. It is located just a mile north of Moab, right at the park entry. The park visitor center is fairly crowded, but it boasts a wonderful theater and marvelous Educational displays. Kids can spend a lot of time in the Visitor Center learning about the geology of the area. Arch formation really is fascinating and it was a concept even Reid's (age 4) young mind could grasp. While we were there we grabbed a Junior Ranger booklet for him to complete. 

Earning his first Junior Ranger badge!

Park Avenue is the first viewpoint worth seeing. After your steep climb into the park this is a good spot to get out and stretch your legs (and relax your nerves, if you don't love driving straight up steep cliffs). You can get out and hike through the narrows here, but if you're with little kids who only have a hike or two in them I'd skip it. Park Avenue marque gives great detail about the different layers of the canyon, and you can spot them well on the peaks that stand just above you.

One of the best hiking areas for kids is Windows and Balanced Rock, which you'll find at the end of a spur road near the beginning of the park. Due to time constraints, we weren't able to travel this spur road with our children, but I remember exploring this area of the park at age 16 (wow, half my life ago!). It is one of the easiest areas for getting up close and personal with the arches. In this small corner of the park you can actually see the North and South Window Arches and Double Arch. Seeing so many arches so close together left a big impression on my young mind. I think that is the reason I have such a vivid memory of this particular hike (I'd actually forgotten that my family went to Dead Horse Point, the state park of my dreams, on that same vacation 16 years ago).  

Delicate Arch is the most iconic arch in the park. And for good reason. As far as I'm aware, it is the most free standing arch in the entire world. It really is quite spectacular. It is also located along a spur road, just a mile or two past Balanced Rock. We dropped Ben off and let him hike Delicate Arch on his own. The park guide says this is a strenuous hike, but Ben is confident we could have done it as a family IF we had gone first thing in the morning, when the temps are cooler and the sun isn't so scorching. It took him less than two hours to complete. Like windows, it is a very busy trail.

Phone photo Ben took while on his hike

Sand Dune Arch is *the* most kid friendly hike in the entire park. It is located near the end of Skyline Drive. I wanted to take the kids to both Sand Dune and Windows Arch areas, but we really only had time for one. I'm really glad I choose this one. Both Reid and Nell were in heaven. As we began the trail an exiting hiker told them they were headed to a giant sandbox. That description could not be more accurate. It is the best sandbox on planet Earth. No lie. The Arch at the end of the super short (just over a quarter mile round trip) hike is almost secondary compared to the amazing natural sandbox.

Starting at top right: 1. Sand Dune Arch is hidden inside the spires you see from the road. 2. Reid preparing to pass the second narrow, just before the dune. 3. Reid, Coraline, and I at the Arch. 4. Reid playing with three scout aged boys (mom in back pushed me through the first sandy narrow, read story below). 5. The arch.
Fun side story. We visited Arches after the wedding. So our kids (the eldest two were both in the wedding) had already had a full day. Over the last three days they'd been in the car an average of five hours per day. They were spent. They just wanted to watch movies, eat junk food, and play with cousins. But no. Mom and Dad were dragging them to yet another park (a word they grew to resent because we obviously were not talking about swings and slides -- oh how they would have loved to play on some swings and slides)! I knew completing this tiny little hike would be a challenge. I knew they'd fight me the entire time. But when I pulled up to the trail head I just told myself I'd drag all three of them in there if I had to. I could not come to Arches and spend the entire time in the mini van -- listening to the Boxtrolls for the third time in two days.

Reid hardly complained at all. Coraline sat snugly in the Ergo (Ben had taken our Kelty with him to Delicate Arch). And Nell, Nell had to be drug in kicking and screaming, just like I'd envisioned.

At one point I was piggy backing her through the rocks. There was a narrow passing, and despite my obvious strain of carrying one child up front and another (40 pounder) on back, none of the exiting hikers stopped to let me through. I just stood at the entrance of the narrow, waiting for a chance to hike UP the rocks and through the sand. Waiting and waiting, loosing energy with each second. Finally the dozen exiting hikers were all through and it was my turn to go. Only, I couldn't. I could not step up and keep both my girls in my arms.

Thankfully, a voice behind me said "would you like a boost." To which I replied. "Yes! Please!" And a mother to three tween-teenaged boys hoisted me up onto the rocks and I squeezed through the passageway. I took another five or so steps to clear the way for everyone else and dropped Nell to the ground. At that point we were in the shady sand box. I begged and begged her just to take a few steps on her own. But it was a failure. I bribed her with Frozen toys "I already have so many Frozen toys mamma. I have like five. I don't need anymore." So we sat in the shade and played in the sand while I worked back enough energy to carry her, through sand, one more time.

I couldn't quite make it to the end of the hike, so I just left her. I left her in a spot about 40 yards away from our final destination. She was content. No, she was in heaven. She loved that sand box! Reid was content, because he was able to finish the hike, and I stood between the two of them, watching them play in the sand on opposite ends of the sandbox.

It was quiet the experience, but we did it! We enjoyed it, and it was worth it.

I'm cool mom. I don't need any Frozen toys, I've got this gorgeous sand to play with!

See ya later Nell, I'm headed to the arch!

Can you spy her? She was totally safe, a little abandoned, but safe.

You can actually see where part of the arch is falling apart. Chunks can fall off at any moment. 
I had a blast mom! I don't know what you're so grumpy about.

In fact, I had so much fun I'm going to refuse to leave!

Oh, you're threatening to just leave me? Fine I'll just crawl out at turtle pace!

Devil's Garden marks the end of the Scenic Drive. It is a wonderful place to stop and have a picnic. There are plenty of tables and bathrooms all around the loop. The shade of the Junipers was a nice reprieve from the day's cloudless sky. This seems like an excellent place to mention the importance of bringing in your own water. There are limited fill stations in the park. We had a cooler fool of chilly treats.

The four of us ate nearly that entire container of yogurt in one sitting. 
Aside from bringing healthy snacks and lots of water, if you are going to visit National Parks with kids, be prepared to rely on the kindness of strangers. At this stop, both my daughters needed their poopy diapers changed. I had to ask the woman sitting at the table behind us (you can kind of see the family in the above photo) if she'd hold Coraline for me while I changed Nell. Coraline screamed her head off the entire time and the whole ordeal wasn't super fun. But this mother (of tween boys) was so patient and kind. And yes, she is the same woman who helped me at our hike to Sand Dune arch (bet she was tired of bumping into me!).

Bonus: Fiery Furnace I know virtually nothing about this part of the park, as I have never been to it. But I wanted to make note of it here because Ben and I have every intention of taking our kids there if we make it back to the park when they are a bit older. Exploring the area requires prior registration, hiking skills, and a few hours of your time; so it wasn't something we could do with this visit. But we have definitely put a pin in it!

I would not recommend camping in Arches NP, but I would recommend trying to visit for more than just one day. Moab, UT is a super convenient location for visiting both Arches and Canyonlands NP. You could easily spend two days in each park and a day or two just exploring Moab. We loved it and would definitely go back, even with our young family (dragging them around if we have to!) 

1 comment:

Pa said...

Arches is one of my all-time favorites. Love the pictures. Looks like you're having a great time...

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