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Comparing Arches and Canyonlands

Comparing Arches and Canyonlands

Posted in: Outdoor adventures, Travel on September 14, 2022.

Choices, Choices…

There is a lot to see in Southern Utah. And unfortunately, it can be hard to see all you want to see in just one trip. Which means you might have to make some choices about what to include in your Southern Utah vacation. So let’s talk about some of the tough choices you might have to make, and see if we at the Lodge at Red River Ranch can help you decide. Case in point, if you can only visit one, which do you choose… Arches or Canyonlands?

Desert scenery near Moab Utah

Photo by LJ Coates via unsplash.com

Next-door Neighbors

Arches and Canyonlands are basically next-door neighbors. Both are within easy reach of Moab. (You can see our itinerary for what to do near Moab for more context and suggestions.) In a perfect world, you’d be able to visit both national parks, because they are both really awesome. But since that obviously isn’t the point of this blog post, let’s do some comparisions!

An arch in the dusky twilight

Photo by Cayetano Gil via unsplash.com

Arches National Park:

Park Description – As you the name suggests, Arches National Park is primarily known for its collection of spectacular arches. The park contains over 2,000 examples of sandstone bridges and arches. Delicate Arch is one of the most famous in the world, and appears on the Utah State license plate. We’ve written an in-depth guide to what to do in Arches here, and as you might guess, it’s mostly visiting lots of arches!

Pros – Arches is the smaller of the two parks, approximately 76,000 acres. Which means, you can see more of the park on your vacation, and since in our hypothetical situation you are likely pressed for time, this is a big pro. You can get a feel for the park, and visit the most famous arches, in just one day. (If you absolutely have to.) Arches is also closer to Moab, which can be more convenient for families with kids, or quick detours when road tripping to other locations.

Cons – Can you say “crowded?” Arches is packed, pretty much all year. There is usually road work as the park tries to deal with the ever increasing tourist load, which slows things down. And this year the park did a pilot program testing timed entry – you can read about that here. Chances are good that going forward Arches will adopt this program during the toursit season. All of which is to say, Arches can be a little hectic.

The sandstone towers of Canyonlands in the morning haze

Photo by Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

Canyonlands National Park

Park Description – Canyonlands is much larger than Arches, covering 337,598 acres of wilderness. And we do mean wilderness, since many portions of the park are only accessible via dirt roads. And you’ll need an all-wheel drive, high clearance vehicle to tackle those. But Canyonlands also has some amazing scenery, including its famous canyon river landscape, its highland geology, and an assortment of monolithic formations. It also has a few arches of its own. So there is a lot to take it. Here’s an in-depth guide of what you might what to check out.

Pros – There is a lot to see, a lot of variety and a lot of adventure to be found in Canyonlands. You can rent kayaks and explore the Colorado River, you can drive the White Rim Road, or you can wander the Maze District. Even if all you see is the more-developed area of the park, the Island in the Sky District, you’ll still get to see amazing views and a lot of diversity in the landscape.

Cons – The pros of Canyonlands are become its cons when you have limited time. To properly see what the park has to offer, you need the right amount of time and the right equipment to tackle the wilderness and under-developed areas. Canyonlands really shouldn’t be done in an afternoon. The park is also furthur away from Moab, where most of the area’s hotels are located, so you’ll probably want to camp in Canyonlands.

A cliff view of Canyonlands National Park

Photo by Dann Petty via unsplash.com

Our Advice

Let’s break it down for you. Here’s the TL;DR version:

  1. Go to Arches if you only have one day to visit a national park, or you want to stay closer to Moab, or if you want a national park with more amenities.
  2. Go to Canyonlands if you have two or three days, don’t mind camping in the park, and like the idea of desert exploration.

And if you want our honest opinion: Canyonlands beats out Arches in a straight comparison of what each park has to offer. But again, if you have time, go see them both!

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