Most Delightful Small Towns to Visit

There’s something about small towns that ignite our imaginations

Filled with charm and plenty of friendly locals, small towns are synonymous with American life. To help you decide which towns to visit, we’ve narrowed it down to places with a population of fewer than 50,000 that offer scenic beauty and plenty of attractions plus have a unique character all their own. So ditch the city crowds and start planning your small-town getaway. 

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona

You’ll find the perfect mix of adventure and relaxation in this Arizona small town. The 100-plus hiking trails are great for nature lovers while the vortexes draw holistic enthusiasts and the spas cater to visitors looking to unwind. For a bit of retail therapy, head to Tlaquepaque arts village. Conclude your day with a visit to one of the local wineries for a tasting and to purchase a bottle of wine.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why Go To Sedona

Sedona is regularly described as one of America’s most beautiful places. Nowhere else will you find a landscape this dramatically colorful. The towering red rocks and jagged sandstone buttes matched against a blue sky have beckoned to artists for years. Oh yeah, did we mention that the area is home to more than 100 hiking trails? Don’t forget to bring your boots!

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gatlinburg

Located in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains, this Tennessee town offers both wild adventures and down-home charm. Gatlinburg boasts three different entrances to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the 150-plus hiking trails are sure to please hikers of all skill levels.

Gatlinburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why Go To Gatlinburg

When you’re not in the park enjoying its natural wonders, you’ll likely spend time admiring it from several of Gatlinburg’s top attractions, including the Gatlinburg Space Needle and the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway. But Gatlinburg isn’t just a gateway to the Smokies. This small mountain town is a destination in its own right, and one that’s particularly popular with families thanks to kid-friendly diversions like Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and the Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Williamsburg

This quaint Virginia town boasts a Colonial district where visitors can see gunsmiths, milliners and more at work, all of whom wear period clothing. You can also visit several historic buildings, including the Governor’s Palace. Not a history buff? Take a stroll through Merchant’s Square for specialty shops.

Historic Jamestowne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why Go To Williamsburg

Williamsburg and the nearby cities of Jamestown and Yorktown are breathing monuments to some of the best-known figures of America’s colonial history. Patrick Henry, George Washington, John Smith, Pocahontas and more.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moab

This eastern Utah town serves as a gateway to the otherworldly rock formations found in Arches National Park and the numerous canyons and buttes in Canyonlands National Park. The town itself hosts countless festivals including the Moab Folk Festival, the Moab ArtWalk, and the Moab Trashion Show where participants create fashionable clothes from recycled materials. Plus, you can explore the city’s prehistoric history by visiting dinosaur-themed attractions like the Moab Giants Museum & Dinosaur Park.

Colorado River near Moab © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why Go To Moab

One of the top adventure towns in the world, Moab is surrounded by a sea of buckled, twisted and worn sandstone sculpted by millennia of sun, wind, and rain. Main Street’s traffic instantly confirms Moab’s reputation as a gathering place for outdoor recreation.

Stowe Community Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stowe

Stowe makes for an enjoyable spring or summer vacation (thanks to its outdoor offerings and events), a fun fall trip (thanks to its kaleidoscopic foliage), and a great winter getaway (thanks to its ski slopes). This quaint Vermont town is set in a valley and backed by mountains which means exploring Mother Nature by foot, bike, ski, or zip line is top priority for most travelers. When it’s time to wind down, visit one of the area’s breweries.

Von Trapp Family Lodge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why Go To Stowe, Vermont

Are you daydreaming of the European Alps but don’t have the dough to go? Consider the quaint—and more affordable—Vermont village of Stowe. This classic New England town is filled with malt shops and general stores, as well as charming churches and working farms. You’ll think you’re nestled in a sleepy village in the Alps. At least the von Trapps thought so; Stowe’s Trapp Family Lodge is where the melodious family of The Sound of Music fame settled because it reminded them of their Austrian home.

Worth Pondering…

Life is not long and too much of it must not pass in idle deliberation how it shall be spent.

—Samuel Jackson

Ultimate Guide to National Park Tripping in Utah: Arches and Canyonlands

Each park is unique and feels like its own world

The rugged desert landscape of southeastern Utah is like no other place on earth. No wonder it has been the location for hundreds of films over the past 70 years from John Wayne classics to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade to Thelma and Louise and more. 

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best base to explore this unique part of the United States is the small town of Moab, population 5,300. Moab has long been a favorite with adventure seekers who come to drive four-wheel-drive vehicles up challenging slickrock, climb rock walls, kayak the Colorado River, or back pack into the backcountry. 

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But you don’t have to be into extreme adventure to have a wonderful time in Moab. The region is home to two of America’s top national parks—Arches and Canyonlands. You can spend a day exploring the parks or a week or more. The town also offers art galleries, unique shops, and a variety of accommodations including full-service RV parks and resorts.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mother Nature is the main attraction in the region, though. After all, more than 87 percent of Grand County is public land—and that offers plenty of space to explore while practicing social distance. 

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To make the most of your time in the region, stop first at the Moab Information Center which has a wealth of information on the parks, hiking, scenic drives, and other recreational opportunities in the area. Take a few minutes to watch the film “Welcome to Moab” for a good overview of the area.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

People have been drawn to this region for thousands of years. Hunter-gatherers traveled to the area more than 10,000 years ago. They began to settle down about 2,000 years ago cultivating plants and settling the Four Corners region. Although few of their dwellings have been found in Arches National Park they lived in dwellings that can still be seen in Hovenweep National Monument 120 miles south and Mesa Verde National Park 150 miles southeast. 

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first Europeans to reach the area were Spaniards, and other traders and explorers soon followed. The town of Moab was settled in the 1880s. One young inhabitant was Loren “Bish” Taylor who took over the Moab newspaper in 1911 at just 18 years old. Taylor fell in love with Moab’s landscape and glowingly described the beauty of Red Rock Country in his paper. Taylor often went out exploring with John “Doc” Williams, Moab’s first doctor. “Doc” was an early advocate for the creation of a national park. 

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A prospector named Alexander Ringhoffer shared their passion. He invited Rio Grande Western Railroad executives to visit, hoping to publicize the effort. They were impressed and got behind the idea of a national park. 

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eventually, the government sent research teams to view the area. In 1929, President Herbert Hoover signed a presidential proclamation to preserve land in two areas: 1,920 acres in the Windows and 2,600 acres in the Devils Garden for Arches National Monument. 

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located just five miles from Moab, Arches is open 24 hours a day with an entrance fee is $30 per vehicle. (You can come and go with the pass for seven days.) The park is famous for its natural sandstone arches and has more than 2,000 of them within the park’s 76,518 acres. Other stunning geological formations include soaring pinnacles, giant balanced rocks, and sandstone fins. It’s no wonder that the park draws photographers from around the globe. There’s a stunning vista in any direction you point a camera.

Driving La Sal Mountain Scenic Loop near Moab © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of the park’s top attractions are Delicate Arch which is 46 feet high and 32 feet wide and Balanced Rock, a spectacular landform that is 128 feet high with a massive balanced rock about 55 feet above its base. Many of the park’s top attractions are accessible by car. Numerous trails, such as the Park Avenue Trail and trails in the Windows section of the park, are suitable for children and adults and easily accessible from the paved scenic drive

Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just 10 miles from Arches is Canyonlands, the largest national park in Utah. Canyonlands has dramatic canyons and buttes that were carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries. The park has four distinct districts: The Island in the Sky, Needles, The Maze, and the rivers. 

Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The story of Canyonlands National Park is a bit unusual. In the 1950s, the United States was on a hunt for uranium, a critical material needed in atomic bombs. It was believed that the canyons of southeast Utah contained uranium, if only it could be found. The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) recruited an army of prospectors from around the country to search for uranium, offering them potential riches while they served the interests of national security. 

Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To assist the miners in their search, the AEC built more than 1,000 miles of road through the rugged canyon country of southeast Utah. Building the roads was hard physical labor, often done by miners working with bulldozers, picks, and shovels. While uranium was eventually found, the roads opened the remote region to many others.

Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eventually, Bates Wilson, a superintendent at Arches National Park and other National Park Service employees began working to establish a new national park. Dubbed the “Father of Canyonlands,” Wilson worked tirelessly to advocate for the park. In 1964, Congress established Canyonlands National Park.

Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands has more than 80 natural arches, but its most famous attraction is Mesa Arch. Many start their visit to Canyonlands by heading to the Island in the Sky district which is about 30 miles from Moab. The drive is stunning and there are numerous pullouts that allow you to stop and soak in the view. Island in the Sky is just like it sounds—it sits atop a 1,500-foot mesa, high in the sky.

Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking trails are plentiful and there are four-wheel-drive roads that crisscross the backcountry. You can tour the area by car following the 20 miles of paved roads. From atop these lofty viewpoints, you can see more than 100 miles on a clear day. Take a picnic and explore at leisure. Such grand views are meant to be savored.

Canyonlands National Park, Needles District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spring and fall are the best times to visit the parks with cooler temperatures and fewer visitors. In summer, temperatures can reach more than 100 degrees, so be sure to bring a wide-brimmed hat (I recommend a Tilley), sunglasses, sunscreen, and plenty of water. 

Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The parks are popular and from March to October, wait times at the entrances can exceed 30 minutes. To avoid a wait, arrive early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Late afternoon and evening visits are often the most enjoyable time to visit since the temperatures are cooler and the lighting is fantastic for photography.  

Worth Pondering…

As we crossed the Colorado-Utah border I saw God in the sky in the form of huge gold sunburning clouds above the desert that seemed to point a finger at me and say, “Pass here and go on, you’re on the road to heaven.”

—Jack Kerouac

Here’s the Proof that Utah is the Most Beautiful State

Soaring peaks and deep red canyons around every bend

The reappraisal of Utah over the past decade has been astounding. Long mistaken as a bland expanse of wasteland, more and more people are coming to appreciate the state’s charms and otherworldly beauty. And especially now, its combination of mind-blowing— and isolated— natural landscapes make it ripe for exploration in an RV.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the snow-capped mountains of the north to the iconic red-rock desert landscapes of the national park-packed south, Utah’s terrain changes with every bend in the road. Taken alone, each of these 11 places construct a solid argument for Utah’s scenic dominance. Together, they cement Utah as one of America’s most gorgeous destinations.  

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moab

Situated near the banks of the Colorado River in southeastern Utah, Moab is the gateway to many of Utah’s grandest locales. Here you’ll find easy access to iconic Arches National Park, the lesser-visited Canyonlands National Park, and diamond-in-the-rough Dead Horse Point State Park all of which combine to make Moab a mind-blowing amalgam of everything that Makes Utah so grand in scope. 

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the town in the middle of this vortex is also a thing of beauty. The longtime mountain biker magnet attracts more than its fair share of funky artists, spirit seekers, and people looking to live life to the fullest. In fact, you could easily spend your entire Utah vacation here and still make it one for the books without setting foot in a park.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

Attracting more visitors than Yellowstone and Yosemite, Zion‘s stunning landscape offers a variety of terrain from desert to mountains with many visitors looking to hike Angels Landing and The Narrows. Those looking to take it easy can cruise the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive (shuttle service has resumed with advance ticketing) or meander the wide-open Pa’rus Trail along the valley floor.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon, Utah’s second-most popular national park is a short 90-minute drive from Zion making it a heck of a one-two punch of southern Utah wow. Yet the landscape undergoes a complete transformation along the way, serving up some of the most epic canyon vistas on Earth. Marvel at the huge concentration of hoodoos (rock spires) that line the seemingly never-ending canyons as you cruise the 18-mile Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive, stopping off at the park’s 13 scenic viewpoints including Sunset Point and Natural Bridge. Can’t get enough canyons? Check out the nearby Cedar Breaks National Monument for more.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cedar Breaks National Monument

The land encompassing Cedar Breaks was described in 1868 by early Mormon settlers as “a paradise on the mountain”. A colorful palette of weathered pinnacles and cliffs, Cedar Breaks National Monument is home to some of the most dramatic desert erosion features on this planet. The multi-colored geological amphitheater found at Cedar Breaks is 2,500 feet deep and 3 miles wide with the highest point of the amphitheater’s rim standing at 11,000 feet.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park

Utah’s outdoor tour de force continues over at Capitol Reef National Park where a star-studded assortment of cliffs, domes, arches, and canyons do their best to overwhelm the senses of the relatively few visitors who make their way to this park. A bit more off the beaten path with roughly half the visitation as Bryce Canyon and one-quarter of Zion, this fascinating park is something of a cross between those two more famous cousins. In addition to 15 hiking trails and plenty of room for 4WD road touring, visitors can also harvest fruit from the various cherry, apple, and peach orchards in historic Fruita during summer. 

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Natural Bridges National Monument

Situated high atop Cedar Mesa, Natural Bridges National Monument illustrates the power of water in shaping a high desert landscape. A nine mile one-way loop drive connects pull-outs and overlooks with views of the three huge multi-colored natural bridges. Hiking trails provide closer access to each bridge. An 8.6-mile hiking trail links the three natural bridges, which are located in two adjacent canyons.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley

The debate over the quintessential image of the American West starts and ends in Monument Valley. Straddling the Utah-Arizona border within the huge Navajo Nation near the Four Corners, this stunningly cinematic landscape has served as an acting background for everyone from John Wayne to Forrest Gump—and it’s not hard to see why. Visitors can tour this living artist’s canvas by driving its 17-mile dirt road, posting up for some glorious sunset photography or even spending the night in a traditional native dwelling while learning about Native American culture over campfire stories and Navajo tacos. Unfortunately, all Navajo tribal parks—including Monument Valley—are currently closed until further notice due to the pandemic.

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Valley of the Gods

Valley of the Gods is a scenic backcountry area is southeastern Utah, near Mexican Hat. It is a hidden gem with scenery similar to that of nearby Monument Valley. Valley of the Gods offers similar scenery and is located on BLM land and is open for hiking, backpacking, and camping. Valley of the Gods offers isolated buttes, towering pinnacles, and wide open spaces that seem to go on forever. A 17-mile dirt and gravel road winds through the valley.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quail Creek State Park

Equal parts refreshing and beautiful, clear, green water dominates Quail Creek State Park. Red, white, and orange cliffs surround the shore, and are set against the Pine Valley Mountains as a backdrop. Boasting some of the warmest waters in the state and a mild winter climate, Quail Creek lures boaters and anglers year-round. Camp. Hike. Explore.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 12

A 121-mile-long All-American Road, Scenic Byway 12 winds and climbs and twists and turns and descends as it snakes its way through memorable landscapes, ranging from the remains of ancient sea beds to one of the world’s highest alpine forests, and from astonishing pink and russet stone turrets to open sagebrush flats. The history and culture of the area blend together, making Scenic Byway 12 a journey like no other.

Dixie National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dixie National Forest

This massive 2-million-acre forest is known by most people as little more than a cool photo-op spot on the way to Bryce Canyon, but those who linger will be rewarded with a bevy of national park-worthy sights. The crimson canyons of the forest’s aptly-named Red Canyon area are its most famous and easy to access (with some sections of picturesque road carved right through the canyon), but don’t forget to explore the aspen-packed Boulder Mountain area, or peer out into three states from the top of Powell Point.

Worth Pondering…

As we crossed the Colorado-Utah border I saw God in the sky in the form of huge gold sunburning clouds above the desert that seemed to point a finger at me and say, “Pass here and go on, you’re on the road to heaven.

—Jack Kerouac

Moab’s Scenic Byways

Every trip to Moab should include a drive along at least one scenic byway

The Moab area is blessed with four scenic byways­. National and state scenic byways help recognize, preserve, and enhance selected roads throughout the U. S. based on their archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic qualities.

Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway (SR-128)

Length: 44.0 miles

Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This spectacular route along the Colorado River gorge begins at the Colorado River Bridge on the north end of Moab. For the first 13 miles it parallels the Colorado River within a narrow section of the gorge providing breathtaking views of the surrounding red sandstone cliffs. Popular attractions along this portion of the route include viewpoints of the river, public camping areas, and Grandstaff Canyon. At 13 miles the gorge widens as the highway proceeds past Castle and Professor Valleys.

Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After 24.7 miles the highway passes a viewpoint for an amazing view of the red rock spires of the Fisher Towers. After leaving the valley, the road winds farther up the river gorge until arriving at the site of historic Dewey Bridge at 29.8 miles. Unfortunately Dewey Bridge was destroyed in April 2008 by a brush fire. The road then follows the northern bank of the river before exiting the Colorado River gorge. The highway proceeds across open desert toward the ghost town of Cisco at 44 miles. After another 5 miles the route intersects Interstate 70.

Potash-Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Potash-Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway (SR-279)

Length: 17.0 miles

Potash-Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This Scenic Byway provides great views of the Colorado River, ancient rock art, and dinosaur tracks. A late afternoon start is rewarding as the sunset on the reddish-orange sandstone cliffs along the route is especially beautiful on the return drive to Moab. The byway begins 4.1 miles north of Moab where Potash Road (SR-279) turns off of Highway 191. After 2.7 miles Potash Road enters the deep gorge of the Colorado River. At the 4 mile point, look for rock climbers on the cliffs along the section of Potash Road.

At 5.1 miles several petroglyph panels are visible on cliffs on the right side of the highway. At 5.9 miles the Poison Spider Trail Parking will be on the right. A kiosk on the end of the parking lot will have a map for a short trail to dinosaur tracks and rock art. Trailhead parking for the trail to Corona and Bowtie Arches is available at 9.9 miles.

Potash-Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Look for Jug Handle Arch at 13.5 miles. Shortly beyond Jug Handle Arch, the canyon widens and the sheer cliffs below Dead Horse Point State Park become visible in the distance. The paved highway ends at the Intrepid Potash Mine where potash, a mineral often used as a fertilizer, is extracted. From the end of the byway drivers with high clearance vehicles can continue on a dirt road to Canyonlands National Park.

Dead Horse Point Mesa Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Point Mesa Scenic Byway (SR-313)

Length: 35.0 miles

Dead Horse Point Mesa Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Mesa Scenic Byway (SR-313) takes you through miles of incredible red rock canyon country. To reach the byway, head north from Moab on US-191. After about 9 miles look for the “Dead Horse Point State Park” sign and turn left (west) onto SR-313. This is the start of the byway.

Dead Horse Point Mesa Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After a series of hairpin curves as you begin to ascend the plateau, the road mellows out allowing you to appreciate the scenery. At about 14.6 miles from the beginning of SR-313 a fork to the left leads to Dead Horse Point. Towering 2,000 feet above the Colorado River, the overlook provides a breathtaking panorama of Canyonlands’ sculpted pinnacles and buttes.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After leaving Dead Horse Point State Park, backtrack to Highway 313, turn left, and head toward the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park, ultimately ending at Grandview Point. This section of the park sits atop a massive 1500 foot mesa—quite literally an Island in the Sky.

La Sal Mountain Loop © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Sal Mountain Loop Road Scenic Backway

Length: 60.0 miles

La Sal Mountain Loop © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The La Sal Mountain Loop Road Scenic Backway features spectacular scenery ranging from the forested heights of the La Sal Mountains to expansive views of the red rock landscape below. This paved Scenic Backway begins on US 191, six miles south of Moab, and winds north over the La Sal Mountains through Castle Valley, ending at Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway U-128.

Returning to Moab provides a 60 mile loop drive that requires approximately 3 hours to complete. Note that several hairpin turns on the Castle Valley side of this route are unsuitable for large RVs.

Worth Pondering…

Roads were made for journeys, not destinations.

—Confucius

A Wonderland of Arches…And So Much More

In southeastern Utah, near the town of Moab, is a wonderland of more than 2,000 sandstone arches, set in a picturesque landscape of soaring fins and spires

Five miles east of Moab in southeastern Utah, the world’s largest concentration of natural sandstone arches are preserved at Arches National Park. The arches come in all sizes, ranging from an opening of only 3 feet to the 306-foot span of Landscape Arch, one of the largest in North America.

Arches National Park is a red, arid desert, peppered with oddly eroded sandstone forms such as fins, pinnacles, spires, balanced rocks, and arches. The 73,000-acre region has over 2,000 of these “miracles of nature.”

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A landscape of contrasting colors, landforms, and textures unlike any other in the world, the park also features massive sandstone fins, giant balanced rocks, and hundreds of towering pinnacles—all in vibrant oranges, reds, and other colors.

Visitor Center and entrance road to Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The visitor’s first stop should be the visitor center, located just inside the park entrance. The modern center offers excellent interactive exhibits and a film that highlights Arches and nearby Canyonlands National Park. Park rangers are available to assist in planning hikes and other activities, answer questions, and provide maps and other materials.

Park Avenue area at Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once inside the park, the 18-mile Scenic Drive climbs a steep cliff and winds along the arid terrain along the first amazing glimpses of red rock features. The road initially passes the Park Avenue area and then Courthouse Towers. The road then comes to the rolling landscape of Petrified Dunes before arriving at Balanced Rock, where a 55-foot-high boulder sits precariously on a narrow pedestal.

Balanced Rock, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After Balanced Rock, a turnoff leads to the Windows section, home to the first concentration of arches and some of the parks largest. Short trails lead from the road to Cove Arch and to Double Arch. This side road ends at the site of the North and South Windows and Turret Arch.

Along the 18-mile Scenic Drive in Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the parking area, a one-mile trail loop leads visitors around and through three massive arches. The two Windows arches, when viewed together, look like giant eyeglasses resting on a nose; they are also known as The Spectacles.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Returning to the main park road, the Scenic Drive continues for 2.5 miles to another turnoff which leads to Wolfe Ranch and the Delicate Arch viewpoints. One mile past Wolfe Ranch, you can access two viewpoints for the iconic 52-foot Delicate Arch, which is commemorated on the centennial Utah state license plate.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once again on the main road, the Scenic Drive provides overlooks for Salt Valley and Fiery Furnace. Fiery Furnace is home to a fascinating labyrinth of ridges and narrow canyons. Due to the maze-like canyons , it’s best explore the area as part of a ranger-guided tour.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Scenic Drive ends at Devil’s Garden area, site of the park’s campground (reservations strongly advised) and the trailhead for the popular Devils Garden Trail.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Open year-round, the campground offers 52 sites, flush toilets, and water. Evening campfire programs are presented at the campground several times per week in season. Camping fees are charged. Please note that this campground is not suitable for large RVs.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Devils Garden Trail showcases many of the park’s best arches and can be hiked from 1.6 miles to 7.2 miles, depending on your time, fitness level, and number of arches you wish to see. The shortest leg takes visitors to the Famous Landscape Arch, an amazing ribbon of rock that spans more than a football field from base to base.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is hard to believe that a piece of rock like this can exist. In its thinnest section the arch is only 6 feet thick, yet it supports a span of rock 290 feet long. In 1991, a 73-foot slab of rock fell out from underneath the thinnest section of the span, thinning the ribboned curve even more. 

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1995, a 47-foot mass of rock fell from the front of the thinnest section of the arch, followed by another 30-foot rock fall less than three weeks later. Due to these events the Park Service has closed the loop trail that once led underneath the arch.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As part of the Colorado Plateau, the park’s elevation ranges from 4,085 feet to 5,653 feet. Summer daytime temperatures often exceed 100 degrees.

When hiking all trails in Arches, it’s important to drink plenty of water, regardless of the season. The park recommends visitors drink a minimum of 1 gallon of water a day.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

There is in all things a pattern that is part of our universe.

It has symmetry, elegance, and graced—

those qualities you find always in that which the true artist captures.

You can find it the turning of the seasons,

in the way sand trails along a ridge…

—Frank Herbert, Dune

Immense Cliffs and Stunning Overlooks: Dead Horse Point

Dead Horse Point State Park is perhaps Utah’s most spectacular state park

The park lies on the same broad mesa as The Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park. Featuring immense cliffs carved by the elements and stunning overlooks, Dead Horse Point State Park draws you in with its breathtaking landscapes, dark starlit skies, and rich history.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Point is a peninsula of rock atop sheer sandstone cliffs about 6,000 feet above sea level. Two thousand feet below, the Colorado River winds its way from the continental divide in Colorado to the Gulf of California, a distance of 1,400 miles. The peninsula is connected to the 8umesa by a narrow strip of land called the neck.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Millions of years of geologic activity created the spectacular views from Dead Horse Point State Park. Deposition of sediments by ancient oceans, freshwater lakes, streams, and windblown sand dunes created the rock layers of canyon country. Igneous activity formed the high mountains that rise like cool blue islands out of the hot, dry desert.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This desert gem sports a visitor center, a 21-site campground with flush toilets and shade ramadas, a group campsite, picnic area, and a nine-mile hiking trail loop.

Water is limited. Visitors should fill their recreation vehicle water tanks before coming to the park. This campground is not suitable for large RVs.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For those seeking an extra special overnight experience, the park also offers yurts that sleep six and feature a propane fireplace, kitchen area, outside grill, lighting, and electricity.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The plants and animals of Dead Horse Point have adapted to a land of scarce water and extreme temperatures. Plants grow very slowly here. Trees 15 feet tall may be hundreds of years old. Leaves of most plants are small, and some have a waxy coating to reduce evaporation.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most desert animals are nocturnal, active only during cooler evenings and mornings. Some have large ears to dissipate heat while others metabolize water from food.

With Moab nearby, mountain bikers visiting the park can rest assured their bikes are permitted on the park’s paved roads.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a more adventurous biking experience, bikers can also test their skills down the Intrepid Trail located near the park’s visitor center. With slickrock sections, looping singletrack, sandy washes, and incredible scenery, the Intrepid Trail System provides a great taste of what Moab mountain biking is all about. This is the perfect ride for families and offers spectacular views of the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Intrepid Trail System has three hiking and biking loops ranging from one to nine miles with varying degrees of difficulty. The easiest and shortest loop is Intrepid, followed by Great Pyramid, with Big Chief as the most challenging. The nested loop trails will offer opportunities for visitors of all ages and abilities, and provide breathtaking views.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Point is a peninsula of rock atop sheer sandstone cliffs. The peninsula is connected to the mesa by a narrow strip of land called the neck. There are many stories about how this high promontory of land received its name.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to one legend, the point was used as a corral for wild mustangs roaming the mesa top around the turn of the century. Cowboys rounded up these horses and herded them across the narrow neck of land and onto the point. The neck, which is only 30 yards wide, was then fenced off with branches and brush. This created a natural corral surrounded by precipitous cliffs straight down on all sides, affording no escape. Cowboys then chose the horses they wanted and let the culls or broomtails go free. One time, for some unknown reason, horses were left corralled on the waterless point where they died of thirst within view of the Colorado River, 2,000 feet below.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Point is best photographed at sunrise. For the warmest light, shoot between May 1 and mid-August, when the sun rises north of the La Sals, or from late October to mid-February, when it rises to the south.

Four view areas, ideal for photography stops, are located along the highway.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Point is reached by following the same route as the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. It is 23 miles from U.S. Highway 191 to Dead Horse Point State Park via Utah Highway 313.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Happiness is not a station you arrive at, but a manner of traveling.

—Margaret Lee Runbeck

Canyonlands: Colorado River and Canyon Vistas

The Green and Colorado Rivers trisect the Colorado Plateau, etching Canyonlands into distinct districts

People who live in the West are indeed blessed. They really don’t have to travel very far to visit one of America’s great national parks. In California, there’s Yosemite, Joshua Tree, and Sequoia and Kings Canyon. To the west in Arizona, there’s the Grand Canyon, and north in the state of Utah, you can also find Bryce, Zion, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Most of us who tour national parks, probably have explored two or three of the five mentioned Utah parks. The one that is least visited, Canyonlands, is the one that is unusually interesting in that it most resembles the Grand Canyon in structure. That’s for obvious reasons, most importantly, the Colorado River runs through it and over eons carved out the canyons that we come to see and enjoy.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

There are other similarities as well. The Grand Canyon is divided by the Colorado River into the two sections, the North Rim and the South Rim. Most people visit the South Rim, which is all about the viewpoints that look down into the canyons. Canyonlands is the same.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

There are three separate regions for visitation, technically divided by the Colorado River. In the south, one can travel to The Needles and The Maze regions and to the completely separate north, the Island in the Sky region. Most people visit the easily accessible Island in the Sky, and here, too, it’s really all about peering down to the canyon vistas.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The odd thing about Island in the Sky is you take Highway 191 north out of Moab, drive past Arches National Park and you fully expect to see a big sign, that if it could speak, would loudly scream, “turn here, turn here.” Instead a little sign whispers, “this way, this way.”

I’m not sure why Canyonlands can’t attract the attention it needs, but if you blink you will miss the turn sign. Catch it and you head west through the break in the rock wall that has followed you since Moab.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The road will eventually twist and turn, climbing all the time until you find yourself at the top of an extensive mesa, a high plateau as flat as a pancake and going on and on until it ends, which it does abruptly to sheer drops of 1,000 feet or more. That’s where you are heading, the numerous, scenic spots where the mesa ends and you can look out and over the surrounding canyons.

Possibly, the vistas are better at Canyonlands than the Grand Canyon because the canyons aren’t so intensely jangled. At Canyonlands, the canyons are deep below, wide and grand, while the views seemed to go on forever.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Island in the Sky formation is essentially a stretch of lands that ends in a triangle. To the west are the Green River formed canyons, and to the east are the Colorado River formed canyons. At tip of the triangle is where the Green and Colorado rivers come together.

The high plateau is mostly grasslands, but the elevation rises to anywhere from 5,500 feet to over 6,000 feet at the Grand View Point Overlook. As the elevation ascends, the grasslands devolve and once you arrive at the park, the landscape is red desert spotted with juniper trees and other gnarly plants like pinon pine.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The park begins at the Visitor Center, which is quite sparse and not at all elaborate like nearby Arches.

There are some really strenuous hikes in the parks, but remember you are literally at the top of an existent world and many of those hikes descend precariously. The Murphy Loop trail drops 1,400 feet, while the Syncline Loop features boulder fields, switchbacks, and a 1,300 foot elevation change. Even for the experienced hiker these are hard, full-day journeys.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The typical day visitor to Canyonlands will make two relatively short hikes. The easiest is the Mesa Arch trail, a loop that starts at the road and at mid-point puts you at the edge of a canyon. The reward on this hike is a horizontal arch that at first glance doesn’t look like much, but once you get close enough to actually be under the arch you realize that’s as far as you are going to proceed, because you are at the edge of the ledge. Then continue on for the rest of the loop. All in, it’s about a 30 minute walk.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The highlight for Island in the Sky is the Upheaval Dome, which conversely is actually a 1,500-foot-deep crater. According to one theory, the “dome” was formed by a meteor crashing into earth. However, it’s not just the geology that makes this stop interesting, it’s also the best short hike in Island in the Sky.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The classic Canyonlands overlook is Grand View Point, where you can see the meeting of the Green and Colorado rivers, but it’s anticlimactic after the exhilarating walk to Upheaval Dome.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.

—John Muir