Arches in Winter
Over the last few years the typical Arches National Park visit has been met with timed entry tickets, a long wait to make it to the front gate, and long lines and crowded trails once you arrive into the park. The popular spring to fall visits are also usually spent under oppressive heat that comes from the sun above and radiates off of the red rocks. While Arches is so sensational that it is easy to overlook these inconveniences, I may have found a hack. Arches in Winter.
Arches is known for, well, the arches. Magnificent geologic formations that inspire awe. But one of my favorite features are the giant slabs of red rock, standing like buildings across the landscape. My first stop is always the first parking area when entering, Park Avenue. I have hiked Park Avenue in the summer. It was hard to tell where the red dust of the canyon floor stopped and the red walls began. In winter, the snowy floor enhances the red walls of the canyon and set the mood for the entire visit.
The grey backdrop of the sky mirrored the muted floor. The walls, still grand, looked more somber than under the blue skies of summer.
The next stop for me is the La Sal Mountain Overlook. A short stop with long views. If the Park Avenue view is similar to a looking down a city block, the view from the La Sal Overlook is like a block in a small town. A building here, a building there. Ancient structures that stand the test of time, but seemingly immune to the falling snow that collect at their base.
The next stop on my journey through Arches in winter was one of the most unique non-arch formations in the park, Balanced Rock. Balanced Rock always sets a mood. A rock that defies gravity and does what it wants can’t be bothered with winter.
The snow was deeper at Balanced Rock. The clouds thicker. The Sun barely able to sneak a glance at the leaning red rock. The wind howling against the stoic rock. Now it really felt like winter.
In summers, I get caught in the crowds of Delicate Arch and I was expecting big crowds so I skipped it on this trip. I didn’t need to it turned out but I made my way down the road to my first arch of the day, Skyline Arch.
Skyline was my first attempt at a hike, albeit a very short one. Just two tenths of a mile. Skyline Arch trail met me with snow, a little bit of ice and some very frozen ground. The frigid wind that was trying to push down Balanced Rock now filled my lungs. The chill felt better than the steam I usually experience on those hot summer months.
The Devil’s Garden was my final destination and the snowiest section I found in the park. The snow was deeper and the wind cut sharper. What was missing was the people. One of the most crowded trailheads had only a dozen or so people. I never thought I could have a park like Arches that also included solitude but I did. There were a few people but for the most part it was just me and the arches and this was on a Sunday!
I saw Tunnel Arch…
And then I made my way over to Pine Tree Arch.
Then I made my way towards Landscape Arch. As I made my way to the long arch, the sun began to peak through the clouds and allowed the red rocks to begin to glow against the blank canvas of the snow.
And then finally I made it to Landscape Arch. The arch held onto some of the powdery snow, keeping it captive on top of it’s 306 foot frame.
I only had about an hour at the park. I didn’t expect to make it this far and I thought for sure I would fight the weekend crowds, or be slowed by the snow. Instead I found myself in one of the most spiritually connected visits I have ever had. It was like the snow created a new set of secrets for the rocks to hold. A new chapter in their story that they could now reveal. Slowly, frozen by the frost and ice, the red rocks welcomed me.
Arches in Winter
I didn’t know what to expect of Arches in the winter. Would it be as full of people as the summer but with a chance for frostbite? Would the desert ground swallow all of the snow as soon as it fell? No, it was beautiful and mostly empty. I could breath the cold air and see the park like I have never seen it before. The lack of people meant I came closer to getting a speeding a ticket on the open road through the park than I came to the all too common traffic jams of the summers. I didn’t have much time but the cold air seemed to slow the hands on my watch. I saw more than I thought and felt more than I ever have among the red rocks. Hopefully, my path will take me back here in the winter so I can spend more time, and learn more of the story of Arches in Winter.
More from the Fatman
If you enjoyed this post you may enjoy more of the posts on my Fatman’s Rambling page. Blogs such as “Hiking Alone not Lonely Hiking“, “Winslow, Arizona” and “Screw it, I’m Trying” as well as many others may interest you there. You can also see all of my Utah Hiking experiences including my summer trips through Arches.
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I’ve never been to Arches National Park but it was the setting for the end of the 1975 Western Against A Crooked Sky,
I have not seen that movie but I’ll have to look it up. Arches is a really cool park!