Road trip honeymoon: Canyonlands and Arches National Parks

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands

The amazing part about Canyonlands is that it’s somewhat of a hidden gem, if a nationally owned and recognized park could be considered hidden. It simply doesn’t have the reputation that Bryce or Grand Canyon has, so it’s noticeably less populated. This made for remote, quiet camping and lots of fantastic views all to ourselves. Because Canyonlands was the very first park we visited, we had no idea what to expect in any sense. As we drove miles inside of the park to reach the Island in the Sky campground and secure a site on a first come, first served basis, we were really surprised to see that every single one of the ten or so sites was available. Although a few filled up over the course of our two nights there, we were mostly alone.  This was some of my favorite camping I’ve ever done for this reason. Our site was sprinkled with cool trees and cacti, and then surrounded by rock formations and cliffs in the distance, so it was just a great place to simply sit and look around. We’d find ourselves doing quite a bit of just that—laying in the hammock listening to music, sitting around the campfire roasting Nutella and butter tortillas for dessert, and looking up at the black, starry sky.

There are also several really impressive overlook points in Canyonlands that you can drive or walk a short distance to see (it wasn’t so much of a hiking park in our opinion, at least in the Island in the Sky district,  although there are trails). Our campsite was close to one such canyon overlook, and we found ourselves visiting it more than once—the colors and feel would change drastically throughout the day. On our first night, we were each about three beers deep (with another in hand) when we decided to sprint across the desert sand and rocks to get a view of the sunset over the canyon—we were scared we’d miss it. Yet again, we were shocked to see that we were the only people there. We sat and watched the canyon change from orange to red to brown to gray to blue to black. Jagged, gnarly cracks in the earth stretched for what looked like miles in front of us—it was impossible to tell the size or distance of anything. It looked and felt like we were on a different planet—more so than any of the other parks, actually. You don’t realize how filled with sound the air is until it’s truly void of all of it. Jon said that for the first time ever, he understood what it meant for silence to be deafening. And to see such a large, deep expanse with no signs of life or movement or sound, well—it’s pretty incredible. This experience was one that left us feeling very, very small as we watched the natural world simply do its thing—a thing it’s been doing for millions of years. How had we gone our entire lives without experiencing this place?! How has anyone?! Anyway, Jon remembers this sunset in Canyonlands as his very favorite part of the trip, and it was certainly one of mine, too.

Note: we also took a short trip to Dead Horse Point State Park from Canyonlands since it's so close by. I'd recommend it if you're in the area, but I don't think it's something you'd have to go out of the way for. It sort of reminded me of Horseshoe Bend in a way. I've included a picture of it down below.

Second note: Canyonlands is challenging in the sense that it's basically divided into two main areas that are not easily accessible to one another. We chose to visit Island in the Sky because of its proximity to Arches' entrance and the rest of our route, but we really wish we could have visited the Needles district, too, since it seemed to have some really amazing "back country" scenery and hikes. Just something to keep in mind when planning your visit to Canyonlands; do some research to figure out if you are going to do one or both areas!

 Our very first visit in our first park of the trip

Our very first visit in our first park of the trip

Canyonlands National Park
 The coolest cacti all over the park

The coolest cacti all over the park

Canyonlands National Park
 Mesa Arch, a great sunrise hike in Canyonlands

Mesa Arch, a great sunrise hike in Canyonlands

 The Green River overlook just a few steps from our campsite (this is the view in the very first picture above, as well)

The Green River overlook just a few steps from our campsite (this is the view in the very first picture above, as well)

 A different view from Grand View Point

A different view from Grand View Point

Canyonlands National Park
 Sunset at Green River Overlook - we sprinted here from our campsite to catch it just in time

Sunset at Green River Overlook - we sprinted here from our campsite to catch it just in time

 ...and this is what the shadowy Canyon looked like during sunset. We were totally alone.

...and this is what the shadowy Canyon looked like during sunset. We were totally alone.

 Sunrise on our drive out of Canyonlands

Sunrise on our drive out of Canyonlands

 This view is from Dead Horse Point State Park, a short drive away from Canyonlands (I made a note about this above!)

This view is from Dead Horse Point State Park, a short drive away from Canyonlands (I made a note about this above!)

Arches National Park

AKA… Land Before Time. We kept joking that we were ready to see a brontosaurus at any moment because the landscape and scenery was so reminiscent of how the earth is depicted to have looked millions of years ago. Of all the parks we saw, this one was the most amazing to enter. The suspense sort of builds as you wind through roads over miles and miles of horizon. I mean, just look at the pictures (!!!!!). This place was so majestic, serene, and beautiful.

The morning hike to Delicate Arch was amazing. The last stretch of the trail was on smooth, round hills and cliffs of pale rust colored rock—it was almost otherworldly. Similar to Canyonlands, Arches National Park makes you feel small. The arches themselves are hard to wrap your head around—wind and water MADE those?! They were equal parts beautiful and unfathomable.

Aside from hiking, this park was absolutely stunning to drive through, stopping off along the way at various beautiful viewpoints. I fell in love with the green, orange, pink, brown, green, and blue tones that stretched from ground to sky in Arches. The sheer size of these rock formations is difficult to comprehend until you see them yourself. Please, please go see for yourself.

 This opening scene in Arches in the morning looked like a painting in real life, and I love that the photo actually captured that feel

This opening scene in Arches in the morning looked like a painting in real life, and I love that the photo actually captured that feel

Arches National Park
 Balanced Rock. Casual.

Balanced Rock. Casual.

 Hiking up to Delicate Arch - the last quarter mile was unlike anything I'd ever seen before 

Hiking up to Delicate Arch - the last quarter mile was unlike anything I'd ever seen before 

 More of the last stretch

More of the last stretch

 I still can't quite get over this otherworldly view. Delicate is right around the corner from here.

I still can't quite get over this otherworldly view. Delicate is right around the corner from here.

 Delicate Arch (and years and years of striated rock)

Delicate Arch (and years and years of striated rock)

 Isn't it interesting how much the colors changed as the sun moved?

Isn't it interesting how much the colors changed as the sun moved?

 Do you see why I fell in love with the colors of the desert in Arches?

Do you see why I fell in love with the colors of the desert in Arches?

Arches National Park
 And now that I've seen it, I can't UNSEE it. lol.

And now that I've seen it, I can't UNSEE it. lol.