All posts by Raven About The Parks

Top 10 Natural Bridges/Arches at NPS Sites

Although they look similar and are often listed together, arches are primarily wind formed, while natural bridges are carved by flowing water (though few still have water running beneath them).  The burnt-orange sandstone of southern Utah is famous for its numerous holes in the rock, as evidenced by the list below.  However, there are some other notable instances of these geologic features located throughout the National Park Service (NPS) system.  Click here to see all of our Top 10 Lists.

10. Channel Islands National Park (California)

A ferry ride out to Anacapa Island will swing by Arch Rock rising out of the Pacific Ocean

9. Zion National Park (Utah)

310-foot Kolob Arch is tucked against a cliff, so it is hard to see and harder to photograph

8. Golden Spike National Historic Site (Utah)

You can drive right up to the natural limestone Chinese Arch

7. Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)

Brimhall Natural Bridge is not easy to get to (it may require a swim), but it is incredible

6. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (Michigan)

It is a challenging eight miles roundtrip to kayak through Petit Portal on Lake Superior

5. Canyonlands National Park (Utah)

Seeing Druid Arch and Angel Arch requires two long day hikes, but both are worth the effort

4. Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (Tennessee-Kentucky)

It is an easy two-mile hike to see the massive Twin Arches (which are actually natural bridges)

3. Natural Bridges National Monument (Utah)

Three impressive natural bridges, including the 268-foot span of 220-foot tall Sipapu Bridge, which is second only to…

2. Rainbow Bridge National Monument (Utah)

290-foot tall Rainbow Bridge (the largest natural bridge in the world) is surrounded by Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

…and finally the #1 NPS site for natural bridges or arches:

1. Arches National Park (Utah)

This park contains 2,500 wind-carved holes ranging in size from a minimum of three feet to 290-foot wide Landscape Arch (the fifth longest span in the world)

Honorable Mentions

Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)

No surprise that you can also find these impressive geologic features in the fifth National Park in southern Utah

Big Bend National Park (Texas)

Balanced Rock does not technically count as either an arch or a natural bridge, but it is neat

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park (Hawai‘i)

Holei Sea Arch still exists but its access trail was destroyed by lava flows

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (Wisconsin)

The sea caves were formed by wave action on Lake Superior

Natural Bridges National Monument

Overview

South of Canyonlands National Park is isolated Natural Bridges National Monument.  First established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, it was not accessible by road until uranium mining developed this part of Utah in the 1950s.  As you may recall from our post on Arches National Park, bridges are created by flowing water, unlike arches that are primarily carved by wind.

Highlights

3 huge natural bridges, scenic views, ruins, hiking, stargazing

Must-Do Activity

The monument is home to 220-foot tall Sipapu Bridge, which is second only to Glen Canyon’s Rainbow Bridge as the largest in the world.  Kachina Bridge, at 210 feet and growing, may catch up to it someday.  Perhaps the most visually striking of the three standing bridges is the 180-foot span of Owachomo Bridge that is only nine feet thick at its center.  Handicap accessible overlooks are available along Bridge View Drive.

Best Trail

A nine-mile loop hike connects all three natural bridges, which are also accessible by shorter trails from the rim drive.  Do not attempt this rugged trek if you are not prepared; it is a rocky canyon bottom at high elevation with little shade.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Owachomo Bridge is the oldest of the three standing natural bridges in the National Monument.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/nabr/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

The secluded nature of this region and its elevation of 6,500 feet were factors in naming it the first International Dark Sky Park in 2007.  If you make it out this far, you might want to spend the night under the stars at the campground.

Related Sites

Rainbow Bridge National Monument (Utah)

Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)

Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)

Explore More – In 1992, how many tons of rock fell from Kachina Bridge (the youngest of the three)?

Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site

Overview

Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. (1822-1903) is considered the founder of American landscape architecture.  His most famous designs include New York City’s Central Park and the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, but he also created the protective ramada for Casa Grande Ruins National Monument in Arizona.  This seven-acre site outside Boston, Massachusetts was authorized in 1979 to preserve his house and the Olmsted Archives for future researchers.

Highlights

Museum, film, office tour, Olmsted Archives

Must-Do Activity

In 1883, Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. moved to Brookline, Massachusetts to establish the world’s first landscape design office.  Self-guided exhibits and a short film inside his home (called Fairsted) are a good place to start before a ranger-guided tour of his office space full of historical artifacts and documents.  Occasionally, rangers lead tours of some of Olmsted’s parks in “The Emerald Necklace” of Boston.

Best Trail

There is a short path on the property and you can also walk to nearby Brookline Reservoir.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Relax on the veranda of Fairsted before or after your tour, which is especially nice when it is raining like during our visit.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/frla/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads are paved, but the parking lot is small and street parking in the surrounding neighborhood may be necessary.  It is a bit of a walk from the Brookline Hills Subway Station.

Camping

Wompatuck State Park south of Boston has the nearest large campground, but camping is also allowed in parts of Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.

Related Sites

Boston National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

Adams National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

Longfellow House – Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site (Massachusetts)

Explore More –Frederick Law Olmsted’s 1865 report was influential in the protection of which “crown jewel” of the National Park Service System?

Arches National Park

Overview

Arches National Park in Moab, Utah is home to 2,500 wind-carved holes in its famed orange sandstone, ranging in size from a minimum of three feet to 290-foot wide Landscape Arch (the fifth longest span in the world).  As opposed to natural bridges which are carved by flowing water, arches are primarily wind formed, although water and ice can contribute. 

Learn more in our guidebook to the National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Delicate Arch, Balanced Rock, Landscape Arch, Fiery Furnace, Devils Garden Trail

Must-Do Activity

We recommend you reserve a spot on a ranger led hike through the twisting labyrinth of Fiery Furnace (additional fee).  You can get a permit to go alone, but we are glad we had a guide or we might still be trying to find our way out.  The beautiful red rocks really show their color at sunrise and sunset, so find a nice place to watch the show when you come.  As depicted on the state license plate for Utah, Delicate Arch is a popular venue for sunsets.

Best Trail

When the crowds in the park overwhelm you, take the easy 8.3-mile drive down dirt Salt Valley Road to the trailhead for less visited Tower Arch.  Seeing Tower Arch is worth the strenuous 3.4-mile roundtrip hike, but it can be hard to photograph.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Double Arch is located near the North and South Windows and photographs well in the late afternoon.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/arch/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The main road that dead ends at Devils Garden is paved, but there are some dirt roads in the park that require four-wheel-drive, high-clearance vehicles.

Camping

Devils Garden Campground is a great place to spend the night, with easy trail access to Broken Arch and Sand Dune Arch.  The public land around Moab under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management is often overrun by dispersed campers.

Related Sites

Canyonlands National Park (Utah)

Natural Bridges National Monument (Utah)

Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)

This design we created to celebrate Joshua Tree National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – At 290 feet, Landscape Arch is the fifth longest span in the world; what country contains the four larger arches?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Top 10 Blog Posts from Our Third 100

To celebrate reaching the milestone of our 300th blog post, we are linking to our top 10 posts from 201-300 based on number of likes.  Click here to see our Top 10 from the first 100 and 200 (or click here if you want to see all of our Top 10 Lists).  Thank you to our readers for continuing to inspire us to visit new National Park Service (NPS) units and share the wonders with you all. 

Our first hardcopy guidebook to the National Parks was released in November 2019.  We are currently working on a guidebook for the 155 U.S. National Forests.

10. George Washington Carver National Monument (Missouri)

9. Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park (Texas)

8. Little River Canyon National Preserve (Alabama)

7. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

6. Joshua Tree National Park (California)

5. Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park (Georgia)

4. Wind Cave National Park (South Dakota)

3. Saguaro National Park (Arizona)

2. Chiricahua National Monument (Arizona)

…and finally the #1 most popular blog post from our third 100:

1. Canyonlands National Park (Utah)

Honorable Mention

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve (West Virginia, renamed December 27, 2020)

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.