Tag Archives: arch

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)?

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.

Channel Islands National Park

Overview

Off the coast of Ventura, California a rugged archipelago is protected as Channel Islands National Park.  There is an airplane landing strip on Santa Rosa Island, but most visitors arrive to the five accessible islands by ferry.  Often referred to as the “Galapagos Islands of California,” the biodiverse kelp beds are popular with scuba divers and the sea caves attract kayakers.

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

Highlights

Anacapa Island, Inspiration Point, Arch Rock, wildlife

Must-Do Activity

Most visitors arrive by boat, with the majority taking a day trip to tiny Anacapa Island, which you can walk all the way around in about an hour.  The ferry ride is exciting in and of itself with gray whale watching, a close swing by Arch Rock, and an unforgettable landing at a dock where it is far too rough to tie up.  If you want the chance to see an amazing sunset and sunrise, you have to overnight on one of the five islands (see Camping below). 

Best Trail

On Anacapa Island, a 1.5-mile loop trail leads around the perimeter and accesses iconic Inspiration Point.  There are many miles of trails on Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Cruz Islands (and all have designated campsites).

Instagram-worthy Photo

From atop Anacapa Island’s steep cliffs, we watched swimming sea lions warm their flippers in the air and flying brown pelicans catch thermals below where we stood. 

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

There is no entry fee, but reservations are required for all overnight camping ($15 per night) and ferry prices vary by island.

Road Conditions

No roads

Camping

A few years ago, we stayed at the tiny backcountry campground (with no water available) on Anacapa Island in early April when the giant coreopsis flowers were completing their spectacular blooming period.  It was a noisy night since the island is a rookery for thousands of western gulls, plus the lighthouse’s foghorn rumbles out a warning four times per minute.

Related Sites

Point Reyes National Seashore (California)

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (California)

Cabrillo National Monument (California)

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

Explore More – The largest in the archipelago, Santa Cruz Island is 62,000 acres and 76% owned by which non-profit organization?

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.

Joshua Tree National Park

Overview

This National Park in southern California is named for a tall yucca plant that grows there in large numbers, but it also contains many other interesting desert life forms and neat rock formations.  In the less-developed southern portion of the park, be sure to stop at the palm trees at Cottonwood Spring, Cholla Cactus Garden, and Ocotillo Patch to learn more about how these unique plants have adapted to survive the harsh desert conditions. 

Learn more in our guidebook to the 62 National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Jumbo Rocks, Keys View, Arch Rock, Cottonwood Spring, rock climbing

Must-Do Activity

Due to its proximity to Los Angeles, the park gets very busy on Easter weekend (in addition to Thanksgiving weekend).  Campgrounds, like scenic Jumbo Rocks, fill up early.  Other than rock climbing opportunities, the biggest attraction is the myriad of colorful wildflowers that bloom in the spring (including the Joshua trees).

Best Trail

There are many fun hiking options located throughout the park (which are detailed in our guidebook).  At White Tank Campground you can pick up the Arch Rock Nature Trail, which forms a short loop that passes an interesting arch.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Chuckwallas are huge lizards that can grow up to 18 inches long and are related to iguanas.  Chuckwallas can inflate themselves as a defense mechanism so that predators cannot remove them from narrow cracks in the rock. 

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All major roads are paved, but there are many dirt roads to explore with the right vehicle.

Camping

There are numerous NPS campgrounds located throughout the park, and some take reservations.  The scenic Jumbo Rocks Campground is popular with rock climbers.

Related Sites

Death Valley National Park (California)

Mojave National Preserve (California)

Castle Mountains National Monument (California)

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

Explore More – How tall can Joshua trees grow?

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.