Tag Archives: National Park

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

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?

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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)

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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.

Wind Cave National Park

Overview

The seventh-longest mapped cave in the world, Wind Cave was discovered in 1881 by Black Hills settlers who noticed a whistling sound coming from its narrow natural entrance.  It was named a national park in 1903 and is famous for its boxwork calcite formations.  The National Park has a herd of approximately 400 bison, in addition to pronghorns, prairie dogs, turkeys, coyotes, white-tailed deer, and elk.

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

Highlights

Museum, cave tours, Rankin Ridge lookout tower, Highland Creek Trail, wildlife

Must-Do Activity

The interior of Wind Cave is a constant 53°F, so bring a jacket if you sign up for one of several tours.  For first-timers we recommend the Natural Entrance Tour, which involves entering a vapor lock revolving door and stair steps, not squeezing through the actual tiny natural entrance.  On the Candlelight Tour you carry lightweight metal candle-lanterns, just like 19th-century tourists.  It is only offered in the summer and explores an unlit section of the cave, but no cameras are allowed due to the open flames. 

Best Trail

There are several good trails that traverse the prairie and canyons that can be connected in a variety of loops.  We enjoy backpacking (free permit required) on Highland Creek Trail, where we always see bison.

Instagram-worthy Photo

We have always loved the view of this bridge on Highway 87 over Beaver Creek.  There is also a wooden trestle “Pigtail Bridge” further down the road.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None for entry, but $12 per person for each cave tour ($30 for Wild Cave)

Road Conditions

The main roads are paved, but bison are most commonly spotted along Road 5, a graded dirt road through the scenic eastern section of the park bordering Custer State Park (admission fee).

Camping

The NPS runs Elk Mountain Campground or you can backpack camp with a free permit from the visitor center.  The surrounding Black Hills National Forest offers campgrounds and dispersed camping.

Related Sites

Jewel Cave National Monument (South Dakota)

Mount Rushmore National Memorial (South Dakota)

Badlands National Park (South Dakota)

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

Explore More – Wind Cave contains what percentage of the boxwork calcite formations discovered in the entire world?

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.