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Arches National Park is Utah’s third most popular park, with over 1.5 million visitors each year.
I visited in May and experienced long waits for photos, massive crowds and packed parking lots.
But even with the hordes of people, the park was one of the most impressive places I have ever seen.
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Arches National Park is one of five parks in the state, and it’s the third most visited park in Utah, according to KSL. Last year, more than 1.8 million people explored the 76,500-acre park, according to the National Park Service.
Source: KSL, National Park Service
I visited the park for two days in mid-May, just before Memorial Day weekend, which usually marks the start of peak season for national parks. I was hoping to avoid the large crowds by arriving before the holidays.
But even then I found it almost impossible to avoid the crowds.
For me, the crowd started at the entrance. This year, the park implemented a reservation system to alleviate traffic and crowding. To enter Les Arches between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m., visitors must have a time-stamped entry ticket. Reservations open three months in advance and cost $2.
With my reservation in hand, I hoped to enter the park without a long line of cars. But I arrived on a Monday evening to find over two dozen cars waiting to enter.
The next day when I visited again and left around lunchtime, the line was even longer, with cars stretching to the nearby highway.
Inside Arches National Park, the crowd continued. Almost all parking lots I spotted were full.
And once I finally got a parking spot, I thought the entrances to the hikes and viewpoints were also crowded.
On every walk and hike, there were almost always people ahead and behind me.
And once I reached my destination, like a hiking peak or a major viewpoint, crowds were a guarantee.
The crowds also made it difficult to take photos without people.
But I couldn’t blame the other visitors – I also wanted photos in front of the stunning arches.
To get a good photo, I had to wait my turn. For some of the more popular arches in the park, like Delicate Arch for example, lines formed and I waited about 10 minutes with others who were eager to pose under the arch.
After two days at Arches I understood why so many people visit every year. I have never seen more impressive terrain, and it was impossible for me to understand that I was exploring an environment that had been built 100 million years ago.
While I could barely avoid people the two days I visited Arches, I chased away a few moments of solitude by choosing smart times to explore the park.
Monday night, after the sun went down, I stayed to stargaze in one of the few remaining dark skies in the contiguous United States. When the Little Dipper and Orion’s Belt appeared, I noticed that most of the crowd had disappeared.
Source: National Park Service
These are the moments that left a lasting impression. And as I exited the park and descended the winding road between canyons and spiers, I was already planning my next return trip.
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