Arches National Park rises out of the vast Utah desert almost without warning.
Comprising 120 square miles of red sandstone cliffs, spires and canyons, the park feels like the ruins of an ancient city. Its sculpture-like formations and dramatic rock spans evoke cathedrals. It's not hard to see why Edward Abbey was inspired to write his book Desert Solitaire after working as a park ranger here. Though the area is no longer as isolated as it once was, it still has the capacity to inspire wonder.
The park's claim to fame is its more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches. Short hikes take you to highlights such as the Delicate Arch and the Windows. Longer treks allow you to explore Devils Garden, Park Avenue and the Double “O” Arch.
The Fiery Furnace — a labyrinth of narrow walkways through sandstone canyons — is another dramatic feature. To hike this area, you must make a reservation for a ranger-led tour ($10 for adults/$5 for children) or obtain a special permit.
Arches National Park is 11 hours from San Diego via I-15 and I-70. Several airlines serve Grand Junction, Colo., about 2 hours from the park.
There is one park campground ($20/night, reservations accepted). Accommodations in Moab, about 5 miles south of the park entrance, range from bed & breakfasts to chain motels.