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Traveler's Checklist For Arches

May without question is one of the best two or three months of the year to visit Arches. It's not too hot, the spring rebirth is evident in the vegetation, and the crowds haven't yet arrived. With that in mind, here's Traveler's checklist for a May visit to Arches.

* Park your car at the Courthouse Towers Viewpoint and walk the length of Park Avenue and then retrace your steps. Too often we're tempted to dart here and there with our cars and not get out and really experience what a park has to offer. The roundtrip is only 2 miles, and by retracing your steps you'll enjoy a different vantage point of the surrounding cliffs that some thought vaguely resembled New York City skyscrapers, hence the Park Avenue tag. Plus, if you tackle the hike this way, as opposed to parking at the Park Avenue Trailhead, you'll be going downhill back to your rig.

* Check out Balanced Rock. This can be your quick photo op stop. It's right on the main road, there's a small parking lot right across from the rock, and it really is amazing that it hasn't yet toppled.

* Definitely walk out to Landscape Arch, because it can't logically last much longer as thin as it's getting, (and as Wall Arch proved to us in 2008) and it'd be a shame not to see this 306-foot rock span. But after you take some photos, keep going, all the way out to Double O Arch, and then return via the Primitive Trail. Not only does this lead you past Private Arch, but you get to cross some rock fins and explore washes that are gaining color thanks to Harriman's Yucca, Skunkbush, Fendler's Spring Parsley, Dogbane, Common Rockcress, Musk Mustard and dozens and dozens of other wildflowers and shrubs that are flowering in May.

* Hike to Delicate Arch, but time it for the evening of May 9, when the moon will be full. Moonshine on the red-rock arch will be gorgeous.

* Join a ranger-led tour of the Fiery Furnace. This maze of rocks surrounds you with Arch's geology, and it's the only place to view Skull Arch.

* Don't miss the Windows Section, with North Wind, South Window, and Turret Arch. Not only do you pass the Parade of Elephants and Garden of Eden on the drive to the Windows, but there's a beautiful, and short (1-mile loop), hike that takes you away from the Windows into the high desert. You get to enjoy the blooming vegetation and have a different view of the Windows. After you've finished the loop, head back to Turret Arch and climb into it, both for the view and another photo op.

* A visit to Arches and Moab is not complete without breakfast at the Jailhouse Cafe. They only serve breakfast there, so you know it has to be good! (Try the ginger pancakes with apple butter.)

Arches National Park

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide