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've ever seen.
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Arches National Park is one of five in the state, and it's Utah's third-most visited park, according to KSL. Last year, more than 1.8 million people explored the 76,500-acre park, according to the National Park Service.
I visited the park for two days in mid-May, right before Memorial Day Weekend, which typically marks the start of the national parks' busy season. I hoped to avoid large crowds by arriving before the holiday.
But even then, I found it felt nearly impossible to avoid crowds.
For me, the crowding started at the entrance. This year, the park implemented a reservation system to mitigate traffic and crowding. In order to enter Arches between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m., visitors must have a timed-entry ticket. The 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 more than two dozen cars waiting to enter.
The following 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 crowds continued. Almost every parking lot I spotted was full.
And once I finally secured a parking spot, I thought the entrances to hikes and viewpoints were similarly packed.
On every walk and hike, there were almost always people both ahead of and behind me.
And once I reached my destination, such as a hike summit or major viewpoint, crowds were a guarantee.
The crowds also made it a challenge to snap people-less photographs.
But I couldn't blame other visitors — I also wanted photographs in front of the stunning arches.
To get a great shot, I had to wait my turn. For some of the park's more popular arches, like Delicate Arch for instance, lines formed and I waited for about 10 minutes with others who were eager to pose underneath the arch.
After two days inside Arches, I understood why so many people visit each year. I've never seen more impressive terrain, and it felt impossible to comprehend that I was exploring an environment that is 100 million years in the making.
While I could hardly avoid people either day I visited Arches, I hunted down a few moments of solitude by picking smart times to explore the park.
On Monday night, once the sun set, I stayed to stargaze in one of the few remaining dark skies in the contiguous US. As the Little Dipper and Orion's Belt appeared, I noticed that the bulk of the crowds disappeared.
Source: National Park Service
It was these moments that left a lasting impression. And as I drove out of the park and down the winding road between canyons and spires, I was already planning my next trip back.
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