Saturday, June 13, 2020

Corona Arch

Corona Arch
3 miles round trip, 350 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy-moderate, some ladders and cables
Access: Paved road to trailhead, no parking fee

One of the most impressive arches near Moab, Utah is outside Arches National Park or any Utah national park, for that matter; Corona Arch is a 140 foot by 105 foot opening spanned by a muscular limb of sandstone near the Colorado River. Although popular, this arch on Bureau of Land Management land receives far less attention than its counterparts in Arches National Park despite being equally spectacular. The hike to this arch doesn't require too much elevation gain but but does offer some minor obstacles, with a ladder and a short cable necessary to maneuver through the slickrock terrain of the canyonlands. This is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the Moab area and an excellent hike for visitors who don't mind the terrain. 

I hiked to Corona Arch during a Moab road trip with my mother. From Moab, we took US Route 191 north across the Colorado River and immediately made a left turn onto Potash Road (Route 279). We then followed Potash Road 10 miles along the Colorado River until we reached the Corona Arch Trailhead on the right side of the road. Along the way, we passed by multiple sets of Native American petroglyphs carved into cliffs rising above the road.

Petroglyphs off of Potash Road

From the trailhead, we headed up the steep path leading up from the entrance of the parking area. The trail made a quick and brief uphill and then flattened out and began heading north, crossing the railroad to the potash mines. The openness of the terrain meant that the views started from the very beginning of the hike: we enjoyed seeing the sunrise light paint the sandstone domes across the Colorado River.

Domes above the Colorado River at the Corona Arch trailhead
After crossing the railroad tracks, the trail stayed flat for a while, hugging the cliffs on the east (right) bank of the Colorado River. Rounded sandstone domes made this part of the Colorado River canyonlands very scenic. The trail then turned east (to the right) as it continued contouring on the cliff until it entered a gully; we then followed the trail through a short ascent as it climbed through the gully and came out on top of a slickrock bench at about 0.4 miles into the hike.

Sandstone domes along the trail
The trail was easy, flat hiking on slickrock up to about the one mile mark. Here, the trail traversed some angled slickrock at the base of a sandstone cliff; while the angle of the trail is not too steep there were some chains to hold onto for security.

Cables across the slickrock
Wrapping around into a new stretch of the canyon, Corona Arch and Bow Tie Arch came into view ahead. Corona Arch was a robust sandstone bridge with a perfect, rainbow-like form while Bow Tie Arch was simply an overhanging span over a deep recess in the cliff.

The next stretch of trail had a few bells and whistles as it headed uphill over slickrock. A ladder assisted one ascent while another climb over a steeper stretch of slickrock was aided with hand cables and small steps carved into the rock. There can be a bit of traffic at these two chokepoints; these obstacles may make this hike less suitable for children or for less agile hikers. My mom was able to handle both stretches, though she found both to be a bit challenging.

Ladder with Bowtie Arch and Corona Arch in the distance
Cables over slickrock
The trail hugged the rocky bench in between cliff layers on the canyon as it followed the canyon walls first to Bow Tie Arch and then to Corona Arch. Bow Tie Arch's opening is only apparent when we approached the base of the arch; from most angles it just looked like a deep alcove.

Bowtie Arch
The final stretch to Corona Arch was over slickrock, with angled surfaces and uneven footing at times. There was no defined path but the destination was clear. We arrived early enough in the morning that there was just one other hiker at the arch; this is quite a popular destination so expect company if you hike at midday on a weekend. Corona Arch is an immense and beautiful rock arch, easily as memorable as the more famous Landscape and Delicate Arches in nearby Arches National Park. Anchored on a sandstone cliff at one end, the rock span arcs down gracefully but with a muscular form. Many visitors have noted a resemblance between this arch and Rainbow Bridge in Glen Canyon, giving this arch the nickname "Little Rainbrow Bridge." In these Covid times, this might be the preferred name considering the arch's now-unfortunate given name.

Corona Arch
The arch was once the site of a rope swing that some claimed was the world's largest; daredevils visiting the arch would secure the rope swing to the arch itself and swing across the slickrock. Corona Arch went viral went a YouTube video of the rope swing went up. A death on the swing in 2013 led the Bureau of Land Management to ban the activity. For me, the adrenaline of seeing such a beautiful arch was enough.

Corona Arch
There's not too much elevation gain on this hike, but the ladders and cables and the uneven terrain may make this a slightly challenging hike for some. The rewards of hiking to Corona Arch are ample, though, and anyone who has more than two days in the Moab area should make time for this arch after visiting the national parks.

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