We humans sometimes seem to think we’ve got it all sown up as the premiere architects on this planet, but Nature is actually well ahead when it comes to constructing wonders of design emerging from the landscape. Take the arch, for example. While it was only a few millennia ago that humankind began to build these impressive structures, Mother Earth has been moulding them for millions of years.
1 Berry Head Arch, Canada
This magnificent sea arch is located on the Spurwink Trail, along the East Coast Trail. To get to the arch, find the East Coast Trail trailhead at Port Kirwan. From here, it is about a 4.75-mile one way hike to the arch. The hike is moderate but extreme caution is required at points where the trail skirts the edge of some rather high cliffs.
2 Delicate Arch, Utah, USA
The most widely-recognized landmark in Arches National Park, Delicate Arch is depicted on Utah’s license plates and is something of an international icon too. Known to early cowboys as ‘the Schoolmarm’s Bloomers’ due to its distinctive shape, the 52 feet tall freestanding arch was the site of controversy in 2006 when climber Dean Potter made the first recorded free solo ascent of the formation – an event the led to the banning of climbs on any named arch within the park year-round.
The longest of the numerous natural arches in Utah’s Arches National Park – indeed the longest true arch on earth – Landscape Arch is a phenomenal 290 feet in length. Just as phenomenal is the fact that at its thinnest point this slender arc of rock is only 6 feet thick. Since 1991, three large slabs of sandstone measuring 30, 47 and 70 feet long have fallen from Landscape Arch’s narrowest section, prompting the Park Service to close the trail that led beneath it. It could collapse at any time.
4 Durdle Door, United Kingdom
5 Moon Hill, China
This stunning natural arch just outside Yangshuo in southern China's Guangxi region gives the impression of a moon rising from the landscape. The hole is all that remains of a limestone cave. The arch is an impressive 165 feet in height.
6 Rainbow Bridge, United States
Rainbow Bridge in Utah is often described as one of the world's largest known natural bridges. It's difficult to imagine just how impressive this structure is without standing beneath it. More than 290 feet tall and nearly 275 feet across, this sandstone arch straddles a feeder canyon to the mighty Colorado River, improbably unbroken through time.
7 Pont d'Arc, France
Carved out by the Ardeche River, Pont d'Arc is a popular kayaking spot, and you can see why. This natural bridge is almost 200 feet wide and 175 feet high.
8 The Azure Window, Malta
This limestone sea arch on the Maltese island of Gozo was a popular spot for scuba divers, not to mention movies and TV shows. The Azure Window was featured in the original "Clash of the Titans" and the HBO TV series "Game of Thrones." Like all natural arches, however, the Azure Window had a lifespan, and it collapsed in March 2017. We're not sure how old the arch was, but some estimates put it at a mere 140 years old.
9 Immortal Bridge, China
This precarious rock bridge found on Mount Tai, a tilted fault-block mountain, is counterintuitively called the Immortal Bridge, though you probably wouldn't want to test your own mortality by crossing it.
10 Green Bridge of Wales, United Kingdom
This impressive natural sea arch is found in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park in Wales. It gets it name from the vegetation that grows along its top. Today, it is one of the more famous landmarks in Wales, but like all arches it will one day collapse into the sea, something sped up by Hurricane Ophelia in October 2017. The storm damaged the arch, destroying some of its archway.
11 Arco Naturale, Italy
Found on the east coast of the island of Capri, this natural arch offers a spectacular window to the sea. Dating from the Paleolithic age, it is the remains of a collapsed grotto.
12 Aloba Arch, Chad
With a height of 394 feet, Aloba Arch in Chad is the second tallest natural arch on earth, and at about 250 feet in length it is also one of the world’s longest. Yet despite its size, this magnificent landform is seldom seen due to its remote location. Aloba Arch appears to have been shaped in two stages, its upper half a buttress-type natural arch formed at the end of a slab of sandstone while its lower section is a softer sandstone layer that was subsequently eroded by a stream.
13 Double Arch, Utah, USA
Another of Utah’s finest, Double Arch is a famous close-set pair of natural arches, and despite the competition is one of the more impressive sights in Arches National Park. This spot hit the big screen when it was used as a backdrop for the opening scene of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, in which the arches are briefly glimpsed. They were formed differently than most of the arches in the Park, the result of water erosion from above rather than the more typical erosion form the side.
14 Steven’s Arch, Utah, USA
A spectacular shelter arch found it Utah’s Escalente Canyon, at its junction with Stevens Canyon, Steven’s Arch is another giant on the world stage of arches, with a span believed to measure 220 feet. Forbidding at first glance, Steven’s Arch gives the illusion that there is no way to make the climb up to it, though in actual fact the hike is neither difficult not hair-raising – just downright breathtaking. Over the Escalente River, Steven’s Arch looms like a cryptic sign from Nature.
15 Sipapu Natural Bridge, Utah, USA
Not technically speaking a natural arch but a colossal natural bridge, Sipapu Bridge nevertheless makes the cut here as it does a good enough impersonation of an arch. This beautiful structure boasts a span of 225 feet, making it the second longest natural bridge after the more renowned Rainbow Bridge. Sipapu is also now the longest natural arch in the world with an active trail beneath it that visitors may pass through, affording spectacular views of its underbelly.
16 Shipton’s Arch, China
Shipton’s Arch, aka Tushuk Tash, meaning Hole in Heaven, is the tallest natural arch on earth. Located northwest of Kashgar, in China’s Xinjiang Province, this soaring structure, while familiar to locals, was not known to the West until its discovery in 1947 by English mountaineer Eric Shipton. The span of the arch is around 212 feet, but seen from the floor of the west side canyon, its height is estimated at a jaw-dropping 1,200 feet – about the height of the Empire State Building.
17 Kolob Arch, Utah, USA
Located in Utah’s Zion National Park, Kolob Arch is considered the second longest natural arch in the world, its span having been measured at 287 feet – just three shy of the span of the more famous Landscape Arch, of which more later. Set just 44 feet from the cliff side it frames, this imposing landmark is reachable by various hiking trails, though trekking in the summer is discouraged, as it can get hot as hickory throughout the Colorado Plateau region.
18 Grosvenor Arch, Utah, USA
Found in southern Utah, Grosvenor Arch is a unique sandstone double arch that while not the biggest in this list is still hugely striking in appearance. Teetering atop stony stilts, this splendid natural formation is accessible by road, though unlike some such landforms offers no natural passageway below that visitors can walk through. As a natural arch, Grosvenor is a product of erosion, the elements having found weaknesses in the softer rock of a cliff and gradually worn them away.