Guide to Visting Arches National Park
Learn how to do Arches National Park by experience level, or how much time you have.
Alright folks, do you want the good news or the bad news? The good news is that Arches National Park is the number one place to see naturally formed sandstone arches in the world. They’re not trying to brag, but more than 2,000 arches have been discovered within the park boundaries. Two. Thousand. And it only took 300 million years of geologic bumpin’ and grindin’ to form those gorgeous, gravity-defying spans.
But alas, all good things must come to an end. We’re heartbroken to announce that Arches is eroding. Every second, tiny grains of sand are plucked off the Entrada sandstone by wind and rain. Slowly but surely the arches will crumble. And who wants to hike for miles to see rubble? Nobody, that’s who. Go see the arches while you still can. You’ve only got between zero and 300 million years. Fly you fools!
Okay, now gird up your loins for the actual bad news: Major road construction throughout the park began March 1 and will continue until November 30. Devils Garden Campground will be closed (youch!) as will some roads and trails. Call the park and plan ahead.
That said, Arches (and surrounding area) has so much to do you still won’t be bored if a couple of your favorite hikes are closed.
Asides aside, let’s get down to what matters: the hikes.
What Kind of Traveler Are You?
Toddlers in tow, recent hip replacement, only plan on bringing flip flops.
Here are a few hikes for the “Novice Nancy’s” out there:
Balanced Rock: Quick walk around a precarious example of Arches’ weathering patterns. Don’t sneeze. 0.3 miles roundtrip.
Landscape Arch: Stroll on the maintained trail to the longest arch on the continent. 1.6 miles roundtrip.
Sand Dune Arch and Broken Arch: Great for kids! And for getting sand in your underwear! 0.3 miles roundtrip.
Windows Trail: There’re enough arches on this trail to satisfy even the pickiest arch aficionado. 1.0 miles roundtrip.
You’ve convinced yourself you like camping, you’ll do what it takes to get a selfie, your kids are grown and susceptible to bribes.
If you’re more like an “Average Joe”, here are some hiking trails for you:
Park Avenue Trail: One-stop shopping for sandstone monoliths. 2.0 miles roundtrip.
Delicate Arch: Sunset gets crowded; rouse yourself early for a quietly magical sunrise. 3.2 miles roundtrip.
Dark Angel: Standing as a sentinel over the arches and looming over Devil’s Garden. Scared yet? 4.9 miles roundtrip.
Tower Arch: Large and secluded, and the furthest you can go in the park. Bring water. 5.2 miles roundtrip.
Your hiking boots cost more than your rent, Michelangelo could have modeled David’s calves after yours, you have outdoor gear we’ve never heard of.
So you think you’re a “Savvy Sam” when it comes to hiking. Try these trails out for size, my friend:
Primitive Trail at Devil’s Garden: The devil went down to Arches. He was looking for smaller crowds. 6.8 miles.
Upper Courthouse Wash: wander into a wide, meandering canyon constructed of sandstone, arches, and green riparian habitat (in layman’s terms, the interface between land and a river or stream). Bonus: no crowds. 12 miles roundtrip.
Fiery Furnace: You wont find David Bowie at the center of this labyrinth, but you will find adventure. Length = depends on how lost you get.
Check out more Arches hiking trails here.
How much time do you have?
If you have HALF A DAY…
A half-day in Arches is better than nothing. It's better than getting pinned in a canyon by a boulder and cutting off your own arm to survive, right? Yes. Yes it is. But still, just like Aron Ralston in 127 Hours (which took place in Bluejohn Canyon just around the way), you need to face the fact that you don't have much time. Picking one (or two) of these hikes will be hard, but not as hard as, you know, other things. Like that boulder that fell on him, for instance.
Delicate Arch. How do I put this delicately? HIKE DELICATE ARCH. It's easy-to-moderate, well trodden, a bit scrambly and quite exposed in places. And you just can't skip it. When you see the distant blue La Sal mountains peeping through the red arch, you’ll know you did the right thing.
Park Avenue. Park Avenue is the perfect hike for when you really want to feel small and irrelevant. And when you've been in the car too long. Get out, stretch those legs on this short slick-rock walk through the monoliths.
Windows. I know earlier I said HIKE DELICATE ARCH in capital letters like I was yelling. I’m sorry about that. Because now I say HIKE THE WINDOWS SECTION. It's like somebody loaded a sawed-off confetti cannon with arches, fired, and then reloaded it with leisurely trails. See the Spectacles, Turret Arch, Double Arch, a Parade of Elephants and more in just a mile or two of easy hiking.
If you have A FULL DAY…
Good for you! A solid day to take it all in. Do your half-day thing(s) and then see…
Devils Garden. For all his other faults, the devil is really not a bad horticulturist. The excellently named Devils Garden is the section of the park where you’ll find Tunnel Arch, Pine Tree Arch, Landscape Arch, Partition Arch, Navajo Arch, Double O Arch (not to be confused with Double Arch, above), Dark Angel, Private Arch and Fin Canyon. The trail is well maintained until Landscape Arch and there’s even a shady sand dune for kids to get their sand fix. From there you’re on the primitive trail. Scooch, slide and clamber up to Double O Arch and continue on to its (their?) arch nemesis, the Dark Angel monolith. (See what I did there?) Stay on the trail, please, unless you want the blood of a billion crytobiotic organisms on your hands… err… feet.
If you have THREE DAYS…
You lucky dog! I mean three days is only the teeniest tiniest blip in the geologic timescale, but plenty of time to do some hiking while you ponder your place in the universe. You’ll be able to do all the above, plus...
Fiery Furnace. What’s with all these ominous names? It's almost like this landscape, the color of hellfire, is inhospitable to humans… Well anyway, maybe you've got a bit of arch fatigue and you’re craving a good old fashioned labyrinth. Fiery Furnace is a stunning cluster of sandstone fins that form a maze of slot canyons. As in you could get lost. Forever. Did I mention there’s no trail? And your phone and GPS won’t work? That’s why you have to go with a ranger or register at the visitor center. If you go on your own, the park and your posterity oblige you to find your way out by sundown.
Hidden Gems: Corona Arch & Fisher Towers
From Moab, just follow the Colorado River east or west and you’ll discover treasures untold, without even setting foot in the park! To the west, on the very scenic Potash Road, is the short yet adventurous trail to Corona Arch. Take only your sure-footedest children to scramble with you to the arch. Leave the rest behind to poke anthills with sticks. They’ll be fine.
And/Or, if you feel like going the other direction, take the very scenic Hwy 128 (seriously, when I say scenic I mean drop-kick your cell phone into a rattlesnake den and enjoy the moment) 16 miles east to Fisher Towers. “Did the goddess of sandcastles hand-drip iron-rich mud from her clenched fist to form these divine monoliths?” you’ll wonder aloud. The 3.9-mile out-and-back trail to these brick-red, mud-slathered Moenkopi formations is rated moderate. The towers are at their flashiest during sunrise and sunset, and the trail’s pretty exposed, so those also happen to be the best times for hiking in a little shade. Keep an eye out for climbers!
Map & Directions to Arches National ParkDirections
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