In eastern Utah, just north of Moab, lies a captivating landscape like no other. Arches National Park, bordered by the meandering Colorado River to the southeast of the park, is a testament to the unparalleled beauty that nature can sculpt over millions of years. This extraordinary park is famed for its collection of over 2,000 natural sandstone arches, each one a masterpiece of geological artistry. Arches National Park offers a variety of rock formations that will leave you in awe. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take you on a journey through this geological wonderland, showcasing the best things to see and do in Arches National Park.
From scenic drives to awe-inspiring hikes, from iconic landmarks to hidden gems, we’ll help you make the most of your visit to this remarkable national park.
Arches is more than just a gallery of natural arches; it’s a realm of soaring pinnacles, massive rock fins, and colossal balanced rocks. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker, a photography enthusiast, or simply a nature lover seeking to be immersed in the red desert landscape, Arches National Park has something to offer you.
Arches National Park Essentials
Before we delve into the myriad of adventures awaiting you in Arches National Park, it’s crucial to have some essential information at your fingertips. If you’re a first-time visitor, knowing the ins and outs of the park can enhance your experience. Here are some key details to keep in mind:
Timed Entry Permits
Arches National Park is a popular destination, especially from April to October. To manage the influx of visitors and protect the park’s fragile ecosystem, the National Park Service requires timed entry permits during this peak season (April to October). These permits are released three months in advance of your planned visit, so be sure to secure yours well ahead of time. Planning and flexibility are key when it comes to securing your spot in this natural wonderland.
Arches Scenic Drive
The main artery through Arches National Park is the Arches Scenic Drive, an 18-mile-long road that takes you from Highway 191 to the Devils Garden Trailhead. This well-paved and meticulously maintained road provides access to many of the park’s iconic sights and hiking trails. As you traverse this route, you’ll encounter numerous lookout points, each offering a unique perspective of the park’s mesmerizing scenery. Most of the attractions we’ll explore later in this guide can be reached via the Scenic Drive or its adjoining side roads.
Now that you’re equipped with some essential knowledge, let’s set out to explore the incredible attractions that await you in Arches National Park. From scenic viewpoints to awe-inspiring arches and hiking trails, there’s an adventure here for every type of explorer.
Unveiling the Natural Wonders of Arches National Park
Arches National Park is a treasure trove of geological marvels, where each turn in the trail reveals a new and breathtaking wonder. In this section, we’ll take you on a virtual tour of some of the park’s most iconic and awe-inspiring attractions.
Park Avenue Viewpoint
Our journey begins with the Park Avenue Viewpoint, often hailed as one of the most scenic and picturesque spots in the entire park. While you won’t find any natural arches here, the towering rock formations and sweeping vistas more than compensate for their absence. Depending on the time of day and season, the lighting and shadows create a dynamic and ever-changing landscape.
For those seeking a bit of adventure, a hike from Park Avenue to the Courthouse Towers is a fantastic option. This relatively easy trek offers the chance to immerse yourself in the striking scenery. If you opt for a one-way hike, someone can drive to pick you up at Courthouse Towers, making it a convenient two-mile round trip. Regardless of your choice, be prepared to be captivated by the unique geological formations that define this area.
Prepare to be amazed by one of the most unique and impressive sights you’ll encounter in the park: Double Arch. What sets this twin-arch formation apart is its accessibility. You’ll find it a mere 0.3 miles from the parking lot, making it an ideal stop for visitors of all ages and fitness levels. Double Arch’s grandeur is such that it can even be appreciated from the road.
Spend around 20 minutes here, soaking in the sheer magnitude of these natural wonders. The play of light and shadow against the red rock is a photographer’s dream.
As you continue your journey through the park, you’ll come across Balanced Rock, an iconic formation that appears to defy the laws of physics. This colossal boulder perches precariously atop a slender pedestal, creating a mesmerizing spectacle. You can opt to simply admire it from the road, or if time allows, take a moment to explore the area on foot. Most visitors spend around 10 minutes at this intriguing stop.
Windows & Turret Arch
Prepare to be spoiled for choice as you explore the Windows section of the park. Here, you’ll find a high concentration of arches, offering the opportunity to visit several in a relatively short span of time. A well-marked trail leads you to North Window arch, South Window arch, and circles back to the parking area, passing by Turret Arch along the way. The entire loop is approximately one mile long, making it accessible for most visitors.
Expect to dedicate about 30-40 minutes to this area, as each arch presents a unique photographic opportunity and perspective on the surrounding landscape.
Encountering the Iconic Delicate Arch
When it comes to Arches National Park, there’s one arch that stands above all others in terms of fame and iconic status: Delicate Arch. This majestic natural wonder has captivated the hearts and lenses of countless visitors from around the world. Here, we’ll delve into the various ways you can experience the grandeur of Delicate Arch.
Upper and Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoints
For those seeking a more accessible encounter with Delicate Arch, you’re in luck. The park provides Upper and Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoints accessible by car. The Upper viewpoint offers a slightly better vantage point, though the arch remains in the distance. Nonetheless, the scenery is breathtaking, making this an excellent alternative for those who prefer not to hike to the arch.
The Lower viewpoint, while farther away, still provides a remarkable view of the arch. Both viewpoints are easily accessible, ensuring that visitors of all fitness levels can partake in the awe-inspiring beauty of Delicate Arch.
Hiking to Delicate Arch
For those yearning for a closer and more intimate experience with Delicate Arch, hiking is the way to go. The hike to Delicate Arch is a quintessential Arches National Park experience and is the very definition of a bucket-list adventure.
The trail is approximately 3 miles round trip and is generally considered easy to moderate. However, there is a brief section with a drop-off that may be intimidating for some. Rest assured, though, that it is generally safe as long as you proceed with caution.
As you follow the trail, you’ll likely encounter fellow hikers and photographers eager to witness the iconic arch up close. There can be large crowds of people there, some resting, having lunch, and there is often a line to take pictures in front of it. Be prepared for breathtaking views, especially as you near your destination.
Plan to spend around 2 hours on the hike, allowing ample time to savor the moments and create lasting memories in the shadow of Delicate Arch.
While there are no arches in this particular spot of the park, Fiery Furnace is a fascinating section known for its captivating red glow during sunset. To explore Fiery Furnace, you have several options. You can admire it from a viewpoint, obtain a permit for backcountry hiking, or participate in a two-mile guided hike led by a park ranger (reservation required).
For many visitors, the viewpoint offers the easiest and most accessible way to experience the unique ambiance of Fiery Furnace.
Exploring Devils Garden and the Spectacular Landscape Arch
As you continue your journey through Arches National Park, you’ll find yourself at Devils Garden, a captivating area brimming with natural wonders. This is where you’ll encounter one of the park’s most spectacular sights: Landscape Arch. Let’s delve into what Devils Garden has to offer.
Devils Garden Trailhead
Devils Garden serves as the trailhead for various hikes within the park, making it a hub of outdoor exploration. Be aware that parking in this area can fill up quickly, so it’s advisable to arrive early in the day or later in the afternoon to secure a spot.
Landscape Arch Hike
One of the highlights of Devils Garden is the hike to Landscape Arch, the longest natural arch in the world. This easy segment of the Devils Garden trail spans approximately 1.9 miles round trip and offers a relatively flat and well-maintained path. While there’s no significant elevation gain, you will encounter some moderate hills along the way.
The trail meanders through towering fins, leading you to a breathtaking viewpoint of Landscape Arch. This striking arch stretches gracefully across the landscape, defying gravity with its delicate appearance. Along your journey, you’ll also have the opportunity to explore other intriguing formations, such as Pine Tree Arch and Tunnel Arch.
Plan to dedicate approximately 1-2 hours for the round-trip hike to Landscape Arch, allowing for plenty of time to marvel at the natural beauty and take in the stunning vistas.
Double O Arch (Optional)
For those seeking a more challenging adventure, consider continuing your hike from Landscape Arch to Double O Arch. This extension adds approximately 4 miles to your journey, making it a round-trip of about 4 miles.
The path becomes more rugged and demanding as you progress, so ensure you’re adequately prepared with water, sturdy footwear, and a sense of adventure. The rewards, however, are worth the effort, as Double O Arch is a sight to behold and offers a unique perspective of the park.
Diverse Activities in Arches National Park
Beyond the mesmerizing arches and hiking trails, Arches National Park offers a wide range of activities to suit every interest and adventure level. Whether you’re a photographer, a stargazer, or simply seeking to explore the park’s diverse offerings, there’s something here for everyone.
For most visitors, the 18-mile scenic road through Arches National Park is the primary means of exploration. This leisurely drive provides access to many of the park’s iconic sights and viewpoints, making it an excellent option for those who prefer a relaxed experience or have limited time.
For more adventurous souls, Arches offers designated backpacking sites and zones where you can immerse yourself in the park’s wilderness. Overnight backpacking allows you to experience the park in a unique and intimate way, far from the hustle and bustle of the daytime crowds.
While mountain biking is not permitted within the park, there are abundant mountain bike trails available just outside of Arches. If you’re an avid cyclist, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to explore the surrounding areas on two wheels.
For those who wish to spend a night under the starry desert sky, the campground at Devils Garden offers phenomenal views and a chance to truly connect with the park’s natural beauty. Be sure to check availability and make reservations well in advance, especially during peak season.
Canyoneering enthusiasts will find plenty to explore in and around Arches National Park. However, it’s essential to be aware of the permits and requirements for canyoneering activities to ensure safety and compliance with park regulations.
If you prefer to leave the driving and guiding to the experts, consider joining a commercial tour. Knowledgeable guides can provide you with in-depth insights into the park’s history, geology, and ecology while you sit back and soak in the scenery.
Trails in Arches National Park range from short, 15-minute walks to more challenging hikes lasting 4-5 hours. There’s a trail for every skill level and interest, whether you’re seeking a casual stroll or a more strenuous adventure.
For a unique perspective of the park’s landscape, consider exploring it on horseback. Guided horseback tours are available and offer a different way to experience the beauty of Arches.
Arches National Park is a photographer’s paradise, with ever-changing lighting and angles that create stunning compositions. Whether you’re a professional or an amateur with a smartphone, be sure to capture the park’s mesmerizing beauty.
During the spring through fall months, the park offers ranger-led programs that provide valuable insights into the park’s natural and cultural history. These programs can enhance your visit by deepening your understanding of the area.
For experienced climbers, Arches offers climbing routes within the park. It’s essential to be aware of regulations and guidelines to ensure safety and minimize impact on the delicate environment.
Arches National Park is a designated International Dark Sky Park, making it an ideal location for stargazing. After the sun sets, the park transforms into a celestial wonderland. Be sure to stay after dark to experience the magic of the night sky.
Practical Tips for Your Arches National Park Adventure
Before you embark on your journey to Arches National Park, it’s essential to be well-prepared to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit. Here are some practical tips and guidelines to keep in mind:
1. Park Hours and Entrance Fees
- Arches National Park is typically open year-round, but hours may vary by season. Check the official park website for the latest information on operating hours.
- Entrance fees are required to access the park. These fees help support park maintenance and conservation efforts. Be prepared to pay the entrance fee upon arrival.
2. Timed Entry Permits (April to October)
- To visit Arches National Park between April and October, you must obtain a timed entry permit. These permits are released three months in advance of your visit. Plan accordingly and secure your permit in advance to avoid disappointment.
3. Weather Considerations
- Arches National Park experiences a desert climate with hot summers and cold winters. Be prepared for extreme temperature fluctuations and bring appropriate clothing for the season of your visit.
- Check the weather forecast before your trip, especially if you plan to hike or spend extended time outdoors.
4. Leave No Trace Principles
- Help preserve the natural beauty of the park by following Leave No Trace principles. This includes packing out all trash, staying on designated trails, and respecting wildlife and vegetation.
5. Essential Packing List
- Depending on the time of year and your planned activities, consider packing essentials such as sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, plenty of water, sturdy hiking shoes, a backpack, snacks, a map or GPS device, and a first aid kit.
6. Visitor Center Information
- Stop by the Arches National Park Visitor Center upon arrival to gather maps, brochures, and additional information. Rangers can provide valuable insights and help you plan your visit.
7. Wildlife Viewing
- Arches National Park is home to a variety of wildlife, including desert bighorn sheep, coyotes, and numerous bird species. Keep a respectful distance when observing wildlife and never feed them.
8. Respect the Natural Environment
- Stay on designated trails to protect fragile desert ecosystems. Do not disturb cryptobiotic soil, which is vital to the desert environment’s health.
- Avoid touching petroglyphs or climbing on rock formations to prevent damage to the delicate sandstone.
9. Hiking Safety
- If you plan to hike, inform someone of your itinerary and expected return time.
- Be mindful of your own abilities and limitations when selecting hiking trails.
- Carry a map, stay hydrated, and know your route before heading out.
10. Safety During Extreme Weather
- Be cautious during thunderstorms, as lightning can pose a significant risk in the park. Seek shelter in your vehicle or a safe location if a storm approaches.
Conclusion: Embrace the Magic of Arches National Park
Arches National Park, with its otherworldly rock formations and majestic natural arches, is a place where the forces of nature have carved a masterpiece over millions of years. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a photographer, an adventurer, or simply someone seeking tranquility in the heart of the desert, Arches offers an array of experiences that will leave an indelible mark on your soul. We hope that this guide helps you to understand all of the things to do in Arches National Park.
From the awe-inspiring Delicate Arch to the captivating wonders of Devils Garden, Arches National Park beckons you to explore its diverse landscapes, embark on thrilling hikes, and witness the ever-changing play of light and shadow on its unique rock formations.
As you traverse the 18-mile Scenic Drive, guided by the timeless red rock sentinels, take time to savor each moment. Gaze upon Double Arch’s mesmerizing symmetry, feel the serenity of Balanced Rock, and get lost in the windows and doorways carved by nature herself. The sheer scale and artistry of these geological wonders will fill your heart with wonder.