Visiting Arches National Park: A Trip Around Utah’s Best Natural Arches

December 28, 2020 /
things to do in arches national park

Warning: Due to COVID 19 some information in this article (e.g. operating hours) may not be up-to-date.

If you’ve had the chance to visit remarkably beautiful places such as Bryce Canyon or Zion National Park, surely you were captivated by, among other things, the unusual colors of their rock formations, with a color palette that there are no words to describe, unique shapes and hues that even our best photographs can’t do justice to, so much so that when we show our photo albums to friends, we find ourselves saying: “Yes, they’re beautiful, but just imagine what it would be like to see these places with your own eyes…”

Well, in Utah, in this paradise of incredible rock formations, there is another national park with landscapes just as beautiful as those found in the other parks mentioned. Arches National Park, famous all over the world for its natural sandstone arches, is the top attraction of Moab and, as far as the author of this article is concerned, it can be rightfully considered among the most beautiful parks of the States.

Anyone who is going to visit this marvelous place will find in this article useful tips on what to do, what to see and how to plan a visit, as well as some good suggestions for hiking trails in Arches.

Where Is Arches National Park and How to Get There

map of hiking trails arches
Park map

Arches National Park is located in southeastern Utah, about 300 miles from Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park. The nearest town, which is a reference point, no matter where you come from, is Moab, about 5 miles away (a shuttle service to the park is also available).

If you are interested in getting to know the surroundings better you can also have a look at our article on what to do in Moab. The largest city in the surrounding area (so to speak) is the state capital, Salt Lake City, which is 230 miles away, about 3 hours and 40 minutes by car.

To get to the entrance of Arches National Park you’ll need to take Route 191. If you are coming from the north (from Salt Lake City or Grand Junction), you will find Arches Entrance Road on your left, 5 miles before Moab. If you’re coming from the south (from the Grand Canyon area), you’ll pass Moab as you head north.

The entrance by car to Arches National Park is already spectacular. After passing the visitor center, the Arches Entrance Road begins to climb along the portentous reddish cliffs common in this area. This is just a taste of the beauty you are about to see…

Entrance Fees and Hours

things to do in Arches National Park
Double Arch

The fee for each car is $30 and for each bike you pay $25. The entrance ticket is valid for 7 days and the USA parks pass is accepted.

Arches is open all year, 24 hours a day. The visitor center is closed only at Christmas and during the winter, it is open from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. In the “main season” the opening hours return to normal, usually from 8:00 am to 5:30 pm, although the times may change so I suggest you to consult the official website.

Best Time To Visit Arches National Park

best time to visit Arches

Considering the climate, remember that it is a desert area, being part of the Arches of the Colorado Plateau, an area where temperatures are very high. If you decide to visit Arches in spring (April-May) or autumn (September-October) you will find a milder climate. Prepare for the heat by wearing appropriate clothing.

The high season is from March to October, when it is very easy to find traffic both on the way to the park and in it. My advice is to plan to arrive early (I entered before 8 in October and I had no problems) in order to avoid delays and to not waste any time, since there are many things to see.

During the winter, temperatures drop and the number of visitors falls dramatically. Snowfall and ice can lead to road closures and make some trails difficult to walk, however, the park remains open to visitors and, beyond possible problems of accessibility, you can admire beautiful snow-covered landscapes without having to worry about crowds of tourists.

Arches Scenic Drive: Driving Through Arches National Park

Arches-Scenic-DriveThere is an 18-mile scenic road that crosses the park and also bears the same name, Arches Scenic Drive, which is actually the continuation of Arches Entrance Road, so you won’t have to look for it as you start driving straight past the visitor center. The road cuts through the middle of the park from south to north, giving you the opportunity to stop at numerous lookouts.

The two most important areas you will cross with Arches Scenic Drive are Courthouse Towers (at the beginning) and Devils Garden (at the end), but to visit the other 2 main attractions you will have to take 2 cross roads: Windows Road (The Windows Section area) and Delicate Arch Road (Delicate Arch).

To admire the beauty of the park from your car and from the many viewpoints along the way, Arches Scenic Drive and The Windows Road are definitely the best roads, but my advice is not to limit your visit to a “roadtrip”, but to do some walking as well. Now let’s see what Arches looks like and then detail some recommended trails.

Park Areas and Must See Attractions

Here is an interactive map with the main areas of the park:

Courthouse Towers

arches trailsThis is the first area you’ll pass once you enter the park. It’s the only large area of Arches that doesn’t have sandstone arches but this doesn’t mean it’s of little interest, quite the contrary. What characterizes it is the unique shape of its monoliths, imposing and slender, that emerge from the ground, almost like a real skyline of a modern city.

Here you’ll find a series of viewpoints easily accessible by car, directly on Scenic Drive. The most beautiful ones in my opinion are the Sal Mountains Viewpoint and Courthouse Towers Viewpoint which allow you to admire in all their majesty the many fascinating monoliths that tower over the valley, including The Organ, the Tower of Babel, Sheep Rock and Three Gossips.

hiking arches national park
Park Avenue

But a visit to this area is not complete without walking along Park Avenue, a beautiful trail whose tall cliffs are reminiscent of the buildings of a large city street (for details on travel time and difficulty see the section on paths).

The Windows Section

what to see in arches national parkTo reach this area you will have to turn at Balanced Rock and take The Windows Road where, you be welcomed by the fascinating panorama of Garden of Eden, followed by another series of impressive rock formations, such as Parade of Elephants and Cove of Caves, all clearly visible from the road.

All this is just a taste of the main attraction of the area. The Windows Road in fact leads to the starting point of 2 short and easy trails, Double Arch Trailhead and Windows Trailhead, which will allow you to make a real “feast” of rocky arches: North Window, South Window (two arches adjacent to each other), Turret Arch (arch overlooked by a tower) and Double Arch (a majestic double vaulted arch).

Delicate Arch

delicate arch trailTo get to this area, take the Delicate Arch Road, turning right (coming from the south) just after Panorama Point. The area is named after the arch of the same name, which is an iconic symbol of the park. In short, a visit to Arches without seeing Delicate Arch is not complete. There are essentially two ways to see the famous sandstone arch:

  1. The easiest way is to settle for a view from the distance from the two viewpoints in the parking lot (Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint and Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint). The first one is a short walk from the parking lot, the second one requires to walk a bit more (anyway less than half a mile) but the view is definitely better. Warning: The parking lot mentioned here is not the first one you will encounter on the road (the Delicate Arch Road); rather it is the second one.
  2. The only way to view the Delicate Arch up close is to take the Delicate Arch Trail, which begins at the first parking lot you find after turning onto the Delicate Arch Road. After a few meters you will see Wolfe Ranch, a small historic ranch of the late nineteenth century. The trail is almost 3 miles round trip and it will take you about 2 hours between going, coming back and taking a break for pictures. For more details on this excursion I invite you to read the section on the trails on this page.

Devils Garden

must see attractions arches national parkIt is the northernmost area of the park, the final point of Arches Scenic Drive and the area with the highest concentration of arches in the park. This area is really beautiful and is characterized by imposing rocky pillars that stand on a sandy ground mixed with scarce vegetation.

Walking in this beautiful scenery you have the opportunity to admire many examples of rocky arches but not all of them are easy to reach. Some require long and demanding walks, others are easy for everyone to reach, such as the path that leads to one of the most beautiful arches, Landscape Arch. Other arches in this area are Tunnel Arch, Pine Tree Arch, Partition Arch, Navajo Arch, Private Arch and Double O Arch.

Other Attractions along the Scenic Drive

visit arches national park
Broken Arch

Along the Scenic Drive there are a number of viewpoints or short trails that are not part of the main areas mentioned above but can still enrich the visit to the park. I list them below (from south to north) to help you understand which ones to choose:

  • Petrified Dunes Belvedere: A viewpoint to admire an expanse of petrified sand dunes. You can see them quite well even from the car and it didn’t seem particularly striking.
  • The Great Wall and Rock Pinnacles: This is the expanse of rock faces and pinnacles that runs along Scenic Drive on the west side (between Courthouse Towers and Balanced Rock). There are no rest areas to stop and admire these rock formations, so you’ll have to make do with seeing them from your car.
  • Balanced Rock: A boulder more than 62 ft high rests on a base more than 72 ft high in a precarious position, almost as if defying the laws of physics. This type of rock formation is not unusual in the American South West (see for example Valley of Fire). You can settle for taking a picture from the parking lot or approach the boulder by a short walk (1640 ft round trip).
  • Panorama Point: Despite the name, in my opinion, this is not one of the best panoramas the park has to offer. You can take a quick look if you have some extra time.
  • Fiery Furnace Viewpoint: It’s worth the visit, much more than the previous one, especially because it offers one of the most unique views in Arches National Park, with a closer-up view of rock formations similar to the characteristic Needles of Canyonlands Park.
  • Other arches worthy of mention: Just before reaching Devils Garden you will find two arches easily accessible by taking short trails (about 10 minutes). These are Sand Dune Arch (very popular with children) and Skyline Arch. Nearby there is also Broken Arch, and the trail to get there starts from the same point as the Sand Dune Arch but which will require you to invest more time (about 1 mile round trip).

The Remote Areas of Arches

Every great national park has its own remote area or place that is difficult to reach and Arches is no exception. To reach these places you’ll have to take dirt roads and drive on sandy ground, so in case of bad weather, going to these areas is highly discouraged.

Klondike Bluffs

arches national park entrance feesThis area is located northwest of the park and can be reached via the Salt Valley Road, an unpaved road that you can take 1.2 miles before reaching the Devils Garden parking lot. After a little more than 6.8 miles you will have to turn left and proceed for a mile reaching the trailhead of the trail leading to Tower Arch (2.5 miles round trip). Along the trail you can also see strange rock formations, such as the Marching Men, which are reminiscent of a group of marching men. If you have a 4×4 you can approach the arch along a path for off-road vehicles.

Eye of the Whale Arch

how to get to arches national parlNear Klondike Bluffs there’s another long dirt road (about 9 miles) that reconnects to Arches Scenic Drive at Balanced Rock (although not directly, at the end of the road you’ll have to turn left onto BLM 378). Passing through this secondary route you will cross the area of Herdina Park, where there is another beautiful arch not very well known to tourists: Eye of the Whale Arch. To get there you need a 4×4 and it is important that you follow this road in the direction described so far (from north to south) because coming from the opposite direction (from Balanced Rock for example) you may not be able to pass, because there is a steep sandy hill that is not easy to climb.

Best Hiking Trails In Arches National Park

arches national park best hikes
Entrance to Devils Garden

There are 16 trails marked by the National Park Service but there are many more. Here I point out the main ones, some are really short walks of a few hundred feet while others are more challenging.

Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint Trail

delicate arch upper viewpointVisiting Arches National Park without having seen the famous Delicate Arch may make you feel disappointed, but not everyone has time to take the path that takes you up close (Delicate Arch Trail, just below). If that is the case, luckily this trail is a good compromise. It will take you to admire it about a mile away. The panorama includes a nice view of the arch from a different point of view that you wouldn’t be able to appreciate on the longer trail.

  • Length: 1476 ft round trip
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: Delicate Arch Viewpoint parking lot, the second parking lot you will encounter on the Delicate Arch Road

Landscape Arch

landscape-archThe trail goes through the first part of Devils Garden up to Landscape Arch, one of the longest sandstone arches in the world (almost 328 ft) and its thin shape makes it unique (in its central part it is just over 10 ft thick). The trail is mainly flat and sandy.

  • Length: 1.6 miles round trip
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: Devils Garden Parking Lot

The Windows

windows archesThis is another easy walk for everyone that will allow you to look out at the 2 North and South Windows rock windows, and admire the horizon. Nearby there is another remarkable arch in the shadow of a small tower: the Turret Arch.

Tip: Once you get to North Window enter the arch and go down the downhill path for a short stretch. From here you can admire another wonderful landscape, with several rocky spires rising over the valley creating a truly striking effect, somehow resembling the Garden of Eden mentioned above. If you want you can also climb the South Window but the view that awaits you is in my opinion less exciting.

  • Length: 1 mile round trip
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: The Windows Section

Double Arch

hiking trails archesIn front of the trail just mentioned there is another one that is even shorter and easier. It will take you right under the majestic Double Arch, which is exceptional because it has a double vault. In addition to the beauty of the rocky structure, if you walk up a little bit, you can enjoy a beautiful observation point to admire Windows Valley.

  • Length: 0.5 miles round trip
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: The Windows Section Parking Lot

Park Avenue

park avenue archesNow we are talking about a real hike and not a short walk. It is one of the most beautiful trails you can go on in Arches National Park, and what makes it special is that you will walk in the middle of imposing and thin rocky pillars that reminded those who have chosen the name of the trail of buildings of a modern city (Hence the name Park Avenue).

You’ll head through these magnificent cliffs to a vantage point that offers a fabulous view of The Organ monolith and the rest of the Courthouse Towers area. The trail is not difficult and is not a loop, so you’ll have to turn around and walk back the same way to the starting point.

  • Length: 2 miles round trip
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation: 295 ft
  • Trailhead: Courthouse Towers area. This is the first trail that you can access upon entering the park.

Delicate Arch Trail

delicate-arch trail arches

Delicate Arch is maybe the best arch of Arches National Park, and this is the most popular trail in the entire park. The uphill part of the trail is quite challenging, also because there is no shade, so during the summer the heat is not to be underestimated.

My advice is to get to the parking lot of the path early in the morning, as early as possible, to avoid both heat and crowds. Not only will you be likely to find many tourists at the arrival point intent on getting their picture taken under the famous arch, but also no place to park.

If you find yourself in this frustrating situation, there are two things to do. Either you wait for a few places to free up or go ahead and park in the parking lot of Delicate Arch Viewpoint, which is one mile from the trailhead.

The path itself is pleasant but the highlight is still the arrival point, a great reward that makes it worth the effort. You will come upon a natural arena on which the Delicate Arch seems to have been placed by a sculptor, there on display to be admired.

  • Length: 3 miles round trip
  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Elevation: 492 ft
  • Trailhead: Delicate Arch Trail Parking Lot, the first parking lot found on Delicate Arch Road

Double O Arch in Devils Garden

lodging arches national parkThis is the same trail that leads to Landscape Arch, but once you get to this particular arch, you can still enjoy beautiful views of the La Sal Mountains, Fin Canyon and other natural arches, such as Partition Arch, Navajo Arch and Double O Arch. The trail is demanding and requires you to climb rocks in some places.

  • Length: 4.2 miles round trip
  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Elevation: 492 ft
  • Trailhead: Devils Garden Parking Lot

Fiery Furnace

arches national park moabThis  is one of the places you must see at Arches National Park. Most visitors agree that it is an unbelievable experience, and with good reason! It is a natural labyrinth among the rocks, a breathtaking trail that climbs through the narrow shortcuts and gorges carved out of soaring rock “walls”, after which you will find spectacular views. I can guarantee that along the scenic road you won’t be able to see these views.

In this case, given the dangerous conditions of the route, it is necessary to be accompanied by rangers, or get specific permits at the visitor center. The permits cost $6 for adults and $3 for children.

  • Length: 2 miles
  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Trailhead: Fiery Furnace Viewpoint (between the area of Delicate Arch and Devils Garden)

How Much Time to Spend in Arches National Park? Planning Tips

arches driveThere are many things to see in Arches National Park, but luckily a good amount of attractions can be seen either from the scenic road or via short trails that are easily accessible. Obviously there are plenty of longer and more challenging trails, as you have read, and this is also good news, because it means that the park suits both to the needs of visitors with a few hours available, and of those who can invest much more time in it.

A complete visit of the park could be feasible in 2 days, but also see a lot in 1 full day. Those who only have half a day can still hope to see the main points of interest on Scenic Drive and at least take a long hike (Delicate Arch trail for example).

While planning your stops, the main challenges are the great number of tourists and the high temperatures during the summer. For this reason I would like to give you two pieces of advice:

  1. Get to the park as early as possible, early in the morning.
  2. If you want to do the Delicate Arch Trail, do it first and leave the scenic stops along Scenic Drive for last (or for the hottest part of the day), so you avoid suffering from the heat and trouble finding free parking spaces.

That said, if you have time, my advice is to spend at least one day visiting Arches.

Arches Guided Tours

arches guided toursAs you can imagine there are many tour options to visit Arches National Park. Here are 2 interesting ones:

  • 4×4 Adventure in Arches from Moab: How about a 4×4 excursion through the beautiful natural arches of Arches National Park? Drive along the bumpy roads of Arches National Park just like Indiana Jones (The Last Crusade was filmed here!) with an expert guide. The cost is about $120, but you’ll have to pay $5 per person, in addition to that to enter the park. You can choose between morning  (starting at 8:00 am), afternoon (starting at 1:00pm) or evening (starting at 4:00 pm) tours.
  • Arches and Canyonlands Air Tour: With this tour you’ll have the chance to see the beautiful expanses of Arches and Canyonlands from above, taking pictures of stunning views and having a truly extraordinary experience. The tour takes about an 1 hour and 30 minutes and includes a window seat for each passenger.
  • Experience Utah’s National Parks: I would also like to mention this package, which is a really great deal. Y You will be able to visit most of Utah’s National Parks, including Arches National Park, as part of a 6-day tour. Have a look at the article below to find out the rates and the many services (and downsides!) included in the price.

Utah Parks Tour

Arches National Park Lodging

arches by carIf you want to camp inside Arches National Park, there is the Devils Garden Campground, but most visitors prefer to stop in Moab, a pleasant town with a good number of accommodations. You can read our guide to Moab, especially the part about recommended accommodations in the city:

Where to Stay in Moab

Also nearby, along the Colorado River, there are some ranches in a beautiful natural setting where you can spend the night. To find out more, read our article on UT 128 and in particular the section dedicated to the accommodations.

Arches Park Video

This video is a recap and will give you a better idea of the kind of landscapes that await you in Arches National Park.

lorenzo puliti
lorenzo puliti

I am fascinated by the wonders of the world I never tire of going in search of them.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.