Utah

The Best Things to See in Arches National Park

Last updated on February 16th, 2024 at 02:22 pm

Arches National Park, located near Moab Utah, is one of Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks.  Growing up, I was lucky enough to spend every Spring Break camping with my family in Arches National Park.  Forty years ago, the Park wasn’t quite as famous as it is now….or nearly as crowded.  And as a kid, I certainly took all of its natural beauty for granted. When the pandemic hit, like most people, we found ourselves seeking out many of the beautiful things in our own State. And I returned to Arches National Park after a too-long absence. Over a long October weekend in the Moab area, we visited Moab’s trifecta of beautiful Parks – Arches NP, Canyonlands NP, and Dead Horse Point State Park.  We dedicated one full day to visiting Arches, and were able to see most of its top sites.  Here’s my roundup of those very best things to see in Arches National Park. 

Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park

Delicate Arch is arguably Utah’s most famous site….it is on my license plate after all. And I rank Delicate Arch as #1 of the best things to see in Arches National Park.  It is a must-see! But beware, because it’s a must-see, you will be sharing your Delicate Arch experience with many others.  It is absolutely worth it though.

Delicate Arch is accessed by a 1.5 mile moderately strenuous hike (one-way).  But like all of the best things to see in Arches National Park, the hike is part of the fun….beautiful surroundings, lots of unique sandstone surfaces, and great views. Click here and you can read a little more detail about the hike to Delicate Arch.

The Arch itself sits on the edge of a sandstone bowl in a small natural amphitheater, perched delicately on the the edge.   It’s possible to walk right up to the Arch and stand underneath it.

A side view of Delicate Arch in Utah's Arches National Park

You will find a large parking lot at the trailhead.  However be aware that it fills easily. If it’s full, you will be turned away by a Park Ranger and told to come back later. We arrived shortly after 8am, thinking we were well ahead of the crowds. Not so…..the lot was full!  We drove around in circles nearby until the gate opened briefly to let us and a few more cars in.  Patience may be required if you want to see Delicate Arch. 

(Since my visit, the Park now has a timed entry system during the peak season. I’m not sure whether or not this has helped with parking issues at Delicate Arch. But I’m guessing that an early arrival is still a good idea – I’m fairly certain the parking lot is still the same size…)

Double Arch

Double Arch in Arches National Park

Double Arch is certainly the second most photogenic arch in Arches National Park, and was famously featured as a backdrop in one of the Indiana Jones movies. It’s located in a section of the Park called The Windows.

You can see Double Arch quite well from the roadside parking area, but you can also hike right to it along a short flat quarter mile hike. And once you arrive at Double Arch, you can even climb all the way up underneath the two natural stone bridges.

The Windows

Also located in The Windows section of the Park are The Window Arches. These can be found just east of Double Arch, and in fact, share its parking area. 

A half mile trail takes you directly to these three Arches – North Window, South Window and Turret Arch.  It’s an easy way to see three of the best things to see in Arches National Park.

South and North Windows Arches in Arches National Park
The South and North Window (from the back side)
The Trail up to North Window Arch
The trail up to North Window Arch from the parking lot
Walking Behind South Window Arch along the Primitive Trail in Arches National Park
South Window Arch from the Primitive Trail
Turret Arch in Arches National Park
Turret Arch

If you would like to admire the Windows Arches while taking a slightly longer hike, then consider taking the Primitive Trail that starts on the northern edge of the parking area instead.  This 1.5 mile loop is much less crowded and takes you around and behind the North and South Window. Plus, while on the trail, you’ll also be able to enjoy the sweeping vistas out across the eastern edge of the Park.

Park Avenue & The Courthouse Towers

The Park Avenue Viewpoint in Arches National Park

Park Avenue is the first viewpoint, hike, and parking area after entering Arches National Park.  Don’t be tempted to drive past it on your way to see all the famous arches in the park.  Even though there aren’t arches here, Park Avenue is definitely one of the best things to see in Arches National Park.

Park Avenue is lined on both sides by giant sandstone fins and towers called the Courthouse Towers. The view alone is absolutely worth the stopping for.  And if you have time, I recommend taking the 2-mile roundtrip hike down through the sheer sandstone walls, and past named features including Queen Nefertiti, The Three Gossips, and The Organ. 

Hiking along the Park Avenue Trail looking up at the Courthouse Towers

Queen Nefertiti as seen from the Park Avenue Viewpoint
Queen Nefertiti
The Three Gossips of Arches National Park
The Three Gossips
The Organ - one of the Courthouse Towers
The Organ

Fiery Furnace

A view of the Fiery Furnace in Arches National Park

The Fiery Furnace is a concentrated collection of narrow sandstone canyons.  It gets its name from the reddish glow that emanates from the sandstone walls at the end of the day as the sun sets.  There are several arches within the Fiery Furnace too. 

Hiking in the Fiery Furnace is allowed, but only with a permit (click here for more information).  And, guided tours with rangers are especially encouraged, as it is easy to get lost inside.  Though when we were kids, we used to go into the Fiery Furnace all the time.  We always made it out 🙂

If you are unable to get a permit (or don’t want to hike inside), you should still stop at the Fiery Furnace Viewpoint for a look at the tightly packed sandstone fins.  

A closeup view of the Fiery Furnace

Balanced Rock

Balanced Rock in Arches National Park

Balanced Rock is another one of Arches National Park’s most iconic and oft-photographed features.  This impressive natural structure stands 128 feet tall. And that’s a 3600 ton rock precariously balanced on top! Undoubtedly one of the best things to see in Arches National Park!

You’ll easily spot Balanced Rock as you drive along the Park’s main road. But there is also a small parking area and short flat hike around its base, if you want to admire the Rock up close.

Devil’s Garden

Devil’s Garden is a collection of trails and arches at the northmost edge of the park.  This is where you’ll find the Park’s only campground, and is where we stayed when I was a kid.  Now, you must reserve one of the 51 spots well in advance.  

We did not have the time (or energy) in our single day to hike in Devil’s Garden.  The full hike to see all of Devil’s Garden is over 5 miles round trip and is rated difficult. Consequently, many Devil’s Garden visitors will only hike the easier first two miles and visit the 306 foot long Landscape Arch.

For a look at the Devil’s Garden Trail and also for an idea of what Arches is like in the winter, check out my friend Jane’s Arches post on her blog AbFabTravels.com

Tips for Visiting Arches National Park

An Elephant Formation in Arches near Double Arch

1. Arches National Park now has a timed entry system during peak season to help combat the crowds. So if you want to see all these best sites in Arches National Park, you must reserve your visit ahead of time. Be sure to check out the Park’s website for full details on how to reserve your entry. (Reservations are required April 1 – Oct 31)

2. The fee to enter Arches National Park is $30, and this allows you to enter the park for 7 days. If you also plan on visiting nearby Canyonlands National Park, then you should definitely consider buying the Southeast Parks Pass instead. It costs $55 but admits you into both Parks, saving $5 over separate admissions, and is good for a year. 

3. The entrance to Arches National Park is located a mere 5 miles from Moab Utah where you’ll find a large number of lodging choices and restaurants. For example, here’s a look at several of the best Moab Airbnbs.

4. If you are spending a full day in the Park, I would recommend taking lunch into the Park with you.  While the Park entrance is close to Moab, it’s a 50-minute drive from Devil’s Garden and a 40-minute drive from Delicate Arch back to town.

5. The Park is open 365 days a year.  It is certainly less crowded in the winter.  But keep in mind that Arches is located in the high desert, meaning that wintertime highs are 30-50F, nights will be well below freezing, and snowfall does occur.  So prepare accordingly.

Final Thoughts

Now you can understand how lucky I was to spend every Spring break of my childhood and teen years, roaming around all of these amazing sites. You should definitely make visiting Arches National Park one of your travel priorities.

If you want to read more about what the Moab area has to offer, then check out my post all about spending two days in Moab Utah or my post about Dead Horse Point State Park

And if you want to learn more about some of Utah’s other natural wonders then check out these posts

Driving Utah’s Awe-Inspiring Cathedral Valley Loop

Exploring Peek-A-Boo Slot Canyon in Kanab Utah

Hiking in Utah’s Red Canyon – A Quiet Alternative to Bryce

22 Comments

  • John Quinn

    You are fast becoming my one stop shop for planning my Utah trip. Loved this. Spectacular photos too. Mind you won’t be any point me writing about it. You are now the resident authority on the subject.

  • Jen Nilsson

    I missed Arches on my Utah road trip in 2019, so you can bet that I’m headed back! Especially after reading this post. Thank you for the tips. I’ll follow your map when I head to Moab to this year!

  • Jane

    I love Arches NP. So scenic! You did well to get a photo of Delicate Arch without people. Have you ever been in winter? We were there last January and there was a smattering of snow which made the red rocks even more stunning. Enjoyed reading this and seeing your pics.

    • thethoroughtripper

      Definitely took some patience to quickly snap a people-free shot. I would imagine it could be a challenging hike in the winter? Slippery….

  • Becky Exploring

    Great tips for visiting Arches National Park, Steven! Those rock formations are incredible. It’s sort of like deciding what shapes the clouds are in when you first look at them. The first shot of The Windows reminds me of a mask with two holes for the eyes. Now that I’ve seen that, I can’t see anything else when I look at it!

  • Peggy Zipperer

    I love Arches NP, it is so beautiful! My regret is that I tripped (so clumsy!!) on the way up to Delicate Arch and while I wasn’t hurt, I was bleeding a bit and didn’t finish the hike; plus, the line at the arch was so long. I’ll definitely go try again with a bit more caution next time & maybe some band-aids. Great tips!

  • Lisa

    Stunning post Steven. I’ve never visited Arches National Park, but I want to see it one day. The formations are mesemerising, I could photograph here for hours.

  • Stefan (BerkeleySqB)

    Growing up going camping in a national park like this on a regular basis sounds pretty fun, Steven.

    I grew up with some of these Utah rock formations too and remember them very well… from westerns I watched with my family on the telly.

    I love the Bavarian Alps, but the vastness of those U.S. national parks and the abundant and often dangerous wildlife is just a whole different category of adventure.

  • Carolyn Jepson

    Steve, you are indeed a “thorough tripper”. These pictures are amazing and your descriptions spot on. You have captured some areas that we never even explored before in those early camping days with you and your brothers. We are now anxious to return and cover more of this incredible and inspiring territory. Great job.

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