Arches National Park, located near Moab Utah, is one of Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks. Growing up, my family spent every Spring Break camping in Arches National Park. 40 years ago, the Park wasn’t quite as famous, nor was it nearly as crowded as it is now. And as a kid, I certainly took its beauty for granted.
Since local road trips have been our only form of travel during the pandemic, a return to Arches National Park was high on my list. Over a long October weekend, we were able to visit the trifecta of Parks in the Moab area – Arches, Canyonlands NP, and Dead Horse Point State Park. We dedicated one full day to Arches, and saw most of its top sites. Here’s my roundup of those top sites in Arches National Park.
Arguably Utah’s most famous site (it is on my license plate after all), I rank Delicate Arch as the top site in Arches National Park. It is a must-see! But beware, because it’s a must-see, you will likely share your experience with many others. Still worth it though…
Delicate Arch is accessed by a 1.5 mile moderately strenuous hike (one-way). The Arch sits on the edge of a sandstone bowl in a small natural amphitheater. It’s possible to walk right up to the Arch and stand underneath it.
There is a large parking lot at the trailhead. However it fills easily. If 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.
Double Arch is certainly the second most photogenic arch in Arches National Park. It’s located in the Windows section of the Park, and is easily accessed via a short flat quarter mile hike from the parking area. Once you arrive at the Arch, you can climb all the way up underneath the two natural stone bridges.
The Window Arches are located just east of Double Arch and share its parking area. A half mile trail takes you directly to the three Arches – North Window, South Window and Turret Arch.
Alternatively, consider taking the Primitive Trail that starts on the northern edge of the parking area instead. It’s much less crowded and takes you around and behind the Windows. Plus you’ll enjoy sweeping vistas out across the eastern edge of the Park.
Park Avenue & The Courthouse Towers
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. 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. A 2-mile roundtrip hike will take you down through the sheer sandstone walls, and past named features including Queen Nefertiti, The Three Gossips, and The Organ.
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 with a permit, but it has been closed during the pandemic. Guided tours with rangers are encouraged as it is easy to get lost inside. When we were kids, we used to go into the Fiery Furnace all the time. We always made it out 🙂
Even if closed, it’s still worth a stop at the Fiery Furnace Viewpoint for a look at the tightly packed sandstone fins.
Balanced Rock is one of Arches National Park’s iconic and oft-photographed features. It’s easily spotted from the road. This impressive natural structure stands 128 feet tall. There is a small parking area and short hike around the base of the Rock.
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
1. The entrance to Arches National Park is located only 5 miles from Moab where you’ll find a large number of lodging choices and restaurants.
2. If you are spending a full day in the Park, I would recommend taking lunch 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.
3. The fee to enter Arches National Park is $30, which allows you to enter the park for 7 days. If you plan on visiting nearby Canyonlands National Park, then consider buying the Southeast Parks Pass instead for $55. It admits you into both Parks, saves $5 over separate admissions, and is good for a year.
4. 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.
5. Arrive early. Arches is a very popular National Park. When we visited during the pandemic, the number of visitors admitted to the Park at any one time was limited. Normally, the parking lots and sites can be very crowded at peak season. Check the National Park Service website for updated information on COVID restrictions.
6. Reservations for camping at Devil’s Garden and for the guided Fiery Furnace hikes can be made up to 6 months in advance through the NPS website.
If you would like to learn about some of Utah’s other great National Parks, then check out my posts on Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef. And click here to learn more about the Moab Utah area and it’s other surrounding Parks