Our trip to Arches National Park was an adventure. We’ve captured our favorite hikes, dislikes, what we wished we had done, and other tips. We also provide information about visitation statistics and weather which are important considerations when visiting any national park. Here are our takeaways – we hope you can use it as a planning guide for your trip to Arches.
Arches National Park, located in eastern Utah near the town of Moab, was established to protect the high density of natural sandstone arches, bridges, and other rock formations. Established in 1929 as a National Monument, it was designated as a National Park in 1971. It’s the home of the well known Delicate Arch, which can be seen on tourism literature as well as the Utah state license plate. The fifth longest arch in the world, Landscape Arch, is also in the park.
American author Edward Abbey had been a park ranger in Arches NP from 1956 to 1957. His book, Desert Solitaire, chronicles his experiences within the park. Travis read the book before our trip, which gave him a better understanding of the area.
Compared to other National Parks, Arches is on the smaller side at 76,678 acres. This is similar in size to Theodore Roosevelt and Great Basin National Parks. It’s small enough that we felt like we had a good understanding of the park as a whole by the end of our 5-day visit.
There are plenty of recreational opportunities within the park including hiking, camping, backpacking, and canyoneering. For our trip, we focused on hiking and camping. We enjoyed the vast majority of hikes we did, and each offers something unique.
Our Top 5 in Arches National Park
- Fiery Furnace – To limit the impact to the land, a permit is required to access Fiery Furnace. The ultimate adventure in the park, hikers can join a ranger-led tour (spring through fall) or do a self-guided hike. We opted for the latter; and had fun getting lost while exploring the picturesque rock formations. We also enjoyed the solitude the area affords.
- Delicate Arch Trail – Hiking to the iconic Delicate Arch was a priority. It’s worth the hype (and crowds), as it boasts a gorgeous arch and other rock formations, interesting terrain, and even some petroglyphs. The La Sal Mountains provide a striking backdrop.
- Devils Garden and Primitive Loop Trail – This hike can be as long or short as you want, and can be done as a loop or out-and-back. It provides views of Landscape Arch, the fifth longest arch in the world, as well as many other impressive arches. It’s a crowded hike, but the farther you go the fewer people there are.
- Devils Garden Campground – The only campground within the park is centrally located so it’s easy to get out and explore. Additionally, it has sweeping views and convenient, thoughtful amenities. It’s one of our favorite campgrounds we’ve visited.
- Moab – The town of Moab is located just outside the park, but we’re still giving it a mention. We loved Main Street and the variety of restaurants. Even if you’re not a foodie, there’s something for everyone. The only downside for us is that it can be crowded and touristy, depending on when you visit.
During our trip to Arches National Park, we visited several places that didn’t get a full post, but are worth mentioning.
- Balanced Rock – We stopped to check out this popular feature as we drove to Devils Garden Campground on our way into the park. It’s visible from the main road and easy to access. A short 0.3 mile hike loops around a precariously balanced sandstone rock. We enjoyed the walk and views of the surrounding landscape.
- Courthouse Wash Rock Art Panel – This pictograph is located just north of Moab, along US Route 191. A small parking lot on the border of Arches National Park leads to a bike trail. We hiked one mile round-trip to see the panel, along with other petroglyphs, at the base of a nearby cliff. Sadly, the rock art was severely damaged in 1980; it’s faint, but still visible.
- Park Avenue – This 2.0 mile round-trip out and back trail is the first hike you’ll reach when entering the park. That said, it was our least favorite. There were simply too many people (especially stepping off-trail), and its features didn’t seem as special to us as other hikes in the park. If you only have time for one hike, we recommend choosing another one. There are decent views of a few rock formations, like Three Gossips and Courthouse Towers.
Things we wish we did (“Things to do next time”)
- Backcountry Camping – When we planned our trip, it was our intention to backpack in the park. But the park closed down dispersed camping, and transitioned to designated campsites only, so there weren’t any options for backcountry camping during our visit. Currently, there are backcountry sites located off Devils Garden Primitive Trail and Courthouse Wash.
- Lost Spring Canyon – This north-east section of the park was added in 1998. There are no trails here, and we thought it would be a fun backpacking destination. Dispersed camping had been allowed, but was suspended shortly before our visit. Day hiking in the area is a priority next time we visit.
- Courthouse Wash – This route requires some navigation skills, and isn’t as well-advertised as others in the park. There are two sections of Courthouse Wash. The upper wash runs from the main park road to the western border. The lower wash begins along the east side of the main park road and runs to the southern border. Both have options for backcountry camping, or could be done as a shuttle hike or short out-and-back. It’s one of the few hikes in the park that may have a significant amount of water along the trail.
- Autotouring – There are a couple of 4WD roads within the park that interested us, specifically in Willow Flats and Herdina Park. We were curious to see what they had to offer, even though we focus mostly on hiking, camping, and backpacking.
- And many more…
Arches NP can be very hot, especially during late spring and summer. You’ll want to bring ample water, snacks, sunscreen, and a hat. March through May and September through October are the best times to visit Arches NP. We went in March and highly recommend it. Rain isn’t much of a concern since the area gets so little. As mentioned, the summer gets HOT, so we don’t recommend visiting during this time. If you do visit in summer, get out early, avoid mid-day, and bring lots of water.
May through August is the most popular time to visit the park, assumedly because of summer break. We visited during spring break – there were fewer people, and the weather was milder. If you’re constrained by a school calendar, we recommend going during spring break instead.
Even in spring, the park is still booming with visitors, to the point where there are almost too many people. The chart below shows the influx of visitors by year. It’s been steadily increasing, aside from a drop in 2020 due to COVID-19. During the busiest times of the day (especially during the high season), the park entrance will close temporarily until enough visitors leave the park. Typically the park entrance closes mid-morning, and reopens in the early afternoon.
There have been discussions about alternate solutions. From April 3 to October 3, 2022, the park has implemented a timed entry pilot program. Visitors must reserve a ticket to enter the park between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. This will require planning ahead, but should lessen congestion in the park. Of course, the best option might be to camp at Devils Garden Campground so you don’t have to worry about reserving a pass or re-entering the park.
We started our exploration of the park with hikes near Devils Garden Campground. Our planned itinerary worked well, but there are countless ways to plan your trip.
|1||Arrive in the park||Devils Garden Campground|
|2||Tower Arch Trail and|
Sand Dune, Broken, and Tapestry Arch Loop Trail
|Devils Garden Campground|
|3||Devils Garden and Primitive Loop Trail||Inca Inn in Moab|
|4||Windows Loop and Double Arch Trails and Delicate Arch Trail||Inca Inn in Moab|
|5||Fiery Furnace||Inca Inn in Moab|
If you only have time for one hike, we recommend:
- Short Hike: Double Arch
- Medium Hike: Devils Garden Trail to Landscape Arch
- Long Hike: Delicate Arch
- Devils Garden Campground
- Tower Arch Trail
- Sand Dune, Broken, and Tapestry Arch Loop Trail
- Devils Garden and Primitive Loop Trail
- Windows Loop and Double Arch Trails
- Delicate Arch Trail
- Fiery Furnace
- Moab Accommodations & Restaurants