Once again it was spring break, and time to explore our national parks. This time, we were headed to Utah. Most of our time would be spent in Arches National Park, with a couple days in Canyonlands. Based on flight cost and arrival time, we decided to fly into Grand Junction, Colorado and drive almost two hours to Moab, Utah. We planned to spend our first two nights at Devils Garden Campground, the only developed campground in Arches National Park.
Like most campgrounds in national parks, Devils Garden is very popular, so we researched and made a list of preferred sites ahead of time. Sites in the high teens and low 20s have very good views, but more sun and wind exposure. Sites in the 40s and 50s have fewer scenic views, but more shade and wind protection.
We were particularly interested in campsites that have better views. The moment the sites became available six months ahead of our visit, we logged into Recreation.gov to book. Campsites go quick – we got one of our top choices (site #24), but we would’ve been happy with any site.
Our flight arrived in Grand Junction at 10 a.m., giving us plenty of time to drive into Moab. As we flew in, the mountains and mesa that surround the city were covered in snow. Colorado National Monument is close by, and we made a mental note to check it out someday. After picking up our rental car, we stopped at Walmart and REI for supplies.
We decided to take a longer scenic route to Moab via UT-128, as recommended by the car rental agency, rather than I-70. The snow-capped La Sal Mountains appeared intermittently throughout the trip. Afterwards, we passed by the creepy ghost town of Cisco. Stepping on the gas, we crossed the Colorado River on Dewey Suspension Bridge, and followed the river into Moab.
Our car weaved between red mesas, colorful mountains, spires, and other picturesque formations. All the colors, shapes, and textures created amazing views with the La Sals in the background. There were many pull-offs, so we stopped a few times to take photos. We also carefully watched for cyclists around blind curves. Eventually, we crossed the Colorado River again, passed Moab, and arrived at Arches National Park.
Entering Arches National Park
Cars were backed up at the park entrance, which seems to happen often. Thankfully, it was late afternoon and other visitors were leaving, so it only took five minutes to enter. We went to the visitor center right away to get water. It had a slight chlorine taste, but we wanted to make sure we had enough (and it’s free). We’d be back at the visitor center the following day to book Fiery Furnace permits and learn about the geology of the area.
Devils Garden Campground is located at the opposite end of Arches NP, so we essentially had to drive through the entire park (18 miles) to get there. We really enjoyed the drive, which was like a mini-orientation. As the road ascended, we spotted well-known rock formations like the Three Gossips. We stopped for a quick 0.3 mile walk around Balanced Rock, which was interesting to observe from different angles.
Devils Garden Campground
In the early 1920s, an immigrant prospector named Alexander Ringhoffer explored Klondike Bluffs, a rugged area with fins and arches in what is now the west side of Arches National Park. When Arches was designated as a national monument in 1929, the Klondike Bluffs area was initially left out. Interestingly, Ringhoffer originally called this section Devils Garden, but that name was transposed onto the area we now know as Devils Garden.
Finally, we reached the campground at the end of the main park road. It looked just like the photos (that isn’t always the case). Near the entrance, we saw the host cabin where firewood was available, but the hosts were away. On the way to our site, we ran into the hosts and chatted with them. Later, they would bring by firewood ($5/bundle) and newspaper for kindling.
Arriving at our campsite, we remembered our conversation months earlier about all the site variables – views vs wind protection vs privacy. We had opted for views, and our site delivered. The nearby rock formations and La Sal Mountains in the distance were exactly the vibe we wanted. Now for the downside – it was very windy, around 20 mph with stronger gusts.
We organized our gear, and starting cooking a dinner of hotdogs with peppers, onions, and Old Bay seasoning. It took many attempts to start a fire due to the wind, but we got it going eventually. After dinner, we started exploring the campground. We made sure not to step on the delicate cryptobiotic soil, which was everywhere. This soil contains microorganisms and is essential to the health of the local ecosystem since it helps limit erosion and retain water.
Across the road from our campsite was a path to the campground amphitheater. And beyond that was our first arch – Skyline Arch. Scrambling up and around rocks and boulders, we found a path to get closer to it. It was a lot of fun to take photos of (and with) the arch. Stars were visible at 8:15 p.m., even though the sky had been overcast earlier. Arches NP often has a clear night sky, and we spotted two constellations – Orion and the Big Dipper.
Exhausted, we went back to our campsite and crashed. Around midnight, our next door neighbors were being a bit loud, but we talked to them and they quieted down. We felt bad, as they had been up celebrating something, but we appreciated it. After that, the campground was nice and quiet, so we got a good nights’ sleep.
The Next Day – More Adventures
In the morning, we woke up to a cool, partly cloudy day, which slowly warmed up. We got breakfast, and scared off some birds (probably crows or ravens) so they wouldn’t get into our gear and food. Next, we returned to the visitor center to get permits for Fiery Furnace, then hiked to Tower Arch. Later that afternoon, we headed back to the campground to hike the route to Sand Dune, Broken, and Tapestry Arches. The trail passes through the campground, so it was convenient to do while staying there.
The trail was fun, but the weather was becoming increasingly windy, foreshadowing what happened when we arrived back at our campsite. Our tent had blown free of half its stakes, and the poles were bending considerably. Thankfully, we were able to wrangle everything and prevent it from blowing away. If we had gotten there a few minutes later though, who knows what would have happened. If we stay at a similarly exposed site next time, we would secure the tent with some rocks. This was the tradeoff for those views we wanted.
After the mishap with our tent, we decided to sleep in our car. It was chilly, but our double quilt kept us fairly warm (though individual sleeping bags would have been better in this situation). In the morning, the wind had died down. It had been our last night in the campground, so we packed up and headed to Devils Garden Trail, a popular nearby hike.
Since Arches tends to have excellent conditions for stargazing, I had really wanted to do some night photography. In the end, I only took a few photos, due to the wind and cold nighttime temperature.
Even with a few weather-related complaints, we really enjoyed staying at Devils Garden Campground and highly recommend it. It’s one of our favorite campgrounds so far. And the location is perfect – many hikes are close by, and you don’t have to wait in line to enter the park every day. Just…don’t leave a backpacking tent on an exposed site during a very windy day without securing it further.
Devils Garden Campground | 51 Campsites
Dates Visited: March 24 – 26, 2018
Location: 18 miles from the park’s main entrance (Google Maps Directions)
Amenities: Potable Water | Fire Pits & Barbecues | Picnic Table | Flush/Vault Toilets | Amphitheater | Trash and Recycling| Firewood for Sale
Dates Open: Year Round (with reduced availability in winter)
Prices: $25/night for individual tent campsite | $75-$250/night for group campsite depending on number of campers
Reservations: All sites can be reserved up to 6 months in advance for visits between March 1 and October 31. From November to February, all sites are first-come, first-served.
Highlights: Views, Located in the Park, Skyline Arch
Best Sites: The sites on the north and east sides of the campground, with numbers in the 10s and 20s, typically have better views and are more exposed to the elements. Sites in the south of the campground, numbered in the 40s and 50s, have more rock formations for wind protection and privacy. For the best views check out sites 18, 20, 21, 23, or 24. If you’re looking for a site that’s spacious, private, and near large rocks, look at 48, 50, or 51. But you can’t really go wrong with any site.
Notes: There are two group campsites and 49 individual sites. Check-out time is 10:00 am.
- Devils Garden Campground (NPS)
- Devils Garden Campground Reservations (Recreation.gov)
- Cryptobiotic Soil Article (NPS)