Distance: ~1.2 miles (1.9 km)
Cumulative Elevation Gain/Loss: ~684 feet (208 m)
Date Visited: Wednesday, March 28, 2018
It was our last full day in Arches National Park, and we wanted to go out with a bang. We decided to do the only day hike in the park that requires a permit. Fiery Furnace is mazelike due to its many tall sandstone fins. It’s a set route but not quite a trail. GPS doesn’t work well within the narrow canyons, and maps are useless here, too. It’s located deep inside the park, near the Devils Garden area.
The park offers seasonal ranger-led tours through Fiery Furnace (typically April through September), but that wasn’t an option since we visited in March. The other option is to request a permit and hike it on your own, so we decided to give it a shot. While there is no obvious trail, tiny arrow markers trace out a counter-clockwise loop through Fiery Furnace. We would follow these to form an approximately 1.2 mile loop with numerous side trails to explore. It’s challenging, and we ended up getting lost a couple times.
Hiking Permits and Orientations
A limited number of permits are available each day, and can be acquired up to seven days in advance. When we visited, permits had to be obtained in person at the visitor center. As of 2021, visitors must reserve their spot online at Recreation.gov or by calling 1-877-444-6777. You’ll still need to stop by the visitor center to get your permit and attend orientation, but this system makes it a little easier to plan.
Luckily, we were in the area for five days, so we had some wiggle room, but we wanted to get our permit as soon as possible. The visitor center was already closed when we arrived in the park, so we headed back the next morning. At 9 a.m., there was already a line of people filling out forms for permits. We requested our permit for three days later, and they had a spot available for us!
Next, we waited for the mandatory orientation to begin (Note: all visitors entering Fiery Furnace must be present for orientation). The rangers directed us, and 20 or 30 other people, into a room. First, we watched a video, mostly about common sense things – walk in washes or on slick rock. Avoid cryptobiotic soil. Avoid walking on sand dunes (we didn’t know this one, but it makes sense). After that, a ranger quizzed us, then asked if anyone had done the route before. One person had hiked Fiery Furnace in the summer, and said it was too hot, so they were glad they had planned a trip in the spring. After a lively discussion, we went to pay the $6 per person permit fee.
Fiery Furnace Trailhead
We decided to hike Fiery Furnace in the afternoon because we thought there would be fewer people (spoiler alert: we were right). The small parking lot was almost full when we arrived around 3 p.m., but it seemed like most visitors just come to check out an overlook. Some people parked, walked to the trailhead, noticed the sign stating that a permit was required, and turned back.
Another group of hikers approached as we headed down the path. After chatting with them, we realized we were going the wrong direction! Whoops. We backtracked to the trailhead, and found the trail we missed – immediately downhill and to the right. The park ranger specifically told us where the hike begins during the orientation, but somehow it still slipped our minds.
Arrows and Arches
Initially, the trail is obvious and intuitive. We went down a hill, on a narrow sandy trail with some light rock scrambling. At the bottom, we entered a wash. Across the trail was a post with a small arrow (our first one!) pointing left. We headed that way, and a few more arrows guided us. Spotting the arrows was like a scavenger hunt.
After walking a bit further, we came to a sign that read “Dead End Ahead.” The park rangers at the visitor center told us about these. Occasionally, these signs tell hikers that they’ve missed an arrow – but you can go beyond them and explore. That’s the whole point of Fiery Furnace – to have an adventure that’s more flexible than a set trail.
Beyond the dead end sign, the wash continues. We saw a space between the fins to our left, and went to check it out. We were amazed to find a narrow sandy canyon, with a small arch in the distance. It felt like we were the first to discover the arch – even though the footprints around it suggested otherwise. We didn’t know at the time, but the arch is called Walk Through Bridge. There are tons of arches scattered around in Fiery Furnace; if you go on a ranger-led hike, you may see more than we did.
In the afternoon, the red glow that gives Fiery Furnace its name was in full display. As we enjoyed the scenery, we continued through the arch. After reaching a dead end, we headed back to the main trail and found the arrow we had missed. It pointed us through a narrow pathway with tall sandstone fins on either side. We continued until we found another arrow and behind it was a wash with another dead end sign, so we decided to explore some more.
As we followed the wash, we indeed came to a dead end. Since we had been rewarded last time, we backtracked until we saw a narrow space between two fins. We squeezed in, and carefully crawled to avoid hitting our heads. In 50 to 100 feet, we found ourselves again at the dead end, but higher up on some previously inaccessible slickrock. Another arch called Inner Sanctum Bridge was directly in front of us.
We returned to the main trail. Following the arrows, we jumped from rock to rock and bounded up inclines. One narrow area required us to scramble with our hands and feet on opposite sides of the slickrock. By about 4 p.m., we were hungry, so we found a spot to grab a snack and relax for a bit. We were surprised we still hadn’t run into anyone along the route.
After our break, we started looking for the next arrow. We searched for about half an hour, with no luck. Every possibility seemed to be a dead end or an unsafe drop. Just as we started getting anxious, we revisited an area we had already looked at multiple times. It led to an open cliff, which we had dismissed before. This time, we finally spotted one of the inconspicuous arrows. Footholds are chiseled into the sandstone nearby, which should have been a clue.
The arrow pointed us to a narrow area surrounded by sandstone formations. This led to an open area with large fins all around. We followed another arrow until we hit a dead end (about 0.2 miles). After doubling back, we spotted the arrow we had missed. Exploring, checking out views, taking photos, and generally enjoying ourselves often led us to overlook the arrows. The fun and challenging wayfinding aspect of this hike gave Fiery Furnace a different vibe than most we’ve done. See if you can spot the arrows in some of the photos below.
The next arrow led us into a narrow crack in the sandstone and down some stairs. After this point, the trail was easy to follow and started leading us away from Fiery Furnace. After walking through a sandy area with shrubs, we were back at the trailhead. It was a short drive into Moab for some delicious pho at 98 Center.
Some tips: Bring food and plenty of water. Bring a headlamp if you’re hiking later in the day (just in case). Pay attention at the orientation, as you won’t be able to rely on maps to navigate through Fiery Furnace. Consider the time of day you choose to visit. We enjoyed hiking in the afternoon – the lighting was spectacular, and we saw no other visitors except one group at the start. However, in retrospect we wished we had arrived a bit earlier so that we had more time to explore.
Hiking without a guide offered more adventure and solitude. If we had time, we could have explored all day. However, a ranger-led tour would have given us insight about the area, and allowed us to see additional features such as Skull Arch and Surprise Arch. The tour visits these, but we didn’t know where they were, so we missed out.
Fiery Furnace was a blast – from exploring, to scrambling, and even getting lost! Arches has lots of interesting hikes, but this one is particularly unique and mysterious. We enjoyed it so much that we considered hiking it again the following year when we returned to the area, but decided against it in favor of a new hike. Some day we will be back though. We snapped a lot of photos, but they really don’t capture the essence of Fiery Furnace – you have to go there and experience it.
Date: Wednesday, March 28, 2018
Type: Loop day hike
Total Distance: ~1.2 miles (1.9 km)
Cumulative Elevation Gain/Loss: ~684 feet (208 m)
Time: 3 hours, including exploring, breaks, and getting lost
Trail Markings: Small arrows
Crowds: One other group near the trailhead
Highlights: Geological Features, Views, Adventure
Directions to Fiery Furnace Trailhead: Google Maps Directions
Notes: Distance and elevation gain are estimated, and don’t include any of the side routes, exploring, or getting lost! We don’t include a topographic map, as it wouldn’t be very helpful – and exploring is part of the fun!
- Walk Through Bridge | 38.74345, -109.56145 (estimated)
- Inner Sanctum Bridge | 38.74268, -109.55957(estimated)
- Skull Arch | 38.74506, -109.56046 (estimated)
- Kissing Turtles Arch | 38.7449, -109.5613 (estimated)
- Surprise Arch | 38.74788, -109.56473 (estimated)
- Fiery Furnace Hike (NPS)
- Self-Guided Fiery Furnace Permits (Recreation.gov)
- Ranger-Guided Fiery Furnace Permits (Recreation.gov)