Tower Arch Trail

Tower Arch Trail

Arches National Park

Type: Out and back day hike
Distance: 2.5 mi (4.0 km) round trip
Cumulative Elevation Gain/Loss: 686 feet (209 m)
Date Visited: Sunday, March 25, 2018
Tower Arch Trail Map (KTNP)

After getting set up at Devils Garden Campground and checking out the visitor center, we went on our first hike in Arches National Park. We chose Tower Arch Trail, in Klondike Bluffs, the northwest section of the park. The 2.5 mile trail is named after the titular Tower Arch at the end. Along the way is a well known rock formation called the Marching Men, which looks exactly like it sounds.

Compared with most hikes in the park, this one is more secluded and as a result, less crowded. Near Devils Garden Campground is a turnoff for Salt Valley Road, a dirt/gravel road that leads to the trailhead. We took a 4WD SUV, but you could easily use a 2WD vehicle. The 8-mile drive has scenic views, so we stopped a few times to take photos.

After seven miles, we reached an intersection with a 4WD road to the left. This road leads almost directly to Tower Arch. But we wanted to hike to the arch, so we continued 300 feet to the next intersection, and turned left. A mile later, we arrived at the trailhead.

Arches: Salt Valley Road
The start of Salt Valley Road, which leads to Klondike Bluffs
Arches: View of Skyline Arch from Salt Valley Road
From Salt Valley Road, we spotted Skyline Arch, which is located in Devils Garden Campground
Arches: View From Salt Valley Road Toward La Sal Mountains
Looking toward the La Sal Mountains from Salt Valley Road
Arches: Salt Valley Road Turn Off to Tower Arch Trailhead
After 7.2 miles, we reached the turnoff to the Tower Arch trailhead
Arches: Tower Arch Trailhead Parking Lot
Tower Arch Trail Parking Lot

Tower Arch Trail

The parking lot only has space for about eight cars, but there are overflow areas too. We grabbed our gear and started the hike, which begins with a short uphill scramble of 150 feet. Initially we took our trekking poles, but realized they were getting in our way. We decided to drop them back at the car, and we were glad because they aren’t needed on this hike. After the initial scramble, the trail was relatively flat.

From the top of the ascent, we looked at all the beautiful views around us. We saw spots of craggy, black cryptobiotic soil, which helps control erosion and retain water in the desert. Stepping on it will destroy the living crust, and a minimal amount can take up to seven years to reform, so staying on the trail is important. Thankfully, it’s easy to do since the trail is primarily on slickrock. Occasional cairns guided us as we made our way to the arch.

Arches: Tower Arch Trailhead
Tower Arch Trailhead
Arches: Looking Back at Tower Arch Parking Lot
Looking back toward the parking lot
Arches: Initial Uphill Scramble Tower Arch Trail
The initial uphill hike / scramble
Arches: Cryptobiotic Soil on Tower Arch Trail
Cryptobiotic soil, which helps control erosion and retain water in the desert. Make sure to avoid stepping on it!
Arches: Looking West After Initial Uphill on Tower Arch Trail
Looking east toward the La Sal Mountains, after the initial uphill scramble

As we reached a high point in the trail, sweeping views appeared. Suddenly we were overlooking a wide open bowl-shaped valley surrounded by rock formations, and it literally took our breath away. We gradually descended into the area over the next half mile, snapping lots of photos on the way.

We pointed out every rock formation we saw, and wondered whether it was the Marching Men. Near the end of the valley area, we finally spotted them based on a picture we saw beforehand. They were on our left (to the south) and are hard to miss if you know what you’re looking for. The trail started ascending a sandy hill as we left the valley. Soon we were amidst striking vertical sandstone formations called fins.

Arches: Tower Arch Trail Slickrock
Following cairns across slickrock
Arches: Looking Out Over Valley on Tower Arch Trail
Looking out over the valley
Arches: Tower Arch Trail Through Valley
The trail as it goes through the valley
Arches: Marching Men Rock Formation along Tower Arch Trail
The Marching Men
Arches: Sandy Uphill Climb Out of Valley on Tower Arch Trail
Sandy uphill climb out of valley

Tower Arch

From a distance, we spotted Tower Arch, and just beyond it, a vertical rock formation that gives the arch its name. Tower Arch has a span of 92 feet, which while big, isn’t close to the largest in the park. But you can walk underneath and explore this one, which adds to the experience.

A nearby intersection leads to the 4WD road, but we were glad we hiked in. We headed straight for the arch, and climbed up until we were underneath it. Good views were everywhere, but my favorite was looking out from behind the arch with rock formations in the distance. A few ground squirrels scurried around as we examined some wildflowers. We took a break for lunch as we enjoyed the scene.

If you can find them, there are also two inscriptions at the base of the Arch: the Ringhoffer Inscription, and the H.S Bell inscription which named the arch “Minaret Bridge.” Both inscriptions were created in the 1920s (before doing so was illegal). The name “Minaret Bridge” didn’t stick though, and it was named Tower Arch by Frank Beckwith in 1934 during an expedition to survey the park. Unfortunately, we didn’t learn about them until after our visit.

Arches: Approach Tower Arch
The tall rock formation in the middle is directly above the arch! This is likely how Tower Arch got its name.
Arches: Intersection For 4WD Road at Tower Arch
This intersection is near Tower Arch, and the trail leads to the 4WD road
Arches: First Glimpse of Tower Arch
Our first glimpse of the arch
Arches: Getting Up to Tower Arch
Hiking up to Tower Arch
Arches: Looking Out From Behind Tower Arch
View out from behind the arch

Another feature we missed is Parallel Arch, about 400 feet south of Tower Arch. There are actually two arches right next to each other (Parallel Arch Outer and Parallel Arch Inner), but they can be hard to see. Another challenge for us to find next time. There are other arches in the Klondike Bluffs area, like Anniversary Arch North and South, but most are off-trail and hard to find.

After eating lunch on a large rock with a view of the arch, we headed back to the trailhead. This is one of the least populated hikes in Arches, and we only passed a few other groups on the way. As we climbed out of the bowl-shaped valley, a hiker coming the opposite way exclaimed, “Whoa!” as she came to the lip of the bowl. That was pretty much our reaction too!

Tower Arch is impressive and you can beat the crowds that are pervasive in the other hikes in Arches National Park. It’s really not that hard to get to, but I guess the dirt road dissuades some people. While the NPS website lists Tower Arch as a difficult hike, we’d call it easy to moderate. It was a great introduction to the park, and we highly recommend it.

Arches: Rock Squirrel on Tower Arch Trail
A rock squirrel (Otospermophilus variegatus), a species of ground squirrel
Arches: Canyonlands Biscuitroot Along Tower Arch Trail
The rare, imperiled Canyonlands Biscuitroot (Lomatium latilobum) along Tower Arch Trail. Native Americans once ground the roots into flour, and use it to make a kind of “biscuit.” Be careful, as it can easily be killed with an inerrant step.
Arches: Marching Men Coming Back From Tower Arch
The Marching Men on our return trip
Arches: Looking North East Near Tower Arch Trailhead
A look northeast as we headed back to the trailhead

Tower Arch Trail

Date: Sunday, March 25, 2018
Out and back dayhike
Total Distance:
2.5 miles (4.0 km) round trip
Cumulative Elevation Gain/Loss:
686 feet (209 m)
Time: 2 hours, including lunch and breaks
Trail Markings: Cairns to guide the way
Difficulty: Easy
Crowds: Low
Water: None
Highlights: Geological Features, Views, Solitude
Directions to Tower Arch Parking: Google Maps Directions

Trail Directions

  • 0.0 mi – From the parking lot, start Tower Arch Trail by scrambling up the initial ascent.
  • 1.2 mi – Arrive at the intersection with the 4WD road. A short trail leads to Tower Arch. After checking out the arch, head back on the same trail, making sure to keep left at the intersection sign toward the Klondike Bluffs Trailhead.
  • 2.5 mi – Back at the parking lot.




Elevation Graph

Interactive Map

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