Devils Garden and Primitive Loop Trail
Arches National Park
Distance: 7.8 mi (12.6 km) round trip
Cumulative Elevation Gain/Loss: 1669 feet (509 m)
Date Visited: Monday, March 26, 2018
Devils Garden Trail Map (KTNP)
This is the big one – the longest maintained trail in Arches National Park. The one with the most arches. And the second-most crowded (beat only by Delicate Arch Trail). Devils Garden Trail is a full-day hike, and worth every minute. The featured arch on the hike is Landscape Arch, the longest in North America. There are also six other main arches, a large obelisk called Dark Angel, and a few other formations that aren’t as well advertised.
The trail forms a lollipop loop, with several side trails. There are many ways you can hike Devils Garden – a short out and back (to Landscape Arch), longer out and back (to Double O Arch), or hiking the entire Primitive Loop Trail. If you’ve read our other posts, you probably already know we planned to do the whole 7.8 mile trail, including the primitive loop along with every arch and feature we could find.
Devils Garden Trail
After our last night in Devils Garden Campground, we headed to the nearby trail with the same name. The trailhead is located at the north end of the main park road, but it’s only 0.3 miles from the campground. When we arrived in the massive parking lot around 9am, it was already packed with visitors. It takes awhile to get to the trailhead from the park entrance, so plan to leave extra early if you’re staying outside the park.
It was a sunny, yet cool morning – perfect for starting an all day hike. This was one trail that we had really been looking forward to, so we were excited as we approached the trailhead. A trail guide was available to purchase for $0.50, so we grabbed one. The brochure provides a map, details on hike options, and information about the area. The same guide is also available online as a PDF from the National Park Service. Our feet hit the graded gravel trail and we were off. Our first destinations were Tunnel and Pine Tree Arches. Both are located on short spurs off the main trail.
Tunnel and Pine Tree Arches
Initially the path takes you through some large fins, which is a dramatic start. The hike doesn’t have much shade, so a hat and sunscreen are a must. Layers are also helpful – we had jackets since it was cool, but the weather would warm up significantly. After a quarter mile, we turned right onto a side trail to check out our first two arches.
We headed downhill, and the trail split again to the left and right. First, we took the trail on the right to Tunnel Arch. A short distance down the trail, we started looking for the arch. It took a little bit of searching, but we saw it off towards our right in the distance. Unless the lighting and angle are ideal, it can be difficult to spot. We couldn’t get close to this one, as it’s high up and off the trail. Then we turned around and went the other way to Pine Tree Arch.
On the way to the nearby Pine Tree Arch, we had views of fins and the prairie to the north. Before we knew it, we were walking through the large arch, which has several pine trees at its base. Walking through an arch gives you a different vantage point, which we appreciated. After admiring the rock formation, we backtracked until we were back on the main Devils Garden Trail.
As we enjoyed prairie views, we continued on to Landscape Arch. It was an easy walk on the level path. Just before reaching the arch, we passed an inconspicuous sign on the right, letting us know we were already technically on the Primitive Loop Trail. We were surprised, since the terrain was still relatively flat. Nearby, we spotted Landscape Arch – seemingly the most popular formation on this trail. Like many arches, it was named by Frank Beckwith during his 1933-1934 exploration of the area.
We observed Landscape Arch from a small viewing platform on the right side – that’s as close as you can get for safety reasons. The arch is visually appealing, and its shape and size make it seem like an amazing feat of nature. It’s the longest arch in the United States, and the fifth longest in the world. It’s only six feet wide at its narrowest – and it looks even narrower over the 306-foot wide opening.
Landscape Arch is fenced off since it’s so fragile and potentially dangerous. In September 1991, a large chunk of sandstone detached and fell to the ground. More pieces fell in June of 1995, and we spotted the remnants below the arch. Interestingly, visitors could walk under the arch prior to those events. I’m okay with having missed that opportunity in this case.
As we looked at Landscape Arch, we noticed a smaller arch beyond it on the right. That’s Partition Arch, which the trail would lead to later. While looking at a map to confirm, a man asked us if we knew where to find Wall Arch, which he’d seen years ago. We had never heard of it, and it wasn’t on our map. After our trip, we decided to do some research. It turns out there had been another nearby formation called Wall Arch, but it collapsed in 2008. Just like all national parks, Arches NP reflects the constantly changing natural world – though sometimes the changes here can be a bit more dramatic.
Partition and Navajo Arches
Many visitors choose to turn around at Landscape Arch, but the trail continues. A nearby sign reads “Caution Primitive Trail – Difficult Hiking.” At this point, the trail transitions from a graded gravel trail to more challenging and varied terrain. There are steeps slopes, scrambling, and potential water crossings, particularly on the latter half of the Primitive Loop Trail (after Double O Arch). Until Double O Arch though, we would categorize Primitive Loop Trail as a moderately challenging hike.
Appropriately, the trail starts ascending up a fin after this point. It was a bit unnerving as we headed up, particularly since it was a windy day. The trail was still decently crowded, so we tried to give everyone space, and wait for other hikers as needed. As we were scrambling up the fin, someone stopped right in front of me, and thankfully I noticed and stopped instead of crashing into them. I should have left more room, since it’s pretty much single file in this spot.
At the top of the fin, Partition Arch came back into view to the west. As we hiked, we pointed out rock formations and told each other the random objects we thought they resembled. One looked suspiciously like a slice of pizza. As we pointed it out, another hiker chimed in to tell us he agreed. So we’re not the only crazy ones! Sadly though, we didn’t get a photo (if you get a photo of it, we’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Five minutes later, we turned left at the intersection for Partition and Navajo Arches. There seemed to be fewer people on these side trails – it felt more secluded, at least for the moment, which we appreciated. At the next fork, we headed toward Partition Arch. It’s actually two arches side by side, and they look like holes punched out of a monolith. Looking through the arches gave us a scenic view out over the prairie.
Next, we headed toward Navajo Arch. Tucked under a fin, it seemed to appear out of nowhere. We ducked underneath to get a view from the other side. Behind it was a puddle that reflected the arch and surrounding pine trees. Given the lighting, we could see the definition of the arch better from this perspective. Navajo Arch is particularly photogenic, and we had it all to ourselves.
Double O Arch
Back on Primitive Loop Trail, we continued our adventure. We followed rock cairns and slickrock, making sure to avoid any cryptobiotic soil. The trail ascended onto a large sandstone fin, which we hiked on for a good ways. Looking behind us, we could see the ubiquitous La Sal Mountains. Walking along the fin was fun, and a little scary when the wind picked up. As we descended, we could see a maze of fins in the distance to our right.
At the end of the fin, we arrived at Black Arch Overlook. We gazed out over Devils Garden, looking for the titular Black Arch. There’s no defined trail to get to the arch; I’ve read online of an unmarked route, but never found exact directions. From the overlook, Black Arch is only visible as a dark shadow. Since the lighting wasn’t optimal, it was hard to pick out the arch from the other formations in the distance. It might be better at another time of day – for reference, we were there around noon.
About ten minutes after leaving Black Arch Overlook, we reached Double O Arch. Similar to Partition Arch, it’s two arches, this time aligned vertically. The “trail” to the arch goes through sand, then through the lower arch. There were a number of visitors congregating here, waiting for others to cross under the arch, and taking photos.
We like to go through arches when possible, since it lends a unique perspective. Walking through the opening of Double O Arch allowed us to look out over the prairie at sweeping views and picturesque rock formations. In the distance, we could also see our next stop: Dark Angel.
Double O Arch is located at a four-way intersection. One path is the Primitive Loop Trail that we had arrived on. The second is Dark Angel Trail, which leads to a large obelisk called Dark Angel. The third is a short spur trail to Double O Arch. Lastly, the Primitive Loop Trail continues on, then eventually terminates near Landscape Arch. From the intersection, we spotted Dark Angel again, and headed toward it. This section is easy terrain. Along the way, we stopped to have some much needed lunch along a “cliff” edge. From there, we looked out in the distance and saw Klondike Bluffs, where we had hiked Tower Arch a couple days prior.
It’s only 0.4 miles, one way, from Double O Arch to Dark Angel. The obelisk is huge, and we guessed it was over 100 feet tall (it’s actually around 125 feet tall). We walked around the obelisk, wondering how it had formed. Later, we learned that there are petroglyphs and pictographs located near Dark Angel. If we had known when we visited, we would’ve tried to find them! The rock art was created by the Fremont and Anasazi (Ancestral Puebloans), so please preserve it if you visit.
Continuing Primitive Loop Trail
After checking out Dark Angel, we retraced our steps and had a view of the La Sals again. We reached the four-way intersection at Double O Arch, and turned left back onto Primitive Loop Trail. A group was trying to find their way and asked if we knew how to get to Double O Arch – it can be tricky navigating the crisscrossing paths. Near the intersection, we saw a Hopi chipmunk (Neotamias rufus) scurrying about. We were lucky to get a photo! Wildlife is abundant in Arches NP, but actually spotting it is another story.
Along this section of the Primitive Loop Trail, there were even fewer hikers. Up ahead, we noticed some arches that weren’t on our maps, so we were curious whether they were named, or whether they were even true arches (or if the shadows were playing tricks on us). They are indeed arches. The first was Shadow Box Arch, on a fin to our right. It’s not the most impressive arch, but it was easy to spot from the trail. Further down the trail is an arch called Top Story Window, high up on a fin. I thought this one was more visually appealing.
The trail continues over sandstone and through washes. There were a few pools of water too, which we found unusual in the desert. Primitive Loop Trail is known for having standing water (I assume it’s from rainfall). The trail can be tricky to cross at certain points, but the few pools we had found so far were easy enough to get around. Eventually, we turned right at the intersection to Private Arch.
After about ten minutes, we hiked onto a large sandstone fin as Private Arch became visible. A few people were eating lunch nearby. Even though it’s called “Private Arch,” it isn’t really that secluded. For some solitude and better lighting, we went behind the arch. Then, we decided to walk further along the fin for a view into the heart of Devils Garden.
Returning on Primitive Loop Trail
After backtracking to Primitive Loop Trail, we continued on. There was more water along the route, but it was relatively easy to avoid. We started descending on a sandy trail surrounded by rocks. I commented that “the trail will probably be like this from here on out.” Famous last words.
Interestingly, there’s a backcountry campsite, Devils Garden 1 (DG1), along this route if you wish to make the hike an overnight. It was established after our visit, so we didn’t get to check it out. It sounds like a fun option for this hike, if you can secure a permit. We didn’t backpack in Arches because the park was in the process of shifting from dispersed camping to designated sites during our visit. Arches NP would be a fantastic place to backpack though.
We came upon a sandstone area that didn’t have any clear cairns, and we wondered where to go. Finally, we spotted the next cairn on some rocks. As we climbed down the rocks and a large log, we heard another group talking loudly as they approached from the opposite direction. Descending the sandstone trail, they spotted us and one guy asked if we had done this route before. “No,” we replied. “Have fun with THAT,” he said, motioning toward the rock they had just hiked down.
So we climbed up and saw a very thin, steeply sloping “trail” tracing its way along the rock face. The “trail” then turned back on itself as it descended. It looked a bit scary, and we hadn’t encountered anything like it before. We put our hands on the rock face, and slowly moved across the sandstone. Sometimes we couldn’t quite figure out where to put our feet or hands, but tried to keep up the momentum. I went first, and guided Travis as he followed. Thankfully, we made it in one piece. A fall wouldn’t have been fatal, but I might have broken a limb.
Our next obstacle was a pool of water that blocked our route. It was in a depression with stone “walls” on both sides. It looked like we might be able to go around on the right side, but we decided instead to go straight through it. There were a bunch of logs in the water, so we stepped on them as we walked through. We also found a stick, which we used for balance, since we hadn’t brought our trekking poles. The logs sank a bit as we trudged through. My feet got wet, but the weather was warm enough that it didn’t matter.
Next, we briefly walked through a wash before ascending on a sandy trail. A few groups passed us in both directions. There was beautiful scenery of the mountains and desert, but we were getting tired at this point and were ready to be done. In the distance, we saw the main trail, dotted with tons of hikers. Near Landscape Arch, Primitive Loop Trail joined up with the main Devils Garden Trail. Retracing our earlier route, we arrived back at the parking lot before driving into Moab for dinner.
Parts of the trail are crowded, but the further you hike, the fewer people there are. There are many arches, breathtaking views, and even obstacles that make this trail special. You can pick and choose which arches to see; our favorites were Landscape, Partition, and Navajo. We highly recommend this trail, even if you only stop to see a few landmarks.
Devils Garden and Primitive Loop Trail
Date: Monday, March 26, 2018
Type: Lollipop loop day hike
Total Distance: 7.8 mi (12.6 km) round trip
Cumulative Elevation Gain/Loss: 1669 feet (509 m)
Time: 6.5 hours, including lunch and breaks
Trail Markings: Wayfinding cairns
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
Crowds: Heavy at the start, less as you go farther, few on Primitive Loop Trail
Water: Standing water possible on Primitive Loop Trail
Highlights: Geological Features, Views
Directions to Devils Garden Parking: Google Maps Directions
Notes: We did everything that could be done on this trail, but you could skip some arches or make it an out-and-back if desired. There’s also one campsite located along the Primitive Loop Trail, if you want to make this an overnight hike.
- 0.0 mi – From the trailhead, walk through the large fins and onto the main trail
- 0.3 mi – Turn right at the intersection to Tunnel and Pine Tree Arches. Walk 300 feet down the hill to another intersection, then turn right. Check out Tunnel Arch (on your right, above). Retrace your steps back to the intersection, and go straight toward Pine Tree Arch.
- 0.5 mi – Walk through Pine Tree Arch, if you like, then hike back to the intersection.
- 0.7 mi – Turn right at the intersection, go back up the hill, and turn right which takes you back onto the main Devils Garden Trail.
- 1.3 mi – At the intersection with the Primitive Loop Trail, bear left toward Landscape Arch.
- 1.4 mi – At Landscape Arch, check out the view from the platform. Continue past the sign that reads “Caution Primitive Trail – Difficult Hiking.” The trail will ascend a large fin.
- 1.7 mi – Turn left at the intersection toward Partition and Navajo Arches. Continue 250 feet, then turn left again toward Partition Arch.
- 1.9 mi – Check out Partition Arch, then walk back to the intersection.
- 2.1 mi – Turn left toward Navajo Arch.
- 2.3 mi – Enjoy Navajo Arch, then walk back to the intersection.
- 2.5 mi – Bear left, then walk 250 feet and turn left onto Primitive Loop Trail. The path will continue on slickrock before ascending and taking you on top of a sandstone fin.
- 3.0 mi – The sandstone fin portion ends at Black Arch Overlook. See if you can spot the titular arch (it can be hard to locate).
- 3.3 mi – At the junction, continue straight toward Double O Arch. Don’t forget to walk through it and explore the other side. Then return to the junction and turn left – follow the sign toward Dark Angel. You’ll see the obelisk in the distance.
- 3.9 mi – Check out Dark Angel. Then head back the way you came.
- 4.3 mi – Back at the junction, turn left on Primitive Loop Trail. As you hike, keep an eye out for some lesser known arches.
- 4.7 mi – Turn right onto the trail to Private Arch.
- 5.0 mi – Arrived at Private Arch. Check it out, then hike back the same way.
- 5.3 mi – At the intersection, turn right onto Primitive Loop Trail.
- 7.0 mi – Turn left onto Devils Garden Trail. You’ll see Landscape Arch off to the right.
- 7.8 mi – Back at the parking lot.
- Devils Garden Trailhead | 38.782811, -109.594943
- Pine Tree Arch | 38.787503, -109.598741
- Tunnel Arch | 38.784885, -109.596788
- Landscape Arch | 38.790522, -109.607260
- Former Wall Arch | 38.792289, -109.607795
- Navajo Arch | 38.791393, -109.609108
- Partition Arch | 38.791704, -109.608410
- Black Arch Overlook | 38.797143, -109.616044
- Double O Arch | 38.799049, -109.621138
- Dark Angel | 38.801413, -109.627493
- Private Arch | 38.801175, -109.616040
2 thoughts on “Devils Garden and Primitive Loop Trail”
Wonderful write-up and pictures. Thank you so much.
The only writeup I’ve found yet of the primitive trail that accurately calls out the “sketchy” part. Agreed, very sketchy!