The Arches National Park is characterised by incredible desert landscapes and scenery, with most of the viewpoints and hiking trails being easily accessible. Arches was changed from a national monument (established in 1929) to a national park in 1971, when its size was increased to 29,708 hectares (73,379 acres). It has over 2,000 natural stone arches as well as soaring pinnacles, massive rock fins, and giant balanced rocks with a number of short hikes and vantage points along the 17 mile Arches Scenic Drive. It’s fairly easy to see the main attractions along the Scenic Drive and to expore a few of the trails in a day (Delicate Arch, The Windows Section trails and Desert Garden are some of the best hikes – epecially early or late in the day).
You can also take a tour out of Moab into Arches National Park (some combine Arches with Canyonlands), which take you into the backcountry or make sure you’re at the best spots to get great photos.
The Arches Scenic drive
The Arches Scenic Drive is a fairly heavily-trafficked, sealed road which connects all the main areas of Arches National Park. There are frequent viewpoints along the road, with carparks for the more popular features and trailheads.
The Arches National Park Road heads steeply up into the park, with a few spots along the road where you can safely stop for a photo down into the valley.
The first lookout is Park Avenue, where a paved path leads to “a viewpoint down a corridor of towering rock walls and curiously carved spires”. (A steep one-mile return trail continues from here to Courthouse Towers Viewpoint, which is further down the road.)
In the distance are the Le Sal Mountains: Spaniards during the colonization of North America thought inconceivable that there could still be snow in the mountains when it was so hot in the valley, so believing the mountains were made of salt they called them Sierra de la Sal or Mountain of Salt.
The road passes the Courthouse Towers, a series of spires (or isolate monoliths) that tower 300-700 feet (90m-215m) up from the desert floor. They includes Baby Arch, Three Gossips, Ring Arch and the Tower of Babel.
Further along are the Petrified Dunes, a series of rock formations formed when ancient sand dunes hardened into stone.
There’s many more interesting but un-named formations as the road continues through Arches National Park.
The next viewpoint is Balanced Rock, visible from the road just before the turn-off to the Windows.
Along the road to the Windows Section of the park is the Garden of Eden, which has a fascinating assortment of rock formations including Adam and Eve and the Devil’s Golf Ball.
There’s no trails here, but a short walk between two rock spires leads to a nice vantage point over the park.
One of the spires is Owl Rock rock: a “fun, 100′ single pitch spire” which has a few climbers on top of the rock.
Panoramic Point offers sweeping (but not particularly spectacular) views of the La Sal Mountains, the Fiery Furnace, and Devils Garden.
Hikes in The Arches National Park
There are a variety of hiking trails in the Arches National Park, with most of them considered easy to moderate.
|Arches Visitor Center Nature Trail||150 feet / 100m||Easy||Learn about native desert plants & their usges|
|Balanced Rock Trail||0.3 mi / 0.4km||Easy||Partly paved trail to base of rock formation|
|Sand Dune Arch Trail||0.4 mi / 0.6km||Easy||Hidden arch between two sandstone walls|
|Skyline Arch Trail||0.4 mi / 0.6km||Easy||Well-defined trail to an arch in a high wall|
|Delicate Arch Viewpoint Trails||0.5 mi / 0.8km||Easy||Two viewpoints over the most famous arch|
|Double Arch Viewpoint and Trail||0.6 mi / 1km||Easy||Easy, gravel trail to tallest arch in the park|
|Broken Arch Trail||0.8 mi / 1.4km||Easy||Arches National Park Road|
|Courthouse Wash Panel Trail||0.8 mi / 1.4km||Easy||Partly paved trail to rock art panel. (From Hway 191)|
|Windows Viewpoint and Trail||1 mi / 1.6km||Easy||Easy trail to North Window, South Window, Turret Arch|
|Broken Arch Trail||1.2 mi / 1.9km||Easy||Trail from Sand Dune Arch carpark to Broken Arch|
|Landscape Arch Trail||1.8 mi / 2.9km||Easy||Popular, easy trail to large ribbon-like arch|
|Courthouse Towers Viewpoint||1.8 mi / 2.9km||Easy/Moderate||Follows bottom of canyon up to Park Avenue Lookout|
|Park Avenue Viewpoint and Trail||1.8 mi / 2.9km||Easy||Descend stairs to walk among massive monoliths|
|Tower Arch Trail||2.6 mi / 4.2km||Easy/Moderate||4WD access. Sandstone fins and sand dunes.|
|Delicate Arch Trail||3 miles / 4.8km||Easy/Moderate||Popular trail up to most famous arch in the park|
|Devils Garden Trails||7.9 miles 12.7km||Easy/Moderate||Range of trails to different arches & rock formations|
You could do all of the trails in a day (or two) with almost all of them reached via the main sealed road through the park. The exceptions are Tower Arch Trail which is reached via an 8mi / 14 km drive on unpaved roads, and Fiery Furnace which requires a pre-booked ticket for a ranger-led hike or self-guided walk.
Some of the best (and most popular) hikes in Arches National Park are:
The Windows hikes
A few short trails can be combined to explore the busy and popular Windows Section of Arches National Park, which contains a large concentration of arches and is considered one of the most scenic locations in the park.
Distance: 1.8mi / 2.9km. Allow an hour.
Delicate Arch hike
Definitely not a hike to do if you want to avoid the crowds, this popular trail goes past Wolfe Ranch cabin and a wall of Ute Indian petroglyphs, before reaching the iconic Delicate Arch. It’s super-busy at sunset, which is the best time to view the arch.
Distance: 3 mi / 4.8km return. Allow 2 hours.
Corona Arch Hike
Corona Arch is one of the largest and most spectacular arches near Moab – although now banned, airplanes have flown through the opening. Nearby is the smaller Bowtie Arch. The Corona Arch trail is just outside the Arches National Park – a great hike to undertake if Arches National Park is too busy.
Distance: 3mi / 4.6km return. Allow 1.5-2 hours.
Getting to The Arches National Park
Arches is accessed via the gateway town of Moab, which is the largest city and county seat of Grand County in eastern Utah in the western United States. The closest major airport is in Salt Lake City (Utah), which is 235mi / 380km from Moab (about a 4 hour drive). There are some smaller airports a bit closer – Canyonlands Field Airport is 18mi / 25km north of Moab and Walker Field Airport (in Grand Junction, Colorado) is 110mi / 175km away – but flight options are fairly limited.
Accommodation near The Arches National Park
There’s no accommodation within Moab or Canyonlands; the closest town is Moab which has a huge range of places to stay – ost of them are along the main road (US Highway 191). For something a bit different, Under Canvas (which was awarded one of the ‘Best Resort Hotels in Utah’ by Travel + Leisure magazine) offers luxury safari tents.
When to visit The Arches
As with many national parks in this area, summer is best avoided due to the extreme heat; winter can be a good time to visit with much lower visitor numbers – but ice and snow can make the roads dangerous and hiking more challenging. The best time of year is spring and autumn/fall, when daytime temperatures are typically 60° to 80°F (16°-27°C) and the nights are cool.