Arches National Park

Overview

Arches National Park is known for its namesake natural sandstone arch structures formed by millions of years of erosion. The uniqueness of the desert views and the ability to get close to these amazing rock structures makes this park one we highly recommend visiting. Arches was protected as a National Monument in 1929 and transitioned to a National Park in 1971. Before becoming protected, native populations lived in this area for thousands of years and (as we cover later) you’ll have the chance to see some of the petroglyphs they’ve left behind during your visit. Today, Arches covers over 76,000 acres of high desert in eastern Utah and is highly accessible to hikers of all experience levels.

In this post we’ll talk about: top hikes inside the park, where to stay when visiting Arches, and tips for making sure your experience is second to none.

Location

Arches is located on the eastern side of Utah, near Colorado, near the junction of Route 70 and Route 191. The entrance is at the south end of the park and it has one “major” road running through the middle. There are several turns off the main road to various attractions, but with a copy of the park map and the signs along the roads it’s easy to keep track of where you should be going.

Park Map

Included on the map are rock features and landscapes you can see from the road: Balance Rock, Petrified Dunes, etc., the various trails inside the park, campsites, and locations with bathrooms and water stations. Water stations are located at several of the trail heads, but not all. Make sure to fill up if water is available to you because Arches can get really hot and dry. For a more detailed map you can visit here.

Where to Stay

We stayed in Devil’s Garden Campground during our time at Arches. This is the only campsite actually inside the park and fills up quickly. With this in mind, we reserved a spot as far as possible in advance on recreation.gov. The earliest that you can get a reservation for this campground between March 1st and October 31st is exactly 6 months before your stay at 10 AM eastern. Staying inside the park has some major advantages; it is extremely affordable (it was $25 a night for the site) and it gives you the ability to stay out on the trails later and get started hiking earlier. When booking your site you will need to know the days you’re staying, whether you need an RV site and the size of your group.  Devil’s Garden campground is located at the north end of the park, in between the Devil’s Garden Trailhead and Broken Arch Trailhead.

Map of the north end of Arches

Our overall review of the campground was very positive. The campground has sites for both RVs and spots for cars + tents (we stayed in our tents). In general, the campsites are fairly small and didn’t provide much isolation from each other. With so many sites close together you could expect it to feel cramped, but we didn’t see anyone in the neighboring sites or hear anyone at all which made it feel secluded. There are bathrooms with flushing toilets and water available near the entrance to the campground. Last but not least, the location of Devil’s Garden Campground makes it ideal for an early morning hike on the Devil’s Garden Trail.

Sunrise View from Devil’s Garden Campground

If you miss out on your chance to get to stay in Devil’s Garden Campground there are a ton of amenities in the surrounding area (Moab is just a couple miles to the south). One thing to note is that the entrance into Arches can get backed up in the morning which can add a delay for getting inside the park. With that in mind, plus our positive experience staying inside the park, we recommend trying to get your site at the Devil’s Garden Campground as far in advance as possible.

Hikes

We did two major hikes while at Arches and they provided two very different, but both enjoyable experiences. We also did a handful of short hikes throughout the park which we will not cover here. The shorter hikes can be done really quickly and provide some good views, but in my opinion weren’t as spectacular as the others. For your itinerary, I’d prioritize scheduling small hikes around the Delicate Arch Trail and Devil’s Garden Trail hikes.

Delicate Arch Trail – A view so good Utahans put it on their license plates.

Delicate Arch is likely the most famous arch in the park. Its likeness has been found on: America the Beauty Series quarters, the Utah license plate, and if my memory serves me correctly, it was a default background option for Windows 98 or 2000. This is all for good reason too: the arch is beautiful by itself, but it is also situated in such a way that you get amazing views of the surrounding area and La Sal Mountains.

While we were at Arches we had the opportunity to do the Delicate Arch Trail which is a 3.1 mile in-and-out trail with just over 600 feet elevation gain. This hike goes up a sandstone slab. Towards the end there are a couple of narrow-ish ledges (3 ft across) you have to walk over and then there is the sandstone bowl that surrounds the arch. The bowl around the arch is fairly slick and leads to a drop off. If you are sure footed it is no problem, but those in our group with a fear of heights found it slightly vertigo inducing (not as bad as Angel’s Landing though). If this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, there is a really short Delicate Arch Viewpoint Trail where you can still see the arch, but it’s no substitute to getting up close and personal. If you have the time and ability, definitely do the full hike.

NOTE: There’s no water at this trail head so make sure you have plenty before you start. I messed up reading the map and had some unhappy hikers on my hand. To this day they still make fun of me to this day about this mistake.

Hike back down

We started the hike at 7:50 PM, reached the Arch at ~8:30 PM and got to the bottom around 9:15 PM. We thought our timing was awesome because it was temperate, the trail was emptying out, and we got to see the sunset on the way down. Hiking when it’s getting dark can be dangerous so please plan accordingly for yourself. Bring a headlamp If you’re going to start a hike later in the day in case you end up being out there a little too late. One of the major pluses of hiking when there are few people on the trail is the area around the arch is limited and is relatively steep. Being there when it is more empty gives you more quality time for photos and getting a close-up view.

Once you’re done with your time at the arch it’s time to turn around and head back the way you came. Unfortunately since the trail is in-and-out there’s not too much else to experience on the way down. One thing that you can add to your hike which will provide a unique experience is the opportunity to see some petroglyphs. Take a right about .2 miles from the trailhead to get a glimpse of these paintings that have survived thousands of years.

Petroglyphs

Overall this hike was one of the most memorable in the park. A summary of our tips I have for you are: start early or late – try to avoid the crowds, make sure you’ve filled up with water before you drive to the trail head, and bring a headlamp if you’re hiking around sundown.

Devil’s Garden Trail – Up to Seven Arches on a Single Trail

Devil’s Garden Trail is a 7.5 mile loop that goes through some of the most rugged landscape in Arches National Park.  One of the major pluses of the trail is that it gives hikers the opportunity to go by 7 different arches. The trail leads out of the northernmost section of the park and the trail head has both toilets and potable water. There is also parking in this area, but it is limited.

We started the hike at 6:50 AM, which again was perfect for two main reasons: we only saw one family on the hike out and the weather was temperate. This trail is almost completely exposed, so hiking at midday could range from hot to blistering (see here for monthly temperature averages). Almost all of the arches have a small viewpoint that allows you to get up and close to the arches. These viewpoints are limited in size so If the trail was packed, we would expect that you could feel rushed through those sections. One unique part of this hike is that you have the opportunity to take the primitive trail (the trail section beyond Private Arch, if traveling clockwise around the loop), which presents it’s own challenges. “The obstacles in this segment include difficult route finding, steep slopes, narrow drop-offs, and rock scrambling.” – NPS  We did not do the primitive trail on this trip, but this is something we are definitely going to try next time we go back.

The major reason we skipped out on the primitive trail was we were pressed for time because we needed to get to our next stop on our road trip. To cut it short, we only hiked to Double O Arch, and came back the same way. We recommend this modification if you’re not confident about the primitive trail or are strapped for time – because you can see 6/7 Arches without having to do the hardest section of the hike .

Some of the things we liked about this hike were: the variety of arches, hiking along the ridge line out to Double O, and the landscape views. A couple of times during the hike we found ourselves off the trail, but it was pretty easy to get back on track.

We recommend this hike for the possibility to see some really cool arches and get out into more of the wilderness in Arches. The major piece of advice for this trail is: get out early to avoid the heat.

Conclusion

Our stop at Arches was brief ( <16 hours including sleeping), but extremely memorable. For your future travel plans, we think that you could properly experience the entire park in 1-2 days and not miss a thing. A quick summary for your planning purposes is:

Don’t leave the park without seeing:

  • Delicate Arch
  • Devil’s Garden Trail

Tips:

  • Camp in the park if you can & get an early start to miss the crowds
  • Hike on off hours to avoid the crowds and the heat
  • Make sure to carry enough water – it’s dry and hot here
  • Both Delicate Arch and Devil’s Garden Trails can be experienced with a short hike if you don’t want to do the full distance
  • Delicate Arch Viewpoint  – View of the arch from a distance (only .7 miles round trip)
  • First 2 miles of Devil’s Garden Trail takes you to great views of 5 arches

Hope you enjoy Arches as much as we did!

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