Arches National Park What to See and Do

Arches National Park – What to See and Do

If you are looking to be simply amazed by the power of water, ice and erosion, then you’ll love visiting Arches National Park.  There is a ton to see and do in the park, and whether you have just part of a day or several days to explore Moab, Utah and the surrounding area, Arches National Park is a great place to spend your time.

What to See and Do in Arches National Park

This relatively small park has many incredible places to visit that are easy access from a vehicle and the park’s main road.  Looking for something a bit more challenging?  There are several hikes that take up a half or full-day, will get you away from the crowds and will leave you awestruck.

There are many things to see and do in Arches National Park, and we hope this guide helps to point you in the right direction as you plan out your trek!

  

arches national park itinerary

Ahead of your trip to Arches National Park, download our Arches National Park itinerary.  We cover where to stay, the best hikes, what to pack, sample 1, 2 and 3 day itineraries and what to do ahead of your trip.  We also cover what to do while you are in the area! 

HOW ARE ARCHES FORMED?

The arches in Utah are made of sandstone.  Through a mixture of water, ice formation, wind and natural selection, natural erosion takes place to allow the formation of an arch.  Essentially, the strongest formation in nature forms (an arch) by giving way to all weak material that doesn’t contribute to the strength of the arch. 

The sandstone in Utah is exceptionally good at retaining just the right amount of water to be impacted by freezing, but also still being porous enough to have it drain out and not wash away the sandstone completely.

It’s really the perfect balance of conditions that occurs in Utah, and in this particular part of Utah, that allows continued formation of arches over the years.

What to See and Do in Arches National Park

Arches National Park map, courtesy of the National Park Service

 

ARCHES NATIONAL PARK RESERVATIONS AND TIMED ENTRY

Arches National Park used to be a “secret spot” when it was just a National Monument.  However, that’s not the case anymore.  In recent years, there has been a surge in visitation.  There is limited parking and capacity in the park, so there have been times when the park has been overcrowded and the park entrance needed to be shut down.  On some days, this happened by mid-morning!

In 2022 and going forward (at least as of this writing), Arches National Park is instituting a new reservation system in between early April and early October, when crowds tend to be at their highest.  Each day, a little over 1,000 vehicles will be allowed in the park, separated by set times (in one-hour blocks) that you reserve.

You can start booking on day 1 of each month for the next three full months.  For instance, on February 1, bookings open up for visits through May 31.  On March 1, bookings through June 30 will be available.  You can also look at 6PM MDT, as a few last-minute bookings will be available online the day before you want to enter into the park, but don’t count on these day-in-advance reservations being readily available!

Don’t worry-booking is easy (provided you do it well in advance!).  To reserve, you have to go online (through recreation.gov) or by calling the reservation line at 1-877-444-6777.  We recommend booking online for the easiest experience.

ENTRANCE AREA AND COURTHOUSE TOWER AREA

Entrance area map for Arches National Park

Entrance Area and Courthouse Tower Area map, courtesy of the National Park Service

The entrance area to Arches National Park is immediately off UT-191.  After climbing up past the visitor center, a short set of switchbacks leads you to a breathtaking entrance, with a tall, changed landscape.  The Courthouse towers to the left overtake the view, and from here forward the views are stunning.

While impressive, the Entrance Area only offers a few things to do, so you can either stop here on the way in briefly or move north to other, more popular (and crowded) parts of the park and take in this area on the way out of the park.

Whenever you visit the Entrance and Courthouse Tower Areas, we recommend the following:

  • Arches National Park Visitor Center. The only visitor center in Arches National Park is located just after the Entrance Station, before you really get to the main part of the park.  This is a great place to get information from rangers as well as obtain permits if needed.  There are some great wildlife exhibits and information on geology in the area.  There is also a store worth exploring.  We highly recommend a stop here on the way into the park, at least on the first day.
  • Viewpoints.  All the viewpoints in the park are worth checking out.  One of our favorites is the Park Avenue Viewpoint.  From here you can see the tall rock formations of Park Avenue, which are pretty spectacular.  At the La Sal Mountains Viewpoint, you can take in the scenery of the red rocks.  This is a great spot for sunrise and sunset.
  • Hiking.  Most of the hiking in Arches National Park is out further down the Park Road, but you can also get up and close to the Courthouse Towers from the one hike in the area that we recommend taking:
    • The Park Avenue Trail is a moderate 1.8-mile (round trip) hike. This out-and-back hike .5-mile (round-trip) hike and starts at the Park Avenue Trailhead, just after the switchbacks beyond the Visitor Center.  After starting downhill, the trail heads into a canyon past a rock formation and around The Courthouse.  This is an incredible place for photography, and you should try it at different times of day as the sun’s position changes how the light reflects against the rocks. 

 

DELICATE ARCH AND THE WINDOWS AREA

Delicate arch and windows map for arches national park

Delicate Arch and Windows Area map, courtesy of the National Park Service

If you are visiting Arches National Park, then it’s likely that you wanted to come to see Delicate Arch.  But actually, the entire Delicate Arch and the Windows Area is full of places that are worth checking out.  If you only have a limited amount of time in the park, then we highly recommend spending the majority of your time among this very accessible area.

When visiting this area, here are few of the recommended stops / activities:

  • Wolfe Ranch. Located at the Wolfe Ranch Parking area, this ranch was built in 1906.  Be sure to check out the images carved into the rock wall.  This one-room cabin is the former home of John Wesley, who moved here to try to heal a leg injury from the Civil War.  At one time, it housed six people!  You can find out more information on Wolfe Ranch here.  
  • Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint. If you don’t have the time or energy to take on the Delicate Arch Trail, the Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint is a great option.  Located just past the Delicate Arch Trail, this is a 100-yard trail that ends in an overlook to see Delicate Arch.  The viewpoint is about 1-mile from the arch, so it’s not an excellent view but it is worth stopping if you have binoculars.
  • Viewpoints.  Just like the earlier part of Arches National Park, there are a few great viewpoints to check out.  Panorama Point is at the top of a hill that allows you to see the surrounding mountains and the Fiery Furnace area.  If you are here at night this is a great spot for looking at the night sky as well!  The Fiery Furnace Overlook is also great for viewing the towering fins of Fiery Furnace if you don’t have time to head into the trail itself or have reservations for a guided hike.
  • Hiking.  Hiking in this part of the park is amazing, and there are several options depending on what you have time for and what you are in the mood to take on.  Our recommendations include:
    • The most famous of the hikes in Arches National Park is the Delicate Arch Trail. It’s 3.0-miles (round-trip) with a bit over 600 feet of elevation gain and moderately difficult.  After leaving the parking area, the trail climbs up nearly all the gain in elevation in the hike before flattening out and heading to the “bowl” where you can view the arch.  Be sure to start your hike here early in the day, as it is exposed nearly the entire way and also gets very crowded.
 
Delicate Arch in Arches National Park
    • For an easy hike, head to the Double Arch Trail. This hike only has an elevation gain of 36 feet and heads up a sandy path to Double Arch.  The entire hike is about 0.5-miles, round-trip.

Double Arch in Arches National Park

    • The Windows Loop and Turret Arch Trail is a family-friendly, easy 1.2-mile (round-trip) hike that climbs about 190 feet. This short hike gets you up close and personal to the North and South Windows, as well as Turret Arch.  Hike here in the late afternoon or evening if you want to take some great photos!

Windows Loop and Turret Arch in Arches National Park

    • The Fiery Furnace Trail is one of our personal favorite experiences we had in Arches National Park. This is a moderately challenging hike that has about 780 feet in elevation gain.  This amazing place is full of many different rock formations, including fins and arches.  You’ll get a chance to do plenty of rock scrambling as well!  To take this hike, you need to either have reservations for a guided tour or have a permit.  You can learn more about the requirements for the Fiery Furnace Trail here.

Fiery Furnace Trail in Arches National Park

    • The final trail that we recommend in the area is the Balanced Rock Loop Trail. This is another easy hike that is only about 0.3-miles.  You can hike around the famous Balanced Rock and take amazing photos!

Balanced Rock in Arches National Park

    DEVILS GARDEN AREA

    Devils Garden Area map in Arches National Park

    Devils Garden Area map, courtesy of the National Park Service

    At the end of the Park Road is the Devils Garden Area.  In this part of the park, there are several great hikes (some of them short and others that will take at least a half-day) as well as the Devils Garden Campground.  If you have the time to drive the 45-minute travel time out to this part of the park, it’s well worth it!

    We recommend the following in the Devils Garden Area:

    • Hiking.  The majority of the hikes over here are moderate or easy in difficulty, but most require you to walk in the sand a bit.  Either way, you’ll want to be sure you are prepared and bring with you plenty of water and sunblock.  Here are the hikes we recommend:
      • The Devils Garden Trail to Landscape Arch is a must do. This 1.9-mile (round-trip) hike only gains 100 feet or so in elevation and is mostly a walk.  The trail heads to Landscape Arch, which is a very thin arch that extends nearly 100 yards.  We recommend also visiting Pine Tree Arch and Tunnel Arch on the way back.  You can also visit Landscape Arch as part of a longer hike to Double O Arch (which extends the hike to 4.2-miles and turns it into a more challenging trek) or heading all the out and returning on the Primitive Trail to the remote Private Arch (which makes it a difficult 7.2-mile loop).  If you choose to take this route, it nearly has a 1500 foot elevation gain.  All of these hikes start from the main parking area at the end of Park Road.
    Landscape Arch Trail in Arches National Park
    • The Sand Dune Arch Trail is an easy 0.4-mile round-trip hike that starts just before the Skyline Arch parking area. There is an elevation gain of 137 feet, but this is a great place to go with families and explore the surrounding area.
    • The Broken Arch Trail starts at the Devils Garden campground and is 225 feet in elevation gain. It leads to Broken Arch (and you can also see Tapestry Arch if you are up for a rock scramble).  The scenery is beautiful the entire way!
    • The Skyline Arch Trail is the last on that we recommend in the area. It is relatively flat and 0.5-miles (round trip).  It gives you a quick view of the distant Skyline Arch.  If you have a headlamp, this is a great hike to do at night to see the arch against the night sky!

     

    HOW TO GET TO ARCHES NATIONAL PARK AND OTHER TRAVEL INFORMATION

    Our preference is to arrive in Arches National Park by vehicle from wherever you are coming from.  The scenery offered by Utah and Colorado is amazing.  To get to Arches National Park by air, you have a few options:

    • The most common way of arriving is through Salt Lake City, UT, which is served by all major air carriers. Montrose, CO or Moab, UT are smaller and are great options as well.  Be advised that while they are much closer, the ticket prices can be very high.
    • If you are driving from Salt Lake City, expect the drive to take about 4 hours.

    If you are using Moab, UT as a home base, then you can expect the drive to the park to take about 10-15 minutes.

    WHERE TO STAY IN ARCHES NATIONAL PARK

    Arches National Park Lodging: Unfortunately, there are no National Park lodges that are operated inside the park.  The great thing, though, is that nearby Moab, UT has plenty of lodging options.  Since the park is so close to Moab, this is the option that most decide to use.

    Camping in Arches National Park: There is only one campground inside of Arches National Park, which is the Devils Garden Campground.  Reservations are required during the busy time of year, which is March through October.  Be sure to book well in advance, as reservations fill up very quickly.  You can get reservations here: Reservations for Devils Garden campground.

    BEST TIME TO VISIT ARCHES NATIONAL PARK

    All times of year offer a unique experience in Arches National Park.  Going in the summer means long, hot days (with temps in the upper 90’s), but the evenings are great.  The winter can be cold (highs only around 42 F in January) and you can get snow, but seeing the arches with snow on them is simply amazing.

    Whenever you go, just check ahead at the weather.  You may be surprised how cold it gets here in the winter, in particular!

    Arches National Park what to see and do

    ARE PETS ALLOWED IN ARCHES NATIONAL PARK?

    • Leashed pets are only allowed in limited areas, such the campgrounds, picnic areas or along established roads.
    • Pets are not allowed at any overlooks, near any buildings or on any hiking trails. This is strictly enforced.

    RELATED INFORMATION ON ARCHES NATIONAL PARK FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS

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    We are Amy & Pete Brahan. Very simply, we are passionate about our National Parks and Public Lands and explore them with our three kids whenever we can.

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