So I have a confession… I didn’t think that I would like Arches National Park.
I know, it sounds utterly ridiculous when I say it now. I had wanted to see Delicate Arch ever since I saw a photo of it for the first time, but the rest of southern Utah… Eh, not so much. I’m going to drop an apology right here because I need to… I’m very sorry!
We had plans for the mountains in Idaho and Wyoming, but a few weeks before we left, I got a wild hair and changed our plans to southern Utah. I wanted to see places that I had never been before (that is who I am as a person), but I was not overly pumped about the trip. I was afraid that I would be disappointed since we weren’t in the mountains. By the time we were heading out of the gates, I was excitedly rambling about how Arches was most definitely in my top 5 favorite places. While in Utah, we also visited Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, and Bryce Canyon National Park.
What To See In Arches National Park
Arches National Park is located just north of Moab, Utah. Arches is a relatively small park by many standards, but it packs a punch. As soon as you enter through the entrance station and drive past the visitor center, you are immediately climbing switchbacks up into the heart of the park.
We arrived early (sometime around 7 am) with a plan of getting to the Delicate Arch trailhead as soon as possible. I wanted to be there earlier; he tried to sleep in… so we compromised. You do need to get into the park as early as possible for several reasons.
- Cooler temperatures – very important if you are going during the summer, late spring, or early fall.
- Fewer crowds. See above… By around 9:30-10am the parking lots were full, and cars were circling and waiting for a parking space. We visited on a Thursday in mid-September. I can’t imagine a weekend in July.
- You cannot miss the early morning light on the rock formations! Look at the glow on the Organ rock formation below!
We had a plan of getting to the Delicate Arch trailhead as quickly as possible, but I had to make a quick pit stop to take in this view! The light on the rocks was mesmerizing. We were on our way again… buzzing towards the hike I had been looking forward to for years.
If you are physically able, the Delicate Arch hike should be on your “must do” list. The trail is approximately 3 miles round trip and is rated moderately strenuous according to the information at the trailhead at Wolfe Ranch. We saw people of all ages and physical abilities in the trail. Don’t get me wrong, it is a physically demanding hike, up slick-rock for a large segment, but it was not as hard as I had anticipated.
Here is the reward for your effort!
Near the parking lot, there is a side trail that leads to petroglyphs. Make sure you take this little detour. If you are not hiking to Delicate Arch, this is still a worthwhile stop, and it is only about a quarter of a mile from the parking lot.
After returning to your car, continue up the road about a mile to the Delicate Arch viewpoint. The viewpoint is an excellent opportunity to see the Arch if you are unable to hike. It’s also one of those “dang that’s pretty cool” moments.
Devil’s Garden Section
After you turn around and head back to the main road, turn right and head towards the Devil’s Garden. This is as far as the main road leads.
Along the way, you will pass Salt Valley overlook and Fiery Furnace area. Fiery Furnace is a rugged maze within huge sandstone walls. You can only access this area with a ranger or a permit.
Approximately a mile and a half before reaching Devil’s Garden, you will each the parking and trailhead for Sand Dune Arch and Broken Arch. Sand Dune Arch is an easy 0.2-mile one-way hike to a small arch in between fins. The trail to Sand Dune Arch is a great hike, and kids would LOVE it as you pass through lots of sand in a slot canyon of sorts. I loved the hike to Sand Dune Arch! We skipped the trail out to Broken Arch.
As soon as we got back in the car, we were pulling over again to check out Skyline Arch. This is another exciting arch as it apparently “doubled” in size in 1940. A large boulder collapsed from the arch opening and nearly doubled the size of the opening.
Unfortunately, when we finally reached Devils Playground around noon, the parking lot was packed. We chose to loop through the parking lot and start making our way back through the park. UGH… I am still kicking myself for not sticking around. I missed Landscape Arch which has of the longest spans in the world. Just another reason to go back!
The Windows Section
Making the way back to the entrance, be sure to stop at the Windows Section. This is on a spur off the main road. Somehow… I have no idea how… I do not have any picture of the Windows or Turret Arch. How did that even happen?!? Check out Double Arch; this rock is fantastic! The size of the arch compared to the people wandering around below really puts into perspective how small we are.
Next stop – the famous Balanced Rock. It is incredible to think about how long these formations have existed and for how long they will last.
The Petrified Dunes pullout overlooks ancient dunes that had become petrified.
Park Avenue Area
Before exiting the park, you will pass the Park Avenue trailhead and viewpoint. We also decided to skip this area. It looked pretty busy, and we were ready to relax. I’ve been told that’s what you do on vacation… I will agree to disagree.
What Should You Bring On Your Trip To Arches National Park
What Are The Best Arches National Park Hiking Trails
Arches National Park is quite famous worldwide for superb hiking trails. Many of these trails will take you to some of the most famous and also some of the most remote arches in the park.
No matter your fitness level or the time you have, you can get up close to jaw-dropping arches. Here are just a few of the trails to arches and bridges in the park.
- Delicate Arch Trail
- Broken Arch Trail
- Sand Dune Arch Trail
As of 2018, the entrance fee is $30 per personal vehicle. If you are visiting more than 2 National Parks in a year that charge admission, you will probably be money ahead to pick up an America the Beautiful Annual Pass. More information about various types of annual passes, including the Senior Lifetime Pass and the Annual 4th Grade Pass, can be found here.